Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Adventurers

The Adventurers is Chong Sean's game which I will be helping to bring back to him in Sabah. It was sent by sea from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, together with some games than Allen and I bought. Chong Sean assigned me a mission to open, sleeve and play his games before I return to Sabah. And of course blogging about them is in the job specs.

The Game

In The Adventurers, players are treasure hunters extracting (a better word for "looting") treasures from an ancient Mayan temple. The ancient temple has traps and auto-defense mechanisms, and once the intruders enter, they are triggered. The entrance slams shut. A giant rolling boulder is set into motion and will eventually block the exit. So the players need to try to collect the most valuable treasures and make it out of the temple alive. Whoever survives and has treasures worth the most wins.

There are many different characters in the game. Lots of nice sculpts and good artwork. In the background is the moving wall that can crush your adventurers.

More adventurers.

Character cards. The icon on the lower left indicates the special ability. There are 6 different types of special abilities. The smaller cards are some of the treasure cards (card backs).

The game is pretty straight-forward. On your turn, you roll 5 dice, which tell you how many actions you get depending on how many treasures you are carrying. Naturally the heavier your burden, the more likely you will have fewer actions. You use your actions to move, to search for treasures, to decipher glyphs which may help you avoid traps etc. Treasures are everywhere, but depending on where they are, there are different restrictions and dangers when you try to search for them. Some are locked up and you'll need to spend some effort removing them from their alcoves. You need to try to outrun the giant boulder and not get crushed by it. There's a room with some loose floor boards, and if you fall through the floor, you land in molten lava. (and die, of course) There's an underground river with treasures on the riverbed, but it's rushing towards a deadly waterfall and if you can't get out of the river in time, bye bye. The game also has crushing walls, and a shaky bridge over a bottomless chasm. All in all, plenty of ways to get yourself killed.

One consolation is you have a backup plan. If your adventurer gets killed, you can still play the backup adventurer who enters the game mid way. However the new guy will be entering the temple behind the rolling boulder, so he or she will be pressed for time to collect treasures and exit the temple before the boulder blocks the exit.

You don't get to fight with other adventurers and you can't rob them of their treasures. You just race against them to try to get more treasures. But one nasty thing that you can do is when you cross the bridge, and you know there are others behind who want to cross it too, you can intentionally jump up and down on the bridge to try to damage it, so that by the time the others cross it, they are at a greater risk of the bridge completely collapsing. But of course, if you happen to jump too hard, the bridge may snap and you will be the one, umm, going down and never coming up.

The shaky bridge in the foreground. The underground river and waterfall in the background.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played a three-player game. We were quite greedy, and from the beginning kept picking up treasures. The fact that the boulder moved quite slowly at the beginning lured us into a false sense of safety. Soon we realised that once the boulder had picked up momentum, it could move rather quickly. Many times we decided to throw away some less valuable treasures so that we could run faster. The lava room could be a shortcut to try to overtake the boulder, but in our game, the layout of the four traps made it impossible to cross the room.

I ran the fastest, and Allen was slightly behind me. Han was too close to the boulder, and had to step into the lava room to avoid being crushed. It also meant the boulder passed him, and he had to catch up quickly. He picked up some treasures from the lava room. Allen was the only one who attempted to unlock a valuable treasure from an alcove. He did it halfway and gave up, fearing the approaching boulder. It was the right decision. If he hadn't decided to run, the boulder would have caught up with him. I was first to jump into the river and I dug up many treasures. I made it out of the river with 6 treasures. However because I spent more time in the river, Allen, who had also decided to use the river as a shortcut to beat the giant boulder to the exit, came out at the same time as I did. Han was slightly behind, because of the previous delay.

The lava room. Han was exploring it. The four spaces showing the Mayan numbers (lines and dots) have been explored, i.e. treasures collected. The giant boulder moved around the lava room (left to right), so if you can cross the lava room, it would be a shorter path than the boulder.

In the top right corner Allen was trying to unlock a treasure from an alcove.

The boulder had reached the last stretch before sealing off the exit. Allen and I had just climbed out of the river. Han was still swimming.

As the giant boulder approached, I decided that my life was worth more than my treasures. I discarded three treasures to lighten my load, and made a dash for the exit. It was the right move. I had just enough actions to make it out alive. Allen's adventurer had the stamina special ability, which allowed him (once per game) to treat the adventurer as if he had a lighter load. This allowed Allen to exit the temple comfortably. Han decided it was do-or-die. If he chucked too many treasures in order to be able to run faster and exit, he likely wouldn't have enough treasures to win anyway. In the end, it was not "do". He was just at the door when the boulder made him much flatter than before.

Allen won. He had more treasures than me, and their values added up to be more too.

The Thoughts

The production is good. The gameplay is simple and thematic. The game is a quick race to grab as many treasures as you can before time runs out. You need to balance risk and reward, and you need to make good use of your actions. Overall I feel there is not much meat to it though. I can see it would work with non-gamers. But for gamers this is probably not a game that can be played more than a few times. I feel there is not a lot of strategy in it. Ticket to Ride is simpler, yet has more strategy.

One thing that we didn't do well in our game was we didn't really plan what we wanted to do, and we didn't really try to make good use of our adventurers' special abilities. We just kept grabbing treasures. It may be better to go in with a plan, so that we don't waste actions. Maybe. But maybe it doesn't really matter anyway.

With 3 players, I feel there are too many treasures and not enough competition. I think the game needs more players to be more interesting. One problem that many others have pointed out is once the players get familiar with the glyphs, that part of the game becomes pointless, because the players already know which number corresponds to which glyph. I think this is poor component design (not a problem with game design).

One thing that I admire very much is the reference page at the back of the rulebook. It has all the important information and as long as you have a general idea of how the game works, if you forget any detail, you can find it here. This is the kind of approach I take with my concise reference sheets. All important and easy-to-forget information in one place, omit the easy-to-remember stuff.

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