The Snallygaster Situation is the brand new board game, based upon Renegade Game Studios’ Kids on Bikes RPG system. Designed by Michael Addison and Jonathan Gilmour, featuring artwork from Scott O’Gara and Heather Vaughan, the game sees 2 – 5 players cooperatively overcoming a monster, the feds and locating a lost kid! With one player being lost from the beginning they will be hinting towards their location, whilst a monster terrorises the town of Lakeview. However, is Lakeview a town players will want to return to again and again? Let’s find out!
A monster is on the loose and the adults aren’t listening! Not only has someone gone missing, a Lost Kid, the feds are patrolling the town. Time to venture out from the treehouses, search for clues and defeat the monsters before doom is upon us all! To start off players nominate whom will be the Lost Kid and which of four monsters will be roaming the streets. The Lost Kid, hidden from the others behind a screen, will be playing cards that give hints as to their location, places to search but also cause bad events to occur. The other kids will be using bikes, skateboards and more to move around Lakeview and determine the monster’s weaknesses.
The game follows a pattern of the Lost Kid having a turn before two kids take a turn, then the Lost Kid, then two kids and so on. The Lost Kid has to balance giving information via three discard piles with the effects of cards. These can see the monster move and attack or the feds advancing their patrols around the town. If the monster moves into the same district as a kid it’ll attack, while the feds will scan alongside the roads as they drive. Either has the potential for the doom tracker to be advanced.
Then it’s the turn for two kids. Moving out and around the town from the safety of treehouses, the other kids will first move, by spending wheel tokens, before optionally searching the building they end on. Searching at search tokens will see events from the search deck read aloud. These often come with a choice, between two benefits or two negative things, for the kid to make. Based upon the monster and goals in play some star tokens may be in play to search to advance the story. Players can also search for the Lost Kid in buildings, though incorrect guesses advance the Doom tracker!
Once the Lost Kid has been rescued they join in moving around Lakeview. They still use their deck to move, so negative events still occur – with wheel movement valves on each card. The Lost Kid has powers which can make completing the remaining goals easier and are like permanent items – which the other kids get access to. Each kid starts with an item and a ride, though through search events or goals they may be able to gain additional items. From items that hide kids from the monster and the feds for a turn, to special monster stunning hydro soakers, these can be powerful in the kids adventure to save Lakeview. Rides are slightly less impactful, though give different movement opportunities to each kid.
Whether the kids are up against the Jersey Devil, Dover Demon, Bloody Mary or the Snallygaster itself, each monster has its own weakness, which are exploited via completing various goals. Completing a goal often rewards the players somehow, making the remaining goals slightly more within reach. The players must cooperativity complete all of the goals before the doom token reaches the end of the track to win, else Lakeview is lost to the monster.
Even though I’m traditionally a fan of simpler games like free bingo games, and despite being based upon Renegade’s Kids on Bikes RPG system, there’s no getting away from the Stranger Things vibes that The Snallygaster Situation gives off. The colour palette used is visually different but everyone that I have taught the game to has instantly commented about the likeness to the incredibly popular Netflix show. The game does do a few things to distance itself. During setup a single unique monster is selected. While a kid is lost it’s hidden within the world, not some special upside down world. Regardless, it’s not realistically an issue for the game. If anything the approximate theming gets heightened and it helps players draw on a combination of the TV show and the game’s own lore to play out the events that occur.
Akin to other cooperative experiences with doom tracks, such as Elder Sign, players shouldn’t go into The Snallygaster Situation expecting to win. If the Lost Kid is able to subtly signal where they are early on then things become easier, though getting to this stage is often a struggle for players to overcome. Winning isn’t impossible but working for it only makes eventually winning feel incredibly rewarding. When losing the game drives you to wanting to crack it and win, making it re-hit the table. Repeat plays don’t necessarily make the goals easier but can allow players to see which objectives are beneficial to complete first – a hint it’s not always goal #1. When you get that win though there is almost a sigh of relief, and the “need” to play again dips slightly.
Countering this is the variability from the different roles and unique monsters. Whether you have just played as the lost kid or as the other kids, there is a draw to play the other side of the experience. For the majority they are certainly different too, sat one side of the screen or the other. One is giving clues and working with a hand of potentially bad events, whilst the other is deciphering said clues and having to react to the tokens that pops up across the board.
Each monster presents a unique challenge, being far from just cosmetic changes. Raising in difficulty from the Jersey Devil through to the Snallygaster, none of them are simple. Each slightly varies the setup, from where the other kids start, though to where goal tokens are placed. Then, during play these monsters each impact the gameplay: from blocking buildings to reducing the Lost Kids’ hand size from 4 down to potentially only 2. There’s even additional monster specific sideboards, items and search cards also introduced. The whole experience isn’t changed but the constraints to the players helps offer a different challenge each time.
The Snallygaster Situation is by no means an easy cooperative game and this will put some off. If you can get past this there is a solid experience to be had. It’s full of choices, deduction, varied monsters and an awesome, if not slightly close to the IP of Stranger Things, theme. Any link to the Netflix show isn’t detrimental though, and it doesn’t feel like a bad knock off, as often can be the case. Having the variety of monsters and the two completely different roles around the table, it’s easy to see many enjoying the game – and when victory is finally reached a feeling of accomplishment is certainly there.
(Editor’s Note: The Snallygaster Situation: Kids on Bikes Board Game was provided to us by the publisher for the review.)