It’s a bit like the movie Inside Out – but wayyy more complicated
Cerebria: the Inside World is a Fanatic level board game of Full + length for 2 to 4 players. It has a native solo mode which I have not played, so that is not included in this review.
Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length or player count. For example: this game theoretically plays 6 with the ‘Forces of Balance’ expansion (was available, but we didn’t use it), but I can’t imagine how convoluted that game could be!
The best bits of this game are:
- the distinctive art and design – you will love it or hate it (or perhaps, like me, admire it while feeling slightly disturbed…)
- the way in which the Spirits carry their theme into the gameplay, and the way that Emotions trigger actions which align with their descriptions. When you play “Guilt”, the action it triggers makes sense – as though the other team feels guilty!
The worst bits of Cerebria are:
- the learning curve for new players and the consequent teaching and setup time: it is steep, and the time commitment is significant!
- the catchup mechanism for the losing team seems very weak, and so a runaway winner is totally possible – perhaps even likely.
Cerebria does feel a lot like a battle for dominance, inside a human brain. You have to summon up Willpower and Essence to manifest Emotions (i.e. to play cards in particular areas) – but will Team Bliss come along and undo the ‘important work’ of Team Gloom?
Willpower and essence are scarce, but become easier to gain as you influence the Realms and Frontiers of the mind (the game board¹).
Dominating each area (a Realm, or Frontier) of the mind grants minor additional benefits (but the small benefits really add up over time through the gameplay). This “area control” mechanism is also a major factor in scoring (which occurs indirectly through 6 to 9 Revelations, determined by player actions during the game).
Also, each Emotion played has its own power – getting these to work together with your Spirit’s theme and with the other Spirit in your team² is a major factor in successful play.
The art is well displayed on large, thematic Emotion cards and player boards. I was lucky enough to play with the extra miniatures (cardboard standees are standard) which are large, detailed and beautiful (or appropriately ugly…).
I’ve skipped over a part of the setup and gameplay – you get to build a deck of possible Emotions for each Spirit (choosing 8 from 16 options). In my first game, I just made thematic choices, but you can follow a recommended starter deck – or spend ages building a customised preferred deck before you even start the main game, if that’s your thing.
Each spirit has a specific power – give them a good trip or two around the block, as they will help you learn the way the game flows, and can be really powerful when deployed consistently. It’s important to know that this is a team-based game – part co-operative, part competitive. I really liked that, but it may affect your view of the game differently.
This is a lovely game with great production values, which oozes theme³. It requires complex decisions and you must keep an eye on many factors – the board is constantly changing. I enjoyed it a lot, but it won’t be for everyone – it could get pretty slow with four players, and it is complex. This is a game-lover’s game.
Each team has 4 Spirits but will use only two in each game. Each Spirit has 16 Emotions but will use only 8 in each game (and each team has 8 ‘Strong Emotions’ to advance to – we didn’t even get into 15/16 of the ‘Strongs’ in our game). The Aspiration cards (a major source of scoring) will occur in a different order in each game and some may be skipped or removed. This extensive content means that the game should have excellent replayability.
BoardGameGeek rates this game at a colossal 4.32 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). That seems a little high to me, but there’s no doubt it’s an intricate board game which could be ‘bewildering’ [that’s a quote from the rulebook…] for less fanatical players.
Behold Games (I’m a repeat customer of theirs – excellent service from a game loving store owner) has this available for $71 – excellent value as the typical price is near $100. I doubt that includes the plastic miniatures, as they were most easily obtained in the Kickstarter campaign for the Cerebria board game and are probably pretty tough to get now.
These are, of course, our opinions only.
¹ the game board is HUGE – you’ll need a big table.
² this reminds me a LOT of aspects of the gameplay in Spirit Island.
³ motif? Thesaurus.com took a beating while I was writing this review – ‘theme’ does not have many useful synonyms!