Set a Watch

Title: Set a Watch
Player count: 1 to 4
Play time: 45 min. to 1h

Set a Watch is a game that was released in 2019 following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2018 (back when I was not completely addicted yet … which explains why I had never heard of it until a few months back). This game is designed by Mike Gnade and Todd Walsh. Rings a bell? Probably should for Mike Gnade at least who worked on games such as AlderQuest, Maximum Apocalypse or the upcoming and very hyped Lawyer Up which was recently on Kickstarter (late pledge available here).

Coverage of Set a Watch spiked in the last few weeks given the increasing attention devoted to solo players during the confinement. And yes I am very happy as I do enjoy a good solo game … and of course my bank account is also looking forward to the end of this lockdown! Another good news for fellow players is that there will be an expansion coming next year on Kickstarter and I received confirmation from the designer that there will also be an upgrade pack if you missed the previous Kickstarter.

What is Set a Watch?

This is a dice rolling game set up in a fantasy world. There is not much of a backstory but you can imagine that the kingdom is in danger and you are coming to the rescue. The plan is to set up a camp and to travel across the kingdom with your team of warriors. Each of them have their own abilities and your campfire will be central to your endeavour as this will drive some of your action as well as your ability to tackle the enemies lurking in darkness.

Everything I will explain here is based on a solo mode but can apply to higher player counts. When you have more players, you will spread your heroes amongst your teammates but overall play is not affected. Now that you know this, let’s open the box and empty it of these cards and dice. Yes, as you can see in the main picture, the box will also serve as a board and container for some of you cards.

First of all, you select randomly four adventurers and lay out their four cards in front of you. Then select (again at random) three abilities that you will spread out. From all of them, you have to select one randomly and exhaust it. As these represent also your characters’ health, this means that every single adventurer will start the game with only 2 health points. (apparently a common mistake amongst new players so keep it in mind). You can then distribute their dice (d6 or d8, depending on your adventurers).

Then set up your creature deck (separate your unhallowed monsters in another deck for now) by selected randomly 30 creatures and then including 1 to 4 summon cards depending on what level of difficulty you want to play on. Divide your creature deck into as many summon cards before including them and shuffle separately before forming one deck in total. This means your summon cards with not be altogether as you include several small stacks of cards with each summon card. (FYI, a summon card is powerful as it exhaust one ability of the adventurer on camp and is then placed in the graveyard and replaced by an Unhallowed Card – ie. very powerful monster).

Prepare your journey: take the location cards and remove all final locations (one in the base game) and respite locations (with a tent figure). Then draw 8 randomly and put them face down on the location slot in the box + add a final location at the bottom. This will represent your journey across the kingdom. Place all other locations cards in the “unused location” slot, these will be used when triggering some bonuses allowing you to select locations.

Unhallowed deck: shuffle the unhallowed and draw one to place face down in the horde deck (within the box), then deal 7 in a face-up deck next to the board and discard all remaining. The Horde deck represents your final battle and will build up (or not) during your game. Your should therefore have so far one card in the horde and an unhallowed deck with the top card revealed for you to see. Last thing, set up the firewood value at 7 to start the game (you can also roll the d8 to select the value and make it harder).

I will not go too much down the rules and various turns as there are plenty of videos online and the rulebooks is also available on the BGG page (set up is not the clearest but turns breakdown is great and there is also a section breaking down a typical game which is very helpful) –> here. What I would rather do is to explain the main mechanisms so that you can see if this game is for you or not based on that.

Turn order:
Reveal location (no decrease in firewood value during 1st round)
Roll dice for all adventurers and decide which one will camp. This adventurer now select the various camp actions he will take (special rules apply)
Apply any effect from the location if necessary before revealing monsters
Draw as many creatures as indicated on the location and place in a line going towards the campfire. Only reveal face up the closest cards to the fire and respect the number of creatures you can show depending on your fire value (1, 2 or 3): the brighter the fire, the more you can see
Combat: you will now select attacks (bearing in mind your range) and abilities from your party to decimate the groupe of daemons coming your way – keep in mind the creatures’ abilities in general and when they are first in line. Do this until you have no dice left to take any actions
Damage: if you cannot kill all creatures, you then take damage for all remaining daemons in line

You will repeat this for each location in the deck and also bearing in mind that each adventurer can only go twice to camp for the whole game. When you reach the final location, no one goes to camp. You then deal creatures as always depending on the value on the location and then add the horde deck, making it extra challenging to tackle (luckily you have one extra adventurer compared to all your previous turns). If you get through this and still have some firewood and at least one adventurer standing, you win. Otherwise, well … daemons will be feasting on your remains.

How does it play?

What a great adventure is Set a Watch. Immersive in the story it tells and with some great heroes and monsters. I have played several games both solo and 2 players and really enjoyed them both. Actually love the solo part as it feels even more like a puzzle. Analysing how to use all your powers and dice in order to take down your foes and being wise enough in order not too be caught off guard by monsters hiding in the darkness really got to me.

There is a great variety in the cards available to you, the fact that you have several heroes and that you can either select them or pick them at random (as suggested by the rulebook). Games will never be exactly the same and your brain will be left burning to adapt to some of these challenges. Easy to set up and take away this compact world is a great game to take with you and once mastered, rules are very straight forward. Special thumbs up for the components and the portability of the game. Just a small disappointment with the dice with some colours I don’t particularly like and the overall quality which I feel could be better given you use them all the time.

Not much to complain about but I would mention two things that for me make this game not so perfect.
– variety can seem great at first but this will probably wear out rather quickly if you play several games in a row as you will mainly come across the same enemies (luckily, the unhallowed deck will keep a few nice surprises for you). Therefore a game I cannot go back to too often if I want to keep that energy and passion I have when I play it
– the game is not as balanced as I would have liked – some heroes and abilities are clearly stronger than others and I felt that some combinations will leave you to struggle a lot more during the game. Whilst I do not really mind this amongst enemies so that it keeps the game fresh every time, I felt that unbalanced cards in your hands are just taking away some of the initial thrills you can feel when battling through the waves of enemies

However, I know my experiences will get even better as soon as I can get my hands on the expansion et the Kickstarter upgrade pack when available through the campaign! All in all, if you are looking for a great hand/board management game with dice rolling set in a fantasy world and which can still be challenging while not being too complex to learn then you should give Set a Watch a try!

Verdict: 8/10

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