The Penny Paper Adventures Series (The Temple of Apikhabou, Skull Island, Valley of Wiraqocha)
- Designer: Henri Kermarrec
- Publisher: Sit Down!
- Players: 1+
- Ages: 7+
- Time: 15-20 minutes/game
- Times played: 3+ with each of the three games- all on review copies provided by Sit Down!
The Penny Paper Adventures series is a set of three small box games that are capitalizing on the current rise in the roll-and-write genre. In all three of the games, players are going on an archeological exploration along with the protagonist (Penny Papers). In each of the games, Penny has a sidekick which can help the expedition along. In each of the games, there is also a specific obstacle or danger that the players must face.
The overarching format is the same for the three games. Each player gets a matching scoring sheet (the sheets are double sided in each case with a DIFFERENT layout on the back!) and a pencil. There are three special dice used in each game. The colors are always purple, green and red – they each have pips from 1-5, and the last face is a special face. The purple 6 is always Penny Papers. The Red 6 is always the obstacle or danger, and the green 6 is always the helper.
On a turn, any player will roll the three dice, and then each player looks at those dice and uses some combination from that roll to mark up their sheet. In general, when pips come up, players can use the number from any single die, they can sum up any two dice or they can even use the sum of all three! So, as you can see – if the dice came up 1, 3, 5 – you could write down any of the following: 1, 3, 5, 4, 6, 8, 9. Whenever the Penny Papers face comes up (purple 6), players can use that face as a wildcard for any number from 1 to 15. In all the games, adjacency includes diagonals.
Whenever the red special face shows up, you ignore the rest of the roll. All players hand their sheet in, and they are given back out randomly to the players. You look at the sheet you get randomly and mark the danger for that game in any legal space; then you hand the sheet back to its rightful owner.
The game is generally complete when one player has filled in all the possible spaces, then you figure out the scores.
I’ll talk about each of the games briefly now –
The Temple of Apikhabou
In this game, players are filling in numbers while they explore the temple. Many spaces are plain white and a few are doors. Regular numbers will be placed in the white spaces. You can only write in a door space if the green die shows a Key. The hazard here is a mummy – it is placed on any plain white space. It is defeated if there is a 9 placed in any adjacent (including diagonal) spot.
Scoring is simple. You look at your longest chain of adjacent consecutive numbers and score 1 VP per space in that chain. Then you score 3VP for each number that you have a grouping of at least 3 adjacent spaces all with that same number. Finally, score +2 for each defeated mummy on your board and -2 VP for each active mummy. The player with the most points wins.
On Skull Island, players are hunting for treasures. The map shows a large island, with most of the spots available to be filled in. Additionally, there are spaces in the water surrounding the island for ships. A treasure is found at the intersection of four identical numbers – a pair forming a vertical line and a pair forming a horizontal line. A ship can be used as a wildcard once in each of these two lines. (You only can write a ship on the board when the green die comes up on the ship face.) The space where these two lines intersect is the location of a treasure – and that treasure is worth the value of the numbers used to find it. The space of the treasure is circled to identify it – only one treasure can be found in any particular space. It’s OK if the space is already filled or is a mountain, but a treasure cannot be found in the sea. You can only find one treasure of any particular number.
The hazard in this game is the skull. When the red skull is rolled, players will write a skull in any empty space – up to a total of 5 per game. A skull can be nullified (X’ed-out) by putting a 9 in any adjacent space. If a skull is placed in a treasure location, you will not score points for that treasure unless the skull is nullified.
The game continues until one player has found his fifth treasure OR a player has filled in all the island spaces on his sheet. Players will score for each of their discovered treasures – again, the value of the treasure is the same as the number used to form the lines to locate it. Remember that you score nothing for a treasure if there is an active skull in the treasure location. Then, look at the skulls and find the smallest number written adjacent to it. You take a penalty equal to that number if the skull is active. You score a positive bonus equal to that number if the skull is nullified. The player with the highest score wins.
Valley of Wiraqocha
In this most complex rated of the three games, players are discovering the structures in the Valley of Wiraqocha. This game is a little different than the other two because players have the option of writing more than one number down on a turn. Again, players can combine any or all of the dice, but they can write multiple numbers down on their sheet so long as you only use each die once.
The green die here allows you to discover a structure in the valley. There are three different types – the hut (which wants adjacent Jungle spaces), the statue (which wants adjacent Town spaces), and the Mine (which wants adjacent Mountain spaces). You can only have one of each type for the whole game.
But, how do you get the Jungle/Town/Mountain spaces? At the end of a turn, you look at your board and see if you can discover one of the features. Jungles are created from 5 adjacent spaces that all have different values. Towns are created from 4 adjacent spaces that all have the SAME number. Mountain ranges are made from 3 adjacent spaces which all have a value of 6 or higher. There is a fourth feature, the Pyramid, which is made up of a triangle (base 3, top 1) of numbers all greater than 10. Any particular space can only be part of one feature.
The hazard in this game is a red snake. When this is rolled, all the sheets are re-distributed and a snake can be written on any empty space. A snake can be canceled out with any adjacent 9. Active snakes at the end of the game will give you a VP penalty.
The game ends when any player has filled in all the spaces on their grid. Anyone who has a full grid scores a 7VP bonus at the end of the game. Each feature is then scored – 5VP per Jungle, 6VP per town, 7VP per mountain range, and 15VP per pyramid. Then look at each of your buildings and score 2VP for each adjacent space that matches the designed type. Finally, see if there are any active snakes. Each snake gives a penalty equal to the LARGEST adjacent number to that active snake.
My thoughts on the games
I’ve had a chance to play each of the games a few times now, and I really like the way that each feels familiar using the same general rules, but the changes in number placement and scoring gives each game a unique feel. I think it’s a nice touch to make the scoring sheets double sided WITH different designs on each side. It’s almost like getting two different games in each box as you have to play each map a little differently.
I also like the way that the series gives you as ascending series of complexity. Depending on your mood, and the crowd that you’re playing with – you can choose a game that suits. The Temple of Apikhabou is definitely the easiest to pick up and the easiest one to score; and I would say that the other two are equally complex. I think that the challenge of getting the four identical numbers to find treasure on Skull Island is certainly not easy, and the choice of how to use the dice (placing multiple numbers at times) in the Valley of Wiraqocha is equally tough.
The art is good, and the scoring sheets do a fairly good job of putting all the important rules right in front of the player. The dice are a bit wonky though – they do not seem fully balanced. While I admittedly still have a somewhat small sample, some of the dice seem to never roll particular faces. The worst one in my set is the green key die in the Temple of Apikhabou. In our first three games, we only got 3 or 4 keys total, and there were plenty more than 24 rolls in those games to get those. Sure, it could be a statistical anomaly, but rolling that die on its own didn’t get close to 1/6 for the green face either. With adults, it’s easy enough to use regular d6 and just say that a 6 = special face. But, with kids, you can’t get away with that. And honestly, it doesn’t look as good. But, it’s only one die, and it might just be me. For now, we just substitute that die with one of the other green dice, and we know just to mentally switch the icons.
Overall, the games are good fun and a nice addition to the roll-and-write genre. These are all on the simpler end, as the age recommendations of 7+, 8+ and 9+ would have you believe. They will likely be combined in a travel kit where I have sheets for all 3 games and the dice that go with them. They will all fit in a single small box, and when played in series, probably provides you with at least an hour of fun with enough variety to keep you from getting tired of them. Some folks will not like the targeted nature of the hazards, but generally, there are only one or two obvious places to put the bad icon, so that shouldn’t be too big of a deal…
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play of Skull Island): There’s nothing objectionable about the Penny Paper games, but assuming – as I was told – that this is the best of the lot; well, I’m not impressed, either. The game is a bit visually challenging, and for a game with simple rules it felt like there were a lot of questions during the game. I would consider playing other games in the series, but I didn’t get enough out of Skull Island to seek them out – or seek out another go at Skull Island, for that matter.
Dan Blum (1 play of each): I thought Temple was a bit too simple for its length although I would still play it if asked. (I have no objection to simple roll-and-writes, but they should be shorter.) The other two games were interesting and I’d like to play them again. A number of people seem to prefer Island to Valley but it’s not clear to me why.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love them!
- I like them. Dale Y, Dan Blum
- Neutral. Joe H
- Not for me…