Is Too Many Bones complicated? Is it worth the money to buy? Do I need to buy everything in order to properly experience the game?
As of writing, Too Many Bones currently sits at Number 55 in the rankings of board games on boardgamegeek.com. Being in the Top 100 is a pretty prestigious thing, but my feeling is that if a game gets a good ground swell of attention from reviewers at the right time it can make it into the Top 500 with relative ease and then behavioural economics takes over.
Huh? Behavioural Economics?
Behavioural economics is how we can apply psychological principles to the process of decision making, particuarly to the decision making around cost and purchases. Some of the principles that I refer to here are:
- Sunk Cost fallacy: we are more likely to commit to something due to it’s cost as we have already spent the money;
- Reviews = purchases: Research has shown that people are more likely to buy an item if it has a greater number of positive reviews (duh)
- Cost = Quality: Numerous studies have found that participants will more likely rate an item higher if it has a greater cost associated with it, following the rule of thumb that higher cost must mean higher quality.
Given that the BGG ratings are relatively secret (however a recent video goes into this a little more) it is often difficult to work out the rhyme or reasoning behind a games rating. My feeling is that if game has unique mechanisms, is able to be introduced to new players, has a unique theme and gets great or mixed good reviews has the ability to almost break this system.
A game can flood the system with positive reviews before they have even shipped due to reviewer and previewer opinion – look at the reviews for some of the big Kickstarters that have been completed, but not yet shipped, there are so many “I can’t wait for this game – 10 stars”. Both Frosthaven, the new Nemesis expansion and Etherfields are all approaching the 8 star rankings with almost a year until delivery.
So what does this all mean?
Let’s take Frosthaven, for example, which will make it on to the Top 100 list within it’s first 6 months of release:
- Gloomhaven already has the highest ranking at #1, therefore drawing users to it’s creator and to the sequel;
- BGG already has 164 ratings of 10 for the game (more than double the ratings of 1). This preloads the system, so once released if you are interested in a retail copy it will have a high rating when you look for it;
- The cost equals quality factors in, due to the fact that this is a game that will retail around the $200 mark;
- The sunk cost fallacy will also play into things here as well. If the game isn’t good people will feel the need to continue to play to try to recoup their ‘cost’ of purchasing and minimise buying regret. How many times have you heard “It really just takes a few (dozen) games to get going”;
- The sense of exclusivity will also drive the retail release, if people feel that it is hard to get, they will more than likely chase it at retail again building a user base that will vote on BGG.
I do not intend to take a shot at Frosthaven, I believe that Gloomhaven is a great game, but it also hit a lot of the above points which has rocketed it to the top. This is merely an example of how the ratings systems and behavioural economy work side by side. Obviously, ratings and reviews do have meaning but the ultimate test of game is how well it plays for you.
So, given all of this I was a bit hesitant about going in to buy Too Many Bones, a game that has high praise from those who have played it but also comes with a high price tag..But there were a few things that sold it for me and that actually went against the above points. So here I would like to talk a little more about those factors.
The Gearlocs take too long to learn/The Game is too Heavy/Is Too Many Bones complicated?
This is a really strange one to me. I have heard issues that the Gearlocs are hard to learn and that you are constantly reviewing the reference sheets, that the game is too heavy and finnicky. But let’s get this straight, when it comes to convoluted games I’m not the brightest tool in the drawer. I’ve tried to play GMT wargames and was the emotional equivalent of a deserter running away from the front lines (see here for my views on Labyrinth). So it was with some trepidation that I decided to go in and buy Undertow as my starting venture into the Too Many Bones world.
What was I getting myself into, was this another game that I would have to sell in order to switch over to become the most prominent HABA reviewer that this hobby has ever seen?
I cracked open the instruction book and found a book that was well designed and thought out, with examples of battle and how to play and activate dice. Iconography was clear and guided me throughout the book.
As for the referencing the Gearloc sheets, yes this happened often but I really feel that it didn’t happen more than many other games that I have played. After a few games I feel like I am starting to get the hang of characters and the only reason I am referencing character sheets is because that is part of the game, much like it would be in an RPG. In D&D you will need to check your spells or abilities in order to judge your ability to take on a task.
Checking your character is like checking your pocket your car keys, it is preparation not an indication that you have forgotten how to drive.
Are people judging the game on it’s literal mass? Because in this rather simple reviewers opinion, it most definitely isn’t a ‘heavy’ game.
Is it really all that replayable?
This one is an easy yes.
In the Undertow box you have 2 new characters who can be played together or solo against 5 new tyrants.
Quick maths suggest that is:
((2 x 1 solo characters) x (1 x 2 characters)) x 5 Tyrants = 20 unique ways of playing the base Undertow game which doesn’t include the randomisation of Baddies or Loot throughout each of those games.
If you add the 4 Gearlocs and 7 Tyrants of the base Too Many Bones then you are ending up with a massive amount of variance across the range. This also does not include additional Gearlocs that can be bought separately.
So, in summary if you are worried about whether you will be playing the same game over, then the answer is a hard no. Even if you decide to play the same Tyrant with the same characters you are still going to be encountering different Baddies and getting different Loot throughout.
Are those components really worth it?
It’s funny how things come full circle. I would have said no, that premium components aren’t worth it, but then Covid came. This time of isolation has really identified what I like about board games and besides the interaction and the game itself, it’s fiddling with little pieces of plastic and cardboard that I love.
Tabletopia, Tabletop Simulator and all of those other programs will let you experience a game and sometimes the interaction as well but they are no match for having the pieces in your hand. As a result, I have to say that the components in TMB are really worth the cost and given their quality I can see that Chip Theory Games are really putting their passion into this game and it isn’t just a cash cow for them.
There are plenty of components that you could add, Premium Health, Allies or other Gearlocs but really the amount you get in the base boxes is plenty and will keep you busy for a long time. I have even considered watching TV or doing other activities whilst rolling a chip in my hand like a James Bond villain (ugh, don’t get me started on James Bond).
So I said earlier that the ratings system could somewhat be manipulated, and given the above cost and worry about gameplay this was another factor in my reconsidering whether this game was for me..Do I trust the ratings? Especially given that I don’t know anyone who owns the game and in the Covid world I don’t have the ability to find a game group that plays it.
Too Many Bones currently has the second lowest amount of ratings in the Top 100, only after Vital Lacerda’s On Mars, and with Maracaibo and Paladins of the West Kingdom also being in the ball park (~5000 ratings). These titles, however, will continue to rise due to the amount of time that has passed since their release being relatively close (2019).
Too Many Bones, however, having the second least votes after 3 years of release shows that those people who are playing it are voting it very highly and overcoming the ‘buffer’ votes that are built into BGG.
This rather flimsy statistical analysis is yet another reason why I decided I needed the game.
After a while I decided yes, that this was a game that I could justify to buy to review and then sell it to someone else if I didn’t like it..But it never came to that did it…(now I’m currently considering Premium Health, another Gearloc or two…)
Before my Undertow experience I was following too many silly beliefs, that Too Many Bones was complicated, that is wasn’t ‘worth’ the price tag, that the reason that it was so popular was because of behavioural economics and people were justifying their bad financial decisions. Boy, was I wrong…
From the tactile element of the components to the gameplay, from the community to the product support, Chip Theory Games and Too Many Bones are absolutely knocking it out of the park. From the limited interaction I have had with the Carlsons, Josh, Shannon and others connected with the projects I have seen that this is a team that is in love with the products that they are making and it shines through in the gameplay and quality of this production.
Whether you are buying it, or borrowing it I would highly recommend Too Many Bones to anyone with an interest in board games and RPGS, it’s truly a don’t miss experience for me.