I knew nothing about this game before Thursday at Gencon. It was a blind buy based on Zev's recommendation (I trust him) I just fell in love with this game after I played it. I felt after I got home and saw there were no reviews that I needed to write a fast and furious review since there weren't any on FAT.
This write up is more a discussion of the experience, which makes sense to me given this is an RPG like game. I also wanted to give some background info to fill in the gaps of why I am praising this game so much and how I did a complete 180 degree change from thinking I would hate this game (once I bought it, opened it and looked at the components) to loving this game (once I played it). I also wanted to provide some good reasons why going to conventions and paying list prices can sometimes come with a few surprising benefits...like being taught the game by Zev and the crew during a late night round of gaming.
I have played and owned many of the famous dungeon crawls and while I like Descent it doesn't scratch that RPG itch. I like Warhammer Quest but good luck finding a reasonably priced copy. Plus, Warhammer quest is often an exercise in brutality and punishment and while there is a little bit of roleplaying, it still is mostly a hack and slash game. I have all but given up finding a good boargame that has the right amount of role playing, good story telling, elegant combat/gameplay rules, and the ability to just start playing the game immediately without being bogged down by the rules.
Warning: I am a Z-Man Fan
Ok, I am a bit of a Z-Man fan. Ok, I really like Z-man games. I always go to his booth first for any convention he is attending. I could gush about Zev all day but the best thing about Zev is since I have talked to him for the last few years at various conventions he has grown to know my gaming tastes pretty well. When I ask "Zev would I like this game?" he will honestly tell me yes or no way you probably don't want that game.
Also, I don't write many reviews because my job keeps me busy, usually there are already a ton of great reviews for a game, and I often don't have a vested interested in writing reviews unless I believe in the company/game and I don't think the game is getting enough press.
I believe this game is not getting enough press in the U.S. hence here is my review.
Thursday's Dealer Hall opening madness
Or Gencon and running (yes running like Forrest Gump) to snag a copy of Ninjato when I stumbled across...
Well I went to Gencon's dealer hall line at 8:00am on Thursday to get in line for Ninjato (yes I snagged the last two copies: one for my friend and one for me), and I saw all these new releases I didn't expect. When I saw this title I asked Zev "what the hell is this game? I have never heard of it? Would I like this game it looks really different." Zev replied "this game is awesome if you love RPG games that are more RPG than a dungeon crawl." "Like Tunnels and Trolls?" I replied. "Not even that complicated but yes closer to that than say other dungeon crawl boardgames." I decided to buy it along with five other games.
Starting to feel buyers remorse: My initial premature thoughts
After I was done shopping (it took a few hours), I went to the boardgame library room and sat down and opened the game for something to do while I was waited for my friends to show up and play Goa. I didn't read the manual but I looked at the components and cards and I thought "man there doesn't look like much to this game...what the hell." My initial thought was I had bought a crappy game. After nine hours of gaming I finally forgot about this purchase. Just so you understand a little about me; if I form a negative opinion about something it is not easy to change my mind. The game has to be great for me to instantly fall in love with it. I can grow to like a game that I have reservations about but it takes several plays. I realize this may not be fair but I think this is important to know in order to fully understand the rest of the story and my sudden change of heart regarding the game.
Around 9:00pm Zev and the crew walked in and said "lets play some games what do you want to play?" We played several games including Parade, Chronicle, a demo game that was being pitched to Zev and few other things I can't remember. Eventually, I begged Zev to teach me Quest because I told him I was not sure I was going to like it after briefly looking at the game. The Zev crew seemed interested in playing it, and Zev said "man its a great game lets play the first quest and I will be the Quest Master. Tom if you like RPGs you will love this."
Editorial Note Zev is a great Quest Master!
This will be only a basic breakdown but if you have questions ask away.
There are "basic rules" and more advanced rules (for more flavor). There are two books: A rules booklet and an 84 page adventure book with five adventures and basic rules for people to make up their own.
I- Two to five players. One person is the Game Master the rest are characters.
II. There are four characters each with a cardboard standup fig and a double sided thick post card sized stat card that players mark with a dry erase maker. There are five stats Charisma, Talent, Deftness (main combat stat..most of the time) strength (mostly for checks), and vitality points (hit points). There is a Human Mage, a Dwarven Warrior, Lizardman Shaman, and an Elven Ranger. There are little check marks on some of the stats so as players earn higher ability scores, they can earn bonuses. For example, as a player rises in Charisma they can eventually buy things for 1 coin less; as they get stronger they can hold more items on their person; etc. On the back of each stat card is some flavor text and the character's starting cards.
There are there Quest master cards that are about twice the size of the character cards (double sided) that help the quest master keep track of successfully completed party goals, stats of minions, monsters, and major villains. Each major villain that has more than one vitality point has check off markers to keep track of their current vitality levels. Everything is dry erase and easily rubbed off with just a finger. Each tough monster even lists what cards they get (weapons, spells, powers, etc). There is even a card for a "Your Adventure" sheet.
equipment cards, gift cards (powers), location cards, hero cards, innate gift cards (character's main basic powers). The Quest master has event, adventure, dark gift, bad guy, quest item, and ruler cards. There more components for terrain, coins, etc.
I could go into real depth with the rules but I suggest people read the rulebook so here are the basics:
The adventure book has blue highlighted text that says "Read out:" for the quest master. Like an RPG the quest master will put out location cards, read the flavor text (really good flavor text by the way) and then tell the adventures they have a few choices. The adventures then decide what to do. If they don't the leader has a horn maker "the leader maker" and if there is not a consensus the leader can invoke the horn and say "we are going to do x" and the party must do what the leader wants to do. After the current leader uses the horn, the horn passes to the next player. This is a novel and great idea.
The players choose what they want to do and the Quest master finds the appropriate responses. Sometimes there are skill checks to make and a based on the results the Quest Master reads the appropriate results.
There are taverns, merchants where players can buy valuable goods, and in one instance a dance contest (I won...yeah). This game is very much about storytelling and it does a great job.
Combat is basic but really well done. The quest master sets up a battlefield based on a diagram, and using quest ruler cards (about the size of a poker cards) in an L shape to form the boundaries. The quest master then puts the appropriate monsters and then depending on who got the jump, the players or the quest master go first. Who goes first depends on lots of variable factors depending on the creature, scenario, etc, not just an initiative roll. Lets say the players get to go first so they all are allowed to complete actions. A player looks at their skills, decides what they are going to do, can choose to move and attack; attack and move; shoot/no move unless there is a special power. When attacking the players roll a ten sided die as does the Quest master (zero is auto fail unless two zeros are rolled by each person; players win on ties...although there might be a few exceptions). Whoever looses takes a wound (or more depending on the weapon). Movement is based on the player's card. The sides show movement bar and how many times that player can use the bar (as a measuring guide) to move. The card also has a bar on the other side that shows their ranged combat distance and they use that side to measure if can attempt a ranged attack (if they have that ability it). Combat is fast and furious, slick and streamlined.
I don't want to write a book but this game has depth. It however, is so well done that a new player should just be taught the very basics and then learn on the go....and they will be able to learn the game very quickly. The rulebook also stresses fun is the most important aspect of the game and encourages Quest masters to add lib, bend the rules (my wording) and add the right amount of complexity when needed.
This review is already going too long and I need to sleep.
The long of the short.
The first quest took about 30 minutes after rules explanation (about 30 minutes only one person had played it before). We all had so much fun, that Zev promised we would play the second quest the next night. The second quest was much longer and the story line was great. We missed a few things but we ended up beating the second quest by the most narrow margins.
I have not had this much fun since I was a kid playing D&D first edition. This game is the perfect sweet spot for people who want the perfect boardgame combo of combat, RPG, and seriously great quality story lines (ok maybe they are not the most original but they worked great) with a simple but elegant combat system that doesn't get in the way of the game. While I like games like Descent, I miss the RPG element. I was very disappointed with Ravenloft because the combat was too simple. This game is the ultimate hybrid RPG/Fantasy Adventure boardgame with plenty of tough choices.
This was my Darkhorse hit of Gencon and I give this game a 9.0
If game is very affordable so it gets a higher score than what I would normally give it based on the components. The components are functionable, but I assume any RPG fan probably has their own set of minis anyway. If this game was $20 more (so there could be better components) I would rate this a ten.
This is the perfect game also to introduce people to RPGs too. I could easily see boardgame only fans playing this and saying wow, I want to try some RPG games now!
This game is my Dark Horse Gencon Hit!
Some cool game play elements. Players start with some gifts...call them special powers. Usually these gifts are one or two in nature. When you use a gift (whether you start with it or earn it) you exhaust the gift and can no longer use it till the end of the quest. A hero can refresh one gift every time they roll a 9. No you can't share your 9 rolls with other players...bummer I know. Each character can only have so many gifts based on their talent score. They are given an innate gift from the beginning of play which they can never lose. This innate gift does not count towards their total. Most characters start out only being able to use two gifts. The nice thing about this system is when party members are rewarded, each member draws from the gift stack that fits their character (either magic or combat gifts). Most characters at the beginning can only carry two gifts (plus the innate) and must discard extra gifts until their talent score is 5 or higher.