Sunday, February 7, 2010

Game Spotlight - The Adventurers

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac
Designed by Frédéric Henry and Guillaume Blossier
AEG/Dust Games
2-6 Players
MSRP $49.95
Online $35

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) is best known for the terrific, long running CCG, Legend of the Five Rings, first released in 1995, following the release of Magic: The Gathering in 1993. L5R is one of the few CCGs to survive to to this day.

Starting with Tomb, published in 2008, AEG has been making a strong push into the boardgame arena. The successful launch of Tomb was followed by a flood of nine board games in 2009. Rush 'N Crush, Arcana, and The Island of Doctor Necreaux, and the Tomb sequel, Tomb: Cryptmaster were successful releases.

One of the biggest splashes at GenCon was made by The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac, a clever game of Archaeological survival in the temple the Mayan rain god.

Each player starts the game with two randomly chosen adventurers, but only one enters the deadly ruins seeking ancient treasure. If that adventurer should happen to die in one of the many traps set to protect the ancient tomb, then all their treasure is lost, but the player can send in the second adventurer to try and salvage a win.

The game play is quite straight forward and although there are different rules for each room, the basic choices are constant - move or pick up ancient relics. But there are many perils that must be faced to escape alive. Walls that crush you like a trash compactor; a giant boulder that may roll over you; a lava pit; a terrifying river and the rickety bridge that crosses it.

The Game Begins

The Wall Room

The game is great family fun and the challenge lies in balancing the amount of treasure you are carrying versus getting out before that giant boulder smooshes you or locks you in the temple. The treasure not only takes time to collect (allowing that boulder to move ahead), but the weight of it slows you down as well.

The boulder starts off slow, but rapidly gains speed.

If I have any qualms about this game it is that the abilities don't differentiate the characters enough. They are all identical other than that once-per-game special ability. Everyone can carry the same amount of treasure and everyone moves the same and checks traps the same. The characters are also assigned randomly. Given how unique and interesting the figures are, this is a shame and probably something I will address with custom rules.

The game is played out in rounds. The round begins with comparing the number of treasure cards you have to chart that gives you an Encumbrance number. One player, designated as the dicekeeper, rolls the 5 dice and each player compares that roll to their chart. The characters get one action for each die equal to or higher than their encumbrance number. So each time you take on more treasure you risk decreasing the number of actions you will get on future turns.

After determining the number of actions, the dicekeeper uses their actions to search for treasure, look of clues that warn of traps, or to simply move. The board is not a strictly straight line, but there is finality in that the boulder will block off the only exit and trap you in the Temple if you move too slowly, or spend too much time searching for treasure.

The traps are cleverly designed and serve to push you to the end of the game. The first room is the wall room. You can spend actions taking treasure, moving, or looking a the carvings on the walls. An ingenious bit of design lets you briefly look at up to four hieroglyphic tiles that will each match one of 14 on the tile floor over a pool of lava. However, those lava tiles are covered until someone gets to that room so you have to remember them.

The Lava Room

Of course, the hieroglyphics on the trap tiles are very similar to one another and you only get to look at them a few seconds. If you step on a wrong tile in the lava room, your character dies.

The Footbridge

You can spend actions in the room with the closing walls to find out which four tiles are traps, but that takes time away from either moving or grabbing treasure. But the walls are closing and the boulder is building up speed.

There is quite a bit of luck in The Adventurers (dice rolls determine how much you can do), but the choices you make do have a big influence on the outcome of the game. Each turn there are decisions to be made and if you choose wrong, the dice may hurt you.

All in all, I found the game a blast to play and so did my family.

Each character has one of six special abilities that can be used once per game to help out in dire circumstances. These are Leap (allowing one diagonal move), Linguistics (allowing a peek at an adjacent tile in the lava room to see if it's a trap), Lock Picking (helps with getting certain treasures, including the highest value treasure in the game), Sprint (move one space without using an action point), Stamina (get more action points for one turn), and Swimming (helps you escape the river without losing treasure).

The twelve figures included allow up to six players (as each player needs two figures).


Behind the Game

I asked some questions of AEG owner, John Zinser as well as Frédéric Henry and Guillaume Blossier, the designers of The Adventurers. (Hopefully the designers will reply. If so, I will add an article.)

At Gencon this year you really stepped it up in the board game arena. I believe you had 9 games this year and have plans for a big 2010. What led to the sudden increase in your board game presence?

John Zinser - The best way to be successful in gaming is to make what you play. We love board games and are playing lots of them. We have other non board game projects on our 2011 schedule but for now we had a bunch of really good ideas and a staff enjoying board games.

Rush N' Crush was previously available as a print and play game. How do you feel that has impacted sales?

John - Won't know for sure for months. Good games sell no matter what the previous incarnation.

What upcoming games would you like to hype for the readers?
John - well we are psyched about Thunderstone and Infinite City. Both were held up in customs so they will be available January 11.

Thunderstone is a deck building game - the first to follow Dominion. We love Dominion and Thunderstone is like a Reese’s peanut butter cup - you got your Dominion in my Dungeons and Dragons.... and it tastes great. Infinite City is as simple as play a tile do the effect but it has much deeper strategy and is one of the most amazing looking games we have done to date.

Was The Adventurers a finished game when you first saw it, or did you decide to buy it from Dust Games as a prototype or proposal?

John - Finished. I literally called Italy half way through the first run through to sign us up. We got to add some AEG flavor to the world but it was almost perfect.

The release of The Adventurers pre-painted figure pack has been somewhat controversial. Any time there is an exclusive, gamers get a little upset they can't have it. Do you have plans to make it available to the general public?

John - We have more coming, so yes. How we will make them available is still in question. If we put the painted figs in the box, the box would have been $70; no way around it. We are glad players like the painted figs and will try to make them available to players and collectors who want them.

(The game and figures are now available on the AEG site.)

In terms of new material, are you planning to release any additional figures or map packs?

John – Wow, fun idea. Yes, we have a promo fig in the works and Adventurers 2 is in development but with no date because we want it to be as good or better than #1.

There you have it - Part one. I'd like to thank John and Alderac for providing a review copy and for answering my questions. He was also gracious enough to send some questions along to the designers and with any luck, I will follow up with their answers and a look at the pre-painted pack in part two.

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