In a land called Adventure Land, there are a few things you’d expect to find. Adventure, for one. A sword or two lying around. Maybe a bit of magic. A few eager adventurers ready to join your quest. Enemies to fight. And most likely, lots of cross-country travel.
Well, King Agamis (they’re not exactly subtle with their names here in Adventure Land) has put out the call to fight off the growing horde of fog monsters. So strap on your adventuring boots, adventurers! You’re about to go on an adventure. In a land. Adventure Land.
How It plays
Adventure Land brings players to a medieval fantasy realm filled with swords, magical herbs, and deadly monsters. Players send their team of adventurers across the land, using strategy and smarts to score points by collecting valuable items, defending cities, and defeating evil.
There are three scenarios, but whichever you play the basic gameplay is the same: On your turn, you draw cards to add new items and monsters to the board, and then you get two moves. You can move an adventurer twice, or two adventurers once each. When you move, you always move in a straight line and as far as you like, with two caveats; you can never stop in a field with another adventurer, and you can only move east and south, NEVER north or west.
A grid of “fields” represents different types of terrain – and the corresponding tokens that might appear there. Swords are found in mountains, herbs grow in forests (naturally), companions dwell in the cities, and gold can be panned from the river. The Water Sprite also lives in the river, which travels to the most recent gold piece placed on the board, killing any adventurers it passes. Oh, and Fog Creatures live in, you guessed it, fog.
You can fight those Fog Monsters by using your swords which grant you dice. Your combat is bolstered by travelling companions, as well as herbs and gold which can be spent after you roll to close the gap in strength if your luck goes awry. If you’re unable (or unwilling) to defeat the Fog Monster, your adventurer is killed along with any companions in the same field.
The different adventures or scenarios you play change the complexity of scoring. In the basic adventure, you get points for killing fog monsters and collecting gold. In adventure 2, you also gain points for herbs and swords, and the largest group of adventurers and companions in one field gets a nice bonus.
The last scenario is the most complex. Points are awarded for Fog Monsters and Gold, but there are several special categories. Players get points for having the most fog monsters killed, the most gold, and points for controlling (aka having the most adventurers/companions within) each city, with second and third place players taking home some points in each category as well. Everyone also loses points for any living adventurers that are not in a city, multiplied by the number of remaining Fog Monsters on the board.
The game ends when the stock of swords and companions is depleted. Points are counted, and the winner is determined!
Do You Seek Adventure?
You gotta wonder about a place named Adventure Land. A name like that is pretty on the nose. Were the founders simply uncreative? Was it a nickname that took hold over time? A marketing tactic, perhaps, to recover from something more distasteful?
Actually, my favorite theory is that adventure land was this universe’s version of Here There Be Tigers, the old phrase used on maps to indicate unexplored (and most likely dangerous) areas. Here be adventure, lads and ladies! Then, when the area was finally settled, the name stuck.
In any case, adventure most certainly happens in Adventure Land. The theme lands somewhere shy of immersiion, but it’s more than pure window dressing. You don’t exactly feel like you’re going on these grand hunting quests, but your actions don’t feel completely disconnected from the theme either. It provides context for everything you do, and helps players get into the spirit of the game.
So your band of hearty adventurers starts hither and begins to make their way yon. You can never return from whence ye came, so you better make smart choices along the way, and therein lies the game’s simple, agile brilliance.
Allow me to speak mostly of the third Adventure, the most complex one. This is the game’s fully realized form; I would rarely choose to play the others, except to ease younger players up the strategic ladder (and it is a great value that these modes exist, to be fair). It’s simply more strategic, more free-form, and fully utilizes the game’s mechanics to create challenging competition. You’ve got multiple paths that score points and multiple ways to approach those paths, all by simply moving two of your adventures each turn as far as you wish, but never going back.
Since the board doesn’t rearrange from game to game and every field always gets the same item, there’s a level of predictability that allows you to look ahead and make strategic choices. Yet the random order tokens arrive (and the chance they might not at all; I’ve had exactly one game in which every single card was drawn) ensure variability. There’s no “winning path” you’ll end up taking every time, but there are always options. No, it’s not going to be as dynamic and replayable as something more story and theme-driven, it’s at least going to be an interesting game every time you play.
This is the sort of game that makes you really think about what you’re going to do, to plan your strategy as effectively and efficiently as possible. Sure, Fog Creatures are worth lots of points and there’s a big bonus for killing the most, but you’ll need to spend actions collecting swords and herbs to fight them. So maybe you don’t want to collect Fog Creatures. Maybe you just want to try and control the cities and collect gold, both of which can rack up a fair number of points. ‘Course, it’s easy enough for other players to slip in on your cities and collect a decent chunk of glory along with you, so you’ll have to stay on your toes and maybe do a bit of hunting after all. You’ll never be stuck without options – there are always more tokens on the board and players can’t block each other, so you’ll never have a dead turn. But you’ll also never have enough actions to do everything you want. You need to score points in as many ways as you can, but also get your adventures into the cities and do the best in at least one area if you hope to win. You may not always be able to exactly what you want, but you’ll never be so dead it’s impossible to win.
Oddly enough, despite all the strategic depth and the variety of options, I haven’t found this to be a brain burner in the sense that people get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. There are enough unknowns that you can’t really think ten steps ahead, but enough is known that you can make a plan without feeling like you’re being tossed around by the fickle will of chance. It’s a great balance that makes for a very engaging game that doesn’t get bogged down with decision-making. It only takes about forty minutes from start to finish, and the pace is pretty quick along the way.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, either; the designers, Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, already have a few Spiele de Jahreses under their belts, having collaborated on 1999’s Tikal and 2000’s Torres. Wolfgang Kramer is also notably the designer of a classic favorite around here, El Grande, among other popular games. These designers seem well-versed in creating the kind of simple mechanics that aren’t difficult to remember but create interesting scenarios that force players into strategic play.
This game is also a perfect fit for HABA’s new family line of games. HABA, previously known for wonderful kid-friendly games like Animal upon Animal (and a gigantic catalogue of amazing toys for kids, including games designed for ages as low as 2 years), is only just beginning to delve into the slightly-more-complex gaming realm, and they’re doing it well. Just ask @FarmerLenny about Karuba. Will we see more of this line? I sure hope so. What we’re getting so far is certainly filled with delight.
You might actually be able to coerce your non-gaming family members to give this a try, thanks to the mild fantasy theme and extremely quick rules explanation (not to mention a beautiful board). The three included scenarios let you play to your crowd, with simple and straightforward scoring for younger players or non-gamers, and the more complex, gamery scoring of the third adventure.
Adventure Land may not feel revolutionary, but it’s wrapped up in such a tight and beautiful package I can’t think of a good reason you’d want to ignore it. No, it’s not going to give you immersive story-based quests through an epic fantasy realm, but it’s an engaging and tough game with tons of strategy and easy rules. And it’s fun. After all, who doesn’t love an adventure?
Side note: I just discovered there’s a free printable mini-expansion for this game on HABA’s website. Neat!