Review: Critical Role stumbles with its first board game, Uk’otoa

The reach of Crucial Function is enormous. What started as a group of good friends sharing a love for Dungeons & Dragons has actually become a multi-million dollar franchise with an offer for a streaming animated series. Now the program’s reach is broadening with Uk’otoa, the very first parlor game to be released under its brand-new Darrington Press brand name.

The bright side is that, as an aesthetically appealing curio, this item makes a terrific collector’s product. The problem is that the gameplay itself isn’t all that much enjoyable.

Crucial Function started streaming in 2015, right in the middle of the cast’s very first D&D project, which occurs in a fantastical world referred to as Exandria. Led by voice-actor-turned-Dungeon-Master Matthew Mercer, the group has actually advanced through 2 projects and almost 300 livestreamed episodes. Crucial Function has actually given that raised more than $11 million dollars on Kickstarter, and protected a two-season offer with Amazon Prime.

A game of Uk’Otoa set up for play, with a series of tiles with multi-colored sailor meeples on each one.

Image: Darrington Press

The name Uk’otoa referrals Exandria’s snake divine being, a huge sea beast whose long-standing objective has actually been to complimentary itself from an intricate, wonderful jail. The parlor game informs the story of a single disastrous encounter in between the recently freed monster and a completely crewed cruising ship. It’s a succinct, 30-minute affair that’s wonderfully detailed and adoringly produced, however one that eventually feels a bit too tame and doing not have any sense of dynamism.

My preliminary venture into Uk’otoa started with a fascinating twist. As I began constructing the deck of the ship with the other gamers, tile by tile, I discovered that the architecture of the boat can presume a large selection of shapes. Every one enables a rather various feel each time. We chose for a basic concentric circle, a technique which the rulebook recommends for our very first getaway.

As we rotated positioning sailors on the board and got our beginning hand of action cards, a 2nd wonderful awareness sank in. Establishing Uk’otoa naturally produces a series of semi-cooperative alliances in between the gamers at the table. It assisted to raise the social friction at the heart of the style. It’s achieved by arbitrarily positioning a colored disc in between you and each of your next-door neighbors at the table. The color signifies the faction of team members you which individual should secure. So a green disc put to my best linked me with Jennifer, while a yellow on my left created a group with Mark. It didn’t take long for rivalries to emerge as this setup arranged multiple overlapping teams.

Sample cards from the game, which feature a hand-written cursive font.

Photo: Darrington Press

Protecting your sailors is difficult. A well crafted, moderately sized Uk’otoa miniature slowly trudges forward, devouring the ship tile by tile. Anyone in its path gets swallowed and removed from play. The mechanic puts players against the wall early, and forces you to spend the entirety of the game maneuvering your crew members to safety in order to stave off their inevitable death.

It wasn’t long into the game when I played a tentacle card, an action which causes Uk’otoa to lash out and slay multiple adjacent sailors. In this particular instance, of carnage two blue sailors were felled, but also a poor little yellow bystander. Of course Mark wasn’t pleased, since our alliance lost a soul, but on my opposite side Jennifer couldn’t hold back the laughter. Player agency consists entirely of using action cards such as that tentacle. It’s a neat system where you toss out a card to move your own sailors, push others around, and partake in bloodshed at the behest of the monstrous sea beast.

I latched onto the game’s hand management aspect right away. If you play two duplicate cards of the same action then you can keep your turn going. This requires some clever decisions around sandbagging options and hoping to pull a matching action from the deck. So we went back and forth, taking turns throwing elbows and fists in order to push each other aside. Already invested in multiple teams and, since I only needed one of my sailors to survive, each loss and dramatic turn brought plenty of laughs. I could feel the light and jocular nature of the game creeping in, which overruled any sense of punishment.

As quickly as we started, though, the end game approached. Before long we all realized that the last few pieces remaining on the board would decide the outcome. These pieces were seeded during the initial setup, sailors put at the heart of the ship where Uk’otoa would arrive at the climax of the violence. For the previous 20 minutes we shuffled our sailors around and pushed others into harm’s way, but none of it had actually mattered.

Multicolored meeples wailing.

Image: Darrington Press

The natural tension of the finale was lessened by the inconsequential experience that led up to it. As the once jocular tone shifted, the atmosphere became dominated by a strong feeling of feebleness. This is because when you pull off a promising move — such as shoving an opponent into harm’s way while saving your own piece’s plastic skin — it doesn’t really matter. The beast Uk’otoa will devour everything in the end, and keeping one of your sailors alive just a little bit longer is ultimately irrelevant. The totality of play comes down to just those last few turns where the stakes are finally raised. That tends to sap the life out of the game. Everyone at the table is just going through the motions until the final few rounds. This isn’t altogether terrible design, it’s just not very exciting.

The Uk’Otoa miniature itself, rendered in gray plastic on a hexagonal base.

Image: Darrington Press

Another issue is that the game suffers at higher player counts. With four or five people at the table there are so few open spaces on the board that the movement cards are of limited utility. This leaves gamers mostly pushing Uk’otoa forward or lashing out with a tentacle if they’ve gotten lucky and top-decked one of these options. But, even those cards can offer little benefit if the pieces that happen to be surrounding the monster are your own.

My memory of the victorious team in that first playthrough is non-existent. As I fell into the design and explored what it had to offer, it left me cold and indifferent. Further playthroughs only exacerbated that problem.

I was hoping for a design that captured some of the feel of friction-heavy board video game classics, such as Lifeboats or Endure: Escape From Atlantis, dressed up in the features of Exandria. What I got was a Vital Function bauble which can chew up a half hour of time. Regretfully, anybody looking for a really notable tabletop experience is much better off looking in other places.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.