Thank you for checking review #65 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**A copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of InBetween
InBetween is a game designed by Adam Kwapinski and was published by Board & Dice in 2017. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-40 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.44.
InBetween is a game for two players, competing against each other to either protect or devour the inhabitants of Upsideville in a tug-of-war between the Human and Creature dimensions.
During a game of InBetween, the Creature player is trying to devour the inhabitants of Upsideville by drawing them ever deeper into its home dimension, while the Town player is trying to increase the safety of the inhabitants in the Human dimension until they are secured from the Creature’s depredations. Players take turns playing cards and using abilities that will draw the Characters further into their dimension. At the same time they are trying to increase their Awareness of their opponent so as to enhance a powerful one-time ability that may affect the game’s outcome. There are several routes to victory in InBetween; a player can win by drawing enough Characters into their dimension, or by increasing their Awareness to its highest level.
The fate of Upsideville is in the hands of the players. Will the Town and its people be able to win and walk peacefully once again around? Or will the darkness triumph, and the horrifying creature will walk freely between the alleys?
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
There are none, as this is a 2-player only game!
The turn structure is really simple, having you take one of three actions: play a card and possibly pay to activate its ability, draw back to five cards in your hand, or gain energy equal to the number of people currently flipped to your side. Easy choice, right? Except that the latter two actions can be seen as dead actions, making it so you don’t make any impact on the board state and allowing your opponent to get another play before you can react. But in order to do the most effective action, you want some of that energy to pay the activation on the card you play. And in order to get cards, most of the time you need to use that draw action. Trying to decide when, and how often, to draw cards and gain energy is a wonderful struggle.
I love that you can see the path that the turn marker is going to follow, allowing you to plan ahead for placement to advance your own characters or to try and win a character to your side enough that your opponent gets nothing when the marker reaches that spot. Oftentimes I’m looking 4-6 characters down the line as I’m planning my turn out, trying to decide which actions I might want to try and trigger or which characters I definitely don’t want her to trigger.
The player reference cards have everything you could want on there, and I’m coming to value a good reference card more and more in a game. This not only helps during gameplay while learning the game, but also serves as a nice refresher point when the game hits the table again after a period of time.
Letting the town deck have equipment cards is a really nice addition. Thematically, of course the creature won’t be making use of things like shotguns, walkie talkies, etc. It helps give the town that feeling of having an edge, but there are ways the creature has of dealing with those cards as well. But I love few things in this game more than looking down at 2-4 equipment cards in play when I am the town and know I’m reaping the benefit of those effects long after paying the initial energy cost.
The artwork is very evocative of the theme in this game. If you’ve seen the show Stranger Things, you’ll recognize and appreciate some subtle things on the cards that will remind you of the show. But even without that knowledge, a player gets a sense that one side is really creepy and disturbing and full of bad news. I really enjoy the enhancement that the art brings to the experience on this game.
The push-pull mechanism in this game is simple yet enjoyable. In order to raise your awareness, you need to have a cube on the townsperson when the marker is on that character. In order to get that cube on there, you need to have them on your side of the InBetween state. However, you can easily offset what your opponent does by playing cards to move their characters back, making it so you need to decide whether it is better to advance your own “scoring” opportunities or try and prevent theirs. This provides great decisions and some tension along the way. Even more enticing is when the cube is advanced to the 2nd or 3rd space on the character card, allowing the player to raise awareness AND trigger the action on the character card. The one thing you never want to see is your opponent getting a cube to the 4th space, which makes them secured (if on the town side) or devoured (if on the creature side). That pretty much locks that character down for the rest of the game, although there are a few ways to offset that.
The game is fast enough that we often play a best-of-three series. I love small box, thinky games like that where you’re finished fast enough to play again and fun enough you want that immediate rematch if you’ve lost.
There are three ways the game can come to an end: a player reaches 6 awareness, a player gets 3 characters to the secured/devoured state, or there are 5 characters remaining of the 10. I love the concept of three ways of ending the game; however, I’ve never seen it get close to two of these endings. It has always been Awareness, and almost always with one player at 4-5 when the other hits 6.
The game provides moments of dread when you see that the marker is about to hit a run of 2-3 characters that will boost your opponent’s awareness. Even worse is seeing you have no cards in hand with matching symbols or, as has happened, you have no cards or energy at this point so you need to simply pray that you get really lucky with a draw and can play something to survive. It provides tension, but it also feels just a little like you’re helpless to react. Ultimately, the result is “plan better” for the next game, which you’re almost always going to want to play again.
A small nitpick, but worth mentioning. The only place that the name of the game appears is on the small side of the box. Not on the cover. Not on the back. I guess it does appear, in really small print, on the bottom side as well. But this really, really limits the marketing to the gamer who is trained to pick up the box, look at the cover and the back to see what the game is about. It takes some looking on this one. Not a dealbreaker by any means, as the art on the front and back are stunning and thematic.
When I heard about this game, it was advertised as Stranger Things in board game form. And there is no denying that inspiration for the theme likely was pulled from that popular series. That in itself should help this game sell copies, but is that theme the only star for this box?
Thankfully, no. There is such a great little game wrapped up in this small box that it feels like a shame that this isn’t getting more buzz. Then again, small box 2-player games typically fly under the radar as a rule and it truly is a shame. This delivers an experience that you’d want for the size and price of the game, providing an asymmetric experience with a serious tug-of-war element as both players battle over influencing the ten townspeople. I love the sense of dread that grows when you see a series of 2-3 townsfolk coming up that will increase their awareness if you don’t make the right plays and get the right cards for the job. And the sense of excitement when you manage to come out of that gauntlet and still be in the running to win the game, jockeying to return the favor in a few turns.
The biggest flaw in the game comes from the unlikelihood that it will end in any way except the 6 Awareness route. I’ve never seen it come close to ending any other way with the few people I’ve played against, and maybe we’re just really bad at the game. Somehow I don’t think that is the case, though.
While the town is more interesting to play due to the variety of cards, the creature has its own benefits with some powerful abilities they’ll see more often. But that is balanced further by the frequency of symbols – there are 7 different creature symbols but only 4 for the town. This makes it an interesting dynamic for the push-pull that happens for the circle of townspeople. I love how different these two sides feel, even though the goals are the same regardless of the side you play.
So if you like 2-player games with a little bit of a puzzle during gameplay, coupled with very direct interaction between the players and asymmetric sides, this is definitely one to check out. You don’t need to be a fan of the Stranger Things show to appreciate the game, nor is any knowledge required to play. This is a nice, tense game that could be categorized as being on the lighter side of thinky fillers, and is one I always look forward to getting onto the table.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at InBetween. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.