Buzzworthiness – Roll Player: Fiends and Familiars

Thanks to Thunderworks Games for providing a review copy of this game.

Previously on Boards and Bees, I reviewed the stellar 2016 game Roll Player. Go read that before you read this so you won’t be completely lost as I talk about

image by BGG user kmatejka

Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars is the second expansion for Roll Player, after 2018’s Monsters & Minions. This one came out last year, and just like the others is designed by Keith Matejka and published by Thunderworks Games. This expansion adds…well…fiends and familiars. As well as some other stuff, which I’ll go into more detail on in a minute.

I’m not going to talk about gameplay of the Roll Player system now because I did that in my previous post. Instead, I’m going to outline the new stuff that this game provides.

  • Split Dice. These dice are added to the bag during setup and are placed just like normal dice if you draft them. The special thing about them is that they are two different colors at once. So you could have it represent your class color for a point at the end of the game while simultaneously having it count for the color it needs to be on your backstory. The trade-off is that the dice values only go up to 4.
  • Familiars. These are added as an extra row where dice can be placed, and it goes on top of your board. Each familiar has a power target, a backstory arrangement to shoot for, and a special power that can be used by you whenever you put a die there.
  • Call to Adventure. Due to this extra row, you will be drafting two dice at a time for the first three rounds. This card is placed at a certain point in the deck, and when it comes out between rounds, you go back to drafting one die at a time.
  • More Market Cards. The market deck is now a lot bigger, so you’ll be removing some at the beginning of each round. Rather than removing from each set, you’re only pulling off the top, so you’re getting rid of one-dot items only. The market deck now also includes Scrolls, which are one-time use actions you take immediately upon purchasing.
  • Fiends. Whenever you draft the die in the last position (or positions if playing with more players), you get a Fiend. Fiends put certain restrictions on you, and can be banished with five coins or a Charisma token.
  • Minions. This was introduced in the Monsters & Minions expansion, which I have not played, so this was new to me. Rather than visiting the Market, you can choose to hunt a minion, rolling some special orange combat dice to try to hit a target number. Total success gets you a trophy, which will help you when fighting the Monster at the end of the game. You could also gain honor (+1 to the final fight), injuries (-1 to the final fight), or XP, which can be used to reroll dice or for other purposes.
  • Monsters. Again, another M&M addition. At the end of the game, you roll combat dice to try to beat the game’s monster. The trophies you gained from beating Minions will hopefully give you more dice. If you manage to hit the targets, you get points.
  • More Stuff. In addition to the new content, there are also new player boards, more alignments, more backstories, and more classes.

As I did with the Roll Player review, here’s a character I rolled up in solo play to demonstrate how this all works.

Meet Shadowthorn, of the Sheki tribe. Like most Sheki, he is a Purist – lawful, but neutral. Shadowthorn is a soothsayer, and also a bit of a bookworm. At the moment he is obsessed with finding the Tome of Knowledge, which he believes holds all the answers of life. He is good at concentration, being able to focus on tasks for hours on end, and is skilled in curing wounds. He carries only a Mystic Cloak that was given to him by a wandering dwarf named Scrovon Silverfinger, who Shadowthorn rescued from the clutches of a Hellhound that was working for the fearsome Megapede that was threatening the land. Shadowthorn also had to defeat a Giant Beetle and a Cockatrice before finally facing the Megapede and thoroughly destroying it. Along the way, Shadowthorn also had to banish a number of Fiends that he suspected were also sent at the behest of the Megapede – a Fiend of Sacrifice, a Fiend of Feebleness, a Fiend of Tuition, and a Fiend of Burden. Now that the threats have been eliminated, Shadowthorn looks forward to returning to his peaceful life, along with his Screech Owl, Shiloh.

image by BGG user jipipu

Sliding into my thoughts now, the components are generally of the same quality as the original game. In other words, very good quality. The combat dice are smaller than the original, and also translucent. But they don’t mix in with the regular dice, so no problem there. The split dice are generally one color with a recessed triangle of a different color and raised pips within that triangle. Which means, if you’re hunting for split dice (or trying to avoid them), it is possible to feel the difference between them and the regular dice. Don’t play like that, I’m just saying it’s a possibility. Art continues to be great in the game. Many of the punchouts still need to be trashed, but more of them are used for honor tokens, injury tokens, and adventure trophies. Plus, there are more Charisma tokens. The Fiend cards are half size so they can fit on the initiative cards, and they’re well designed so they blend right in. As a general rule, I don’t like cards that are that size, but they work well for this. The Monster cards, on the other hand, are larger than the others, which makes sense because they are monsters. They probably don’t have to be that large, but it makes thematic sense.

I should note that, for this review, my copy of Fiends and Familiars was sent to me in the big box, which can hold the base game and both expansions so far released. It’s a pretty thick box, and comes with the same two-well cardboard insert as the base game, which you can throw out. I do like this box – it’s stylized to look like a very large book, which gives it nice shelf presence.

Thematically, I think the new stuff adds to the story of the game. The familiar gives you a nice bonus power you and you alone can use. The fiends punish you for taking the best dice, almost like you’re selling your soul for the die you want. The minions give you clues about the best way to beat the monster, and the monster at the end gives you something you’re building your character to defeat. Beating the minions helps you know what you need to focus on in order to maximize your dice. Overall, the game still feels like a puzzle, but now you’re enriching your character with a fuller story of their exploits.

The new modules introduced in Fiends and Familiars are the Split Dice, the Familiars, and the Fiends. The Monsters and the Minions obviously were originally introduced in the Monsters and Minions expansion. In fact, the only things from that expansion that aren’t included here (as far as I can tell since I haven’t played that expansion) are the Boost Dice, a start player marker, and a Hero Tome (basically a pad of paper where you can keep a record of your character).

I’m a little conflicted on the Split Dice. On the one hand, it’s really nice that they are two colors. On the other, it’s annoying that they only go to four. Now, this limit does make decisions interesting, and I find that dropping them on your familiar is usually a good idea since the power requirement there is usually fairly low. And the dice are well-designed so the number always changes when you flip them. There’s one 1 side, two 2s, two 3s, and one 4. The 1 and 4 are opposite, and both 2s are opposite a 3. So I guess my problem with them is mostly annoyance that I can’t get them as high as I’d like. I don’t think that’s a flaw in the game, just a personal preference. Also, some of the colors (like blue and green) blend together and make it tough to distinguish them.

The Familiars add some really nice flavor to the game. It’s cool to get a different creature that will give you a new action instead of the standard six that everyone gets to use. And now you’ve got a new row with a lower power requirement than the others, so it might be a good dump stat for you.

The Fiends also add a cool new decision space for you. You can’t just take the highest die, not caring about what you get in the market. Now you take the highest die and the Fiend punishes you for it. Sometimes, these punishments are relatively minor, depending on your game situation – if a Fiend prohibits you from placing a die in a row that’s already full, then that Fiend is basically obsolete and can just rot in your area without you ever needing to banish it. But sometimes it hurts more, and those are the ones you need to get rid of. Five money is a tough price to pay sometimes, but you can also use a Charisma token to get rid of a Fiend. Charisma tokens are still only used in the round when they are acquired, but now have so much more purpose than they did in the base game. Instead of just being a $1 discount in the market, now they have a $5 value in banishing Fiends. Usually, when we banished a Fiend this way, we would do it automatically when placing a die on the Charisma row without taking a token. In my games with this expansion, I have not touched a Charisma token because I have used them all right away. So it’s weird that there are so many. Still, it’s nice that they’re more useful now.

The Monsters and Minions aspect I like as well. I like the thought of building up my character in such a way to take care of Minions in order to try to defeat the Boss at the end of the level. It’s a nice progression, and there’s some cool creatures in there (including a Wereshark). It introduces more randomness to the game as your ability to beat them is based on a die roll, but it’s nice that there’s no punishment for losing. Well, against the Monster anyway – not being able to beat the Minion often results in injury, which makes beating the Monster tougher. You can also spend XP to reroll a die, but it’s still a random result.

My biggest problem with gameplay in this one is the Call to Adventure card. In an effort to make the game the same length as other games without the Familiar row, this card has you drafting two dice for the first three rounds. You can still only take one attribute action, so the other three have to be placed in actions you don’t think you’ll need later. And that’s annoying to me. I’d rather just play three more rounds of the game and get those actions. But I guess this is probably a way to keep everything balanced.

This expansion adds to the replayability of the game by giving you more combinations of stuff. It should be noted that the new Class cards mostly have abilities that can only be used with expansions. So if you’re playing with the base game only (which I would recommend for new players – don’t drop them in with all the things yet), you shouldn’t mix these in. I think mixing in the new backstories, alignments, and player boards would be fine.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think Fiends and Familiars is a really good expansion to the base game of Roll Player. It’s got some really good additions to the system, and continues the standard of excellence. It adds new decisions and mental gymnastics to a game that was already one of my favorites, and now is even better.

Thanks again to Thunderworks Games for providing a review copy of this expansion, and thanks to you for reading!

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