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Friday 30 June 2023

Friday Filler: Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure

The Ark of the Covenant is danger of falling into the hands of the wrong people—Nazi hands! Can Indiana Jones, accompanied by Marion Ravenwood, Sallah el-Kahir, and even Marcus Brody, punch out the three villains—Colonel Dietrich, Major Toht, and lastly, René Belloq, before they escape with the fabled artefact? This is the aim of Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure, a board game based on the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Designed by Prospero Hall, responsible for the excellent Horrified and brilliant Jaws, and published by Funko Games, it is a co-operative game designed for two to four players, aged eight and up. When set up on the table it stands out for two reasons. First is the fantastic theming, with terrific depictions of the characters and locations on the game’s cards, Adventure tiles, and rulebook. Even the rulebook is designed as ‘SANDS OF ADVENTURE: A FIELD GUIDE to the LOST CITY of TANIS and its ARTIFACTS’ as published by ‘MARSHALL COLLEGE PRESS, Bedford, Connecticut, 1936’. Second is the game’s Sand Timer. This looms over the game from start to finish. At top and bottom, this Sand Timer has two buckets. As the players explore the different locations, represented by Adventure Tiles, there is a chance that they will have to add gems to the bucket at the top. When too many gems are added to the Sand Timer, it will flip over and the sands of the timer will begin to run out… When it does, it triggers a desperate attempt to deliver as many blows as possible to the current villain. If they defeat him, then it is on to the next round and the next villain, but if they fail to defeat him, the next round will begin with gems already in the Sand Timer’s bucket, meaning the players have less time to prepare for the next fight!

The imposing Sand Timer stands roughly nine inches tall. It is sturdy and easy to put together and take apart. The four characters—Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood, Sallah el-Kahir, and Marcus Brody—each have a corresponding figure and card. On the front is an image of the character and an explanation of their special ability, whilst the back serves as a reference card for the game’s two phases. Indiana Jones’ speciality ability is that he can move to the same Adventure tile as the villain—no other character can do this, Marian Ravenwood begins each round with six cards instead of four, Sallah el-Kahir only rolls one Threat die on his turn, and Marcus Brody starts the game with a Power Token of his choice. The three villain cards each have a Health Track. Major Toht has more Health than Colonel Dietrich, and René Belloq has more Health than Major Toht. Each Villain also has a corresponding token to indicate which Adventure tile he is on. There are seven Adventure tiles. These all depict scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. For example, ‘Peril in the Market’, where Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman, ‘The Map Room’ where the Ark of the Covenant’s location can be determined, and ‘The Ark on the Move’, when the Nazis attempt to drive the Ark of the Covenant to safety, chased by Indiana Jones. Each Adventure tile indicates the round in which it is played—either one, two, or three, the action carried out on the Adventure tile, and the number of Threat dice rolled at the end of a player’s turn. For example, ‘Peril in the Market’ is a Round 1 card, has the instruction ‘Draw any number of Upgrade cards. If you draw two with the same colour, bury all cards you draw this turn.’, and indicates that two Threat dice are rolled at the end of a player’s turn.

The game’s cards are divided into Standard cards and Upgrade cards. The Standard cards consist of three types. The Basic cards are divided into four colours—blue, green, red, and yellow, and four objects—book, emblem, hat, and shovel. Snake cards—“Why did it have to be snakes?”—impede the players’ progress. The Attack cards also depict a colour and a symbol as well as one of the game’s four characters. These are all kept in the Action deck. The Upgrade cards, kept in their own deck, each have two objects and two colours on them. To inflict damage, the players have to play cards in sequence, a card having to match the previously played card, in terms of either the colour or the object. The aim is set up opportunities to play the Attack cards. Since
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is co-operative game, this can be done with everyone’s cards face up on the table.

The game’s three Power tokens consist of ‘Ignore a Snake’, ‘Interrupt’, and ‘Play Any Card’. ‘Ignore a Snake’ enables a player to ignore a Snake card in the Timed Phase, ‘Interrupt’ lets a player play a card when it is not his turn, and ‘Play Any Card’ lets a player play a card of any colour or object and it does not have to match the colour or object of the card currently on top of the pile. The Threat dice have no blank faces and either indicate the size of the gem to be added to the Sand Timer or that the Villain token has to be moved from his current Adventure tile to the next one to the right.

Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is quick to set up. The Sand Timer is placed on the table along with five Adventure tiles. Each player selects a character and draws cards from the Standard deck. The Excavation Leader is chosen. It is this player’s task to keep track of the Villain’s Health. The game itself is played in three rounds—one for each Villain, with each round consisting of two phases. In the Exploration Phase, the players take it in turn to move to another Adventure tile, follow its instruction, and then roll either one or two Threat dice, as indicated by the Adventure tile. When the Villain is activated, he always moves to the next tile to the right, occupying it and preventing every player apart from Indiana Jones, from using it. What is happening in the Exploration Phase is that the players are trying to build up the resources necessary to defeat the current villain. They cannot yet attack him, but all that changes in the Timed Phase, as does the tone of the game.

When the Sand Timer flips over, the Timed Phase is triggered. When it is a player’s turn in the Timed Phase, his aim to is play as many cards as he can in order to get Attack cards into play which can inflict blows on the current Villain and reduce his Health. He must also draw a card from the Action deck. If this is a Snake card, the player roll the red Torch die and keep rolling it until a Torch symbol is rolled. All of which is taking place against the clock as the sands in the Sand Timer are running it. The Timed Phase is fast, furious, and fraught, essentially the equivalent of scene at the end of an act in which the heroes face down the villain and attempt to punch him—a lot!

The Timed Phase ends when the Sand Timer runs out, the Action deck is exhausted, or the Villain is defeated. If this is the first or second rounds, the next round is then set up with the new Villain and a new Adventure Tile which replaces one of those from the previous round. If the Villain in the previous round was not defeated, one or more gems need to be added to the Sand Timer. On the final round, the players either defeat René Belloq and successfully prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling into the hands of the Third Reich, and so win the game, or fail, and let him get away with the Ark, and so lose the game.

Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure is solidly presented game. The Sand Timer is sturdy, the rules reasonably well explained and do include examples, and the theme very nicely applied from start to finish. The game’s cards could have been a little more durable.

There is no denying that
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure has table presence. The Sand Timer dominates the game, its upper bucket topmost in everybody’s mind as they wonder quite when it is going to be filled with gems and tip over. It makes game play grower tenser and tenser as play progresses through the Exploration Phase of a round. There is almost a sense of relief as the moment that they have been preparing for occurs, their hands now filled with cards from the Action and Upgrade decks, as suddenly everyone leaps into action in the Timed Phase. Thus, there is a sense of story being told, of scenes in a film as they develop through investigation and research, before switching over with the Sand Timer for a furious few minutes of a desperate brawl with the Villain.

Yet as decent a job as
Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure does of telling that story; it is the only story it is telling and the only story it can tell. In focusing on the one film, the players are always going to be facing the same Villains, in the same order, and in the same manner. It does mean that there is not a lot of variation in play with Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure and that will limit its audience. Younger players and more casual players will get more out of the game than a veteran game player will. With Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure, all three will get a solid, highly thematic, co-operative game which is easy to understand and play, and not too challenging to beat. That will be more than enough for some players. For the veteran game player, not quite enough.

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