Disney’s 1990s animated series Gargoyles helped set a new standard for animated storytelling with complex villains, series episodes and deep storylines. The show would provide excellent material for a story-driven game, but unfortunately that’s not what Ravensburger’s Disney Gargoyles: Awakening delivers. Almost entirely without fluff or flavor text, the game relies on fans to fill in the blanks about what goes on in a gaming session and why they should care.
The cover of the Gargoyles: Awakening rulebook features the voiceover text from the show’s introduction, explaining that the Gargoyles were betrayed 1,000 years ago by people they swore to protect and were frozen in stone. In the modern day of 1994, the spell that had bound them was broken in Manhattan. While that concept offers a tantalizing introduction to the fantasy world of the show and its characters, the story basically stops in the game. That’s a real shame, because the concept of getting players to work together for scenarios based on favorite episodes of the show is great.
The game features three fully cooperative missions and a scenario where one player takes on the role of the brilliant mastermind David Xanatos to fight against everyone else, but there is no explanation as to why anything is happening. You could presumably show your friends the episode “Reawakening” where Xanatos and the evil gargoyle wizard Demona team up to build a gargoyle cyborg named Coldstone before playing the Reawakening mission so they know why Coldstone keeps getting changes sides and lashes out at its creators, but it’s downright bizarre that they don’t just have a plot explanation somewhere that you can read aloud. Ideally, each episode would also have an ending text based on whether the heroes succeed or fail. Gargoyles’ story has stood the test of time, but the designers of Gargoyles: Awakening really could have taken some notes from modern board games like Gloomhaven or Descent.
Mechanically, the game is fast-paced and intuitive, with players controlling one of the Manhattan clan’s heroic gargoyles or their human ally Elisa. Each character has their own unique powers and a deck of hero cards, which mechanically resemble a very simplified version of Sentinels of the Multiverse. Heroes usually get three actions per turn, which can either move or be a basic attack or use cards of varying strength and effectiveness to make the game a bit more dynamic.
Once you get a sense of each character’s abilities and synergies, you can end up with some pretty powerful combos that can unleash a range of very damaging attacks or empower your allies with more actions when they need them. However, the effectiveness of most characters is highly dependent on the scenario. Broadway’s focus on healing combined with his slow movement speed makes him terrible in the race-style “Information Warfare”, while Hudson’s cards that damage all adjacent enemies are much better in a scenario where there are many henchmen.
The gameplay lacks a lot of challenge, so sub-optimal team assignments will make players bored rather than losing the game. The villains have the same amount of health no matter how many players you have, so they tend to go down quickly. While there are some tricks to the various objectives, such as the “Information Warfare” mission, which uses a crazy game of capturing floppy disks, most of the missions just turn into brawlers where the heroes try to take out the villains before one of them. the good go down. This usually comes down to just rolling dice and performing basic attacks, as that is often more efficient than trying to make complex moves by playing cards. The stipulation that the players lose if even a single hero falls seems to make things more difficult, but if you’re already teaming up, it’s pretty easy to protect your vulnerable characters.
Even the “Battle with the Steel Clan” one-on-many scenario doesn’t do much to bump up the difficulty. The player who controls Xanatos is given the choice of which cards to play, rather than just luck in the draw, which prevents him from making completely worthless plays. Still, the villain fell pretty trivially in my one-on-one match against Goliath after the gargoyle leader ducked in and grabbed the magic item the Eye of Odin, which gives the player an extra action each turn. You drop your items when you take damage, but since picking up an item again costs an action, it pays for itself. Xanatos can’t even pick it up on its own to keep you from enjoying the benefit.
Gargoyles: Awakening looks pretty good, with an impressive map of Manhattan covered in landmarks from the show, like the gargoyles’ eyrie and the police clock tower. The eyrie’s towering size is actually an issue as once assembled it won’t fit in the box and taking it apart between games would be quite tedious.
Not that Gargoyles: Awakening offers much replayability. Once you’ve played through all the episodes, there’s no point going through them again with new characters, as the decks are so small, you’ve probably already seen what each character is capable of. The missions are short, taking about 30 minutes to complete, so you can easily complete the whole game in one sitting. But you’d probably be better off just watching four actual episodes of Gargoyles.
Where to buy
Disney Gargoyles: Awakening is available exclusively at Target for a suggested retail price of $29.99.