Review: Gargoyles
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1994

A gargoyle flying toward you with Gargoyles text in yellow underneath

how we met

Bill and I found Gargoyles for $2 in our local town. For some reason, I knew this was a game and recognized it when I saw it. But I have never seen and am wholly unfamiliar with Gargoyles the show.

I watched the opening theme as my homework for this review. I can’t do anymore. But that theme was pretty awesome.

how it plays

The object of Gargoyles is to save Elisa by defeating any enemies in your path and finally the big boss Xanatos at the top of the tower.

All pawns move on a pre-determined path, gliding from roof to roof, leading up to the building and up floor by floor until they reach the top! Each player begins the game with 2 GOLIATH tokens. These tokens can be spent during gameplay to give you an edge in battle.

This view of the board shows the direction pawns take
This shows the direction the pawns take, one step forward and no steps back
goliath tokens
These are the GOLIATH tokens

Setup is important in the game. The instructions will tell you where to put the Demona, Goliath, and Bronx pawns. Elisa and Xanatos go on the top of the tower. Then the 3 THE PACK pawns Hyena/Dingo, Wolf/Jackal, and Fox are placed according to the instruction book.

The pawns are cardboard on stands
Our heroes
Bronx pawn
BRONX in all his glory
Goliath pawn
Here stands Goliath, in his non-stone form
The enemy pawns
These are the baddies

At the start of a player’s turn they begin with a BATTLE if there is an enemy on their tile. If there is no enemy, they spin the spinner and one of three things will happen:

  • GLIDE allows you to move your pawn to the next space on the board. If there is an enemy there, your turn ends. If the space is open then spin again.
  • BRONX allows you to move the BRONX pawn to any space not already occupied by a baddie. BRONX is like a bubble: enemies can’t be moved onto a space occupied by BRONX. You can move him to your own pawn for protection.
  • THE PACK requires you to move one of the three THE PACK pawns to any space on the board except a space occupied by BRONX. If someone from THE PACK was already defeated and removed from the game board then you must move them back onto the board rather than move a pawn from THE PACK already on the board. You keep knocking ‘em out and they keep comin’ right on back.
The spinner has 3 sections, half is glide, most of the rest is the pack and the remainder is bronx
The spinner for your eyes

Demona is different than other enemy pawns. She never moves, and once she is defeated she stays off the board.

Xanatos is also different than other enemy pawns. I mean, Xanatos is the boss. When Xanatos is defeated, the game is over.

If you start your turn with an enemy on your space, you must BATTLE. You can BATTLE enemies in any order you choose if there is more than one on your space. To BATTLE, take the punch token and secretly choose whether you will throw a high punch or a low punch. The player to your left acts as the enemy and secretly chooses whether to have a high block or a low block using the block token.

The attack and block tokens
You’re hot, you’re cold, you’re high, you’re low

Both players show their BATTLE tokens at the same time. For example if the active player throws a high punch, and the defending pawn has a high block, then that attack is blocked and the turn ends. However if the attack goes through, where the attack and the block do not match, the enemy pawn is moved off the board and that player may continue their turn either battling the next enemy on the player’s space or spinning the spinner.

If you summon Goliath to help you in BATTLE, he gets two chances to defeat an enemy, and if he defeats one he defeats all. He’s pretty badass if you remember to play him. He can be used on the bosses too.

The first player to successfully defeat Xanatos saves Elisa and wins Gargoyles!

how it went

This game blows. Look how much text it took to explain how to play, when BATTLE boils down to a 50/50 chance. You could house rule the game to require a successful rock, paper, scissors outcome in BATTLE and Gargoyles would be immediately more interesting. This game was so painful to play that Bill thinks I got the rules entirely wrong. But alas, this game blows.

Note: Bill did read through the rules as I wrote this review. He found the issue with the game where he was certain we played wrong, and it’s a good criticism that I have only implied so far. As a hero pawn, you never go backward. The worst thing that can happen to you is that your turn ends. If you are on the second floor of the tower, the stakes are identical to the second space from start. Most children’s games at least set you back a bit.

We played Gargoyles at the end of a long night. We were tired. We were hopeful. We built the building. We went through all the set up. Our youngest player went first. But Gargoyles was such a slog! You defeat enemies and they leave the board, but then they return. And return. And return. It’s like endless coin flipping.

FUN FACT: I have played a lot of Magic: The Gathering over the years and still have a box full of my decks. And of course I have a gambling deck. And of course everyone hates it…probably because it feels a lot like playing Gargoyles. Nice one, universe. You got me.

One image of our play
One image of our play

We hadn’t been playing long before we started just automatically placing THE PACK pawns on start, out of the way. Sometimes one of us would have to move a pawn from THE PACK when all were on the board, so we might embrace the “take that” aspect of gameplay. But that player would defeat that enemy, that enemy would be placed off the board, that enemy would get placed back on the board on the start space, and the cycle would begin again.

I do not have the winner recorded. I think Bill might have won.

play or pass

Pass like you have never passed before. Do not look directly at Gargoyles. Do not answer if Gargoyles knocks. Do not pick up the phone. Do not engage with Gargoyles. Playing Gargoyles hurt so much.

I am admittedly not very familiar with the cartoon, but even the opening theme felt dark and decent, where the game is one of the babiest of baby games. The game just doesn’t fit with even the glimpse I had of the show. I don’t get it.