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Friday 31 May 2019

Friday Filler: Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

In the 1980s, in the United Kingdom, if you wanted to do solo fantasy adventures, then you played the Fighting Fantasy™ series, which began with 1982’s The Warlock of Firetop Mountain—as detailed in You Are The Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy™ Gamebooks. In the USA though, readers could have adventures via the Choose Your Own Adventure series which began in 1979 with The Cave of Time. Unlike the Fighting Fantasy™ series, the Choose Your Own Adventure series was text based, there were no attributes, no dice to roll to overcome a challenge or defeat an enemy. One of the more popular titles was House of Danger in which a young psychic detective is driven by his nightmares to explore the house in his dreams in order to determine what they mean. Now Z-Man Games, best known as the publisher of Pandemic, has taken Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, and turned it into a game.

Designed for one or more players, aged ten and up, Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is a simple solo adventure game that can be played cooperatively. It joins a growing trend of board games that combine storytelling, roleplaying, and cooperative play, such as Escape the Dark Castle: The Game of Atmospheric Adventure and Legacy of Dragonholt. Of course, where they draw on fantasy—after all, fantasy is the default genre for roleplaying—Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger does weird horror, so expect to encounter aliens, ghosts, chimpanzees, and infamously, banana-shark hybrids!

The game is played in five chapters, each represented by a deck of thirty Story Cards and thirty or so Clue Cards. As play progresses, these are revealed, their events and challenges overcome or failed, the aim being to progress from one chapter to the next until the secrets of the house are revealed. Essentially each chapter works as a solo adventure in its own right, so there is a framework of sorts which structures the play of the over the whole of the game. Play of each chapter takes between twenty minutes and an hour, which means that a full playthrough of Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger can take as long as five hours. Thankfully the game is not hampered by heavy mechanics and the eight-page rulebook starts with two-page quick-start rules designed to help you play within a few minutes of opening the box.

The focus of the game is the double-sided game board. On the one side is the nightmare image that beset the dreams of the game’s protagonist. At the start of the game, the players get the opportunity to study it for two minutes in search of clues as to what the protagonist might be facing in the ‘House of Danger’. It is then turned over to reveal two tracks—the ‘Danger Meter’ and the ‘Psychic Scale’. Ranging in value between three and six, the ‘Danger Meter’ indicates the degree of difficulty the protagonist will face in attempting to overcome the Challenges that the Story Cards often present. The value will rise and fall according to the instructions given on the Story Cards and if it gets two high, it will reset back to three and reduce the current value on ‘Psychic Scale’. Ranging from one up to twenty-five through five levels, ‘Psychic Scale’ measures the protagonist’s extrasensory powers and if it rises high enough, the protagonist will have premonitions, essentially visions much like the nightmare side of the game board. The game includes tokens for both tracks.

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger has two sets of cards. The aforementioned Story Cards contain a mix of options and challenges, essentially much like a solo adventure book. The outcome of the options or challenge on a Story Card will point to other Story Cards as well as Clue Cards. There are five types of challenges—Climbing, Fighting, Dexterity, Perception, and Strength—each matched by Challenge Boosters which can be found in the second set of cards, the Clue Cards. These provide either a +1 or +2 bonus to the rolls made against the Challenges, so so the Pocketknife provides a +1 bonus against Strength Challenges and High-Powered Binoculars give a +2 bonus against Perception Challenges. Besides the Challenge Boosters—some of which can be kept from round to round, others have to be discarded after use, the Clue Cards will also continue the story.

Played solo and the player sets the Chapter up and begins by drawing a Story Card, taking any decisions as needed and resolving them, before going onto the next indicated Story Card. Play proceeds until the protagonist achieves the goal for the Chapter, completes it, and can move on to the next. With two or more players, they take it in turns to draw the Story Cards and discuss what the protagonist should do before resolving the current Story Card. Later Chapters in the game allow the players what is called a ‘Story Return’, which enable them to go back in the current Chapter to pursue other lines of investigation. It is a nice touch, one that models the reader of a solo adventure book sticking his finger in a page so that he can return to earlier paragraph should something unfortunate happen to his character.

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is simple enough in play, the storyline is engaging, and works as well for two players as it does one. More than that and really there is not enough substance for the players to be engaging with. There is a constant tension between keeping the ‘Danger Meter’ low in order to make Challenges easier and stop it driving the ‘Psychic Scale’ down and so denying the players further Clues in the form of the Premonitions.

The primary problem with Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is the quality of the components. The rulebook and the game board are both good quality, but the quality of the cards is shockingly poor, done on thin card which makes them feel cheap and nasty. The content on the cards is fine, but the card stock is just poor. Further, the components are jammed tightly into the game’s box which makes getting them back out more fiddly than it should. That said, the design and layout on all of the components is well done, nicely matching the graphic style of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Another downside to Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is that it does not offer a huge amount of replay value. Once it has been played through—and that will take a good session or two, or perhaps several if each Chapter is played as a filler at the start of a session—there is little reason to go back and play them again. Perhaps the players may want to explore the storyline more fully or want to play towards different ending, but either way, most of it will have been explored on a full playthrough anyway. 

Best played by one or two players, there is a lovely sense of nostalgia to Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, both in its graphic design and its storyline, but it is let down by the disappointing quality of its components. Now of course like its inspiration and source, it does not offer much in the way of replay value, but the storyline is enjoyable and the game play simple. What matters then is the gameplay on that first playthrough, and with Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger that is solid and engaging.


Z-Man Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

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