Preview of “Mystery” from Season 2 of Van Ryder Games’ Graphic Novel Adventures

Designer: Ced
Artist: Stivo
Publisher: Makaka Editions/Van Ryder Games
Players: 1
Ages: 10+
Times Played: 3 with preview copy

I’ve previously discussed Makaka Editions’ graphic novel games when they became available in English from Blue Orange in Europe (Captive and Knights) and again when Van Ryder put out the first “season” of their foray into licensing these for the US (Captive, Tears of a Goddess, Loup Garou, Your Town, and Sherlock Holmes: Four Investigations).  I have Crusoe Crew on my table at home (and will likely have played it by the time you read this), and will probably bring you thoughts on that shortly.

Anyway, so I was pretty excited the other day when I saw that Van Ryder was promoting a second set:

But then a few days later, a copy of Mystery arrived in the mail, and I was, well, excited some more. A letter that came with mine said I should point out to you that this is a preview copy, so don’t read too much into this being a paperback edition; I should let them know about typos or other issues; oh, and probably best not to spoil anything.  

My plan is to go over the general structure of how these books work and do my best to give you a sense how this one plays and feels without too much specifics or analogies with the other books.

The “Graphic Novel Adventures” are a first-person, choose-your-own-adventure, graphic novel.  Each book varies quite a few things, but (so far) they’ve kept the general structure of: each panel is numbered and within each panel is information that shows or leads you to at least one other number.  That number will correspond to the next panel you go to, and if there is more than one in your image, such as a choice of doors, then you can choose which to go to.

Sometimes you’ll pick up items.  Sometimes you’ll find a riddle. Othertimes you’ll, uh, well, die.

Then start your adventure over, this time armed with a little more knowledge of what’s behind door number 2.

The panels may also have numbers hidden within them – like the Unlock! series or a physical escape room – so look closely, and you can go to those panels.  After you see what’s there, maybe it was a good idea. Maybe it wasn’t.

I didn’t put a time for a “game” on this post because I’m not sure what that means.  I copied from an upcoming review template that said 30-50 minutes, and I thought about leaving that.  Seems like a good estimate. But, really, it’s something you can pick up and put down, and, hey, you’re playing it solo, do what you want.

While we’re on that rebellious topic, it may come up.  You may reach a point where you aren’t 100% sure on the rules interpretation.  Don’t be afraid to make a judgment call (be it based on what you think the designer’s intent was or just what you think would make for a better experience).

I think we undervalue mazes.  It’s a tangent I’m going to save for a different upcoming review (and will differ from the upcoming time that I ramble on about games that feature path-taking as a mechanic).

But in short: there’s nothing wrong with mazes, and what if we pushed the design to it’s edges?

I mean, short of “always follow the same edge”, I would do an adult corn maze.  That sounds interesting and difficult. Throw in one wrinkle of “you need to pick up this key to exit” -establishing checkpoints of a sort- and things are more interesting already.

But that’s what we have here, yes? A choose-your-own-adventure style, uh, adventure, is a type of maze. With certain checkpoints. Certain “gates” with prerequisites to have met.

This one feels like an adventure.  A little puzzle. And, as it happens, not too much mystery.  Overwhelmingly adventure. You’ll level up, defeat bad guys, stuff like that. As you progress, new locations become available.  As the story goes, you’re essentially a superhero intern and are trying to get hired when your internship is over. The back of the book shows how to score your escapades.

For now, Captive, Your Town, and Loup Garou remain my favorites (in no specific order). I like (and don’t like) some of the tweaks to the system here.  You may see something in a peripheral panel and think “how are we going to get there!?” You may wander what feels like aimlessly trying to find a way forward. You’ll use nearly all of the panels. You’ll giggle at some of the momentary events (and probably roll your eyes at others). You’ll glance and study hard some panels, convinced there must be another point to this detour. Hopefully, you’ll make wise choices and be able to get that entry-level superhero job you were hoping for.

I remain enamored of the GNA system and am eager to crack open the Season 2 box and see what awaits. (KS Link)

James Nathan

Another Opinion from a different Opinionated Gamer – Dale

I am another OG writer who fell in love with the first series.  I had instantly backed Season 1 after learning of these a few Essen’s ago… The preview book that we had a chance to read was clearly marked as such, and the letter that came with it asking us to forgive any typos was well received (and necessary).

Not taking any typos or whatnot into consideration, Mystery is a fine entry to this genre of Adventure Books, but I think it rests firmly in the middle of the pack for me.  Though not my personal favorite, it might be a good book to introduce someone to the series – the story is easy enough to understand, and it is not an overly difficult path to navigate.

What I loved –

  • The superhero story is cool, and it reminds me a lot of my comic book reading years
  • The system of mini-quests is easy to pick up on, and gives a nice sense of progress and accomplishment when you are able to complete each one
  • The way the book moves you in different paths based on your selected attributes.  In the end, it doesn’t really change the overall outcome of the story, but it may change the route which you need to take through the book.  
  • The fact that this was something that I could put down whenever and restart at a more convenient time.  As long as you remember which panel you were currently reading – or better yet, wait until you are at the starting map page – it is dead simple to stop and start on demand.  I ended up “playing” this book for about four hours total, split up over 5 or 6 short sessions. I would read a bit while waiting for my kids to finish up practice or maybe for a short while before going to bed.  

What I did not love –

  • I still want the right hand pages (and panels on that page) to be indexed on the right so I can quickly see the numbers as I flip… Or, alternatively, I’d like index numbers in the extreme upper left corner and upper right corner of the book so that I don’t have to scan the page to find the numbers.  Unless, of course, the desire of the author is for me to accidentally learn information about particular panels and then try to remember those numbers as good choices in the future… FWIW, the book is indexed at the bottom middle of each page. It works – but just not ideal for me.
  • The use of intermediate panels – there is a heck-of-a-lot-of flipping in this book.  Oftentimes, you will have a choice, and it will direct you to panel A. So you flip to that panel.  Once you find it (and hopefully not spent too much time reading other panels you shouldn’t), it is a small single frame that simply points you to panel B.  So then you flip again. I know that this is probably a mechanism to prevent you from learning the paths too easily, but it’s a lot of flipping, and I found that exposing my eyes to extra pages likely provided my with more.  (Of course, as a caveat, there may be a truly useful reason for this – there might be multiple starting points which all lead to this intermediary point which then lead to the final panel. But, I didn’t see that happening. I just flipped and flipped and flipped.)

In the end, this was a fun solo adventure, and a book which reminds me how much I enjoy this sort of activity.  As I said earlier, this is in the middle of the pack for me – my favorite by far is Captive – but I still got four solid hours of entertainment out of it, and it renewed my excitement for the series.  The saddest part of the whole thing is knowing that I have to wait until August to play the rest of the series (assuming the KS delivers on time).

I very much enjoy the feel of the real book in my hands, and I remain much more likely to do this sort of thing with a physical book than an app.  And, yes, I fully realize that my two negatives above would both be completely solved in an electronic format… and I’m willing to accept those downsides in return for the visceral feel of the book in my hands.  

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1 Response to Preview of “Mystery” from Season 2 of Van Ryder Games’ Graphic Novel Adventures

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