Dale Yu: First Impressions of Adventure Island

Adventure Island

  • Designers: Michael Palm and Lukas Zach
  • Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45-90 minutes per session
  • Times played: 4 sessions so far… (with review copy provided by Pegasus)

Adventure Island is the new cooperative game from Pegasus Spiele.  I had read about it prior to SPIEL 2018, but English versions of the game were not yet available.  One has since come in the mail, and I was quite interested in giving the game a try. Admittedly, this sort of game (cooperative, narrative based) is not usually something that I enjoy – but a recent good weekend with The 7th Continent has me considering this sort of game a bit more than I used to…

In this game, your group of adventurers were on a ship, sailing to India. Unfortunately, your ship got hit by a storm on the way to India and sank. With your last bit of strength and a huge amount of luck, you made it to the banks of a desert island. Through a miracle, you are not hurt, but you are exhausted and disheartened. How will you escape from this unfamiliar desert island? Or maybe the island is not so deserted after all? As a group of shipwrecked passengers, you need to survive, explore the island, and find a way home.  The game tells the story of your group in a series of scenarios. Through the course of the game, your group will explore the island and solve some of its mysteries – and as you try to escape the island, your decisions will have permanent effects on the choices you will have in the future. However, unlike other “legacy” games, no permanent changes will be made, so the game can be played again.

I’ll describe the setup for the first scenario (the rules let you know that there are 5 different scenarios in the game)  – but I will avoid any spoilers along the way in this review. When you start the game, you have access to the base cards, and the rest of the cards remain in six individually sealed packs which you can open as the situation requires.   The rules give you a short set of instructions on how to set up the scenario – there may also be a card in the deck with more detailed directions. The rulebook will also give you the general goal for the scenario. For the first one, the goal is to Find Shelter and light a fire.

A camp card is set down on the table, and each person’s meeple is placed on it.  Each player also chooses a character they want to be and takes the matching stat card.   The four starting cards (Beach, Search for Food, Build a Shelter, and Explore Your Surroundings) are placed in a row on the table.  A deck of Flotsam cards is shuffled and placed next to the beach; a deck of Place cards is put next to the Explore Your Surroundings card.  Finally the Hazard deck is constructed and shuffled.

The game is then split into days and nights – each following a different pattern.  In the day phase, each player takes 2 actions in a row; but the order in which the players act can be determined by the group each day.  To take your first action, you move you pawn from the Camp to the appropriate action card. Then, to take your second action, you lay your pawn down on the second action card (if you take the action found on your character card, just lay your dude down in Camp).

The four starting actions are seen on this picture:

If your action requires a dice roll, you take the appropriate number of dice and roll them.  Each of the dice has an identical distribution of faces (3 green, 2 yellow, 1 red). There are three different skill icons (knowledge, skill and strength) which could be specified on the roll.  You look at your character sheet to determine how many dice you get to roll. As this is a cooperative game, the different characters are able to help each other out. If another character’s pawn is on the same space as you, they can share items and freely use all the abilities.

When you roll, you have to get the designated number of color results from a single throw.  If you don’t make it, you fail, but you get an Experience Marker (a yellow star). This can be discarded at any point later in the game to re-roll all the dice in a later challenge.

The Day phase continues until all players have taken their turn to have two actions in a row.  Then, the game moves to the night phase – and the team must discard one food token (pot, meat or fish) per player.  For each food token that they cannot discard, a fatigue marker must be taken by someone on the team. (They must be put on the highest valued attribute on your board).  Finally, each player draws a card from the Hazard deck and then resolves it. The order of drawing can be decided by the group, but the active player must fully resolve his Hazard card before the next person can take their turn.  Then, go to the next Day Phase…

The adventure ends when you have achieved the stated goal OR when you cannot draw a Hazard card in the Night phase OR when you cannot place a fatigue marker on a player board when the group has to take one.   

As you play through the scenarios, you should also watch for any milestone cards that you come across. There is a chart on the back of the rules where you can track which milestones that you have seen.  When you complete a section (usually 3 cards), your group then earns a benefit which can be used for the rest of your adventures on Adventure Island.

The scenarios are self contained, and the game does give you dividers to help you keep track of the cards – As far as what should be in your active stack, and what has yet to even be explored, and what has been removed from the game…   You can decide to keep playing and see the next scenario; or you can just put everything away and wait for your next chance to play.

My thoughts on the game

I should start by saying that I’m writing this review and I haven’t yet finished the final part of the adventure.   The game has been interesting to explore, and the challenges have been hard – perhaps a bit too hard. At this point, I am not sure if my group here is going to get it to the table again, and if we don’t get it there in the next week or so, I’m just going to “play” it solo to finish out the story.

The strength of the game is in fact the story.  It has been fun watching our escape from the island unfold through the cards.  There have been some interesting twists along the way which I didn’t expect; and from what I have seen so far, there are a bunch of side quests that may or may not be explored depending on how your group gets through the game.

I like the idea of a legacy game that is non-destructive – so that it can be replayed by yourself or others, and with the different side story lines in the game, there might be groups that would play through this again to check out all of the different possibilities…  Each of the five scenarios is self contained, so it is possible (as we did) to sit down, play a scenario or two – or perhaps play the same scenario four times… – and then pack up the game to restart at a later date. You generally don’t have to worry about card order in your decks as you will always start with certain cards face up on the table and then the other decks in the game are shuffled prior to play.

What we found in our games is that the level of difficulty is quite high, and the number of actions that your team has is low.  You will not have time to explore all the areas of a scenario in a single game. In fact, it feels like you’ve barely got enough time to finish one of the story branches in your allotted moves… Without getting too spoilery, I mentioned above that there are a bunch of side stories – and oftentimes, you’ll never know which stories advance the plot of the game and which just give you extras until you complete said side quest.

I suppose there is one tangible benefit of completing the side quests – and this is that you can achieve some of the milestones by exploring these side paths, and any milestone advantages become permanent parts of your team’s resources in all games to follow – even if you never choose to go down that side path again.  You’ll also gain the knowledge of which cards go down that side path and can choose to ignore them in future runs. In some way, the milestone system acts as a sort of handicapping system – the more that you’ve explored the game, the more benefits your team will have, and the better you will be able to do.

So, it may take you a couple of plays through a scenario to figure out which cards lead you to the places/people you want to see, and then you’ll have to learn how to get past any obstacles that lie in your way.  If you make it thru – great! You can move onto the next scenario. If you fail, sadly you have to set up the scenario again, INCLUDING SHUFFLING THE CARD DECKS AGAIN. And, as it turns out, you might know exactly which cards you need to get where you want to go, but if the cards are not in your favor and you do not reveal them from the decks in a timely fashion (and sometimes they need to be in specific temporal order) – you’ll not be able to complete the scenario regardless of your knowledge.

For some people, this sort of recurring exploration/grinding is enjoyable – and I am willing to go through this two, maybe three, times… but once you get to the point where you know what to do and it’s just a matter of a lucky die roll or card draw which determines whether you complete the task or not… that’s no longer fun.  And eventually, the group just gets to the point where they say – fine, we know what to do, let’s just say we did it and move onto the next scenario. (This isn’t something limited to this game… I’m looking straight at you: T.I.M.E Stories: Dragon, Mask, Endurance, etc…)

The initial exploration is fun, but the grind to get all of the information and then trying to do it in a small number of actions ends up feeling more like a chore.  At the end of one scenario, the group just proved that we knew what we needed to do to solve it, and then just moved on. At the end of another, we simply extended the number of rounds that we had by reshuffling the Hazard cards and playing on – because exploring the story is actually fairly compelling; but the process of revealing it was too much at times.

Ultimately – you will have to decide what your tolerance is for this iteration.  My guess is that truly optimal play (and optimal card luck/dice rolling) would allow you to finish the five scenarios in just under two hours of actual playing time.  From a quote on BGG – https://boardgamegeek.com/article/30375122#30375122 – one of the designers says that he would think that 10-12 hours is an average time to finish; 16-20 hours if you did the side quests (which in my opinion are hard to avoid because you’re sometimes at the mercy of card luck as to what direction your group can go in).  So… if you don’t mind playing a game 6 to 10 times longer than an optimal play to get to the end point, this is the game for you!

The rules could have used a bit of a finishing touch.  I really like the fact that the rules are only 6 pages long (the other three pages are used for art and milestones)– but I think that a bit more text would have been helpful – as would a few more illustrations to help give examples on setup, play, and storage.  There were a number of times when our group simply had to make a decision on how to interpret a dodgy rule. Further, because of the legacy/narrative nature of the game, we were quite reticent to try to go online to look for an answer to a question lest we spoil the rest of the scenario somehow.  The setup for each scenario is especially frustrating. There are a few times when it’s unclear just what exactly the team gets to start with… (i.e. do you keep items, food, etc.) and yet, the same information is printed on both the scenario card in the deck as well as in the rules! There was clearly space available to give more information – but instead, we got the same thing twice!  Furthermore, for a game that doesn’t want to spoil much, there was no need to put the scenario setup information right in the rules. Clearly, the info fit onto the cards… because they give you the same info on the cards!

I also think that the organizational system has a good start, but ultimately, it fails in execution.  There is a well thought out set of punchboard dividers that slide into pre-cut notches in the box. Frustratingly, these dividers do not go all the way to the bottom, there is about 1/3 inch of space at the bottom.  What I’ve found is that the sections are a bit loose, and the cards have the opportunity to slide underneath the divider, and then they end up all muddled in this 1/3 inch at the bottom.

The game doesn’t want you to read any cards that you haven’t yet seen, and in the process of trying to get the cards back in order – you can’t help accidentally seeing things that you shouldn’t see yet.  To further confuse things, the game provides you 7 or 8 different dividers (which also can slide underneath) to separate the cards, but there really isn’t a good verbal nor pictoral explanation of how to use them.  In the end, this could have been an awesome system- but in order to prevent any more card disasters, I have had to supply a bunch of plastic bags to keep things appropriately separated and have essentially thrown out all the box dividers as they just get in the way.  It would have been great to use the page and a half in the rules where they repeated setup info found on the cards and instead showed me how the organizational system would work to store the game between runs.

Overall, I think that this system has promise.  Again, though my opinion sounds negative due to the process of playing, I really like the storytelling here, and I think that a slight reorganization of material could turn this into a stellar adventure, but as it stands now, it’s just a bit short on all facets.  I think that it’s worth a try, but unless you have the patience of a saint (or your group is super-awesome at cooperative games), gird your loins for frustration and repetition.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan: There’s a lot of promise and adventure in the system, but a couple issues I think are significant enough to hold it back. First, even the early scenarios are impractically difficult with victory seeming to rely upon too optimal of a collusion for the die results and the card shuffles.  (That said, what squirted lemon juice in my eye was that upon reviewing some cards before boxing it up, we found that if we had followed a path we didn’t, it would’ve made things easier. I’m sure that seems like an odd thing to say, but we didn’t follow that path as it was time and resource intensive and certainly would’ve meant we could not successfully complete the scenario. And we wouldn’t have.  But. It would’ve made the next attempts easier –I just don’t understand why we would’ve tried this thing so antithetical to our stated goal?) My other issue is that one of the players didn’t seem to have anything interesting to do. The conditions of the scenario and the player’s special power largely dictated that character’s actions through the adventures, and that’s not fun.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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