SET A WATCH Review: A Big RPG In A Small Box

Review Copy received from Rock Manor Games

Review Copy received from Rock Manor Games

Todd Walsh, in collaboration with Mike Gnade and Rock Manor Games, has devised an engaging experience around one of the rarely-visited elements in a roleplaying game—the campfire. For those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, the image of a campfire may trigger memories of painful ambushes or much-needed respite. But this board game is not just for the fantasy-lovers. Set A Watch is a cooperative game that implements mechanics similar to Legendary, Pandemic, and Bloodborne, so all board game fans are welcome here. One to four players can participate in the action and the game will last for roughly an hour. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, Set A Watch is now available. The Deluxe Edition of the game was used for this review.

Story

Set A Watch centers around the idea of tired adventurers settling down at night during their journey and continually repelling attacks from monsters. It’s an interesting setting for a fantasy story. Usually, the narrative takes place in the middle of a campaign, but the epic battle has already been won in the world of Set A Watch. The danger lies in the ultimate evil being resurrected, and the lesser forces of darkness aim to achieve that. The battle-weary adventurers must prevent their work from being undone. While the story explains what’s happening, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose after that. Once players understand the rules of the game, it can be navigated without ever considering why the Unhallowed are being summoned or the backstory of the adventurers that you control.

That would be my biggest complaint with Set A Watch. I wanted to care more about the fighters through whom I defeated the creatures of the game, and I wished for more of the storytelling that is central to Dungeons & Dragons. The inclusion of character histories on their cards could have enriched the atmosphere. And a large deck of cards adding random narrative twists and gameplay alterations would have made each playthrough more memorable. Little touches like that would have elevated Set A Watch.

Gameplay

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The mechanics of Set A Watch, though, are fantastic. One of the things that immediately captured my attention was the integration of the box into the gameplay. The lid of the box unfolds from its magnetic clasps and flattens out to form the camp in which the adventurers rest for the night. For the player that executes actions back at camp, there are spots for his dice and for the current and future map locations. Inside the box, there are spots for creatures added to the horde and unused map cards. That level of design and thought was impressive, and the attention to detail carried through to the rest of the experience.

Set A Watch has players fight through nine rounds of combat. No matter the player count, the group will control four adventurers as they journey to ensure the evil they’ve sealed away does not return. Each round, one adventurer will abstain from combat and perform actions at camp. The other three will stand guard and stave off the attacks of various monsters. With eight classes to choose from, there are a lot of options as to how you approach the strategic puzzle of each round. Each adventurer randomly selects three of five ability cards specific to their class. Those will determine the special attacks that they’re able to perform outside of direct hits with dice, which are either d6 or d8 depending on the adventurer.

With each location, a set number of creatures will form a line of attacking order. Whether they are revealed or remain hidden is dependent on the visible reach of your campfire. Keeping your fire lit is one of the guiding rules of the game. Running out of firewood and losing the light will result in the game ending prematurely. Players must juggle that and other responsibilities in order to vanquish the darkness. And playthrough can be adjusted for difficulty with the inclusion of Summon cards that will negatively affect the player and bring harder monsters into the fray.

What I appreciated about Set A Watch was how well everything worked. The rules are relatively simple, and they allow even inexperienced gamers to come to the table and play. Playing on Normal difficulty felt appropriate, but the ability to increase the complexity will accommodate players who comfortably manage the strategy of the game after the first encounter or after several. And the separate character classes really felt well-balanced. Their abilities were drastically unlike each other, and no adventurer felt like an outlier. Their powers were useful frequently. Every aspect of the game felt like it added value. Set A Watch didn’t have any unnecessary components. It all served a purpose, and it functioned beautifully. All within a small box.

Visuals

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The Deluxe Edition of the game is sleek and stylish. A black slipcover with silver magnetic ink protects the main game box. The whole package is nice to look at it. I’ve spent an unusual amount of time just looking at the box. The rest of the components look lovely, as well. Laser-engraved tokens and arresting fantasy art draw the eye. Set A Watch is an attractive game to be sure. It will stand out on the bookshelf.

Replayability

You can play Set A Watch a lot before you’d get tired of the experience. With eight different classes, a rotating creature deck, and numerous map locations, you’ll be able to enjoy hours of dimly-lit combat against the Unhallowed. With a balanced and finely-tuned system, I’ll be coming back to this time and again for a cooperative game that requires strategy and careful study.

What It Could Have Done Better

The story is lacking, and I want more content down the road. Expansions that augment the adventurer classes, creature decks, and map locations would give players more variety to extend gameplay. Also, the addition of a deck with narrative changes and context would invite players to lose themselves in the world of Set A Watch.

Verdict

A small box with a lot to offer. Set A Watch is fun with just the right amount of complexity. I anticipate playing it a lot, and I would be more than pleased if expansions released that gave even more content for an already great game.

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