Dale Yu: Review of Bad Bones

Bad Bones

  • Designer: David Flies
  • Publisher: Sit Down!
  • Players: 1-6
  • Ages: 8+
  • Times played: 6, with review copy provided by Sit Down!

Bad Bones was a game that I did not even know existed until I stopped at the Sit Down! booth in Essen at SPIEL 2018.  They had a limited advance supply of the game there, and after seeing a short demo of this analog tower defense game, I took a copy home to try.

In this game, each player has their own player board with a tower in the center.  For whatever reason, your area is besieged by a never ending supply of skeleton warriors that are trying to make it to your tower and knock you off your perch.   And when I say never ending, I mean it. They will just keep coming and coming until the end of the game.

To set up, each player gets their own board and places a 4 level tower in the center space.  At the bottom of each of the five columns, place a house chit. Also, take a set of trap tiles (2 catapults, 2 walls, 1 dragon and 1 treasure).  Finally place your cemetery next to your board. The skeleton tokens are all placed in the bag and mixed up, then each player draws 4 out at random.  Each tile has one of five colored symbols on it, and the tile is placed on the outside of your player board so that the color matches AND the skeleton is in the upright orientation.  The skeletons are double sided, one with a white background and one with a black background. Make sure that all players start on the same colored background – and you can note the correct color using the double sided round marker.

As I mentioned earlier, you initially simply don’t want to lose.  The game will be played over a series or rounds until one or more players is eliminated.  All eliminated players “lose”.

A round has these four phases:

1] Hero Movement and Combat: Move your hero one space in any direction (including diagonals) and eliminate the skeletons from the destination square.  That is, if you land on any skeletons, put those tokens back into the bag. You are allowed to move on top of a previously played trap token, and you are allowed to go back to your tower space.

2] Trap Placement: Place a trap or retrieve a trap on your personal board.   You can only do one of those options (or do nothing). The trap tiles are double sided, one side normal and one side damaged.  When you place a tile, it goes down on the normal side. It must go on a space that does not already have a trap on it, nor your tower space, nor a space already infested with skeletons.  It can be triggered at any point later in the game. If you remove a trap, you simply pick up the trap token and return it to the supply.

3] Skeletons Move: Move the skeletons forward – each skeleton moves forward one space in the direction of the arrow on the token.  As it moves, flip over the token to the other side so that you know which ones have moved. If a token runs into your figure, the skeleton dies and is placed back in the bag. If a token runs onto a directing arrow printed in the snow, the skeleton will change direction accordingly.  If it runs into your tower, it will damage it and you must remove one tower piece. If it runs off the bottom of the board, it will destroy one of your houses. If a skeleton runs off the left or right, it moves into the cemetery of the player in that direction. If a skeleton runs off the top of your board, you can place it in any cemetery.

If the skeleton runs into a trap – stuff happens depending on the kind of trap – all skeletons this round move simultaneously onto a trap and all those skeletons suffer the trap’s effect

Wall – the skeleton will be redirected 90 degrees based on the direction of the wall

Catapult – all skeletons from this turn on a catapult are thrown into a SINGLE opponent’s cemetery

Treasure – all skeletons orthogonally adjacent to the treasure are turned towards it.

Dragon – all skeletons that would land on the dragon flee in fear, they are placed on any orthogonally adjacent space oriented away from the dragon

When a trap is triggered, it is flipped to the damaged side.  If it is hit again, it will be removed from the game. If you are able to remove it from the board on a later trap phase, it can return to play in its unharmed state when placed back on the board.

4] Skeletons Spawn: Draw 3 new skeletons from the bag and place them on the edges of the player boards based on the color/orientation.  Also, place any skeletons that are in your cemetery in the same way.

Now check to see if the game is over.  The game is over if a player has their tower completely destroyed (taken 4 hits) or has no more houses left (allowed 5+ skeletons off the bottom of their board).   Players that remain in the game now tally their points:

  • 1 point per star visible on their traps either in the supply or on the board
  • 4 points per tower floor that survived
  • 3 points per house that survived
  • The winner is the player with the most points.

There are a number of variants in the rules as well.  There is an advanced game which involves more traps and a market for them.  I have not played this version. There is also a solo game available where you simply try to last through 10 rounds of the game on your own.   

Finally, there are rules for a cooperative version where players set their board up in a cross or circle.  Each player board receives four single floor towers, and there is one house per player in the center of all the boards.  The traps are in a single supply and shared by all players. The goal is to survive ten rounds without having a player lose all their towers nor have the group’s houses destroyed.

My thoughts on the game

Bad Bones didn’t seem like my sort of game when I first heard about it, but the demo game that I saw in Essen looked pretty good.  We’ve played it a number of times here, and I have definitely found the competitive game to be lots of fun. We’ve honestly had more mixed experience with the cooperative version, but I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to my group’s usual dislike and poor performance in cooperative games.

The tower defense idea has always worked well on the mobile platform. Just boot up the game and then play for as long as you can.  Those games tend to get exponentially harder as the bad guys come up that much quicker or more numerous. In Bad Bones, the curve is not quite as severe; but that’s OK.  Here, you’re not trying to necessarily play as long as you can, you’re just trying to outlast your opponents. As a result, the game never feels fiddly or cumbersome even when you might be flipping over 15 or 20 skeleton tokens in a round.

The movement of the skeletons is easy, predictable, and the use of two sided tokens is genius as it ensures that you really can’t screw it up.  At the start of the game, there isn’t much pressure from the skeletons, but as them move in towards the center, the pressure will definitely ratchet up.  Your hero kills any skeletons that it touches, but with its limited movement radius of only one space per turn, you’re going to need to rely upon your traps to help you out.  If you’re clever, you will hopefully be able to destroy a few skeletons via your movement onto a space, and then have a few other skeletons move into that space in the next phase.

There is a nice ballet of figuring out how/where to place your traps on the board so that you get maximal effect from them.  A nice bonus is being able to remove them from the board on a later turn so that you can use them again (as well as get victory point credit for not losing them in the course of the game).  I have personally found the walls and the dragon to be the most useful traps, but of course, YMMV.

Most of our competitive games have ended up with a little bit of dogpiling.   That is, once you see someone start to struggle, you’ll end up sending any extra skeletons you can in that direction.  After all, you can’t win the game if you’re eliminated, so a good strategy is to make sure someone else fails first, and the best way to do that is to overwhelm them with skeletons.  Normally, I don’t like games where a particular player can be picked on, but in this game, it doesn’t feel punitive; it’s really just part of how a tower defense game works.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve found the competitive game to be a blast.  My cooperative games have been a little more sedate. Sure, there are some interesting discussions around how to share the traps, and maybe on how to distribute the skeletons that escape off the bottom of a board, but in the end, it just didn’t feel like there was as much tension in that game nor enough reasons for collaboration. Longtime readers of the blog will know that I don’t particularly love co-operative games nor does my game group, so take that into account… but for me, this game plays much better in the competitive style.

The components are nice, the chits are sturdy, etc.  The heroes remind me a little of the pink Muscle Men that I played with while growing up.  One note for the OCD crowd, this box is just slightly larger than a traditional 30cm box. That fact was awesome when packing from Essen as it allowed me to nest a game inside – but if you’re the sort of person who is bothered by boxes that don’t exactly line up on your shelves… you’ll have to put this on that special oversized box shelf! J

Bad Bones is set for wide release later this week.  For anyone who has played and enjoyed a tower defense game on their phone, this is a great version that you can play at home with your boardgaming friends.  It also has the nice advantage that it can handle up to six players, and that may help it fit a different niche for your group too.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale (competitive)
  • Neutral. Dale (coop), Craig V (coop)
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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