Game at a Glance
- Rebel Studio
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 8+
- Length: 60
- Mechanics: Cooperation, Exploration, Tower Defense, Combat, Dice Rolling, Dexterity
- Availability: Retail (coming to North America in Spring 2021)
The publisher gifted me a review copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
The magical kingdom of Avel is in trouble. The Black Moon is rising and evil creatures are awakening throughout the land. Will a group of heroes be able to band together and defend the castle from these monsters?
Chronicles of Avel is a cooperative family board game that starts off as a dungeon crawler and eventually turns into a tower defense game. The goal is to defeat all the monsters before they invade the castle. Throughout the game the heroes will move through the land searching for ways to earn coins and gear in an attempt to boost their battle prowess and add strategic defenses to the map. Often these coins and upgrades are the direct benefit of battles with monsters.
Players must work together to devise the best strategy to defeat these monsters. There are a limited amount of turns before the Black Moon has risen, after which the Beast enters the fray and causes all the creatures on the board to storm the castle. If players have planned wisely and set up traps, sealed off spawning points, added some defensive walls to the castle, and upgraded their gear effectively they may have a chance to save their kingdom!
This game has two distinct acts. In the first part, players will take turns moving their hero around the map, exploring and fighting monsters and spending coins and actions for upgrades. When the Black Moon rises, the game switches to a tower defense game where the movement of the monsters acts as the timer and battles become the primary focus.
Despite the game having two separate chapters, the gameplay does not feel disjointed. The game uses the phases of the moon as a natural in-game timer that gives an impending sense of doom. It forces players to act efficiently and urgently to do as much prepwork for the second act as possible. Battles are heavily-present in the first act, which takes up the majority of the game, so switching gears to a nearly battle-only experience does not feel out of place; rather it feels like the natural conclusion to the story that was told in the first act.
The heroes start at the castle and explore out from that point to a map of unrevealed tiles. As players begin to navigate the land, tiles are flipped to show monster spawn points and helpful actions, such as opportunities to purchase defensive seals and walls. The search for crucial tiles that allow you to beef up the map’s defenses can be a lot of fun. The first act takes up perhaps the first three-quarters of the game’s length, which is fortunate because there is a lot to be done. Along with sealing monster spawn points, building walls and setting traps, players also need to find better equipment to increase their odds of surviving battles. This is primarily done by defeating monsters who sometimes drop equipment and/or coins.
Once a player has the opportunity to gain equipment they are allowed five seconds to blindly search through the equipment bag, feeling for the shape of the item they want. There are swords, helms, shields and elixirs (and the mini expansion offers other options, like boots). Once an item is drawn from the bag players may equip it directly onto their character or store it in their backpack (a cutout on the dual-layer player board) – but only if they can manage to fit it on the board. This combines both a dexterity and spacial puzzle element to the game which is a very clever way to engage children. There is a sense of tension and excitement as their hands are frantically searching the bag for the token they want while their family counts down. And the limited backpack space gives children an opportunity to learn about planning ahead and managing their resources carefully. It might not make sense to fight a monster when your backpack is full to the brim with unspent coins.
The second act is where the Tower Defense mode activates. After each round hence force, monsters no longer lurk near their spawn points but begin their steady march towards the castle. At this point players must focus on taking them out strategically, because if a single monster is able to breach the castle all players lose the game.
The battle system is simple and based on dice rolls. For each battle action the hero rolls both their and the monster’s dice. Both monster and hero dice include blocks, attacks, and blank sides and the color of the die indicates its strength. Black and purple are for monsters, with black being the stronger of the two. Heroes always start with two green basic dice but can add others to their arsenal with equipment and elixirs. Blue is good for defense, orange is better for attacks, and the yellow magic dice add flexibility. Some equipment allows for the permanent addition of one of these dice while others grant re-roll opportunities. A basic understanding of these colored dice is all children will need to make their own informed decisions about when to engage in battles and when to wait. If a hero loses all their heart tokens during a battle they are sent back to the castle, stunned but ready to fight again next turn. Battles are an integral part of the game but players are never eliminated.
Chronicles of Avel is a family game so accessibility is extremely important. Learning the game is not difficult thanks to a well-organized rulebook full of clear, concise instructions and examples. I had no problem teaching the game to my children, either. Reading skills are not necessary to play as there is clear, intuitive symbology and color coding. Combine that with a cooperative nature and you have a game that is open to a wide range of children. The box recommends this game for ages 8+ but my 7 year old daughter is playing Chronicles of Avel and making well-thought out decisions on her own. I would feel comfortable teaching this game to a child even younger than 7 because I could work with them to strategize and help them with their turns (if necessary). In addition, parents are able to scale the difficulty up or down to suit the needs of their family. I recommend starting at an easy to moderate difficulty and ramping up as children build confidence. Adults should be able to jump right into the deep end and play with a higher difficulty level.
The modular board makes this game highly replayable. The game comes with several setup suggestions, and it is possible to create your own unique map. Although the end game Beast plays the same each time, where he is placed on the map will have a direct affect on the game difficulty. Have him arrive closer to the castle to up the tension, and have him start further away if you prefer an easier win condition. There is a colorful cast of small and big monsters who arrive on the board randomly and you are unlikely to battle the same set of monsters two games in a row. The game tells a similar story every time; however, the puzzle will be different as the tiles are randomized.
The art in this game is beautiful, colorful and works nicely with the child-friendly fantasy theme. The monsters are “cute spooky” – they have a menacing look but are unlikely to give little gamers bad dreams. The landscapes are colorful and very pleasant to look at. And some of the game art is player-customizable.
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Chronicles of Avel is the creativity it encourages in families that isn’t technically part of the game itself. Inside the box is a pad of character drawings that can be customized. These drawings are then added to the dual-layer player boards. For those feeling less-inspired, they can choose to leave their character monotone, and extremely enthusiastic artists can forgo the template entirely to make their own design. The game even comes with a character naming tool.
The components for this game are of a very nice quality. The dual layer boards are customizable and keep equipment and heart tokens in place. The map tiles are thick and the equipment tokens feel sturdy (they need to be if they’re going to be drawn from a bag). The wooden meeples come with a variety of sticker options – I let my children choose their preferred character and meeple color. The dice are colorful and easily distinguishable. I especially love the addition of a booklet full of in-game lore – that really adds a lot of color to this world. The box insert is ok – it has a cardboard section styled as a wooden chest which does a good enough job at protecting some the components (like the Beast standee). It isn’t the best insert I’ve seen since I have to use more baggies than I prefer, but it does a decent job of organization and I am able to fit the mini-expansion components easily.
Most importantly this game does what it sets out to do: provide a fun cooperative gaming experience for the whole family.
It is apparent that a lot of care was taken in designing this game. I don’t know if the designer has kids, or experience with kids, but I am left with a strong impression that a lot of importance was placed on making an adventure game that the whole family can enjoy.
This comes through in details like the customizable characters. I had so much fun sitting down with my kids and a box of colored pencils for a coloring session. My children and I are interested in creating more characters to go on further adventures – I am even considering going off-template and adding mystical details to my hero such as horns and wings. This detail in the game is completely unnecessary and yet it is one of my favorite parts. The time I spent around the table with my kids working on this coloring project is precious to me and I am so glad that this was included in the game.
The game also gives children agency. My children sometimes choose actions that seem inefficient – sometimes the Wishing Well tile seems more enticing than saving up coins for a defensive wall, or the urge to explore causes them to bypass a tile I feel they should visit. And that is okay. It’s completely valid and important for children to choose some riskier options in games if that makes the game more fun to them. It’s important that children are given room to explore in games and follow their own paths and Chronicles of Avel allows for that.
Although children are given plenty of decision-space, this game also will teach them the importance of using their limited actions wisely. There are a finite number of turns before the Beast begins his assault on the castle and if the players are not prepared they will have a difficult time fighting off the monsters. Families have plenty of opportunity to work as a team to come up with the best plan to defend the kingdom.
Again, reading skills are not required to participate in this game which allows parents to include very young family members in the fun. Of course, the younger the player is the more coaching they may need, but isn’t that the beautiful thing about cooperative games? The box says the games last about 60 minutes but I have not timed our sessions. I can say that Chronicles of Avel offers enough excitement between the bag draws, monster battles, and exploration that my kids are able to sit for the entire game without issues.
I would recommend this for families, of course, but this would also make a wonderful gateway game for people who aren’t quite sure if they’re ready for something as involved as Gloomhaven. In addition to being beautiful to look at with premium components, the game is full of simple yet interesting choices and a cooperative puzzle to solve with others. It does rely on dice rolls for battles, which is not to everyone’s taste, but there are plenty of ways to turn the tides of battle to your favor as you progress. I really have no complaints on this one and think it’s a beautiful, charming package and is a worthy game for any family game shelf.