An evil villain! Kidnapped scientists! Fiendish traps! Neat gadgets! Volcano lair! A relentless countdown! This is the stuff of pulp adventures, James Bond movies -- and The Isle of Doctor Necreaux, a cooperative card game from Alderac Entertainment Group.

The setting: Doctor Necreaux has kidnapped some Scientists to force them to build a doomsday device. An advance team has planted a nuclear bomb in Doctor Necreaux' lair but then vanished. The players' team has to find the Scientists and get to the Escape Shuttle, without all dying and before the Countdown Clock reaches the end.

Each player has three Characters. Characters all have special abilities, some of which are always active and others require spending Charges to use. Every player gets three Characters at random, picks one, and passes the others on to the left. When each player has their team of three characters, it's time to find the Scientists!

At the start of each turn, the players decide on their Speed. The Speed determines how many cards the players uncover in the lair. Unfortunately, some Traps affect the players if they roll less than their Speed, while others affect them if they roll above their Speed. Since players need to draw until they reach the Scientists, eventually they'll have to go with a high Speed. And at the end of each turn, the Countdown Clock moves one space closer to zero (and defeat).
In addition to Traps, the lair also has Events (good and bad), Items, Rooms, and -- most significantly -- Monsters. Monsters have a Combat Value (CV), and to defeat it players have to roll above that number on a six-sided die to score a hit; a monster is defeated if it takes hits equal to the number of players. (Defeating a monster is one of the few ways to get an Item.) If the players roll less, the player takes damage: for each point of damage an undamaged Character can be flipped over (losing its abilities, unless the card says otherwise), or a flipped Character can be killed and removed from the game. The players can also retreat, taking one point of damage each and ending the turn.

Instead of moving, the players can opt to Rest. Rest lets each player flip over one Character and gain one Charge on a card; it also lets them look at the top card of the deck and choose to discard it or leave it. But taking a Rest action also means the Countdown Clock goes lower, bringing a loss closer and putting more pressure on the players to pick up the pace.

The Isle of Doctor Necreaux is an enjoyable game. The cards have a pulp feel to them, both with the art, the names (Etheric Phase-Inducing Elixir, Cell-Cloned Raptor), and the flavor text. ("What kind of madman intentionally breeds three-foot hornets?") There's no real strategy -- apart from choosing a speed, allocating damage, and deciding whether to Rest and lose time or press on with wounded -- but the challenges are a lot of fun. There's even a solitaire mode! So, if you're looking for a light, simple, very challenging game, take a visit to The Isle of Doctor Necreaux.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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