I am a huge Mice & Mystics fan and have been fortunate to participate in the Downwood Tales playtest. Since I know how slowly time seems to pass when awaiting a highly anticipated boardgame, I thought it would be nice to shorten the waiting period by having a weekly preview article. I didn’t know if Plaid Hat Games would approve of the idea – after all, previous experiences told me that most companies tend to keep unreleased content behind closed doors. I asked Jerry Hawthorne, designer of Mice & Mystics, if I’d be allowed to write articles, in which I would share my experiences as playtester and talk about some of the developmental aspects of the game’s new content – a preview for fans by a fan! His reply? “Wow, cool idea. Wanna start with Jakobe?”
Welcome to the Downwood! I hope you enjoy this sneak peek!
The gecko’s development
Jakobe has been in development since March 2013. Originally, he functioned as hero who could join the party as a hired guide. One of his two initial abilities, For Hire, allowed players adding the reptile to the party as an additional hero, even if not chosen by any player during set-up. Moreover, players had to ensure Jakobe had cheese in his stash at all times. No cheese, no guide!
Jakobe as he started of for playtesting - image and abilties changed a lot!
The cheese-loving gecko underwent numerous changes. For instance, to eliminate complications in campaign play, Jakobe was assigned a novel status when hired: Ally. Think about a friendly minion under control of a mouse player to get a general idea what it means in Mice & Mystics. This change was reflected in the wording of Jakobe’s ability:
For Hire: If Jakobe was not chosen to be a member of the party, a mouse can hire Jakobe at the Hawk's Beak Inn for 3 cheese. Jakobe is controlled by that mouse's player as an ally. Unlike other allies, Jakobe is not removed from play when the mice explore to a new tile.
While playtesting with this change was smooth, Jakobe’s backwards compatibility was discussed with concern. After all, any Mice & Mystics hero can be used in any expansion! I actually think it's a wonderful blend of flavour and mechanics to give Jakobe a bonus when adventuring in his home. This, however, was already achieved through one of the gecko's starting items. Without the Hawk's Beak Inn, For Hire would be useless in most expansions, and players could have avoided playing Jakobe outside of Downwood Tales. Jerry felt strongly about this, and the ability was replaced by one that could be used in any expansion.
In its finalised version, Jakobe's ability is a nod to a gecko’s physiology: a detachable, regenerating tail! The first time Jakobe is captured during each chapter, he can drop his tail to escape the bad guys. To ensure this ability wouldn’t be too powerful, care was taken not to negate the actual capture effects. Jakobe will still lose his equipment, and the page marker will move up. Nevertheless, you’ll love this ability when all wound markers are removed from your card and you’re able to help your furry companions fight the terrifying dangers in the Downwood – instead of biting your nails and hoping to be rescued.
Jakobe’s second ability fits well with his optimistic nature: Lucky protects the gecko from a new status effect in Downwood Tales: Cursed. I won’t spoil the surprise, but the first time you see any of your companions with this status marker, you will be glad to play the lucky gecko! You may have noticed the slight change from the ability’s original wording to its final version. This change was necessary to differentiate between curses in the game’s story and the Cursed status marker.
Jakobe's card and the Tail token you'll come to treasure
I don't want to spoil anything related to the expansion's story and will predominantly write about my experience with the gecko as a board game piece, rather than a fictional character in a living world. Although this feels odd, since the flavour and story in Downwood Tales were vital parts of my playtesting experience, there's much to talk about even when solely sticking to mechanics.
First of all, Jakobe is an honorary mouse for the purpose of game rules and can benefit from anything affecting mice; so don’t worry about playing an isolated gecko hero, rather than a member of your beloved group of rodents.
In a nutshell, Jakobe is a quick-footed ranged attacker with very flavourful starting equipment: a returning boomerang, capable of hitting a target after missing on the first attack roll; and a leaf vest, which camouflages its wearer when on leafy trees and branches, thus increasing its armour bonus against ranged attackers.
Jakobe's starting gear - cool mechanics oozing with flavour
Jakobe’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is his incredible versatility. He is the first hero with three classes: archer, gecko and wild. I recently wrote about Lily, the Archer, so instead of discussing any benefits of being able to pick those powerful archery ability cards here, I only say that archers will get even more, exciting options in Downwood Tales!
Abilities of the gecko class further contribute to Jakobe’s unique flavour. With the right ability card, he can guide his companions' steps, mimic their skills and call upon his friend and pet companion, the doodlebug Notch. Notch follows pet rules, introduced in the Heart of Glorm expansion, and is a capable little helper. What I particularly like about the cute crustacean is his synergy with other members of the party: When sharing a space with friendly figures, Notch can hold his own against cockroaches, and he uses his hard exoskeleton to protect mice belonging to the wild class.
Dear rats, underestimate Notch at your own peril
In addition to Notch's friendship, the wild class, introduced via Neré in Heart of Glorm, receives tremendous support in form of numerous flavourful ability cards, search cards, and the inclusion of terrain features only accessible or traversable by wild heroes. When playing with your trusted group of Barksburg mice, you might feel like a city dweller suddenly thrown into a rugged wilderness. Navigating becomes much easier with a guide at your side. I found this new feature added greatly to my enjoyment of playing Jakobe. After all, it's one thing to imagine playing a guide and say "Follow me!" to your fellow players. It's quite another to then push aside some leaves and reveal a concealed pathway on the board. Simply a wonderful union of flavor and game mechanics!
A hidden flip space and Jakobe miniature (production sample)
I think Jakobe has some weaknesses, too. You may have noticed the absence of a cheese generating ability, and given his mediocre attack and defense values, the gecko won’t rival the cheese stash of any mouse. So while Jakobe has an incredible amount of options when leveling up – and with it a huge potential to be ready for any situation – actually getting sufficient cheese to acquire new abilities is pretty difficult!
In addition, Jakobe is not much of a fighter and relies on speed and stealth to remain unharmed. Keeping my distance from foes, I found his boomerang surprisingly useful against weakly armoured enemies. However, when facing a spider or some tough Downwood beasties, I had to hope my warrior friends protected my gecko from losing his tail.
Jakobe has become my favourite Mice & Mystics character! I love his personality, the flavour when adventuring with him in the Downwood, and the multitude of options available on every turn (after gaining some cheese). There are many new items and abilities I have come to love for the gecko, and some very potent combos can make short work of rats, roaches and the Downwood’s endemic beasties. But that’s for a future Hero Spotlight article! For now, I encourage you to vote/ comment on what you like to read about in the next preview and leave you with an image of one of my favourite new ability cards.
… a fierce and dangerous creature home to the Downwood,
… an exciting new ability card for Tilda,
… or an amazingly flavourful party item.