The beginning of another week is here — perfect for getting back to work and thinking about the fun games that were played over the weekend. For me, the Easter weekend included plays of the following: Bargain Basement Bathysphere, Sprawlopolis, Notre Dame, Welcome To…, Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, Color Brain Disney Edition, ICECOOL, and Dinosaur Escape — all-in-all, a nice mix of solo gaming + kid gaming + crunchy-decision making games.
My favorite play of the week: Welcome To… — I have had my eye on this “flip-and-write” game for awhile and was glad to see that Barnes & Noble had it in stock (along with a coupon!). I had the opportunity to play this on Sunday in a 4-player game. Despite coming in last, I really enjoyed the decision-making in this game. My suburb may not have been the best one around, but it was the talk of the metro for its pool parties. (expect a review of this game to follow in the coming weeks)
Closest game of the week: Sprawlopolis (Bloom Boom, The Strip, and Master Planned as my scoring goals). This is a fairly hard game (so far I’m 2-for-6 in solo plays) in which you are trying to manage three different scoring goals each game, while creating as few roads as you can. Based on the three cards listed, my goal was to achieve 18 points. I needed a city with parks everywhere (all rows and columns), I needed a Commercial-heavy street (think Michigan Ave. in Chicago), and a nice cluster of residences while avoiding industry clusters. I did best with my Parks and so-so on the other two goals. Where I was possibly most successful was managing to create only 9 roads in my entire city (much better than I normally can pull off), reducing the amount of negative points I had to take. In the end, my beautiful blooming city scored me 19 points, a narrow victory!! Love this game!
Review Game: This week, I would like to discuss Call to Adventure.
The stats: Published in 2019 by Brotherwise Games; a 1-4 player game estimated at 30-60 minutes to play (note: 2-4 player game with a solo variant); for ages 9+; Designers are Johnny O’Neal and Christopher O’Neal; Artist is Matt Paquette
The background: Call to Adventure was put on Kickstarter last year — the campaign ended on Aug 13, 2018 with $760k raised and over 10,000 backers. In looking at the campaign for this game, I can recall first being drawn in by the artwork, but also the story-telling aspect of the game. I decided to back the game, including the Name of the Wind expansion (based on Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles) which is set to come out later this year. Fulfillment occurred in March — I was ready to open this one up and get playing…
The setup and components: Setup is pretty simple and quick in this game. There are essentially six decks of tarot-sized cards. Each will need shuffled, then the Act I, II, and III cards will be placed in the middle of the playing area, with room to reveal four cards from each stack. From the Character Card stacks, two of each type will be shuffled to each player (Origin, Motivation, and Destiny) with one of each type being kept by the player. These cards have beautiful artwork on them and their size make it very easy to identify the iconography listed on each one. Each player gets their own player board, which has a good-looking design as well. There are also two stacks for Hero and Anti-Hero cards (normal playing card size). Each player starts with 3 Experience tokens which have their own unique, plastic shape. The game also comes with Runes — there are no dice in the game, instead you will be rolling the Runes to try and achieve successful outcomes.
In my opinion, these are good quality runes and “roll” well. The game also comes with a tray to use for holding each type of Rune (six trait types, basic runes, and Dark Runes). This is the one component in the game I feel is of poor quality and thus I have not used while playing…I’ve just left it in the box to help with put-away storage.
The gameplay: The goal of the game is to score the most points, but let’s talk about the flow of the game before getting into how you win, exactly. The “other” goal of the game is to create your character’s story — a story that is intended to be shared amongst the players at the conclusion (ideally before performing end-game scoring). Thus, at the start of the game you are choosing your character’s Origin, Motivation, and Destiny. In my first play, my character’s Origin was that of a Conscript, with a Pure of Heart motivation, and a Destiny to become a Mighty Conqueror. How those three elements would weave together is defined by the cards acquired through gameplay. On a turn, the acting player looks at the available Story cards to see which one to try and acquire [initially, only Act I cards are available. Once a player starts a turn with a completed Act (3 cards added to the Origin storyline) then cards from Act II will also become available]. Some cards are just Traits and can immediately be acquired if the stated prerequisite has been met. Many cards, though, are Challenges. When choosing a challenge card, the player decides whether they are taking the path listed on the top of the card or the one on the bottom. In some cases, one of the paths may earn you Tragedy points [depending on the story you are trying to create, that may be exactly what you are trying to add to your tableau]. On the Challenge card, a couple Rune icons will generally be listed and a success score. There are six Rune types (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma)
For example, let’s say you want to go to The Academy and ‘Excel in Your Studies’. You would need a successful score of 4 or greater and both Wisdom & Charisma can be used. For every Challenge, the player automatically gets to roll the three Basic Runes. Each of these Runes gives you a 50% change of adding 1 to any Challenge. Thus, generally, Ability Runes are needed. In this case, if the player already has some Wisdom and/or Charisma icons in his story, he can roll extra Runes. The Ability Runes have a single value on one side and a 2-point value on the other side (except the 3rd Rune of each type — 2-point side an action item on the other side). If the player is uncertain whether he can achieve the points necessary, but really wants to be successful, an Experience token can be spent to add a Dark Rune to the roll. These Runes have the same 1 and 2 values on each side as an Ability Rune, but the 2-point side forces you to move down a space on the Corruption track — which impacts not only your end-game scoring, but also the type of Hero/Antihero cards that can be played during the game.
If the roll is successful, the card is added to your story and now you are adding more Rune abilities, which will help you succeed in more difficult Challenges to come. If the roll is unsuccessful, a Hero card in your hand might allow for a 2nd attempt. If not, no card is acquired but an Experience token is gained and then on to the other player’s turn.
As you can see from the sample Story cards shown above, acquiring cards will help you build up Rune abilities, gain Story icons, gain Hero/Antihero cards (which generally give you special one-time abilities) or even end-game Victory Points.
Not discussed yet is the Destiny card that each player chooses at the beginning of the game. This card is hidden, face-down, until the end of the game. Not only does this allow for a dramatic end to your character’s story, but mechanically, this card also acts as the player’s secret mission (special method for bonus scoring). That Destiny card’s text will help focus the player on which types of cards would be best to gain throughout the game to maximize total victory points.
At the end of the game, scoring involves adding up the following: Triumph and Tragedy points listed on Character and Story cards + Story icon set points + one point per unused Experience token + 1 point for each Hero/Antihero card played + final Corruption tracker value + points gained from Destiny card fulfillment.
Review Thoughts: I’m not going to beat around the bush. I love this game. My 14-year old son loves this one as well. Does that mean this game is for everyone? No, it does not. But we both love the story-telling aspect of this game. If you enjoy being able to tell a story, create a story in the midst of your board game experience, I believe this game is a must-try. In two plays with my son, I have won both games but he (a competitive young man) has not cared because the story he was able to develop and more importantly share at the end of the game was the purpose of the experience for him. For me, I find myself falling in the middle of the game’s dual-focus. During the game, my main focus is points. How can I play the game to successfully maximize my end-game outcome? In doing so, though, I make sure to keep a peripheral for the story options I am giving myself along the way. Then, at game’s end, I appreciate the opportunity to take the cards in front of me (potentially 12 in total) and weave together a compelling story. Feeling like I was able to craft an interesting tale that flowed naturally from Origin to Motivation to Destiny is, in a way, its own personal victory — and that is a successful feeling that is not dependent on the final scores –> an achievement of Call to Adventure that really makes it stand out in a crowd of many great games.
For this, I most definitely salute and congratulate the O’Neal brothers for the unique game experience that they have been able to bring to my table.
For those who may get into this game with a greater focus on mechanisms, please be aware that this a light-to-medium weight game. The actions performed each round are limited and one’s ability to achieve success against a Challenge can be easily weighed based on 50/50 Rune probabilities. That said, there are still some important decisions to make throughout the game: which Runes to acquire (gain three of one type quickly or become versatile), focus on Story icons, staying Heroic or Corrupt, or going all-in on cards with victory points. Furthermore, I think the “secret goal” element of the Destiny card is great for giving strategy guidance, but also helps increase replayability (even if you are only strategy and points-focused).
Other thoughts: I think the 30-60 minutes on the box for this game is accurate. If you are in the higher player count, it wouldn’t hurt to expect to go a bit beyond an hour. My son and I both like to think through our decisions, so we generally hit the 45-minute mark in a 2-player game…plus add on several minutes for story-telling at the end (it is amazing how elaborate my son’s story gets — he definitely works hard to acquire cards that help tell the story he has envisioned). There is very little take-that in Call to Adventure, but you may have those moments when you manage to win a card that derails your opponent’s plans. I think its okay to take a little joy in those moments.
If you have had a chance to play Call to Adventure, feel free to share your stories below.