Critical Role is expanding beyond the bounds of D&D with its own board game, which happens to be a tactical take on battle royale involving a hungry sea serpent. But is it fun? And do you need to be a Critical Role fan to appreciate it? I can say, as someone who hasn’t watched Critical Role, that Uk’otoa is worth diving into.
Uk’otoa comes from Darrington Press, the new branch of Critical Role that will publish several board games tangentially related to the popular D&D actual play show. As the first Darrington Press game, Uk’otoa sets a great precedent – it references the lore of Critical Role without being dependent on it. Fans will appreciate the ability to join factions like the Clovis Concord or the Myriad, and of course the fact that Uk’otoa himself is a big bad. But as just another board game in a crowded market, Uk’otoa still presents a straightforward, exciting concept – players fight to be the last one standing on a sinking ship.
Three to five control hilarious, unfortunate meeples of different colors (just look at their poor faces) on a ship made of hexagonal tiles. Every turn, a player can start by moving the Uk’ota miniature one space. Any meeple who is caught in the sea serpent’s path is devoured, and the tile Uk’otoa came from gets eliminated. So this is a map reduction game, but it also has the appeal of video games’ favorite new genre: battle royale. As Uk’otoa closes in and the ship gets smaller, players cluster and make their frantic final plays.
If Uk’otoa was that alone, it would make for a fun party game. But there’s an extra layer of strategy in that players technically play on teams. You share one color with the person to your left, and a different color with the person to your right. If only one color is left standing, both of that color’s controllers win. But if you can manage to manipulate events so that your two colors are the only ones left, you win a solo victory. This adds a social element of cautious cooperation that I haven’t experienced in many board games.
To help (or hinder) your plans, players can use cards to advance Uk’otoa extra spaces, lash out his tentacle to grab far away meeples, move their own meeples away, and even throw opponents into harm’s way. I enjoyed this aspect of the game as it added depth to the chaos. There’s also a combo system where you can play copies of the same card to get multiple actions in one turn. My group didn’t get much experience with it yet, but it feels like it adds some staying power to Uk’otoa by giving it a layer of deeper strategy.
At $29.99, Uk’otoa makes a great party starter for game night. Even if you’re not a Critical Role fan, you’ll be able to appreciate the easy-to-grasp setup, tactical gameplay, and opportunity for devious betrayals. If Darrington Press continues to hit that sweet spot between simple fun and deeper strategy, it might just make a Critical Role fan out of me yet.
A copy of Uk’otoa was provided by Darrington Press for this review. It’s available now on the Critical Role website.
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