TTRPG Review: Too Many Bones
By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
I love dice! I know I’m not alone here, either. If you also think it would be fun to fill your bathtub with dice and swim around in a sea of ‘em, Too Many Bones won’t get you there. It will give you a good head start, though! While we all know there’s no such thing as too many dice, the name of the game is fairly accurate - the base set comes with one hundred and thirty-six dice. You won’t be rolling all of those dice every playthrough, but allow that to give insight into the driving force behind the game. Too Many Bones is an epic game in every sense of the word, so strap in because we have a lot to cover!
Too Many Bones is a cooperative dice-builder RPG where one to four players take on the role of endearing little gnome-y looking creatures called Gearlocs. Set in a land called Daelore, the game takes you on a colorful adventure through a series of encounters to defeat one of several Tyrants. It’s been out since 2017, and at that time, Chip Theory Games took Too Many Bones and smashed through the wall of a new “dice-builder RPG” genre like the Kool-Aid Man. They took what we know about RPGs and turned it on its head a bit - at least mechanically. There are certainly common themes, and it easily remains a fantasy RPG at its core, but unlike traditional offerings, there is virtually no writing or note-taking involved; everything is determined by the dice and chips, from character development to combat. Stats and abilities are collected and tracked by unique character dice placed in high-quality neoprene character mats sporting slots for each ability and attribute, with characters and enemies represented by poker-esque chips. The adventure is guided by a series of cards detailing each step, essentially taking on the role of Dungeon Master. While these cards have a limit, they are numerous enough to offer a unique adventure for many playthroughs. The base game comes with four characters to round out your little squad, each with their own combat roles (so far, my heart belongs to Boomer). Additionally, there are several expansions available to broaden your adventures and character options, including the Undertow and upcoming Unbreakable standalone expansions, as well as some fun little trinkets to enhance the experience.
The first thing I noticed was the visual aesthetic. What the play area may lack in map and terrain features, the rest makes up for in classic fantasy style art and whimsically imagined characters and enemies, which they refer to as “Baddies.” While Gearlocs are a race unique to this game, they still have a familiar look and feel that fits right into a high fantasy adventure. The rulebook is a bit of a read that I think could have been consolidated a bit, but they provide you with a reference sheet, dubbed the “GARG” (Gearloc Adventuring Reference Guide), with the main terms and rules. Each character also comes with their own reference sheet of stats, abilities, and tips on leveling and playstyles. You’ll have to pay attention, though, as some info on the reference sheets is not in the rulebook, and vice versa. Some may find these excessive. However, I greatly appreciate them as they keep me from constantly thumbing through the manual to find a specific keyword or ruling. It is a lot of info at first, but experienced gamers should be able to skim through and easily narrow things down to the core order of operations.
Moving on, I’m a sucker for fun components. The chips that represent your character, Baddies, and health for each are fun to use, especially if you drop for the premium health chips. These aren’t necessary whatsoever to enjoy the game, but the health chips included in the base game are of a lighter, simpler design, whereas the premium chips have more weight to match the character chips and are more visually appealing. Your adventures are measured in days with an encounter each, and the game uses another chip to track time. Another component available for purchase is a neoprene mat to track your party’s progression, with a slot for your day-counter chip. Again, absolutely not required, but it’s a nice addition that adds that extra bit of flair to the table. The battle mat, where the main gameplay takes place, is a bit more function-over-fashion compared to the rest, but it serves its purpose well. Then, of course, we have all the dice. The symbols take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re flip-flopping around trying out different characters, but it’s not difficult to find their representation on your character’s reference sheet. I also must point out that the GARG and character sheets are made of PVC, which means you don’t have to worry about spills or wear-and-tear nearly as much as typical cards. The quality of the components alone (which we usually see reserved in other games as premium upgrades at an additional cost) are enough to set this game apart and ahead of the curve.
The gameplay itself seems to be dialed in for a well-balanced experience. It is absolutely a challenge, no matter what size party you have, as the difficulty and number of foes scale with the player count. Solo play doesn’t suffer either, though it does have its own set of adventure cards specifically tailored for a one-hero party. The game claims to last one to two hours, which is mostly accurate. The adventures move right along, but there’s no need to rush. Each day typically gives you a couple of options for tackling an encounter, giving you either experience (called “Training Points”) to level your character, loot to add to your pockets, or sometimes both. Not all loot is profitable all the time, but I often find myself stuck between wanting that new trinket and wanting to load up my character with better stats or abilities. In this case, it isn’t a bad problem to have; to me, it means that both choices really can be just that good.
On top of that, there’s a little minigame to attempt lockpicking secured Trove Loot chests, which generally yield higher tier items. Each adventure has a different set of Baddies depending on the setting, ranging from goblins and trolls to wolves and griffins, each with their own set of nasty abilities. The point system they employ balances the encounters quite well. Even the best strategies will still face quite a challenge, though. Between the different adventuring cards, shuffled up enemies, and random rolls of the dice, there’s a high level of replayability to keep things from going stale.
Speaking of longevity, let’s discuss the expansions a bit. I currently do not own them all, but I decided to drop for a few. Undertow and Unbreakable, which I don’t own, again are standalone expansions that offer unique experiences for one to two players but are compatible with the base game and other expansions, allowing you to mix and match for even more replayable content. Age of Tyranny will connect what are originally mutually exclusive adventures and turn them all into a campaign. It’s not something you couldn’t drum up on your own, but they add a few mechanics and a balanced ruleset to keep it all grounded, as well as 21 new encounters and a “snapshot” mat to record your progress. Even if I plan for only one game, I still utilize this expansion in case I want to extend that run later down the road. 40 Days in Daelore is quite literally the definition of an expansion, simply adding 40 new encounters and 15 new Baddies to the mix. To me, that was a no-brainer. I also picked up Splice & Dice, which essentially adds the ability to create your Tyrant, which can end up being fairly brutal. Lastly, I have yet to pick up Lab Rats, which adds four characters in one. Lastly, there are a handful of additional characters available for purchase, of which I recruited Nugget and Ghillie, both with fantastically unique abilities and mechanics. I hope to someday give them all a chance to take down some Baddies, but my current lineup will have to suffice for now.
It’s difficult, to sum up how I feel about Too Many Bones, mainly because it’s so unique. I absolutely love the game, and it will undoubtedly remain a staple in my household. I recommend it for any gamer’s shelves; it’s light enough that RPG casuals could still enjoy it, yet complex enough to challenge skilled players. The only gripes are for small quality-of-life improvements that could be made, but those honestly don’t stand in my way at all. The game's packaging seems a bit excessive, especially when looking at some of the expansions, but has a ton of stuff to hold and is still exceptionally well made (and pretty!). It does make sense for trying to fit those large reference sheets, though, and they have an organizer available that fits everything in the series if you have the extra dough. My main grievance with the game is its availability. If you’ve made it this far, and this all sounds like it’s right up your alley, you may have to keep your eyes peeled for a while if you don’t want to pay crazy prices to take a chance on eBay or the like. I kicked myself for not picking it up when I first saw it at Origins a few years ago, and I ended up having to wait through the 2020 closures to pick it up at a 2021 convention. You can check their website, chiptheorygames.com, but it’s currently sold out there too, including Undertow. Some expansions and components are still available, though, so if you’re looking to broaden your collection, you may find yourself in luck. If you can find it at MSRP, the base game should run you around $130, and I believe it’s worth every penny. I give it 9 bones out of 10, which is not too many for Too Many Bones.