Barnes on Games #2: CYOA: House of Danger, Warhammer Champions, Root, Shifting Realms, and More

14 Aug 2018 15:46 #279877 by Michael Barnes

"You suddenly regret playing the worst game of 2018. THE END."

The following user(s) said Thank You: Frohike

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16 Aug 2018 05:18 #279878 by MattDP
I got House of Danger, and even though I've never played Choose Your Own Adventure (we got Fighting Fantasy this side of the pond), I got totally suckered by the box art.

The first session seemed fun enough. I like the way they used pictorial "visions" to seed clues, and the two-decks playing off each other to provide variety.

But then: pretty much everything MB said. It's obviously a solo game and would be awful multiplayer. But what really sunk it for me was the writing and story which are worst kind of pulp. Tiresome, trite, unimaginative garbage.

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16 Aug 2018 07:21 #279879 by stormseeker75
Warhammer Champions is legit. I love it. It's so much more about strapping in and riding the engine. There's still room for good plays. I do love that it's completely and totally different from Magic.

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16 Aug 2018 10:54 #279891 by Ken B.
I will offer a counter-review on CYOA: HoL that both agrees and disagrees with Barnes.

First, as we're all aware, the Choose Your Own Adventure books were never brilliant game designs in the classical sense of the word. Essentially they boiled down to firing the imagination of a ten-year old child with an exciting adventure, pulling them in with second-person phrasing. Along the way was a limited set of story branches and an overwhelmingly arbitrary system for living and dying. Often, choices that otherwise seem completely reasonable continue the story as planned, but other times equally reasonable choices would lead you to a sudden and unexpected demise.

Looking at them as an adult, it's quite clear that the mindset was to engage a generation who was beginning to grow up on Atari and Nintendo with the same pulpy crazy adventure serials that had children plop down in front of an old radio and stare wide-eyed as they were taken on voyages with pirates, solved mysteries with other plucky young detectives, or allowed to jetset on global pathways as some hardboiled investigator traveled the world in search of treasure or to apprehend some evildoer.

I will admit that just seeing the package for the game instantly fired my nostalgia. I saw a group with a copy of it at their table during this year's Dice Tower Con. "Is that what I think it is?" I asked, and sure enough, I knew I would probably have to pick up a copy.

For good or ill, it's the same overly cheesy narrative that was present in the old books. To have delivered a more polished writing style would have been a jarring betrayal of what the game seems to want to be. Even so, the game expands on the old system by giving clue decks for each chapter. These clues allow you to have inventory, receive future hints about story branches, and keep weapons to help defeat some of the baddies in the story. There are very simple Psychic and Danger levels which give you some indication at how well you're doing. They're both a touch too limiting because often failing at a task--especially repeatedly--can send you into a downward spiral of future failures until you max your Danger level and it mercifully resets, although this costs you Psychic energy.

Speaking of Psychic energy, one thing I thought was particularly clever in an indirect sense is that when you do inevitably hit a "U R STOOPID, U DIE" card, you read what fate befalls you...but then you spend some Psychic energy and you revert back to your previous decision point. It is implied that essentially you foresaw your own fate at a cost of sapping your Psychic abilities, and were able to shake it off and make a better decision. It mimics how we would all reach an important decision point, stick our finger in between that page, and head off to one of our choices...only to see we'd chosen something that caused us to fall into a bottomless pit because we chose to investigate a weird vase, and we'd quickly go back to our "Finger-Generated Save Point" to get back on track. I will say the deaths are still arbitrary in several spots but there are also several that are just red-alarms that say "DO NOT DO THIS", more or less.

Now, to bookend all of this I have to add that I've been playing with my two twelve-year old twin girls and they have been riveted by the experience. I have essentially served as narrator and occasionally gently offering advice, and as a narrator I've given the characters distinct voices and played up the drama at several turns. I've also had my Amazon Fire cue up some spooky music to give everything a little extra ambiance. To show how excited they were about playing it, last night I had told them we'd play after dinner.
I'd assumed they'd gone upstairs, but when I got down to the rec room they already had the game out, the decks set and our little player board all ready to go. We finished chapter four last night and will complete the game one night this weekend.

How much of that fun is because we're invested in it, and because I'm interjecting additional theater into the proceedings? I honestly couldn't tell you. But we are definitely having our fun with it.

Of course, many of the criticisms are still spot on. The writing is not fantastic, deliberate or no. You've got one, MAYBE two playthroughs of this where you go back the second time to look for any branches and clues you missed. The game makes no effort to provide actual multiplayer rules, so you are all sitting down to play a game that has no difference to playing it solo. A few bad rolls or choices can send you into a spiral of escalating danger and missed clues that is tough to escape from for a bit. There are reasonable sounding choices that will instantly kill you.

And girls have had that same excited chatter about the game that I used to have with my friends in elementary school as we'd gobble up these from mail order or book fair and trade dog-eared copies as we finished them. And I have a feeling my young 'uns will remember the fun we've had with this one for quite a while. For a dad, that's $25 well spent.
The following user(s) said Thank You: MattDP, Shellhead, Jarvis, SebastianBludd, Colorcrayons

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16 Aug 2018 11:10 #279899 by drewcula
I played Root last week. I dubbed it 'Cthulhu Wars meets Redwall.'
It's good and like Cthulhu Wars, it'll reward multiple plays.

While I appreciate the relatively small footprint of Root, I'd rather set up the big ol' CW behemoth instead.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Ken B., Gary Sax

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16 Aug 2018 15:11 #279922 by Space Ghost
I've always been a pretty big fan of game books, even though their writing has much to be desired. As Ken mentioned, it really does fire the imagination of the 8-10 year old. One of the earliest memories of getting in trouble revolves around CYOA books.

When I was young in the mid-80s, it was just me, my brother and my mom. I was in 3rd grade and my mom had saved up $100 and I was supposed to go to school Book Fair and purchase some really fancy hard-covered Rand McNally World Atlas that went into detail about all countries/cultures (something like $75) and also get us a dictionary that was going to be the "family" dictionary (my mom doesn't really have an education, but saw education as the way to provide opportunity for her children). In any event, when I arrived at the Book Fair, the World Atlas was on back order, as was the Dictionary -- and, it was a "traveling" Book Fair that meandered through the Rural Midwest, so if it wasn't in stock, there was no getting it until it was back in stock. Instead, I bought 18 choose your own adventure books (I think they were around $4.95 -- like most paperbacks back then) and was convinced (or at least convinced myself) that the entire family would be excited about my purchase. Needless to say, my mom was not excited. Instead, there was some prolonged grounding from cartoons; however, the cool thing was, she recognized my excitement and didn't make me return them -- I just had to wait about a month before I could read any of them.

To this day, I have a soft spot for the entire CYOA enterprise, poor writing or not. The first book I wrote was my own CYOA adventure in 4th grade. We recently unearthed it, and I realize that in these days and times I would likely be referred to a psychologist as all the endings are fairly gruesome. My CYOA books have long since vanished, but I still have all of the Wizards, Warriors, and You and most (if not all) the Middle-Earth and Fighting Fantasy books. Given Ken's tale on how excited his daughters were, I may bust out a simpler one tonight for my kids (4 and 6)
The following user(s) said Thank You: Gary Sax, Frohike, drewcula, BillyBobThwarton

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16 Aug 2018 19:17 #279943 by panzerattack
Have you seen the miniature skirmish game Burrows and Badgers? Every time I see anything about Root it makes me think of it - anthropomorphic woodland animals. Although I've got the rulebook I haven't played it, so I can't comment on the game itself, but the miniature line that goes with it is fantastic.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Sagrilarus

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16 Aug 2018 20:04 - 16 Aug 2018 20:06 #279944 by SuperflyTNT
I’m glad Patrick Leder is getting the love he deserves. Tom Vasel savaged his game, “Five Fingered Severance” which has been in my collection from the day it was issued and which it will perpetually remain.

He has other pre-Vast titles, the most notable being FFS and a little card game called Trick or Treat which has been played at my home since we got it when it was released. Nobody saw it because it wasn’t hyped by the savants at BGG, but it’s really fun.

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