A detailed look at Chronicles of Avel, a cooperative game great for families with kids of all ages, starting as young as six years old.
Chronicles of Avel is a tower defense style game where players will explore and build up using a unique bag pulling system all in preparation for when a meteor hits and monsters rush the castle.
Disclosure: We have to thank Rebel Studio for sending us a copy of this cooperative kids game for this Chronicles of Avel Review. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast.
What is Chronicles of Avel about?
The Chronicles Of Avel board game was designed by Przemek Wojtkowiak and features awesome artwork from Bartłomiej Kordowski. It was originally published in Poland by Polish publisher Rebel Studio and is coming soon to North America from the same publisher.
Right now you can find Chronicles of Avel up for pre-order at most Canadian online stores with a price around $50 Canadian for just the base game or $65 for a bundle with the expansion, promo pack and meeple stickers.
It was this bundle that we were sent to review. At the time of writing this review, I wasn’t able to find Chronicles of Avel listed for pre-order or sale at any online US stores.
In Chronicles of Avel, players take on the role of brave heroes attempting to defend the lands of Avel and the Health Stone from various monsters and The Beast which will be summoned with the crashing of a meteor into the lands.
In this cooperative tower defense game, you will explore a hex map, defeat monsters and equip your heroes using a unique bag pulling mechanism that uses your sense of touch to help you get the items you want. Let’s hope your preparation is enough for the endgame, when monsters, including The Beast, rush the castle. If even one monster manages to get into the castle the land is lost.
For a look at what you get in the box for this fantasy adventure, check out our Chronicles of Avel Unboxing video on YouTube.
The overall quality of Chronicles of Avel is top notch. The is one of the highest quality games I’ve seen that is targeted at families and younger kids. It features two layered player boards, thick cardboard components, a thick pad of character sheets, clear rules with lots of examples, fantastic artwork throughout, thick wooden meeple and tokens, custom etched dice, and a unique fantasy setting.
To go with this unique setting, there’s a lore book with a short story and details on all of the different baddies you can face during the game.
Even the box insert is a step above what you usually see, as you assemble part of it into what looks like a chest with a lid, though I admit this didn’t really help with component sorting but my youngest daughter thought it was very cool.
How do you play Chronicles of Avel?
You start a game of Chronicle of Avel by building the map. This is done by first placing the castle and the three starting hex tiles around it that stay the same every game (though the placement of these tiles is randomized).
Next, you randomize the rest of the hex tiles and lay them out face down. The pattern you lay them down in is based on how difficult you want the game to be. The base game contains a number of maps split over three difficulty levels with the expansion adding even more. With less than four players you remove some tiles before building the map so that it’s a bit smaller. Then as a group, you pick from three different difficulty levels and select a meteor tile of that level to place on the map.
This means that Chronicles of Avel features two different ways to tweak the difficulty. First, there’s the map you pick which has a huge impact on how hard the game is to win by changing how far away The Beast starts from the castle. Then you have the meteor level with changes how many new enemies spawn when the meteor hits. I really appreciate these varying levels, as it lets you adapt the gameplay to your group and make the game more difficult as you family’s experience grows.
Once the map is set up players create their characters, which my kids think is one of the best parts of the game.
Character creation starts by grabbing a character sheet and then drawing or colouring in your character. These sheets feature graphics of either a male or female-presenting hero that are pretty fleshed out but easy enough to draw over with a marker or softer pencil. You can name your character on your own or use the included die drop table which includes male and female sounding names. This is actually the first time I’ve seen a die drop table used in a board game and I love it. You are also invited to create heraldry for your new character.
Once your character is completed you place the sheet into your two-layer character board, which is designed to hold the sheet between the two layers as well as give players a place to store their health counters and equipment.
Each character starts with five health tokens, one gold coin, and one item pulled from the item bag. The item bag is a big part of what makes Chronicles of Avel really stand out.
The bag is filled with a mix of helmets, shields, weapons and potions, with each type having its own unique shape. This means a sword feels different from a helmet which feels different from a shield. All of the different potion types feel the same but are a different shape from the other equipment.
When you need to pull an item from the bag you say a short chant that lasts about five seconds, while saying the chant you can feel around in the bag to try to find the item type you want, when the chant ends you have to pull your hand out and see what you got.
Your character board has room for one helmet, one sword and one shield. Any excess equipment, gold and potions need to be stored in your pack, which is another neat part of this game, one that I haven’t seen before elsewhere. Due to using a two-layered board, the pack is actually recessed into the board and you have to actually physically fit all of your items into your pack without stacking or overlapping.
When done creating characters everyone places their meeple onto the castle and the game starts.
Each round players take turns taking two actions, after all players have gone, the token advances down the track, moving through the moon phases towards becoming a new moon. Each time the token advances, either monsters respawn or all players gain one health. Once the token hits the end of the track the end game is triggered, the meteor token is flipped, new monsters spawn and The Beast is added to the board. From this point on, at the end of each turn every monster, including The Beast, will advance towards the castle. If any monsters get into the castle the players lose.
Actions the players can take include resting to regain two heart tokens, moving one hex (which includes potentially revealing a new hex by moving onto a face down one), attacking a monster on the hex you are on or interacting with the hex you are on.
Many hexes contain one or two wandering monsters, represented by tokens, which come in two sizes and difficulty levels: small and large. Monsters are further split into three different categories, represented by colours, which determine which items a player can use when fighting them.
Hexes without monsters include useful sites where you can take actions like buying items (giving you a pull from the bag), selling items to get coins, upgrading items you already own (which makes them way more powerful), placing walls around the castle (each of which will block one monster from moving into the castle once), buying traps you can use against The Beast, harvesting wood for coins, placing runes on wandering monster spots that will stop monsters from spawning there, gambling with your coins at the fairy spring and more.
One rule I really like in Chronicles of Avel, that adds to the family friendly nature of the game, is that the monsters never attack the characters. It’s always up to you to initiate combat and you can freely move around or past any monsters on the board. This has the advantage of the game not requiring a GM player or any AI for the baddies. Until the final round, the monsters just sit there waiting to be attacked. Then, once the final round has been triggered, they start moving forward towards the castle one hex at a time.
Combat in Chronicles of Avel is dice based and straight forward. Each hero starts with two green dice to use in combat. Players can earn additional red (attack), blue (defense) and yellow (magic), dice through upgraded equipment. Non-upgraded equipment earns players either automatic hits or automatic defense against specific colours of monsters or re-rolls that can be used once per combat.
Each baddie shows a number of black and/or purple dice. When attacking you roll all your dice and all the monster dice and then check the results (the rules actually say the player on the left rolls the monster dice, but we found it easier if one player rolled all of the dice).
Sword and Claw symbols represent damage to either the monster or you, respectively. Shields or broken sword symbols cancel these out. The magic symbol found only on the yellow die can count as either a sword or a shield. After all of the cancelling out is done, you and/or the monster take damage for any leftover Sword or Claw symbols.
Each combat action allows you to fight three rounds of battle, with the option to retreat after any single round.
Each player has five endurance, represented by wooden heart tokens, and are stunned (not killed, there’s no character death in this game) if they run out. A stunned character wakes up back in the castle at full health, thanks to the Health Stone, but with no gold and with one less piece of equipment.
Monsters have set hit points and damage carries over between attacks. When a monster is defeated it is removed from the board and the player who defeated it gets the reward shown on the monster’s token. These rewards are often equipment pulls from the bag but could also include gold and/or being able to upgrade your existing equipment.
Play continues, with players moving around the hex map, buying and upgrading gear, placing traps, fighting wandering monsters, etc., until the meteor crash happens.
At that point the focus of the game shifts to defeating every monster on the board including The Beast. This menacing boss monster starts off with a ton of health and uses every single black and purple die in the game.
If the players manage to defeat all of the baddies they win but if even one monster makes it into the castle they lose.
Chronicles of Avel is not just a great cooperative kids game, it’s a great cooperative game overall.
Chronicles of Avel has been a hit with both family and friends since the first time it hit our game table.
Everyone who has played with us, including adults, seems to be hooked on this board game right away just by having to draw their characters and heraldry.
Though it’s this part of the game that leads me to my first complaint and that’s with the character sheets. Chronicles of Avel comes with a nice thick pad of character sheets but there are a couple of issues with them. The first problem is that the sheets are single sided and the pad alternates between masculine and feminine characters. While this is great if everyone always wants to play an even split, when you don’t, you end up having to tear off extra sheets just to get to the ones you want.
I know I have tons of games with double-sided score pads and I’m surprised that they didn’t do the same thing here with male looking characters on one side and female looking ones on the back, or even better, just go with an androgenous look for all of the characters.
The next, minor, problem is the amount of detail characters on the sheets already have drawn onto them. When reading the rules I was expecting to see a faint outline or an armature to draw over, instead, you get a fairly dark fully detailed character drawing that is already armoured up. I didn’t expect that at all and everyone I have played with has noted they would much prefer something much more open to customization.
That said, the dark base drawing is nothing that a set of markers or heavy use of a pencil can’t fix. I just thought it was an odd choice for a game that encourages you to draw your own character.
Once you do have your character drawn, the rest of the player board system is brilliant. I love the way they have created two-layered boards out of two separate pieces and how they hold everything in place. Even more brilliant is the way they have tied this into the inventory system, where the different types of equipment slot into specifically shaped areas and how you actually have to get everything to fit in your backpack. Every game we’ve played has had at least one player sitting there fiddling with their pack trying to fit in one more coin or that potion that they just picked up.
Another aspect of character creation we had more fun than I expected with is the die drop table. This is a sheet of thin cardstock that you put into the box lid. On it are the constellations of Avel. You then drop one green die and one black die into the box and look at where the dice land and what face is showing on each.
Each constellation has a part of a character name tied to each die type and symbol. This naming sheet is double-sided with both male and female sounding names. I honestly like this enough that I may steal it for other fantasy games where you will be naming heroes, including some RPGs.
As for the actual gameplay in Chronicles of Avel, we found it to be engaging right to the end. We all really enjoyed the mix of exploration, preparation and battle.
The only thing that feels just a bit off is how little you can do in one turn, especially with only being able to move one hex with a move action. You will find that many turns will be spent moving just so you can do something on your next turn. To help with this there are “shortcut” tiles, tiles that count as adjacent even if they aren’t next to each other on the map, the problem we’ve found with these is that, purely by luck, they tend to end up next to each other anyway. Though there is one item in the promo pack that helps with this (I’ll be talking about the promo pack in detail after the main review).
Combat is quite fun but can be highly random due to the heavy use of dice. This randomness can be mitigated by getting your characters fully equipped as quickly as possible. Most of the items in the game start off useful only against a set monster colour, and using that to your advantage will greatly increase your odds of winning.
We found that it is very much worth upgrading as much of your equipment as you can as early as you can, as each upgraded piece gives you more permanent dice. Having more dice to roll overall is much more powerful than having colour specific equipment and items that can only be used once per battle.
Due to the way combat works, the ability to back off in the middle of a fight also leads to some interesting tactical choices. You really notice this when you have only basic equipment. The battle rules allow you to attack for one round using all of your equipment, then retreat and use your second action to attack again with all of your equipment ready to use again.
One thing that does set this cooperative game apart from other cooperative games that we’ve played with the kids, like Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters or Disney Sidekicks, is that Chronicles of Avel can be quite easy to win, especially when you are using the default map and are set to easy difficulty.
That said, even when playing the game on the easiest level, our games still managed to feel tense. I think this comes from the whole “build up and get ready” angle of the game. No matter how much you have done, you never feel ready when the meteor hits and The Beast appears.
My youngest daughter loved the fact that Chronicles of Avel came with a lore book. Our first time playing, each time we pulled a new wandering monster she read out the entry for that monster. In later games with both kids playing, they would argue over who got to read from the book next. Even now once we’ve heard every entry multiple times my daughter still likes to remind us of what exactly we are facing each game.
Personally, I really liked the non-standard fantasy setting. While Avel features some familiar creatures, like Goblins, each features a unique take on them, and there are some very cool new baddies including an entire fungus based faction.
In addition to playing Chronicles of Avel with my kids, I also made sure to play it with a table full of adults and I’m happy to say that, while this game is aimed at kids, it can be just as much fun for adults.
Not only is Chronicles of Avel a great cooperative game for playing with kids, it is also simply a good cooperative game overall.
A look at the Chronicles of Avel expansion content
Earlier I mentioned that we received the Chronicles of Avel bundle which included three things in addition to the main game and I want to talk a little bit about each.
Chronicles of Avel Meeple Stickers:
You can pick up a set of Meeple Stickers to go with your copy of Chronicles of Avel.
While these stickers are nice to have, they are in no way necessary. The sticker sheet includes two sets of stickers for each meeple colour, one male looking and one female looking. They feature art for both the back and front of the characters, which is a nice choice. You get enough to make each meeple look male or female but once you make this choice your set of four meeples will be set.
Personally, I would have preferred if this expansion also included another set of wooden meeples so I could have had a full set of player pieces in both genders. Though, for the average family that will likely be playing this game with their family members and no one else, this probably won’t be an issue.
Chronicles of Avel Adventurer’s Toolkit
The Chronicles of Avel Adventurer’s Toolkit is an oddly shaped expansion that contains just three punch boards and some rules on how to use the new stuff that’s on them.
This stuff includes a new item type, boots which have their own unique token shape. Boots give characters re-rolls at the basic level and more movement when upgraded. The toolkit also includes three new potion types (one token for each) including one that lets you teleport on the board.
There are also three new hex tiles, including one that lets you build ballistas which are represented by 3D cardboard tokens. Once built these fire at the start of each round at a monster on their tile or on an adjacent tile.
You also get a set of three new large monsters called The Sisters. These are demons, one for each of the three standard monster colours. Whenever you defeat one of The Sisters you earn one of three familiars, which are also included in this expansion. Familiars travel with you, don’t need to be stored in your pack, and can be used twice each for in-game bonuses before they wander off.
Each of these new add ons is a fantastic addition to Chronicles of Avel and I strongly recommend picking up the Adventurer’s Toolkit.
My only complaint is that this is a separate purchase. To me, all of this could just have been in the main box, especially the boots since the character boards were obviously designed to fit them. That said, I can see how having all of these options available from the start could make the game overwhelming to new players.
Chronicles of Avel Hero’s Treasures Promo Pack
The last bit of content that’s currently available for Chronicles of Avel is a small one punch board promo pack.
This promo pack comes with three new items for you to toss into the item bag. Each features a new shape that is easy to confuse with the rest of the curves in the bag.
The items include a stone that lets you re-roll green dice, a warp crystal that you can drop on the map which then connects that hex tile to all of the other shortcut tiles, and a gold pouch that lets you stack gold on it thereby saving you room in your pack.
All three of these are cool items that are great additions to the game. I also love that these add new shapes to the item bag, making trying to find the right item even more interesting.
I don’t see any reason not to pick up this promo pack if you come across it.
Should you pick up Chronicles of Avel?
Looking at everything as a whole, I had no idea what to expect when I agreed to review Chronicles of Avel.
When I was first contacted I did some research on the game and thought it looked fantastic. I then read about the bag pulling inventory system and that was enough to convince me to try it. It didn’t hurt that I’m always on the lookout for games our entire family will enjoy.
Chronicles of Avel is a very solid cooperative board game. It features fantastic artwork, a cool unique fantasy setting, engaging mechanics, and excellent component quality. The bag based equipment system is just as much fun as I hoped it would be and the adventure feels tense even when you are doing well. While the game may seem a bit too easy at first (which I think is great for playing with younger kids and learning the game), there are multiple ways to amp up the difficulty to challenge even experienced cooperative game players.
If you are looking for a cooperative fantasy adventure game that the entire family can enjoy together, I really don’t think you can go wrong with Chronicles of Avel. This is a board game that I think younger, early grade school, kids will be able to grasp and enjoy, yet is still engaging enough for adults.
The biggest surprise for me with Chronicles of Avel is just how much fun a group of four adults had playing this game which is clearly marketed to families and kids.
If you are a cooperative game fan, even if you don’t have, or play with, kids, you should check this game out. It’s not only a great cooperative family game, it’s just a great cooperative game.
If you don’t like cooperative games at all, Chronicles of Avel probably isn’t going to win you over. It features some issues you will find in every cooperative game including the potential for quarterbacking. There’s nothing really here to mitigate that. It follows the usual formula of “everyone does a thing, then something bad happens”, and, except for the cool “draw your equipment from the bag” mechanic, there really isn’t anything really groundbreaking here.
If you are thinking of picking this game up I do think it’s worth trying to find a bundle deal that includes the expansion and promo pack. While the game doesn’t feel incomplete without them, they do both add to the game in significant and rewarding ways.
I always love it when I get a new game and it ends up being even better than I expected. This is exactly what happened with Chronicles of Avel. While I didn’t expect the game to suck, I wasn’t expecting to have nearly as much fun as we have had, with the most shocking aspect being how much fun a table full of adults can have while playing Chronicles of Avel.
Check out my Funfair review for another family weight game that surprised me by just how good it is.
What’s the last game you got that was even better than you expected? Tell us about it in the comments below!