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Dark Venture - First Impressions

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JL Updated January 08, 2020
 
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Dark Venture - First Impressions

Game Information

Game Name
Designer
There Will Be Games

Venture is exactly the kind of game that select members of this site go crazy for and a cult following develops.

I played this thing last night and my mind is still reeling from just how strange, unique, cumbersome, charming, and awesome it was.

It dubs itself as an “adventure card game,” but that’s only because the main components are cards. Don’t think Pathfinder ACG, this comes across as something more akin that upper echelon of adventure games like Dungeon Degenerate or Shadows of Malice. If you liked either of those, Dark Venture is very much your thing.

The setting is far future fantasy devastated by magical catastrophe that killed most people but changed those who lived. And then it happened again. This is one of those games where the artist is also the designer and what you get is a complete *vision.* The artwork draws to mind Gamma World, Bakshi’s Wizards, 1st edition D&D and He-Man if Eternia went to hell in a hand basket.

I don't want to spoil anything but this is a game that tells weird fantasy stories. It has a strong Dying Earth vibe to it. I had the ability to rip open space time. I discovered an alternate timeline. This kind of “big idea” stuff is EVERYWHERE. Whenever a location is played, you reference a book that describes what you see from the distance, giving you just enough mystery to want to see what it is or maybe run the other way. Entering the location triggers another passage that describes what happens. I'm not sure if the retail version will have it, but the Kickstarter edition has 2 sets of books to help keep that stuff fresh. As it stands, I played 12 rounds and hardly saw any substantial amount of what could happen.

Gameplay is rather unique and it took awhile getting used to it at first. Rules are unfortunately buried in the rulebook and this is not a game for those who want their hand held through how to play. You just have to stop worrying and go for it. It ended up being much more straight forward than Shadows of Malice or Dungeon Degenerates once I got a hang of it. The locations and characters that appear are largely out there by players. I really enjoyed feeling like I was helping to layout the ground work for where this strange story could go while still being immersed in it.

I highly recommend this one.

Josh Look (He/Him)
Staff Podcaster

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

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Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #305043 12 Dec 2019 08:31
I’m going to go ahead and create a thread for this one because this is exactly the kind of game that select members of this site go crazy for and a cult following develops.

I played this thing last night and my mind is still reeling from just how strange, unique, cumbersome, charming, and awesome it was.

It dubs itself as an “adventure card game,” but that’s only because the main components are cards. Don’t think Pathfinder ACG, this comes across as something more akin that upper echelon of adventure games like Dungeon Degenerate or Shadows of Malice. If you liked either of those, Dark Venture is very much your thing.

The setting is far future fantasy devastated by magical catastrophe that killed most people but changed those who lived. And then it happened again. This is one of those games where the artist is also the designer and what you get is a complete *vision.* The artwork draws to mind Gamma World, Bakshi’s
Wizards, 1st edition D&D and He-Man if Eternia went to hell in a hand basket.

I wouldn’t to spoil anything but this is a game that tells weird fantasy stories. It has a strong Dying Earth vibe to it. I had the ability to rip open space time. I discovered an alternate timeline. This kind of “big idea” stuff is EVERYWHERE. Whenever a location is played, you reference a book that describes what you see from the distance, giving you just enough mystery to want to see what it is or maybe run the other way. Entering the location triggers another passage that describes what happens. Not sure if the retail version will have it, but the KS edition has 2 sets of books to help keep that stuff fresh. As it stands, I played 12 rounds and hardly saw any substantial amount of what could happen.

Gameplay is rather unique and it took awhile getting used to it at first. Rules are unfortunately buried in the rulebook and this is not a game for those who want their hand held through how to play. You just have to stop worrying and go for it. It ended up being much more straight forward than Shadows of Malice or Dungeon Degenerates once I got a hang of it. The locations and characters that appear are largely out there by players. I really enjoyed feeling like I was helping to layout the ground work for where this strange story could go while still being immersed in it.

I feel like I‘m doing a terrible job explaining it, but it isn’t an easy one to explain. Regardless, I highly recommend this one.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #305044 12 Dec 2019 08:41
Did you play it solo or with others? I brought it out last night but got overwhelmed by setup and the thought of explaining it, so we bagged it for now, but I really want to get it played. I didn't like that the cards weren't labeled (Character, Location, Item) though I thought I figured them out.

It looks great and wild, and I'm looking forward to when I have time and mental energy to really take it in.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #305045 12 Dec 2019 08:47
Solo. I don’t think I could have taught it to folks without playing it myself first. The setup didn’t make a good first impression and I had the rulebook glued to my hand for first half hour, but it was actually quite smooth once I had a few turns in. I could teach it no problem now.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #305049 12 Dec 2019 10:08
I'm definitely interested, and the price seems surprisingly low. But it appears to be at an awkward stage where the Kickstarter is over but they aren't selling the excess from their small print run yet.
jay718's Avatar
jay718 replied the topic: #305051 12 Dec 2019 11:36
My copy arrived Sunday. Going to try to solo an hour or two tonight
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #305054 12 Dec 2019 11:48
There’s a video out there on setup. I recommend watching it. The differences between equipped and held items and the two blue and one purple edge on the player board isn’t the clearest in the rulebook. Wish I’d seen the video before sitting down at it last night.

Also, be prepared to dig through decks a lot. You’ll get used to it and it won’t be so time consuming or as much of a hassle once you’re into it. Trust me, you’ll read a couple of those passages and get some cool items and you’ll be that much more compelled to push on. It makes it worth the work throughout.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #305055 12 Dec 2019 11:55

Shellhead wrote: I'm definitely interested, and the price seems surprisingly low. But it appears to be at an awkward stage where the Kickstarter is over but they aren't selling the excess from their small print run yet.


This is where I'm at as well. Looks cool.


Edit:
boardgamegeek.com/thread/2328413/anyone-want-sell-their-copy

Looks like they put their excess copies up for sale yesterday and they sold out. So.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #305056 12 Dec 2019 12:03
That's disappointing. Based on the price, I'm guessing that this will be a game that never gets a second print run, because they probably just broke even on the first one.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #305060 12 Dec 2019 14:11
I got my shipping notice on the 4th, but checked and FedEx claims they still haven't received the package....hopefully will be here soonish
Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #305061 12 Dec 2019 14:13
Yeah - this sounds exactly like the kind of game I'd like. Sold. Or not.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #305062 12 Dec 2019 14:37

Shellhead wrote: That's disappointing. Based on the price, I'm guessing that this will be a game that never gets a second print run, because they probably just broke even on the first one.


Sounds like there might be some more copies for sale after the Kickstarter fulfillment officially ends, so might be worth keeping an eye out. Probably won't be many of so, based on how fast they sold out yesterday.
BillyBobThwarton's Avatar
BillyBobThwarton replied the topic: #305074 12 Dec 2019 22:58
Thanks for the heads up on the setup video. My copy arrived this week. I just got around to downloading the soundtrack (the was an email about that on Sept 24) and have the rulebook on my desk to dig in.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #305358 20 Dec 2019 13:04
There was a copy for sale on BGG a couple of days ago, so I bought it. Except that there isn't going to be an actual sale unless the seller contacts me by 12/25/19, and I haven't heard back yet. Maybe a bunch of people offered to buy it and he is going to let each of those offers lapse so he can jack up the price and repost it. I dunno.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #305457 23 Dec 2019 16:42
I paid $60 (twice the Kickstarter price) plus $10 shipping to buy from a re-seller at BGG. If all goes well, I might get my copy by the end of December.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306052 12 Jan 2020 10:15
I received my copy early last week. It turned out that I actually got both the base game and the Vile Invaders expansion. I haven't had a chance to play yet, but I did read through the rules. Aside from some murkiness around the distinction between holding and equipping, the rules look pretty clean. I have barely looked at the components yet, but that and the encounter booklets must be where the magic of the game happens, because the rules seem relatively generic. In terms of influences, I suspect that this game is seeking to be a much more playable version of Magic Realm. The default rules assume a competitive environment, but there are also solo and co-op rules. I saw that the Kickstarter came with access to a music mix, but my second-hand purchase did not. So I am going to burn a couple of mix discs of my own, including a couple of tracks from the soundtracks to Wizards (1977) and some prog rock like Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306376 18 Jan 2020 22:29
Though I was sorely tempted to play some Arkham Horror today, I felt dutybound to play recent acquistion Dark Venture. I burned two discs worth of prog rock for background music, then sat down to play a solitaire game. The rules were mostly straightforward, but setup was a bit fiddly with pieces.

My character was a freaky-looking mutant hero with leather armor and a double-bladed sword. My goal was to rack up at least 20 points worth of quest points over the course of a full day. My initial heroic quest required me to encounter an eggman, defeat him, and return a stolen item to the starting crossroads. Unfortunately, no eggmen appeared the whole game. I also had various side quests, which seemed to be more like pressing whims than anything deserving the word quest.

Right away, I met a potential follower, who seemed to be an undead mutant dwarf. He didn't like me and ran away to an adjacent location. I followed him and tried to make friends again on the following turn, but he wasn't interested. Pursuing a couple of easy side quests pushed me to explore quite a few locations. I fought some bestial dude and killed him, but didn't even feel like picking up his spear.

Later, I lucked into 3 more heroic quests and managed to accomplish both of them. I had some neutral or friendly encounters, and got a horse to ride. I cautiously avoided a fight with a hairy wolf spider dude called the dreadmortis, and finally made friends with another hero known as the Plantman. I only came up with 15 quest points, but it was enough to be called a ranger.

Dark Venture is pleasant to play, except that new characters and some encounters require you to search an entire card deck for a specific card or two. This happens at least every other turn, and then you need to re-shuffle. NPC characters are persistent, in that they stay in the game at their location unless killed, so that adds some additional fiddlyness to keep track of on the table. Initiative and combat is quick and easy. For such a compact box, Dark Venture takes up a surprising amount of table space. I suspect that the game is more fun with at least one other player.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #306377 19 Jan 2020 08:28
As I said in the Arkham Horror thread, how this game handles narrative is interesting to me. Like the very few adventure games that I would consider to be good, it puts the control in your hands instead of throwing random things at you and you just have to deal with it. What really makes it unique, however, is that that control is happening both at a table-level and on a meta level, giving you the freedom to choose what NPCs and areas to populate the game with. Is that more fun with one other person? I don’t know, depends on what you’re looking for. Throwing certain locations and NPCs down in front of an opponent certainly makes it a more confrontational experience and the race to get VPs is stronger, but it also introduces a lack of control that I could do without.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #306380 19 Jan 2020 15:56
For some reason this game gave me anxiety.

After reading the rulebook twice, I still felt unprepared to tackle it, since none of the rules really sunk in. We finally jumped into it and I, nervous as hell, read from the rulebook a third time as we tried to figure out how to play the thing.

It's a mess. The rules give you a sort of framework, but be prepared to have to just figure a lot of things out and make judgement calls. It's also a mess on the table, with cards and tokens and standees and cubes all over the place, making it difficult to know what's going on at any given point.

As for the gameplay, well, I can only tell you about what we deciphered as the gameplay, and only for a brief period until we decided to bag it. What I felt was, there's no reason to play this instead of Fallout or Talisman or Western Legends, or any number of other adventure type games. Its only appeal is its unique, mondo theme, which I admit was what drew me in, but that's not enough to stand on.

We bagged it after I think three rounds of digging through decks over and over and trying to figure out what the hell was happening at any given point. Two out of three of us just weren't having any fun and I gave my copy to the third guy; may he find some enjoyment in it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306382 19 Jan 2020 20:39
Dark Venture is a sandbox adventure setting in a small box. The sandbox isn't deep, but there is enough variability for plenty of replay. What makes Dark Venture different from all the other adventure games is that the encounters stay in play and fully fleshed out stats just like the heroes. This makes the game somewhat messy and cumbersome on the table, but also yields a richer experience. In effect, it's greatest weakness and strength are linked like two sides of the same coin. It struck me like a more accessible version of Magic Realm, stripped of excessive rules but also of the control offered to MR players.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306410 20 Jan 2020 16:01
The closest comparison that I can make to Dark Venture is Escape from One Million B.C., except that Dark Venture wants to keep track of equipment and several stats for every character in the game, not just the player characters. In particular, Dark Venture wants to keep track of current hit points for all the NPCs in play, and also have them heal some damage each turn. Escape gets a little fiddly by moving characters and dinosaurs every turn, where Dark Venture only moves characters in response to specific encounters with players.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306623 26 Jan 2020 10:54

Shellhead wrote: Dark Venture is a sandbox adventure setting in a small box. The sandbox isn't deep, but there is enough variability for plenty of replay. What makes Dark Venture different from all the other adventure games is that the encounters stay in play and fully fleshed out stats just like the heroes. This makes the game somewhat messy and cumbersome on the table, but also yields a richer experience. In effect, it's greatest weakness and strength are linked like two sides of the same coin. It struck me like a more accessible version of Magic Realm, stripped of excessive rules but also of the control offered to MR players.


While doing a lot of laundry and ironing yesterday, I set up a 4-player game of Dark Venture so I could really get an understanding of the game. And it was revealing, though I only got 75% of the way through the game yesterday. It's not a long game, but I was also doing laundry, plus each character has a variety of things to keep track of, like quests and items, and the changing map state.

Dark Venture is definitely inspired by Magic Realm, but is played with less than 10% of the rules complexity of Magic Realm. If you ever wanted to play Magic Realm but couldn't get through the rules (like me), Dark Venture is the game for you. There is a lot less structure to the game, and the Dark Venture map could potentially cause sanity loss to someone with OCD. There is a lot more potential for PvP in Dark Venture, but the worst outcome is getting knocked unconscious and potentially missing a turn or even two. Where Dark Venture actually surpasses Magic Realm is the heroic quests. Magic Realm characters set their initial targets for gold, spells, notoriety, etc, and then obtain through killing enemies and finding loot. Dark Venture characters can score points in all kinds of ways, depending on their current quests and sidequests, but these quests tend to encourage specific goals instead of general opportunism.

In my game, one of the four heroes started with a very interesting heroic quest. Every time he encountered another hero (there are a total of 11 heroes in the game), he could make a Mind roll to see if that character was the traitor plotting against the king. Then he had to defeat that character in combat, to uh beat the treason out of them, to collect 6 quest points. Since this hero happened to go first on turn one, he had a convenient chance to screen 30% of the suspects immediately. Unfortunately, he made the very first roll against the big, strong hero with a heavy blade. They fought, and the strong guy knocked him out. When the strong guy got his turn, he stole the unconscious guy's armor and put it on, then walked off to seek adventure. The game was nearly half over before that first hero finally managed to beat the strong guy, collect 6 VP, and take back his armor.

Also on turn one, another character left the starting clearing, then played a wolf there for the remaining characters to fight. By the end of turn one, 2 of the player heroes were unconscious and another one was imprisoned in a tower. There is probably too much potential for PvP combat in this game, but another heroic quest showed the potential advantage of cooperation. The archer hero drew a heroic quest that involved going after twin brothers who were also tax evaders. Each brother was as tough as a hero, and sniping at them from a distance with the bow wasn't workable, as each shot would either provoke the twins to retreat or counterattack. But then the strong guy drew a heroic quest that allowed him to gain 5 quest points if he helped another player complete their own heroic quest. Working together, these two managed to eventually defeat the twins and collect the taxes.

Though I'm only 75% through the game, the plantman looks likely to win. He got lucky regarding his heroic quests, and his natural healing ability was augmented by two healing items so that he was getting back 5 hit points every turn, compared to 2 for a normal hero. It also helped that he steered clear of the PvP fighting, which seems to only be advantageous if picking on a wounded character and if a win results in quest points or a desired item.

When I stopped playing yesterday, there were at least a dozen locations in play, and nearly as many characters on the board. A few dead enemies in the discard pile, a drop pile of loot in one clearing, and a scattering of tokens indicated locations that had already been searched.

I made a house rule to address my least favorite aspect of Dark Venture: shuffling. For a game with a limited print run, it is undesirable to have a lot of card shuffling that will wear down the cards. Dark Venture constantly wants to be shuffled. At the start of the game, the first player draws three heroic quest, keeps one, and shuffles the other two back into the deck. Each player repeats this process. Most characters in the game enter play with a prefererd item or three. You take those cards from other players' hand of cards, or more likely fish through the item deck for them, and then shuffle. Several heroic quests name a specific location, character, and/or item, which must be taken from other players' hands or from the relevant decks, which are then shuffled. My house rule: when searching a deck for a card, just draw and discard rapidly and then replace the discards at the bottom of the draw deck instead of shuffling. It saves a lot of shuffling, at the expense of letting players get a preview of the order of cards in the deck.

Circling back to my original point, playing Dark Venture yields comparable results to playing a game of Magic Realm. Heroes explore, fight monsters, fight each other, team up with each other, gain loot, and rack up victory points. Magic Realm does this with a complex, detailed, internally consistent set of rules that offer strategic choices. Dark Venture gets the job done with a fairly simple set of rules that rely more on luck and less on strategy. I really like Dark Venture, but I confess that I also just purchased a copy of Magic Realm and have been studying rules and tutorials while waiting for it to arrive. Magic Realm will likely become a toad that only gets played solitaire or when I can schedule it as an event game with friends, but Dark Venture is something that can actually get played in more normal gaming circumstances.