Set A Watch Review – Rangers and Rerolls
At the end of last year an interesting game hit Kickstarter. Set within the high fantasy genre, it promised not just a 1-4 player cooperative game but a game which positioned itself similar to a puzzle. That game was Set a Watch.
A couple of days ago, it arrived. There’s a lot to unpack with this game, metaphorically speaking, so there will possibly be a few analysis articles in future – however, let’s kick things off today with a Set a Watch review to start the ball rolling.
What is Set a Watch?
Set a Watch is a 1-4 player cooperative dice exploration game designed by Todd Walsh, in which you play as a party setting camp. It takes around 1 hour to play and there are always four characters being used at a time, no matter the number of players. One character stays at camp and does actions associated with being at camp. Three characters are watchers by the light of the fire, fighting the monsters that appear within its glow.
It is down to the players to work together in order to defeat the monsters. They must use their wits, their skill, and some math in order to progress to the next location.
Ultimately speaking, Set a Watch is a high fantasy romp through a series of difficult scenarios in order to reach (and defeat) the final location.
How Do You Play Set a Watch?
Set a Watch is played over the course of nine rounds, each one dominated by a location. As mentioned before, there are four characters in play, of which one will always be based in the camp. Each round is split into two parts – a Camp phase and a Watch phase.
First, a location is revealed from a set of 9 locations. There are way more locations in the deck than just the nine, so there is plenty of replayability. The locations will dictate the number of creature cards revealed during the round, along with a negative for how much wood is consumed that evening for keeping the fire burning. Finally, there may be an additional affect, unique to that location, that must be adhered to.
All players then roll their dice. There are two types of character – red and blue. Red characters (including the Cleric and the Wizard) use D6 dice. The blue characters (including the Beast Master and Ranger) use D8 dice. Each character has 3x the dice of their type. Each character also has three ability cards, chosen from a potential 5. These are abilities dice can be spent on to activate special effects within the game.
Players roll their dice and one player is chosen to stay at camp. Whilst in camp, the player can choose to spend dice to:
- Chop Wood – one dice equals two wood
- Scout Ahead – allowing the player to look ahead into the creature deck
- Check the Map – the first action that requires a specific dice value (4+) to allow the player to look ahead in the map and potentially change it.
- Heal – requiring exactly a 6 to ready an exhausted ability on any of the characters.
- Equip – allows the character to change an ability card.
- Cast a Rune – These are slightly more complex as there are Seal, Vanquish and Bolster runes. Doubles are needed to activate them, and two or three must be activated at a time.
- Or do a character ability – a dice can be spent to do the character specific ability.
Next, once three actions have been assigned, it is on to the Watch phase.
During the watch phase, a series of creatures are laid out, with only 1, 2, or 3 revealed at first, depending on how much fire wood there is. You can either attack the first one, use a missile attack to attack the first or second, or certain abilities allow you to affect ones later on down the line. You, as a general rule, cannot affect creatures you cannot see.
There are also super tough creatures called Unhallowed.
Each creature has health, damage they deal if not defeated, and most have effects.
Players must either straight up attack, using the dice value, combining the party’s dice (there is no player order so everyone can attack in any order) to defeat monsters. Alternatively, players can spend dice on abilities to do super cool things. Be careful though, as abilities also double up as health. If you cannot start a round with at least one adventurer (on watch) with one ability readied then it is game over.
Once all players have done everything they can, the round is over, whether they have defeated all the enemies or not. Instead, the Watch takes damage equal to the damage of all of the reaming creatures, spending ability cards as such. If the adventurers can’t take all the damage, the adventurers lose.
Those remaining creatures then join…THE HORDE.
During the final round, no adventurer stays at the camp. Instead, all fight. The creatures are drawn from The Horde as well, meaning the creatures are made up almost entirely of difficult creatures you failed to kill. If you make it through that, you win the game.
There are a few additional rules worth noting. Firstly, each adventurer can only stay in camp twice, and there are really cool tokens for denoting this in the deluxe version of the game. Secondly, there are boss type creatures called “Unhallowed” who come out occasionally. One immediately starts the Horde and they can find themselves in the deck due to Summoned Cards. Summoned Cards put Unhallowed in the creature deck. They act a little bit like water rises or outbreak cards in Forbidden Island or Pandemic accordingly.
What’s it like playing Set A Watch?
Although remarkably simple to learn, Set a Watch is a surprisingly challenging game – and it does play out surprisingly like a puzzle. Each round needs logic and luck.
But what is it like to play? Well, it’s kind of hard to explain. It is a puzzle, there is no doubt about that, yet it is a cooperative one. Co-op games can often turn into a group experience where one player says “here’s what I would do” and it sort of becomes their game. Set a Watch isn’t like that as the whole puzzle reveals itself over time – this means each section needs to be approached sequentially rather than in one go.
That being said, as much as that sounds like a prosaic answer, there is something addictive and compelling about Set a Watch.
It can’t be ignored that there is a fair amount of luck in Set a Watch. The whole game has a luck aspect to it that can sometimes be overwhelming. The dice can have minds of their own (as with all dice games) and there is some luck with the creature deck. We have grown a hatred for zombies and skeletons who have frustrating abilities – that being said, it is nothing that can’t be overcome. That is a part of the challenge of the game.
That luck aspect may put some players off, however, we enjoyed it and it adds replayability to the game.
So, Set a Watch is a challenge and sometimes it can be really difficult – but what else?
Well, the theme of the game works well, and the artwork is fantastic. At first the Kickstarter page had me a bit worried as the artwork was unfinished, that being said, the game has finished up well. The creature cards look amazing.
One of the highlights of the game is the uniqueness of each character through the ability card. Each character had five ability cards, of which they can have any three at any time. Those abilities can be of serious help and can be really neat. From what we can tell, out of the five abilities, each character has one or two game changing ones, and the rest are lesser abilities in regards to what they do.
What Set a Watch does is position itself in a space where it has this really interesting dynamic at the table. In a way – the placing of monsters and the rolling of dice, even the camp actions themselves, are not so much the game but the preparation of the game. It is building the puzzle, and putting the truss of the pieces in place. Instead, the real game is trying to solve that puzzle with the pieces in your hand. It’s invigorating, hard to explain, but fun nevertheless.
What is quite nice is that there isn’t really a difference between the multiplayer game and the solo mode. It is rare that this is the case, but enjoyable. There are no additional tweaks or changes that have to be made purely because you want to play solo.
I have to admit that there is something intrinsically both infinitely satisfying and intriguing about Set a Watch that makes it so entertaining to play. There comes a moment where you have exactly what you need and you just manage to defeat the last creature in an area where you can’t help but smile. It feels awesome, that moment where you think all is lost…but oh wait…you have an ability you can use! Or you think something bad will happen, but no, you have just the right number on your combined dice between you. It feels great.
Alternatively, that also works the other way. You can’t quite defeat a monster because you have run out of abilities and your dice are just short. It feels bad, but it makes you more determined for the next round.
One thing about Set a Watch is that it is easy to feel complacent at the start of the game. You feel like you can defeat anything, but since healing is so few and far between, the game actually gets harder over time.
All in all though, Set a Watch is an enjoyable and challenging cooperative puzzle. We are looking forward to cracking it out again and again, discovering different combinations of characters and abilities. There is a lot of replayability within the box (a box which also doubles as a board – which is really cool) and no two games should ever play out the same.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Unhallowed
So, now we have looked at the review, we can look at good, bad, and neutral points about the game.
- Set a Watch plays like a cooperative puzzle. It is a joint experience in which all players must try to solve the pieces laid before them.
- Set a Watch oozes theme. The artwork is fantastic, and it comes across with a real high fantasy feel. It is very D&D-esque.
- There are two distinct steps within each round of the game – the Camp and the Watch – once the Camp is done everyone takes their turn at the same time to solve the puzzles. This makes it incredibly fluid as each round is optimised by the players.
- The character and ability cards make each character very different. The abilities are a really neat addition to the game, especially because they can (through the Equip action) be swapped in and out throughout the game.
- There is a lot of replayability. First in the various characters (8 within the box – the Kickstarter version – of which 4 are played at any one point), the Unhallowed, the creature cards (of which only 30 are played with), and the additional character abilities. There is plenty of scope for the game to change each time it is played.
- The character abilities seem to vary quite a lot in power and strength. We have found in particular that the Wizard’s Polymorph ability and the Ranger Sharpshooter ability are especially good. That being said, more analysis will need to be done to confirm if this is the case.
The (Potentially) Negative
- Although this isn’t personally something I find irritating, it is important to note that there is a fair amount of randomness within the game. This can put some players off. It is a part of the puzzle, but with some negative rolls it may be a part of the puzzle that some players could get frustrated with.
Set a Watch Review Conclusion
Set a Watch is a fun game. Kickstarter is always a little bit of a gamble, but this time it has paid off. My partner, and Player 2, Beth turned to me after we played our first game and said “I really really enjoyed that. That is really good.” Where I don’t always agree with her conclusions – yes, in this case, Set a Watch is a good game and one we both enjoy. I sense we will be playing it a lot again in future.
So, what are your thoughts? Did you back it? If so, have you played it? If not, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.