In Too Many Bones each hero gearloc has a playmat which enables you to upskill your character as you gain experience. Basic upgrades consist of improving health, defense, attack or the number of dice you roll for each round of battle. However the most interesting areas are the unique abilities which can be unlocked. I started playing with Picket, simply because he was in a walkthrough example in the rules, however i have always enjoyed tank style archetypes since world of warcraft, and so it seems a good place to start. I have become amazed at the many options you can explore just from one gearloc, and i will use his mat as a brief example to give explore this great character.
To begin with you have his Captain (red) tree abilities. These are the ones to go to first, especially in your early games while you try and gain confidence, as they are pretty simple to understand and utilise. The four dice slots cover buffs for health, defense, attack and taunt with a bit of movement thrown in on the side, which when locked in will last the whole game. These just feel great, blocking damage every round or dealing a tad more damage, and whilst it may take a roll or two to lock it in, once you have them you don’t have to keep rolling them again, unless you get knocked out. They are simple enough to just put in place and leave there and they won’t disappoint for solo games either, quickly making you feel stronger and turning you more into an all rounder for attack and defense.
The Consumables (yellow) are useful in an emergency, a quick eat or drink to restore your health if your defensive dice haven’t been strong enough. The orc ale is largely a last gasp attempt to stay alive for a couple more rounds, but leaves you weak and vulnerable. If you stack these two dice though you can drink to survive and then quickly eat to restore some precious health, but you need to time it all to perfection. These dice are available from loot cards so they can be tricky to obtain, and you may need to focus on loot manipulation, but if you want a simple to use and workable Picket set up, you can use these alongside some extra health dice and the captain buffs to keep yourself alive with minimal complexity.
However once you have used the captain skills for a couple of games, you may be ready to expand your horizons a little. The Hero (purple) section is all about defense, adding and locking in even more defense ability alongside your dexterity dice, you can really shield up Picket to take some heavy damage from a large creature or a tyrant. This is considered an alternative to captain buffing as it uses the same locked slots area. Initially this sounds a little tame, but there is an added bonus here, the shield bash from the bones dice, where you can activate two bones and use any shield dice rolled or on your mat, and this can really thump your enemy for a whole heap of attack damage if you time it right – I thematically love this combination. There is also a strange bravado dice which enables you to stack up bones quickly, which initially sounds quite miss-able, until you realise you can quickly get to two extra health and defense from a four bones benevolence, it is another nice trick to try out as a survival mechanism.
The Protector (orange) two skills area is a little less useful if you are playing as a solo character, but using alongside a weaker gearloc can be a lifesaver as it enables you to intercept attacks and take it yourself. This is tanking in style, and especially works if you are also stacking up on defense dice. In co-operative terms it will allow your team to get on with attacking while you soak up the damage, so try combining the captains defense dice buff, hero defense and protector dice for a very different style supportive gearloc.
Finally we have the Warden (blue) dice, which are the most interesting and trickiest to remember, and so you may well try them out last. You get a combination of skills called switch, rush and riposte which enable you to move quickly around the map, exchanging positions with enemies or gearlocs, while avoiding, dealing or healing damage on the way. You become like a monk or ninja confusing your enemies each turn with your elaborate moves. One of the keys here is that you can use this to do some damage even if you have lost your attack dice to the golems, so in some situations it may be vital to build in some of these skills. Combine these with the captain attack buff and extra attack dice and you can become much more than just a defender.
In terms of his core dice, he starts pretty light on dexterity so this needs some boosting early on, then if you want to be an all rounder you will need extra attack dice. However you may wish to try maxing out the defensive, shield bashing character though, which is specialised but can be great fun. Everyone will have their favourite gearloc, and i have only played with two properly so far, but even after a few solo games i am still uncovering some of the skill quirks for Picket, it shows huge gameplay depth and attention to each characters style that i am so impressed by. Hopefully this quick review will get you thinking about Picket a little more.