After my fun being Unbroken, I’ve heard the Call to Adventure, and have been off telling more tales of derring-do! Sadly, these did not go as well.
My initial experience with Call to Adventure was a bit of a mess. The components list has wrong counts for some items, doesn’t show others, and the included FAQ also seems to be wrong in at least one regard (number of adversary quest cards). I’m still less than 100% sure my copy is complete. I think it is, but it’s just not clear.
If you start, as I did, trying to play the game solo without knowing the multiplayer game then you’re immediately confronted by the need for things which are not explained. Start by finding the Adversary cards (not listed among the components). When you’ve found them (they’re hiding within the level 2 and 3 decks) you can then start looking for your Hero marker. These are on the components list, but at less than 2mm in size I didn’t spot them at first. The layout guys like tiny icons: the skulls marking the adversary cards within the antihero deck are similarly small on the cards, and their placement among the other info is not shown in the rules so you have to find it yourself. None of this is particularly hard, it’s just unnecessary grit in the wheels of what should be a smooth process.
A poor first impression.
My first game included lots of looking through the pretty, but poorly laid out rules, and way too many WTF does that mean? moments. Far more than there should have been for a game this simple. In the end I just guessed a bunch of card interpretations as I could find little guidance. The game could really do with a reference of all the icons in one place. Currently it’s scattered across at least 3 pages, and I’m not sure that covers all of them. Nor do I especially want to be looking in the rules at all. Why can’t I have all this on a reference card?
The game is of a similar complexity level and play time to Unbroken, which is partly why I thought it might make a good comparison. But it’s no match. For solo play, Unbroken wins hands down. Easier to play, better explained, better referenced, and the things I dislike about the layout and graphics are no better done in CtA.
Despite all this, it’s not a complex game. So, after 3 games I knew the common icons by heart and knew where to look for the others, so I was fine. Unfortunately, by then I’d had enough. My third game was a bit of a slog and was not enjoyable. A big part of this was that I found the decisions less engaging than in Unbroken, and my objective far less clear. I could go for this or that, but it doesn’t matter a great deal and the randomness of the rune throw felt more powerful than my choices. The AI deck forcing redos and choosing different challenges on some results did not help me feel that my choices mattered.
So it was awful, right?
No, it wasn’t.
Call to Adventure is a pretty game – prettier than Unbroken, I’d say. Its problem is that it feels like it merely tolerates solo play rather than embraces it. Unbroken is solo only, so of course it’s optimised. In CtA it’s not even its own section – it’s blobbed in with the co-op rules (hence the lack of care in clarifying what the cards mean for solo play). There could be many reasons why the solo variant turned out half-hearted, but that’s what it is.
I think the truth of it is that CtA may be a great multiplayer game. While I won’t bother trying to solo this again, I will keep the game as I can see that it could be a lot of fun with the right group. It wants to tell stories, and so the banter around the table and the telling of your hero’s tale at the end (which they say you should do), are a major part of the experience. At least, that’s how it reads. And I can see how that might work, and be enjoyable.
I also think that the rules would be clearer if you started with a multiplayer game. That’s what it really wants you to be doing, and I assume how they were written.
When the Dark Times are over and I can get it on the table with a group, then I’ll revisit it and let you know how it goes.