The Gearlocs of Deepwood are a resourceful but reclusive bunch. However, an evil band of monsters and tyrants, known as the Ebon, have forced them out of their woodland home to shelter in the town of Obendar.
In an effort to retake your homeland, a party of Gearlocs have been chosen to leave the safety of the town walls and venture out into the forest to defeat the tyrants one by one.
Quite what hostile creatures you’ll stumble upon on the way is unknown. But one thing is for sure: you’d better love dice.
Brief Overview of Too Many Bones
Too Many Bones describes itself as a fantasy dice-builder RPG (role-playing game). You and your teammates work together on individual missions to take down different tyrants. Each adventure will see you come up against numerous enemies and obstacles – known as ‘baddies’ – and you’ll be kitting out your character along the way to deal with each one.
The gameplay is dictated by the rolls of many, many dice. However, it’s not all about luck. There’s a great deal of strategy to unpick, whether you’re deciding on the best way to bring down a foe or weighing up the most effective way to customize and enhance your character’s skills and stats.
Unboxing Too Many Bones
Here’s what you’ll get in the box:
- 1 Battle mat
- 4 Gearloc mats
- 4 Gearloc chips
- 4 lane markers
- 1 day counter
- 65 health chips
- 28 1pt baddies
- 20 5pt baddies
- 7 20pt baddies
- 60 encounter cards
- 60 loot cards
- 1 day counter card
- 7 tyrants (1 card, chip and dice each)
- 64 Gearloc skill dice
- 8 effect dice
- 16 stat dice
- 4 Gearloc initiative dice
- 4 baddie initiative dice
- 12 attack dice
- 18 defense dice
- 4 lockpicking dice
- 1 round counter
- 1 D6 die
- 1 marker
- 4 storage trays
- 5 reference sheets
Despite this being a dice game, the first thing that struck me on seeing the contents of the (huge) box is quite how much information there is in there. Alongside a very chunky rule book, you also get a full A4 sheet of paper outlining each Gearloc’s abilities, along with a bunch of other reference guides.
I was a little disappointed with the rulebook. It was poorly written and not ordered well, which certainly didn’t help make what is clearly quite a complex game any easier to understand.
Aside from this though, the quality of the rest of the box is very good. I especially like the mouse mat-style Battle Mats, which are far superior at keeping the dice well organized than a standard board.
You’ll also find a lot of poker chips, which are much easier to use and far sturdier than cardboard tokens. So, kudos for that.
Dice, Dice & More Dice
Of course, there’s a load of dice, too. And when I say ‘a load’, I mean a load. There is a LOT of them, but try not to get overwhelmed at this stage. They’re neatly packed into plastic containers and colored depending on which character they are for.
Sadly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork. The Gearlocs themselves look like a DreamWorks production that didn’t get beyond a producer’s desk. Whereas the graphic design harked back to mid-2000s Runescape with some WordArt pasted over it.
How to Play Too Many Bones
Choosing your Character
To begin, you must choose the Gearlocs that will be taking part in the adventure. There are four to choose from: Patches, Tantrum, Boomer, and Picket. Each one has a very specific set of skills. Patches, for example, is a medic, while Boomer is an expert in special grenade devices.
You’ll see on each Gearloc’s battle mat and reference guide all the potential skills they could use. Your character will have attack and defense stats which represent how many attack or defense dice are available to you on each turn. There’s also a dexterity stat, which dictates the total number of attack and defense dice you can roll in total, and how far you can move on the battle mat.
You should also choose the tyrant you want to defeat. This is basically the objective/adventure your team will be looking to complete. Each tyrant has different powers and also a maximum number of days you have to defeat it.
You progress through the game on a day-by-day basis. Each one is split into four phases:
1. New Day: This is straightforward. Simply rotate the day counter by one day.
2. Encounter: The bulk of your day will be spent on this phase. Take an Encounter card and read the situation you have to face that day. As a team, you choose between the two options presented to you and then must complete the actions. One way or another, you’re probably going to end up fighting someone. I’ll explain how this works in a moment.
3. Rewards: Should you successfully complete the Encounter card, this is when you can get and spend your rewards. In most cases, this is your chance to upgrade the stats of your character.
4. Recovery: Now it’s time for the admin. You can choose to trade loot (items that give you special abilities) with teammates, attempt to pick a lock to get some trove loot (extra special items) or heal up if you were hurt in battle, among various other things.
The battles in Too Many Bones are exciting and there’s far more to them than simply rolling dice (although there will be a lot of this). The number of baddies you face will depend on how far you’ve progressed in the game and are often chosen at random, so you’re usually entering into the total unknown.
First things first, you sort each character and baddie into the order that they’ll take their turn, known as the ‘initiative meter’. This is done by rolling their dice and then placing it on the initiative meter in descending order, making it very simple to follow. You then work through each character’s turn, choosing which actions to take and rolling the dice to determine whether they were successful. Should you defeat all the baddies, then you progress onto the reward stage. If not, you’ll have to try again.
An interesting aspect of the game are your back-up plans. These are special abilities you can use in battle, paid for in ‘Bones’. You collect Bones during battle when you roll them on the dice. Bones essentially mean your action failed. So, each time your attack misses, for example, all is not lost as it’ll contribute to you being able to use a back-up plan in the future. And, the more Bones you have, the better your back-up plan will be.
Finishing the Game
You’ll move through the days, defeating baddies, collecting loot and leveling up your character. Eventually, you’ll get the chance to face the tyrant. This battle is going to be a toughy and they’re likely to bring a bunch of friends along with them to make your job even harder.
Should you win the battle, you’ll return to Obendar a hero, giving you a chance to rest up before you’re sent out again to defeat the next tyrant.
On the other hand, if you fail, don’t worry, because you can always try again. However, just keep your eye on the day counter because if it reaches the limit before you’ve defeated the tyrant, then you lose.
Your First Game of Too Many Bones
There are no two ways about it, your first game of Too Many Bones is probably going to be a long one. You’ll spend a lot of time referring back to the information cards and you will probably continue to do so for many games to come. But don’t let that put you off. It’s just part of the game and you’re not expected to remember how each skill works or what all the monsters do.
Do the Walk-Through
The team handily provides a walk-through game in the rulebook to help you get your head around how it works, which I strongly recommend doing. It’s just a quick example and really helped me understand how it worked (especially useful considering how poor the actual instructions are).
On each Gearloc reference sheet, you’ll also see suggestions for first-time players on what skills to focus on when building up each character. There’s a lot of different options, making it quite hard to know where to start.
Once you’ve got the basics down the game will move a lot more smoothly, letting you save brain power for choosing strategies rather than working out how the initiative meter works.
Try it Solo
I’d also note that Too Many Bones works really well as a single-player game, too. The makers have put in special solo encounter cards, which you should make sure you use if taking on The Ebon alone.
Pros & Cons
- Huge amount of variation
- Great replayability
- Impressive battle system
- Fun sense of humor
Too Many Bones has a lot going on. There are over 50 baddies and 60 Encounter cards, making for thousands of potential combinations that you’re going to need to work out how to overcome. This, combined with the fact that Too Many Bones has hundreds of ways to customize your Gearloc and their abilities – from skills to professions and loot you collect along the way – means Too Many Bones has a level of replayability that is hard to match.
Possibly even more impressive, though, is the battle experiences themselves. The initiative meter system works wonderfully well, made all the better by the high-quality components in the box. What’s more, the amount of strategy involved is also particularly exciting. In order to win, you will regularly need to be thinking multiple turns in advance to decide which dice to hold onto, or whether it’s worth blowing your back-up plan now rather than holding out till later.
The solid mechanics are backed up with a refreshingly tongue-in-cheek tone to the game. I enjoyed the simplicity of calling the enemies ‘baddies’. While, on one Encounter card, I got a laugh out of being faced with the choice to either wade through a murky bog or instead choose to take the ‘suspiciously quiet path’.
- Not an easy one to pick up
- Not many characters to choose from
All that being said, I’d note that this is a very complex game to pick up and you will constantly find yourself referring back to the rulebook. The game mechanics do work very well, but there are lots of specific little rules that go with them that can become a little overwhelming sometimes. As such, it’s not the best option if you are introducing someone new to the game but want to get things moving quickly.
The sheer amount of dice can also be daunting. For instance, there are 64 different skill dice alone, all with their own symbols. The time really does start to add up when you’re constantly checking what’s what.
This likely contributed to the decision to only include four playable characters, which isn’t really that many considering how much variation there is in the rest of the game. Of course, any extra would mean including even more dice.
The gameplay is dictated by the rolls of many dice. However, it’s not all about luck. There’s a great deal of strategy to unpick, whether you’re deciding on the best way to bring down a foe, or weighing up the most effective way to customize and enhance your character’s skills and stats.
This may not be the simplest game to pick up, but it’s an absolute rollercoaster ride that makes it more than worth the effort.
It can be a big risk to try something different. But Chip Theory Games really came up trumps with this one.
Too Many Bones is a complex beast, to be sure. But all the different cogs and switches mean that every run-out is an entirely different rollercoaster of an adventure to the last one. On top of that, with so many skills and items to choose from, there’s literally (and I mean literally) thousands of different strategies you can use to prepare your Gearlocs for what lies ahead.
It may come close to rivaling War & Peace on page numbers, but Too Many Bones is more than worth the effort.
Have you tried Too Many Bones? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment below and let us know what you think!