Too Many Bones Review

Too Many Bones - Cover - Chip Theory Games

Ordinarily, the name of a game gives a clue as to the content, theme or idea behind it. It seems that Chip Theory Games beg to differ and named their game, Too Many Bones, based on Moon Logic and a vague idea. For the game is not about, as you might expect, skeletons, pirates, the undead or even the exploits of an enthusiastic grave-digger with hoarding tendencies who is running out of storage space.

Too Many Bones - Map of Daelore - board game review

Too Many Bones is sold as a “Dice Building RPG” which is where I must interject on Chip Theory’s part with a strong caveat. For those of you with more than a passing interest in traditional pen-and-paper Role-Playing Games (RPGs), you’ll know that the first two letters are quite key to the level of involvement in such games. Video game RPGs (VRPGs) have a lot to answer for here as they often forego this aspect in favour of streamlining and playability, but still allow you to make some basic character decisions (mostly through dialogue choices), but rarely afford you total freedom of action. Whilst this may be picky of me, it’s very important to the function of Too Many Bones as it puts it very firmly in the VRPG camp and offers almost no “proper” role-playing outside of some flamboyant dice rolling.

With soapbox firmly stowed, Too Many Bones follows the exploits of a group of Gearlocs. A sort of hybrid of Elves and Goblins with a fascination for Steampunk technology. This handy bunch of forest-dwelling beings have taken it upon themselves to liberate the lands from one of the many Tyrants that rule the place. You and your mates each choose one of the available characters (four in the base game, expandable to eight if you have a crippling fear of money) and grab the rather lovely associated set of custom dice (20 per character!) for your chosen Gearloc hero or heroine.

Too Many Bones board game review - Encounter

Too Many Bones is an encounter-based game set over a number of in-game days, defined by the big-bad you’ve chosen to face. This then defines the number of encounter cards you’ll start with along with some pre-defined ones to get the ball rolling. Draw a card each day, make a team choice which may result in a battle, recover, open any loot you get, advance the day marker, rinse and repeat. So it’s all very straightforward and slick on the face of things.

When Too Many Bones says it's a Dice Builder, it really means it. There are over 130 dice in the base game, and in a four-player game, you may need most of them. So lots of polyhedrons flying around, which makes for the good times. Component quality is extremely high; all dice are custom printed, all the neoprene mats are sewn on the edges to prevent fraying, cards and cheat sheets are all plasticised to prevent tearing and water damage (because beer is mandatory during an RPG...) and  every character, baddie and Tyrant are represented by these wonderful, hefty poker chips. Everything fits in the base box with ease, even the six expansion boxes. It's almost like Chip Theory thought about it.

Too Many Bones board game review- Patches

What makes Too Many Bones so much fun (that was the sound of a cat escaping a bag) is what you do during the game and how you build your characters up with all their attributes and skills. Broadly speaking, each Gearloc has four stats, some semi-permanent dice slots and 16 skill slots. A lot of the enjoyment comes in how you improve your character after each encounter (assuming you succeed) and then subsequently put those upgrades to use in the next barney. Of course, this is probably true of any RPG (Video or otherwise) so we are at least on point.

And whilst on the subject, getting into a scrap is the other major part of Too Many Bones, much like any RPG worth its salt. Unlike most RPGs, the combat is relatively straightforward and usually involves simply rolling a bunch of dice and seeing what happens. Of course, the beauty here is “which dice” and that’s the important bit. Within the limits of your stats, you can roll any combination of attack, defence and skill dice and it’s this combination that makes the combat a tense affair. Picking between the possibility of hitting for an additional point of damage, maybe a better defence or making use of that new and exciting skill you’ve been dying to use makes for that all-important difficult decision we love so much. Then you can groan as you roll a plethora of bones (too many?) and set yourself up for a kicking from the baddies.

Too Many Bones board game review - Combat

Combat isn’t dogged by the usual limits of RPGs; there’s no line of sight, no “engaged” state, no attacks of opportunity, no underhanded stealth attacks and so on. It’s “pick your target and hit them with big sticks”. You can move around, but there’s less need to so there’s one fewer thing to worry about. To make things a bit more interesting, there are the usual concoctions of conditions; poisoned, stunned, flying and so on. Each has an effect on the game and in turn, your team strategy. The other great thing about combat is that it's very visual. Every Gearloc and Baddie is represented by a very fancy poker chip. Hit points are noted by a stack of red chips below the character chip and the whole pile moves around as one. Very striking and easy to track; lose HP and your stack gets smaller. Once it's wiped out, you're taken off the board. Last side standing wins.

Now I wouldn't be doing my job as a critic if this was all good news and of course it's not. Too Many Bones does have one stand-out problem which takes the form of the rulebook. It's a strange thing in itself because when one is reading through it, it makes perfect sense. Then you start to play and realise you haven't the foggiest idea how to proceed. Navigating the book is about as straightforward as wandering through a marsh in the dark and many of the rules aren't even in the rulebook; they're on the character cheat sheets or the game guide. Characters are all different so it's easy to understand the logic here, but there's no excuse for a rulebook that badly written. The best thing about it is the walkthrough at the back, which I strongly recommend you go through. 

Too Many Bones board game review - Tantrum

Thing is, once you've gone through a game of Too Many Bones, everything clicks into place and it's all very straightforward. It all scales from one solo to four players (there's even a dedicated solo encounter deck) and it's all as smooth as a teflon enema. It's got that "gimme more" feeling whenever you complete or fail a quest, which really tells me we're onto a winner here. Character customisation is pretty much unlimited and with four to eight of the critters, there's endless scope for development, millions of quest combinations and that all-important roll that can make or break a quest.

Now all this pimp, bling and super-duper production comes at a price. Quite a hefty one in fact. The base box weighs in at a tasty £93 RRP, although given the amount you get in the box, that's not actually a bad price. There's no feeling of over production, everything in the box is needed and used and it really does feel like value for money. I recommend the use of a forklift though; it's not exactly light, especially fully expanded. Throw all the extras (one of which is £67 on its own) and you're looking at the thick end of £300, but you know what? Too Many Bones is still worth it. It's bloody lovely.

Resisting buying some things can be a good thing for one's wallet, but in the case of Too Many Bones, I'm extremely glad I gave in and bought the lot. I heartily recommend you do too, even if it means you subsist on beans for the rest of your days.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game.
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