- Designers: Thomas Dupont, Arnaud Ladagnous
- Publisher: Kosmos
- Players: 1-6
- Age: 12+
- Time: ~ 120 minutes (but distracted by soccer on TV and lunch!)
- Played with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos
Cartaventura: Lhasa is a narrative card game in which players build an adventure using cards which offer them different choices during play. The game is solely composed of 70 square cards. There isn’t even a rulebook in the box! The rules, as you need them, are explained along the way. While the story is not completely free-form, there are multiple endings available in each deck of cards, and which ending you see depends on the path you choose to take as you reveal the story.
(NOTE – in the process of this review, you will see a few of the cards, but only those with introductory text or rules. I honestly don’t think seeing any of these pictures will ruin or change your experience of the game – but I do think they will help you understand how the game works. However, if you don’t want any spoilers, either stop reading here, or turn off images and reload this review page)
In this particular adventure, the search for the explorer and spiritualist Alexandra David-Neel will be a long and arduous journey. Travel through Ceylon and India and across the Himalayas to the forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet. Up to six players can take part in this collaborative adventure game, deciding together how to proceed at every juncture. Card by card, the team learns how the adventure unfolds, exploring locations, and moving towards one of five possible endings of the game.
To start the game, you simply unwrap the deck of cards and read the back of the first card. You should not shuffle or re-arrange the deck here – just start at the top and follow the directions. Like other puzzle games (including Kosmos’ own EXIT series) – there is a cover card at the other end of the deck to make sure you don’t accidentally read the last card. In this case, you get to read the instructions of how to put the deck back together after you play the game. No spoilers on that card at least!
The 70 double sided cards have multiple uses. Some of the cards are map cards; and these are placed in the middle of the table. Around these map cards, players place action cards, with them consulting one another to decide the best choice to make from those available: draw a card, turn over a card, discard, etc. When you see a map card, look in the corners to see if you find a compass rose with numbers around it. Go thru the deck and dig out the cards with matching numbers and place them on the corresponding edges of that map card.
It’s also helpful to note that the cards have a easily understood system to tell you fronts and backs. The front of a card has the card number in a colored circle. The back of a card always has the number in a black square. Knowing this helps you from flipping over cards accidentally!
Urgent cards, which have a lightning bolt under the card number, should be read entirely before doing anything else, and they can change the game in an instant. Object cards are placed in front of players and can be useful throughout the game. Remember that the cards are all double sided, and it is important to NEVER turn a card over until you are instructed to do so!
Essentially, work your way through the deck of cards, making choices as they come up and revealing new cards or flipping over existing cards. Keep going until you get to a card that reveals an ending! That’s really all there is to the game.
The game includes a tutorial to accompany the first game, and its simple and original playing system allows you to explore the scenario several times before discovering all of the game’s secrets. Choices you have made along the way may provide you different options on your next pass through the deck! As mentioned at the top, you might also encounter different endings to the story based on your choices along the way. You also might figure out different ways to die :)
When the Cartaventura games arrived, I first thought about playing this with my usual game group, but admittedly we have had some issues with narrative games – for instance, we really wanted to like the Adventure series, but it fell flat. After some discussion, the rest of the gang wanted to try it, so we gave Cartaventura Vinland a try in a group setting, and we had plenty of fun arguing the finer points of the choices amongst ourselves. We took turns reading the card, and allowed that person to be fully in charge of the direction of the story for that card, and that worked out just fine. For this second game, I ended up playing it myself as I was quarantined all weekend and had plenty of time for solo gaming!
It took about 2 hours total for me to finish this adventure, but I was distracted by soccer games on TV and also was eating lunch as I was playing it. I think that had I been fully concentrating on it, it would have taken about an hour…
I really like the line-art sketch theme here used in the artwork. I feel like this really increased my enjoyment of the game and immersed me in the theme of the story. I normally don’t care much for game art, but I really did like the style here.
The story told here is again surprisingly detailed. I was immersed into the story and really felt like I was traveling the world instead of being stuck in my home office. The story was at least as good as the Choose Your Own adventure books I remember enjoying as a child; and the artwork on the cards is superb. While there is no rulebook in the box, there is a small informational pamphlet which does give some of the background history of the era and places you will encounter in this adventure. The storytelling is pretty great already, but it’s nice to have this additional background information.
If you’re looking for a narrative adventure, this is a good choice. The process of revealing the story is not as long as the Adventure Games series, and the 40-60 minute time frame is much better for me. It is an engrossing and enjoyable experience that was finished in a single setting, and I’ve was motivated to continue playing the game with each endings – definitely enjoying the fact that I have been able to take a different path through the deck, learn more of the story and see a different ending with each successive game. They have incorporated a clever way to make later passes through the deck slightly divergent from the first; and when you’re done with the game, you can fully reset it to pass it on to someone else in pristine shape. (No details here in the text, but if you look at the slightly spoilery picture, you’ll see what I’m getting at).
The back of the box tells you: “Follow a multitude of different paths and explore various far-off lands. Only one path leads you to Alexandra David-Neel!”. For me, this has turned out to be a great solo adventure, and one I’m happy to recommend. I would not recommend being in COVID quarantine; skip that part and just find a day when you want to enjoy an adventure by yourself!
Rating of the series after 2 games: I like it.
Until your next adventure
The Gaming Doctor