Review – Skyrim: The Adventure Game
Co-op Skyrim? Yes please.
|Designer||Javier Angeriz-Caburrasi, Juan Echenique, Stefano Guerriero, Rob Harris|
|Category||Tabletop RPG, Cooperative|
Skyrim: The Adventure Game (henceforth called Skyrim) allows players to explore the world of Tamriel on the tabletop with friends using a card-numbering quest system that allows for dynamic quests and branching storylines. So, is it worth taking an arrow in the knee for?
While not as dark as the video game, there are still textual depictions of bloody murders, cults, dark spells, and romantic relationships (though nothing explicit). Also as in the video game, some characters show quite a bit of skin, despite living in a cold environment.
Firstly, players will choose their starting characters, equipment, and draw their main quest cards (every character has a different main quest, which usually all link up to the world quest finale). There’s more character customization than I thought here, but you’re still limited compared to the video game (which is fine by me; it’s a tabletop game after all).
Each turn, the first player will draw an event card. Event cards are often world quests that anyone can take on (Skyforge, Thieves Guild, Companions, etc.) or some sort of event that players need to respond to (vampires, Daedra, war, etc.). Once the event is drawn and threat tokens are added to cards that can hold them, players will take simultaneous turns. For threat tokens, think disease cubes from Pandemic (players will need to keep them in check throughout the game so they don’t fail quests).
Wait, did I say simultaneous turns? Indeed. Those 2 words always peak my interest, and Skyrim pulls this off very well. Players will move up to 4 spaces (unless they have a horse or are taking a carriage) and then use their 1 action to either complete a quest or interact with their space. Interacting with the space could be clearing a dungeon, drawing a random wilderness/stronghold encounter card, fighting a bad guy, or going to a stronghold’s market to buy, sell, upgrade, enchant, etc.
Completing quests is the main meat of the game, and rightly so. Quests come with great flavor text and often require you to make a skill check, see if you succeeded or failed, and then face the consequences of your actions, sometimes even drawing a new quest card to continue the quest. It’s very choose-your-own-adventurey, and it’s wonderful.
The game length is often strictly in the players’ hands. If the players decide they want to plug through the main quests, they can (we finished a game in under an hour once, but found ourselves quite underpowered for the next chapter). Sometimes, the quest will tell you that you can’t progress until certain events have been drawn from the event pile, in which case you’ll need to kill time waiting for them. In this instance, it’s essential that you find side quests to soak threat tokens, but sometimes they are nowhere to be found, which is an unlucky bummer.
The only downside to the quests is that often, because of all the side quests, the main quest gets forgotten (not that you forget to do it, but you forget what the storyline is because you’re so invested in this sketchy khajit’s Skooma scheme). This is unfortunate, but it’s also a testament to how interesting some of the side quests are (Skooma-selling, bandit-hunting, and matchmaking abound). It’s also quite rare to truly fail a main quest, but knowing you can fail a side quest and lose the questline forever raises the stakes (for example, my wife was selling Skooma in a stronghold, got caught, and had to remove all her Skooma-related cards for the remainder of the campaign). The possibility of true failure, not just a setback, makes the side quests that much more tantalizing.
Just like in the video game, there’s a bunch of extra stuff you can do as well: craft, enchant, upgrade, buy, sell, rest, level up for skills, wilderness encounters, stronghold, and dungeon dive (whoof; I think that’s all of it). These don’t really impact gameplay much, so they end up being fiddly but-still-fun character add-ons… unless you’re upgrading and enchanting your weapon, in which case you’’ be making combat easier (indeed, it’s necessary to have a strong weapon by chapter 3 of campaign 1 unless you’re cracked at dice-rolling).
Skyrim includes 2 full campaigns, each made up of 3 chapters each. Great move by the designers because playing a 3-game campaign is a lot more doable than playing a 10+ game campaign (looking at you, Gloomhaven). You can also add and drop players each chapter if you so desire, though playing through all 3 chapters of the campaign with the same group is recommended.
The game’s save/setup system is intuitive and streamlined, even if it has some flaws that the players could take advantage of. I’ll take that over the no-flaws-but-tedious save/setup system. Skyrim includes 5 tuckboxes to save everything in (4 for players and 1 for the world), and before you begin another chapter, you’ll add that chapter’s cards into the event deck, largely resetting the world to where it was when you finished the last quest. Both campaigns are fully replayable, though I doubt there’d be many “new” side quests if you immediately replayed them. Best to wait a bit if you want another fresh experience, or try 1 of the 2 expansions.
The components are very good, which is what I expected from Modiphius. There are 2 long boxes: 1 to hold all the numbered cards in the game (with organizers), 1 to hold all the cards you remove during your playthrough. The 6 miniatures look fantastic. The player boards with indentations are great, except that they slide around too much. The tokens are fine, but I recommend tracking all resources on a piece of paper because the smaller tokens get fiddly real quick. The custom dice are fun and thematic, and the game board is exceptionally gorgeous. The artwork is essentially screenshots from the video game polished up a bit, which isn’t bad, but it also isn’t mind-blowing.
Okay, remember when I said the simultaneous turns work very well? They do. Except for when someone is in combat. In the beginning, the combat is usually pretty quick, so other players can complete their quests and whatnot during someone’s combat. However, as you progress through the game, the combat gets more involved as you take on up to 3 enemies of varying strength and abilities, which prolongs the combat to 5+ minutes. This slows the game down, especially when it’s often necessary to dungeon-delve for loot and experience points.
Moreover, the combat is not wildly exciting. It seems like the designers tried to make combat both streamlined and strategic, but instead it turned out partially streamlined, fiddly, and only somewhat strategic (there’s occasionally an interesting combat choice, but not many). I wish combat would have just been streamlined instead of trying to be strategic. It’s a big part of the video game, but that doesn’t translate well to a board game where the main meat is quests, so instead of enhancing quests, combat usually makes them feel sluggish. House rules (which we employed after a few chapters) can easily fix this.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Destinies’ excellent finales, but I also wish the finales for the chapters had some sort of drawn-out story with more dice rolling. Often, the finale for a chapter is just “all players meet here.” That’s not super exciting or climactic, especially in light of the side and main quest storylines. Even just 2 or 3 cards to go through with flavor text, skill tests, and success/failure branches would have made the finales so much better. The campaign finale doesn’t disappoint, but the chapter finales could have been much better.
For better or worse, Skyrim the video game is the game I’ve sunk the most solo hours into. I still enjoy it today because of all the stories and world-building, and I’ve always wished there was some way to play it cooperatively with friends. Skyrim: The Adventure Game does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the video game. Yes, you’ll level some skills up that you won’t use but once or twice, but it’s still fun because of all the wonderful stories. Despite the clunky combat, I recommend this game to anyone interested in a fully thematic, story-driven tabletop RPG experience. The numbered card system implemented here is great and easily resettable. If you’ve ever wanted to play Skyrim cooperatively, well, this is a no-brainer.
Modiphius Entertainment (Asmodee North America) kindly provided a review copy.
The Bottom Line
An exciting, thematic, story-filled experience… if you’ve got the aptitude.