Townsfolk Tussle is Kingdom Death Without the Story Elements
Once upon a time, in the midst of a global pandemic, there was a tiny publisher known as Panic Roll. They were new in town, in a time were the days were grim and funds were short. They sought to bring joy in the form of a game they had created, but no one knew who they were. They would have to do something grand and splendid to be seen. And seen they were for they had created something both whimsical and brutal, something friendly yet violent, something new yet old. They had created Townsfolk Tussle.
In Townsfolk Tussle players take on the role of the citizens of Eureka Falls. After the untimely death of the famed sheriff, their hometown is being barraged by waves of ne’er do-well Ruffians. You and up to four other Townsfolk will need to rally together to fend off the onslaught or risk losing the safety of their beloved home.
We want to start off this review by acknowledging that we review a lot of crowdfunded games. It’s important to us that the games we review are available to our readers who want to purchase them. In the case of Townsfolk Tussle, this will not be the case. As Panic Roll is a smaller publisher, they only printed copies for their backers. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t review it for this reason. However, we are making the exception for this particular game because Panic Roll has already announced plans for a reprint, although a timeline as not yet been provided.
Getting a game of Townsfolk Tussle setup is a breeze and a half thanks to the inserts and card box provided by Panic Roll. Players unfold the two boards, pick their characters, and then randomly place Ruffian tokens on the board with the Question mark side face up. That’s all it takes to get started! As gameplay alternates between Town and Fight Phases, there will be a fair amount of setup time required before each fight, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Gameplay begins with the Town phase. During this phase, players draw Feat cards, resolve events, buy gear, and reveal the next Ruffian fight. First comes the Feat cards. Each player draws three Feat cards and places them facedown in front of them. These are secret goals that each player will attempt to achieve in order to gain extra money and points. Then each player draws a Town Event card. Some of these will trigger immediately, while others are secret cards which remain active until they are triggered by battle conditions, and then discarded. Secret cards are an even mix of events that trigger either buff or debuff effects so it will almost always be a surprising result. As the final step in the Town Phase, each player has the opportunity to buy new gear from the shop. Each Town Phase will reveal ten new gear cards players can purchase and equip before the Ruffian battle. If players don’t like what’s available in the Peddler’s market, they can collectively spend two gold per player to discard the market’s stock and redraw ten new gear cards for purchase. Once each player has decided they will pass and no longer buy new equipment, the game moves onto the Fight Phase.
Before setting up the Fight Phase, players should make sure their Townsfolk are equipped with the proper gear. Each Townsfolk has six slots that Gear can be assigned to, depending on it’s type: Head, Chest, Leg, Accessory, Left Hand, or Right Hand. Some weapons, like Norman Fishboy’s Reliable Rod are two handed weapons, limiting the Townsfolk’s maximum Gear to five pieces. Each piece of gear details it’s ability, accuracy, damage, and Moxie cost. If you’re lucky enough, your Gear might have a black box on it that grants the Townsfolk who possess it a bonus to their stats.
Once everyone is ready, players flip over the first Ruffian token on the board to reveal which Ruffian they’ll be facing. Both the setup and difficulty of the fight is highly dependent on the current stage. The first fight, The Chump level, is the easiest. After that, the Hooligan and Trouble Maker stages get increasingly more difficult by raising the Ruffian’s stats to ensure a brutal battle no matter the opponent. The fourth stage, The Final Fight, adds special rules and setup to each Ruffian for added variety and challenge.
Each Ruffian has seven different types of terrain depicted on the back of their card that are placed on the board during the Fight Phase setup. The Terrain cards detail what effects they have not only one board movement, but also how players can use terrain against Ruffians. Depending on the specific battle, items like TNT and bear traps can be used to deal fast damage to Ruffians. Meanwhile, terrain like Doc’s Hut offer buffs to players like reviving knocked out players.
Turn order follows the “Beatin’ Track” on the left side of the board, meaning the Ruffian will always go first during the Fight Phase. To determine what the Ruffian does on their turn, players need only draw the top card form the Ruffians action deck. Every detail about how the Ruffian behaves, including who they target, how they move and the damage dealt. Some cards present players with the opportunity to trigger the Ruffian’s unique weakness, making them an easier target for the Townsfolk.
Once the Ruffian has completed their turn, the Townsfolk can do some damage. Each player takes their turn in order of the Beatin’ Track. During their turn players can move, attack, or interact with terrain in alignment with each of the four stats on their character boards:
- Movement – The maximum number of orthogonal spaces the Townsfolk can move.
- Moxie – Most easily interpreted as “action points”, Moxie dictates how many times a player can use Gear or interact with terrain. So long as a player has Moxie to spend, they can attack as many times as they want. However each piece of Gear can only be used once per turn.
- Health – This track represents both the Townsfolk’s current and maximum health. Both can be increased with the use of Gear and Items.
- Accuracy – The accuracy stat is a little bit less intuitive as it acts as a modifier more than a baseline. After rolling for accuracy during an attack, players add (or subtract) their accuracy modifier and then check to see if it inflicts damage on the Ruffian.
Upon defeating the Ruffian, each Townsfolk earns six coins by stealing from the corpse of the Ruffian. Whichever player completed the most Feat objective cards during the Fight phase will also gain one of three unique Ruffian Gear items. Townsfolk reset their stats to the starting position (with the exception of Gear awarded bonuses). The board is then reset and prepared for a new Town Phase.
With each new Fight Phase, the difficulty of the next Ruffian increases from Chump, to Hooligan, then Troublemaker, and then lastly, Final Fight. At each new level of Ruffian, they gain additional special skills that make the fight more challenging. The Final Fight stage is much different as the special rules introduce completely different objectives.
And that’s the game. It’s a remarkably intuitive game. Of all the mechanics and rules in Townsfolk Tussle, the only aspects of the game I found myself needing to re-explain to players was Moxie and anatomy of a Gear card.
Townsfolk Tussle might be easy to teach, but like its influences, it is a brutal game. Enemies hit hard, health recovery is hard to come by, and outcomes lie in the hands of the dice gods and fate. But that’s what I love so much about the cooperative boss rush genre. Players are so out-powered that they’ll need to work together by cornering the Ruffian and wailing on them as fast and hard as possible. Of course, Ruffians will have plenty of ways to push back so players will learn quickly by experience that a bum rush isn’t always going to be a good idea.
There’s enough variety between each of the Ruffians to keep players on their toes. The first time players engage with a Ruffian, there will be some trial and a lot of error as they learn their specific attack patterns and abilities. The Bundits are mischievous rabbit-like creatures that will appear around the board to block Townsfolk movement toward the big bad Bundit cluster, slowing their progress. Meanwhile, Virginia Fitz is a circus performer who juggles knives and will dish out small amounts of damage from long distances. Knowing your enemy makes all the difference, but it will take a few games, and a few more Knockouts, before players are familiar enough with the Ruffian’s abilities to avoid a shameful beating.
The first thing anyone will notice about Townsfolk Tussle is the rubber hose era animation. I’m in love with the creative animated characters. They perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the era while slapping on cartoonishly grim details and abilities to each character. Henlo Bulwark, a playable Townsfolk character, is a literal chicken in overalls. Henlo is mainly a support character as he can get around the board quickly and heal other players. My personal favorite is Henlo’s Headless Chicken ability. Once per Fight Phase when Henlo would be knocked out, he instead revives himself with one health left, without his head. Then you have old Granny Melba, a crotchety old woman with a cane and a powerful revolver that lets her keep Ruffians away from her lawn without getting too close.
For their first game, Panic Roll put together some remarkably impressive artwork. The included miniatures are just as effective, but not perfect. Many of the Ruffians have character art that doesn’t translate very well to plastic miniatures. Will Barrow the Gravedigger is a literal wheel barrel full of dirt, tombstones, and ghosts. While I love the illustrations, I mistook the ghosts as earthworms, even though I had the original artwork right in front of me. Thankfully, a little bit of paint would be able to clear that up no problem, but not everyone is going to go through the effort of doing that. Other characters like Virginia Fitz have designs that would be impossible to replicate (i.e knives in mid-air), so the final product was a mini that wasn’t as effective as the full design. However, I have to give massive props to Panic Roll who chose to also include standee versions of all the Townsfolk and Ruffians for those who would prefer to have the full art and a more colorful board without the extra work of painting.
I had an absolute blast playing Townsfolk Tussle. I tend not to like games where combat is based so heavily on dice, but it just works well here. Gear is easily acquired which helps improve the baseline for character stats and abilities will the accuracy modifier and ten-sided dice determine whether or not Granny Melba’s rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ made contact with the enemy. The combat system grants players control over their character’s customization while introducing the tense randomness of die rolling.
Townsfolk characters are varied just enough so that the composition of your party can provide significant advantages against certain Ruffians without necessarily leaving a skill gap the group. Any party weaknesses can typically be compensated for with the right Gear purchases and only further strengthen the whole group.
But with that said, there are some downsides that I have a very hard time overlooking. For starters, it is not a short game. The Town Phase will fly by as the event cards take very little time to resolve and players will have very limited funds available to purchase new Gear cards. It was rare in any of my play throughs for a Town Phase to take more than ten minutes, even with a four players. But I consistently found myself dreading the start of the Fight Phase.
If your party is lucky enough to survive, you’ll set up the Fight Phase four different times through out a game for four different Ruffians, each one with different terrain and rules that players need to be aware of. The setup time and admin for this really took away from the experience. I’m a massive fan of Gloomhaven and I can’t think of a game with a longer setup time, but with that monster of a game, once setup is done, it’s done and we can just enjoy the experience. In Townsfolk Tussle there are four times per game that the board be setup after play begins. It breaks up the flow of the experience enough to that I often found myself skipping over the fantastic Ruffian flavor text because the group just wanted to get back into the game.
Similarly, the overall play time of Townsfolk Tussle can be quite lengthy. Panic Roll suggests the game length is about forty minutes per player, but my own experience suggests that it’s closer to an hour per player. Ruffians’ health stats scale up the more players you have on the board, ultimately making each of the Fight Phases longer at higher player counts. Our first Fight Phase with four players took a full hour and we ended up calling it quits after completing the second Fight Phase. I found that at higher player counts, it was more fun to house rule the game into fewer fights to shorten the game length before it starts to drag on.
Lastly, and this is will be very subjective to the individual, Townsfolk Tussle is hard. I love me a challenging game, but the same doesn’t go for everyone. Despite the cartoonish appearance, Townsfolk Tussle will slap players around just as much as Kingdom Death: Monster.
We typically try to steer away from comparison when reviewing a game because that type of reviewing only speaks to what a game isn’t, rather than what it is. But I’m going to allow myself this one occasion simply on account of how close the similarities are. Townsfolk Tussle is little more than simpler and more affordable Kingdom Death: Monster. The combat mechanics are almost copy and paste from KDM‘s Quarry fights. Under normal circumstances, I would say that’s a great thing but it was so close to the game that influenced it, I found myself missing the emergent story elements that made Kingdom Death so great. In the absence of that aspect in Townsfolk Tussle, it felt like a part of the broader experience was missing something. I do wish there were a few more game mechanics, like Gear crafting, that rolled over from session to session as Townsfolk Tussle is otherwise so perfectly setup to support ongoing unlockable equipment and events. In my opinion, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Again, comparison only highlights what Townsfolk Tussle is not. What it is, is a fantastic cooperative boss rush game that is easy to learn whether you’re a board game veteran or new to the hobby altogether. However, don’t be fooled by the cartoonish artwork, Townsfolk Tussle is neither easy to win or family friendly. If you’ve ever been interested in Kingdom Death: Monster but didn’t want to sell a limb to buy it, don’t want to learn to build miniatures, or simply don’t want a game as gratuitously violent as KDM, Townsfolk Tussle is without a doubt the way to go. Unfortunately, the only way to get it right this instant is through the second hand market, but Panic Roll will be doing a re-print soon. Hobbyist to hobbyist, please don’t buy this game at the current scalper prices. Hold out for the reprint as Panic Roll games only charged $85 for the full experience, while scalpers trying to charge closer to $300. If you can wait a while, I promise you’ll be happy with what Panic Roll has to offer.
One, two, and four.
1 – 5 players.
50 – 60 minutes per player.
Variable Player Powers
Townsfolk Tussle is such an intuitive game, it hardly felt like I was teaching at all. The only two functions I had to takes time to explain was Moxie and how to read an item card.
I am in love with the attention detail in the artwork. From card art to board illustrations, Townsfolk Tussle is a product of loving creators.
With the included variety of playable Townsfolk and dastardly Ruffians, there’s plenty to experience. Over time however, I feel that the Ruffians would become too familiar.