In Adventure Land, King Agamis rules from his castle. Rich cities, vast forests and rugged mountain ranges dominate the country. The large river is known to be lined with gold and the forests filled with medicinal herbs, but dangers lurk beneath the fog! Only the bravest adventurers dare to face the challenges. When you move your adventurer tactically and bravely fight the fog creatures, you'll win the favor of the king. Illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel and designed by acclaimed duo Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling who between them have won the highly coveted Spiel des Jahres award 5 times.
Designer: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
Artist: Franz Vohwinkel
Publisher: HABA Games
Category: Area Control
Price: $32.99 Amazon.com
Adventure Land is the second game in HABA’s family game line. Following the success of Karuba, Adventure Land is an exploration game for two to four players. It features a clever ruleset while remaining simple to learn and quick to play.
Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling are not designers you’d associate with HABA Games. You wouldn’t think of the creators of Tikal, Torres, and Maharaja working with the company that makes Rhino Hero and Dancing Eggs. It’s a weird combination to say the least. And yet, out of this odd partnership came one of the coolest games of the last few years: Adventure Land.
Adventure Land is a two to four player game that plays in under an hour. It’s part of HABA’s new initiative to expand into family game territory. Kramer and Kiesling are very versatile designers, and it shows in this product.
Adventure Land is played on a beautiful board, laid out in a ten-by-eleven square grid. Players start with meeples in the upper-left (northwest) corner of the board. There is one key rule that drives the whole game: meeples can only be moved east and south. In other words, they start in one corner, and all their movements must make progress toward the opposite corner; they can never backtrack toward the start. This movement limitation makes the game surprisingly strategic and engaging.
At the start of a player’s turn, he’ll flip over the top two cards of the deck. Each card shows one of five game pieces and a list a specific board space. The indicated piece is then placed on that space. As an example, a card might show an herb and indicate space B3, meaning the player places a random herb token on B3. If a card reveals a so-called “Fog Monster,” the monster’s token is placed on its corresponding space and another card is drawn. Thus, there will be two beneficial things that show up at the start of each turn, possibly alongside one or more Fog Monsters. Here are the five things that can appear:
- Fog Monsters: Block players from moving through a space until defeated. Award points when beaten.
- Sword tokens: Used to fight Fog Monsters. Each sword grants one combat die, so the more sword tokens used, the better the chance of victory.
- Herb tokens: Used to add to the result of a combat die after it is rolled.
- Gold tokens: Used to reroll a combat die or add one to its result. Worth victory points if unused.
- Allies: Neutral meeples that travel with a player’s meeple and add to its overall strength.
Once cards have been drawn and pieces placed, the player may execute two moves. This can either be two different meeples moving once each, or one single meeple moving twice. Players may move meeples as far as they’d like in a straight line, but again, only east or south. If they stop on a space with an item token or ally, they immediately gain it. If they enter a space with a Fog Monster, they must battle it. They can use tokens and allies as appropriate to help in battle. Combat is straightforward: the Fog Monster has a strength value, which players must meet or exceed on a roll of one to three dice. If successful, the Fog Monster is defeated and the player receives the indicated points.
There is one other, very clever mechanism at play in Adventure Land: the deadly “River Sprite.” I mentioned before that there are five things that can appear on the board. Each of these things corresponds to a certain type of space. Herbs are found in forest spaces, swords in mountains spaces, allies in city spaces, Fog Monsters in fog spaces, and gold in river spaces. A river runs across the board horizontally, and the first time a gold token appears on it, the River Sprite pawn appears with it. She remains in that space, rendering it inaccessible until another gold token shows up. When this happens, she moves down the river to the new gold space, taking out any and all meeples in her way. This means it’s very dangerous to linger on the river, because you never know when/where the Sprite will move next, and you don’t want to be in her way.
This is a fascinating mechanism, and it creates a feeling of danger when you’re trying to grab gold. It also adds a fair bit of strategy. Each board space only has one associated card in the deck, and cards are never reused. This means as the deck gets thinner, the River Sprite’s movements become more predictable. The fewer river spaces still in the deck, the fewer potential moves she can make. By the end of the game, there may only be a few spaces she has yet to visit, so you have some idea of which spaces are “safe.”
This sums up the core concepts of the game. It’s really easy to learn and play. Basically:
- Stuff appears on board.
- Get stuff.
- Defeat Fog Monsters.
- Don’t get caught by the River Sprite.
The game comes with three scenarios which offer varying objectives. Tokens and allies that you find during the game have different significance depending upon which scenario you’re playing. Unspent sword and herb tokens, for example, may be worth extra points in one scenario, but not in another. One scenario has players trying to assemble the largest group of allies.
While the core of the game doesn’t change much from one to another, different scenarios will change the way players approach the game. This is a nice touch. The game could just as easily have had the same objective every time, but this adds some nice variation. (As I understand it, the expansion adds three more scenarios, but I haven’t played them.)
Adventure Land is an enigma. It shouldn’t be as fun as it is. At face value, it doesn’t seem all that innovative. The combat system is just run-of-the-mill dice rolling, the item collecting is nothing new, and the different scenarios don’t change the game THAT much. And yet, somehow, it feels fresh and inspired.
The movement rule reminds me slightly of Tokaido. In that game, you can move as far as you want along the board, but it’s not always beneficial to move a great distance. Adventure Land employs a similar principle, though, I think, in a much more interesting way. If a token I want appears on the far side of the map, I can move a meeple all the way across the board to grab it, but if something pops up later behind that meeple, he won’t be able to get it, because he can never backtrack. There is a push and pull between wanting to get the sweet stuff on the other side of the board before your opponents, and also wanting to keep meeples closer to the start so they have more options for movement.
I like that the turn is structured such that there is always something beneficial for you to do. Flipping cards at the start of your turn ensures that there will always be at least two items/allies available on the board when you move your meeples. Everything on the board is helpful; even Fog Monsters award you points if you defeat them. This means that it’s hard to make a “bad choice.” As long as you’re playing somewhat sensibly and not lingering in the river or going up against a fourteen-strength Fog Monster with one die and no help, you always feel like you’re making progress. I think this characteristic will really appeal to a lot of people.
Coming off the success of Karuba, HABA is two-for-two with Adventure Land. I can’t wait to see what they put out next.
+ Easy to learn and understand
+ Innovative movement rules create interesting decisions
+ Scales well at different plays counts
+ Scenario play provides variety
+ Always something to do on your turn
+ Combat system is straightforward
+ River Sprite mechanism is very clever
- Box art is lacking
- Spaces should have had coordinates written on them (C8, etc.)
- A fair amount of luck involved, but with ways to mitigate it