Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 10 September 2010

When Boulders Roll...

The Adventurers is a push your luck, race against the clock, memory based and luck based board game from Alderac Entertainment Group heavily inspired by the exploits of Indiana Jones. Twelve adventurers have journeyed deep into the South American jungle and now stand at the entrance to the Temple of Chac, the Mayan god of Rain and Thunder. Once inside they have choices aplenty. Do they stop and look for treasure as the walls close in? Do they stop and look for clues that might get them across the lava pit? Do they stop and attempt to unlock the vaults that continue valuable treasure? As the giant rock rolls faster and faster towards them, do they leap into the river and swim in hope that they can get out before being swept into the abyss below? Or do they rush across the rickety bridge and make that final run for the exit before the giant rock reaches the end and seals everyone in? The player will face all of these choices during a game of The Adventurers. With the right decisions and a little bit of luck, an adventurer will get out alive and with some treasure. The wrong choice and bad luck will cast the intrepid adventurers to an eternal entombment, or hopefully a quick death...

The Adventurers is played out on a square board that depicts the Temple of Chac. The route from the entrance is linear, beginning in the Walls Room and winding its way past the Lava Room and the minor vaults to the Underground River and the rickety Wooden Bridge, past the main vault, before reaching the exit. Each player controls a pair of adventurers who will enter the Temple one at a time and move towards the exit, making decisions based upon the adventurer's skill and the number of action points he has from turn to turn. There are six skills in the game: Leap, Linguistics, Lock Picking, Sprint, Stamina, and Swimming. Each of these skills is a one shot affair and are divided between those that can be used in specific circumstances and those that have a general application. Leap, Sprint, and Stamina can be used anywhere, while Linguistics can only be used determine if a glyph indicates an unsafe tile in the Lava Room; Lock Picking to open one of the treasure vaults; and Swimming to get out of the river more easily. In general, the specific a skill’s application, the more likely that it will affect a player’s tactics. For example, a character with the Lock Picking skill is more likely to try opening a treasure vault, while a character with the Swimming skill will probably try to swim the Underground River.

The Adventurers comes with lots of cards, cardboard tiles aplenty, and numerous bits of plastic. There are Treasure Cards for each of the main locations on the board, including the Walls Room, the Lava Room, the Treasure Vaults, and Underground River. Each of the Treasure Cards has a value ranging from one to six. In general, the more difficult a Treasure is to obtain, the higher its value. Some Treasure Cards depict a casket and a die symbol, meaning that their value must be rolled for at the end of the game. There are also the twelve character cards. These depict each of the adventurers in full colour along with an icon indicating his skill, plus charts for determining his Load Level on the back along with his Action Points.

There are two sets of corresponding tiles, the Lava Room Glyph tiles and Glyph Clue tiles. The former are placed Glyph face down on the Lava Room and covered with the Dark Masking Card, a square of black that hides the tiles until someone enters the Lava Room. Four of the Glyph Clue tiles are randomly drawn and placed alongside the Walls Room where they can be examined by an adventurer and committed to memory ready for when he tries to cross the Lava Room. These four Glyph Clue tiles indicate the unsafe tiles in the Lava Room.

The plastic starts with the twelve adventurer pieces. These are sculpted to match the images and are very nicely detailed. Unfortunately, they are all uniformly grey and can be a little difficult to tell apart when placed on the colourful board. The other pieces of plastic include the two walls that will the Walls Room, the Boulder that will chase the adventurers to the exit, and the rickety bridge for the Wooden Bridge. The Boulder is flat bottomed, so it slides rather than rolls, and the Wooden Bridge has several planks that are likely to be knocked loose into the abyss below as a procession of the overly laden adventurers race over it.

The mechanics from turn to turn are relatively simple. Starting with the Dicekeeper, a role that will pass around the table, the players take it in turn to roll for the number of Action Points they have to spend on their turn. To do this, each player rolls five six-sided dice, and for each die that rolls above a threshold determined by his adventurer’s Load Level, he gains an Action Point. For example, if an adventurer is carrying up to three Treasures, his Load Level is two and he has to roll two and over on each die. Carry between four and six Treasures, and the Load Level is three and he has to roll three and over on each die. An Action Point can be spent to move – walk, sprint, leap, or swim – one square; to examine any square for treasure, in the Walls Room, Lava Room, and Underground River; to examine a Glyph tile in the Walls and Lava Rooms; to make a single attempt to unlock a Treasure Vault; and to use any adventurer’s Skill. Once everyone has had their turn, the Dicekeeper draws cards to determine the movement of the Walls in the Walls Room and rolls dice to see if the Boulder moves. It moves one square for each result of three or more rolled. On the first turn, only one die is rolled, but this increases by one die each turn as the Boulder games speed until all five are being rolled at the end of the Dicekeeper’s turn.

In effect, the movement of the Boulder becomes the game’s timekeeper. As it moves faster and faster towards the exit, the Boulder closes in on the adventurers’ tail and they will find themselves having less and less time to act. At best the adventurers can hope for low rolls by the Dicekeeper when rolling for the Boulder movement, but it will definitely catch up with them. If the Boulder catches up with an adventurer, it will kill, as will falling into the lava of the Lava Room or into the abyss that the Underground River flows into, either by being swept in by the river or having the Wooden Bridge collapse under after attempting to carry too much across. It should be noted that an evil adventurer can jump up and down on the Wooden Bridge to make it more dangerous to cross for later adventurers. This can of course, go wrong for the malicious adventurer as the Wooden Bridge collapses under him...

A dead adventurer loses all of his treasure gained so far. If the player still has an adventurer waiting outside, he can enter the Temple of Chac through entrances created by the Boulder passing the Lava Room. As the adventurer is entering further onto into the Temple, there is less opportunity for him to gather treasure and he will need to find his way past the Boulder in front of him. Probably by swimming the Underground River and searching its bed for treasure. If this second adventurer is lost, then his player is out of the game.

The winner is of course, the player who gets one or more of his adventurers out of the Temple with the most treasure as determined by the value of the Treasure cards. It is entirely possible for nobody to get out of the Temple of Chac, and thus for everyone to lose.

For some, The Adventurers will be too much of a luck based game. True, what a player can do from turn to turn is determined by a roll of the dice, but it is up to the player to decide what he does with the results of the dice roll. One issue is the relative complexity of determining the safe Glyph Tiles in the Lava Room. While perfectly in keeping with the game’s theme, it can detract from an otherwise fast paced game and will probably be too complex for younger players. Also, once a player has lost one adventurer, he will find himself playing catch up with his competitors. That said, a game of The Adventurers can be completed in as little as thirty minutes and the likelihood is that you will get another game in before ninety minutes is up.

One factor limiting an adventurer’s choice is the number of players. More players mean more adventurers competing for the options in the Temple of Chac. It also means that the Boulder will move more often...

There is also the matter of cost. Given its plastic components and large number of cards and tiles, The Adventurers is by no means an inexpensive game. It gets even more expensive if the owner decides to add the painted plastic pieces that the publisher also sells. These are very nice though, the full colour adventurers in particular, which make the playing pieces far easier to distinguish than the grey of the set that comes in the game. Nevertheless, the core set feels a little overpriced given the lightness of the game play.

That game play is strong in terms of theme, and the players will soon find themselves invested in the exploits of their tomb raiding adventurers. It can be a lot of fun to see them pushing their luck in an effort to get that extra piece of treasure. It is even more fun when they fail and fall under the path of the rolling Boulder or burn to a crisp in the Lava Pit. Victory in getting out of the Temple of Chac is ever so sweet...