Too Many Bones is Too Much Fun
Too Many Bones, published by Chip Theory Games, originally came out in 2017, but has consistently released new content that expands on its already massive experience. This was one of my Grail Games until I got my hands on it about a year ago and have been slowly gathering all of the expansions like the little dice hoarder I am. As much is I enjoy Too Many Bones, it has sat on my review backburner for quite some time in favor of newer releases. With the expansion Too Many Bones: Unbreakable crowdfunding campaign that just wrapped up on Gamefound, there’s no better time to finally discuss the game. However, for the purpose of this article, we’ll only be talking about the base game. We’ll publish a follow up article in the weeks to come that goes into detail about all of the extra characters and their abilities.
Before we talk about Too Many Bones, we have to take a moment to talk about Chip Theory Games. Like most designers and publishers, Chip Theory Games claims to offer durable high quality components that make their games top of the line. In the case of Chip Theory Games, they really do mean it. In all other their games, cardboard gameboards are replaced with durable neoprene mats. What would normally be bulky plastic miniatures, small wooden meeples, or cardboard standees for the characters are replaced by hefty poker chips.
More impressively, all the cards in their games are made from a plastic that is flexible, easy to shuffle, and hard to damage. While we’re really only talking about Too Many Bones today, the same level of commitment to quality is present in their other titles, Burncycle, Cloudspire, Triplock, and Hoplomachus. I’ll likely say this a few times throughout the article, but I wanted to highlight just how evident it is that Chip Theory Games really cares not only about the design of their games, but also the longevity of their products once its in the customers’ hands.
The aptly named Too Many Bones is a cooperative game for up to four players who take on the role of Gearlocs, strange little elf-hobbit-dwarf like creatures, in a fight to take back their land. Each of the four playable Gearlocs (Picket, Patches, Boomer, and Tantrum) fulfill a unique function within their party and have sixteen skills that can be learned over the course of the game. Players will need to master the skill timing as each ability can only be used once per battle making the timing of when they’re used absolutely essential to the Gearlocs’ success.
If you’re thinking this is another bulky campaign game, you’d only be half right. Too Many Bones is a massive box filled to the brim with dice and durable PVC cards. At the start of a game, players will choose one of four Gearlocs to play as and one of seven different Tyrants to go up against. Thanks to Chip Theory Games’ thoughtful design, each of the Tyrant bosses highlight both their difficulty, as well as the game length.
Too Many Bones is played in a series of rounds referred to as Days. At the start of each day, players draw a new event card and resolve it. More often than not, these cards will result in a combat encounter where Gearlocs take on Baddies represented by high quality poker chips. Each of these chips has a one, five, or twenty point value on the back of the chip and the specific Baddie details on the other side.
Combat encounters instruct players to assemble a Baddie Queue based on number of players multiplied by the current Day. For example, a two-player game of on their second Day would need to construct a BQ worth four points, ultimately being a stack of four one-point Baddies. On their third Day, the BQ would be six-points, consisting of one five-point Baddie and a one-point Baddie. It’s a simple system that efficiently scales the game challenge and difficulty to accommodate for both player count and progression of skills.
At the end of an encounter, players will have the opportunity to spend earned Training Points to either bolster their base stats, or gain a new skill die specific to their character. Each character has two to three Skill Professions which are color coded on each Gearloc player mat. To progress through a Profession, players will need to start by unlocking the base Profession skill, indicated by a star. Subsequent skills can be unlocked in order by following that color coded path.
Upgrading skills is part of the Reward Phase where players gain Loot cards, spend Training points, and organize any other rewards players earned for finishing the encounter. After that, players enter the Recovery Phase where they can freely trade Loot amongst one another, attempt to lockpick any particularly special Loot in their possession, and then choose one of three individual recovery options. Each player gets the chance to choose between searching for a better Loot item, revealing a Baddie on top of the stack before it becomes part of the Baddie Queue, or healing themselves to full health. Once each player has made their decision, the game progresses to the next round, advancing to the next day and encounter until players have earned enough points to go head-to-head with the chosen Tyrant.
And that, my friends, is the entirety of the game. In structure, Too Many Bones is straightforward and easy to learn. What makes the experience so engaging is the range of Baddies, Tyrants, events, and playable Gearlocs that give players so many different ways to experience the adventure.
Even with all the times I’ve played it, the experience has never been the same thing twice. There’s an excellent balance between optimized decision making while choosing character skills and pushing luck with die rolls in combat. If you enjoy challenging dice chucking, then Too Many Bones may be one you want to consider picking up.
But it’s worth noting there are a lot of pros and cons. With wide variety of player and enemy keywords, there is a lot of information to retain, even moreso after expansions are introduced. I find myself referring back to the rulebook and reference sheets for clarity far more often with Too Many Bones than any other game. Between keywords like Thick Skin, Careless, and Hardy, as well as the mini-game specific rules, there’s a plethora of circumstantial rules that make Too Many Bones a bit too reading heavy. Even as a fan of big rule heavy games like Gloomhaven and Tainted Grail, Too Many Bones can be a bit much absorb at first.
With so many key words and specific rules, the learning curve on this one is steep making it challenging for new players to grasp. I would argue the hardest part is understanding the difference between how each die is applied and when it’s exhausted or not. Since each character has sixteen skills that are unique to their Gearloc, players will have to be fairly self-sufficient since rules that apply to Picket may not apply to Tantrum. It’s not the friendliest game for first timers and those first few rounds will be painful to talk new players through. If everyone can push through the initial struggle, the round structure and surface mechanics should click by the end of the first encounter. After that, new players will be able to grasp the basic concepts of how to play, even if the deeper strategies around party skill composition are still too much at this stage.
I love Too Many Bones, but I’m stuck on whether or not I would recommend it. I wouldn’t typically do such a transparent pros and cons list, but I want to help our readers really identify whether or not Too Many Bones is a good fit for them. We try to be as objective as we can, but since dice-chucking is so central to the experience and can be such a divisive gameplay mechanic, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to decide with some handy pros and cons:
- If you enjoy challenging games Too Many Bones has a lot to offer. Combat is brutal from the standpoint that players are often outnumbered by Baddies (except at four players) and late game Baddies hit hard. Good team communication and planning is the only way to win.
- Unbelievably quality components and if for some reason something isn’t perfect, Chip Theory games is among the best when it comes to customer support and doing right by their consumers.
- Game length transparency-
- Want to play Too Many Bones but not make a whole night of it? Chip Theory Games clearly outlines the difficulty and length of game on the Tyrant cards so players can select what type of experience they’re looking to have for that session.
- Great level of variety-
- While there are only four playable characters in the base game, there are plenty of different ways to different ways to experience their specializations through character builds.
- There’s a ridiculous amount of variety with the Baddies as well. There are several different types of Baddies (Dragon, Beasts, Poison, Goblin, etc.) that each require different tactics to defeat.
- Excellent character development-
- Too Many Bones offers a character growth system that replicates the level of customization of many campaign style games consolidated into a single session.
- For players who want to expand their gameplay options, Chip Theory Games has many character expansions as well as a campaign available, significantly adding to the number of ways players can enjoy Too Many Bones. Since each character can be used in the base game and any combination of expansions, the more characters you have available, the greater the replay value.
- While I’ve also listed this as a pro, not everyone is going to love how challenging Too Many Bones can be. It doesn’t punish you for losing as brutally as other games like Kingdom Death: Monster, but getting knocked out isn’t terribly uncommon either.
- The mini-games triggered by event cards feel thematically disconnected. While they can be enjoyable, it breaks up the flow of the game to learn a new mini-set of rules and setup a board state unique to that particular game. They tend to slow down the overall experience.
- Anyone who dislikes randomness should avoid adding Too Many Bones to their collection. Even the most careful planning can come crashing down with just a few bad dice rolls. Loot and certain skills can assist in mitigating some degree of bad luck, but having the right tools for the every possible situation us pretty much impossible. If you need to be able to optimize your turns, Too Many Bones is likely not going to be a good fit.
- The downside of variety-
- With such a wide array of enemy keywords and game mechanics, there is a metric ton of information to keep track of. Thankfully, Chip Theory Games, thought ahead and provided plenty of handy reference sheets. However, no amount of reference sheets will reclaim the time required for players to repeatedly look up information.
- Too Many Bones is not a cheap game. While the experience outweighs the cost, $130 is a steep cost of entry if you don’t already know that you’re going to love it.
- If you do find that you love the core game, you can always pick up additional characters. However, the character add-ons cost $30 each. Since they are so different from the original four, and are of equally notable quality, the price tag is quite justifiable. But if you’re looking to complete your collection, the addition of all eight currently released add-on characters will set you back a pretty significant amount of money.
Too Many Bones is a wonderful game that has a little bit of something for everyone. The only problem is that little bit of something might be included in a different expansion only further increasing the cost of an already expensive game just to find a character with your preferred playstyle. What works in Too Many Bones‘ favor is that unlike other games like Mansions of Madness or Arkham Horror LCG, Too Many Bones doesn’t have any expansions that would be considered essential. All of the extra money you could spend on the game is entirely optional and centered around providing new playable characters.
Like barrel-aged bourbon, Too Many Bones is one of those games that only gets better with time and familiarity. As players become more comfortable with the Gearlocs, they’ll discover new ways to apply skills and play to one another’s strengths. Any one brave enough to take on this journey will not be disappointed, but will want to spend time doing their research before diving into such a costly box. This beast (in the Trove Chest storage box) takes up an entire kallax cube, but despite that, it’s still worth its spot in the Way Too Many Games Collection.
Solo, two, three, and four player.
Too Many Bones supports up to four players.
90 – 180 minutes based on familiarity with chosen characters and the length of game selected.
Too Many Bones is a fairly easy game to learn to play, but the rulebook isn’t the easiest to follow. Players diving into this for the first time will find themselves often going back to reference the difference between active and locked die, as well as off-shoot mini-games like Dangerous Darts.
Arguable some of the best crafted components I’ve seen in a retail game. It speaks volumes of Chip Theory Games that their components are designed for durability and not just aesthetics.
With seven Tyrants and four Gearlocs, the base game has plenty of options to choose from.