Disney’s ’90s animated series Gargoyles helped set a new standard for animated storytelling with complex villains, serialized episodes and deep story arcs. The show would provide great material for a story-based game, but sadly that’s not what Ravensburger’s Disney Gargoyles: Awakening offers. Lacking fluff or flavor text almost entirely, the game relies on fans to fill in the blanks about what’s going on in a play session and why they should care.
The cover of the Gargoyles: Awakening rulebook includes voice-over text from the show’s introduction, explaining that 1,000 years ago the gargoyles were betrayed by humans they were sworn to protect and were frozen in stone. In the modern day of 1994, the spell that had bound them together was broken in Manhattan. While this concept provides a tantalizing introduction to the fantasy world of the series and its characters, that’s effectively where the narrative stops in the game. It’s such a shame because the concept of letting players team up for scenarios based on favorite episodes of the series is awesome.
The game features three fully collaborative missions and a storyline where one player assumes the role of brilliant mastermind David Xanatos to battle everyone, but there’s no explanation as to why anything is happening. You could probably show your friends the episode “Reawakening”, where Xanatos and the evil gargoyle sorcerer Demona team up to build a gargoyle cyborg named Coldstone, before playing through the Reawakening mission so they know why Coldstone continues to switch sides and go after its creators, but it’s quite weird 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 the success or failure of the heroes. The storytelling of Gargoyles 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 and intuitive, with players controlling one of the heroic Manhattan Clan gargoyles or their human ally Elisa. Each character has their own unique powers and set of hero cards, mechanically resembling a much-simplified version of the Sentinels of the Multiverse. Heroes usually get three actions per turn, which can move or perform a basic attack or use cards of varying power and effectiveness to make the game a bit more dynamic.
Once you get a feel for each character’s abilities and synergies, you can end up with some pretty powerful combos that can unleash a series of high-damaging attacks or give your allies more action when they need it. However, the effectiveness of most characters is highly storyline dependent. Broadway’s emphasis on healing, combined with its slow movement speed, makes it awful in race-like “information warfare,” while Hudson’s cards that damage all adjacent enemies are much better in a scenario where there are a lot of minions.
The gameplay lacks a lot of challenge, so suboptimal team assignments are more likely to bore players than cause you to lose the game. Villains have the same health regardless of how many players you have, so they tend to go down quickly. While there are a few cheats for the various objectives, like the “Information Warfare” mission which involves a goofy game of capturing floppy disks, most missions turn into slugfests where the heroes attempt to knock out the bad guys before the one of the good guys falls. . This usually boils down to rolling dice and performing basic attacks, as this is often more effective than trying to create complex moves by playing cards. The stipulation that players lose if even a single hero falls seems like it should make things more difficult, but if you cooperate at all, it’s easy enough to protect your vulnerable characters.
Even the one-on-many “Battle with the Steel Clan” scenario doesn’t do much to increase the difficulty. The player controlling Xanatos has a choice of which cards to play instead of just being lucky, which prevents them from making totally worthless plays. Still, the villain fell pretty trivially in my one-on-one match against Goliath after the gargoyle leader stepped in and grabbed the Eye of Odin magic item, which gives the player an extra action every turn. You drop your items if you take damage, but since picking up an item costs an action, it pays for itself. Xanatos can’t even pick it up himself to prevent you from enjoying it.
Gargoyles: Awakening looks pretty good, with an impressive map of Manhattan covered in landmarks from the series such as the gargoyle area and the police clock tower. The massive size of the eagle is actually a problem because once assembled it won’t fit in the box and taking it apart between games would be quite annoying.
Not that there’s much replayability in Gargoyles: Awakening. Once you’ve played through each of the episodes, there doesn’t seem to be much point in replaying them with new characters because the decks are so small that you’ve probably already seen what each character is capable of. The missions are short, taking around 30 minutes to play, so you can easily complete the entire game in one sitting. But you’re probably better off just watching four actual episodes of Gargoyles.
Disney Gargoyles: Awakening is available exclusively at Target for an MSRP of $29.99.