Critical Role fans can now pick up a copy of Uk'otoa, the first ever board game released by Darrington Press. After announcing that they were launching a board game publishing company earlier this year, Critical Role has officially released their first board game - Uk'otoa, a semi-cooperative board game for 3 to 5 players. Although the game is named after and features the malevolent leviathan-like creature that appears in Critical Role's second campaign, the game is a simple strategy game that can be enjoyed by anyone - whether they're longtime fans of the series or have never watched a Critical Role episode.
The rules of Uk'otoa are simple - each player shares controls two colors of Sailor meeples, which are scattered across a damaged ship slowly being consumed with Uk'otoa. Each player shares control of a certain color of Sailor with the player next to them - in a three person game, Player 1 might control Red and Blue Sailors, Player 2 might control Blue and Yellow Sailors, and Player 3 might control Yellow and Red Sailors. A player wins if only Sailors they control are remaining on the board. While there will always be a single winner in a three person game, there are scenarios in 4 or 5 person games where two players win when there's only a single color of Sailor remaining.
The strategy of Uk'otoa begins during the game set-up, as players take turns building a board out of hexagonal tiles. The tile placement not only shapes the board that the game is played upon, it also determines the path that Uk'otoa takes as the creature winds its way across the board. Once the tiles are placed, each player in the game picks a color of terrified pawns and then takes turn placing them on tiles. The key during the setup phase is that a player might not control the Sailor color they're placing on the board - color selection is chosen randomly once the board is set up, so there's a level of strategy that comes with ensuring that one color of Sailor isn't in too good or too bad of a starting position.
Once the game starts, Uk'otoa winds its way across the board, removing tiles based on the order that they were placed during board creation. On each turn, players draw 2 cards and then play cards from their hand, which determine what Uk'otoa or the terrified Sailors do. Some cards allow you to move a Sailor out of Uk'otoa's path, while others allow you to move Uk'otoa or capture Sailors with tentacles. Typically, a player only uses one card per turn. However, playing a pair of cards allows them to string together actions - when playing a pair, a player takes that action once, but then plays another card afterwards.
Uk'otoa moves quickly, as each round only takes between 15-45 minutes to complete depending on the number of players. I appreciated how the mix of simplicity and strategy. The rulebook is only 10 pages and 3 of those pages contain details on factions, strategy tips, and a banger of a Sea Shanty written by Taliesin Jaffe and Dani Carr, but players are forced into making hard decisions right from the get-go. One of the players I tried the game out with described Uk'otoa as D&D Chess, and I certainly can see why. Victory or defeat can swing based on a single turn, and you never want to position Uk'otoa where your partner can betray you to claim victory for themselves.
Uk'otoa is a strong initial offering by Darrington Press and sets the tone for their future offerings. It's a great game to play while waiting for a D&D session (or an episode of Critical Role) to start up, or can be the centerpiece of an entire evening of action.
Uk'otoa is available now on the Critical Role store, along with select local board game stores. The standard retail price is $29.99.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to ComicBook.com for review purposes.