“It reminds me a lot of Talisman…”
That was the description I was given by my business partner who had acquired this game. She really enjoys Talisman, so from her that could be considered a compliment. It also could be considered a compliment because Talisman has a lot of expansions and has been pretty successful all the way around. For those who may not know, Talisman is a game where you control a hero and move around a track fighting monsters and gaining treasure. Looking at Venture forth, I could see some similarities. Both in theme, and in components.
But for those who do not enjoy Talisman, don’t immediately write Venture Forth off. After a few plays of Venture Forth I have decided the game is like Talisman blended with a Euro style resource management game. Yes, you are moving around a board, fighting monsters and collecting treasure. However, you are also very carefully balancing “will” tokens, gold tokens, victory points, treasure cards, and “despair” tokens, all at the same time. You have significantly more control over your fate than in Talisman, plus the game doesn’t take four hours to get through.
The game is played on a mid sized, two-sided board. The two sides are very similar, but have slightly different tracks so that the game isn’t the same every time. All of the monsters, treasures, and heroes are represented by small cards (about the same size as Talisman cards) which form different decks: level cards, encounter cards (a blend of monsters and heroes), and treasure cards. To start the game, each player receives a level-one hero, a hand of five encounter cards, and some gold. From there they must venture out into the world, starting at a temple site of their choosing. On your turn you can do one of four different things: play a card, venture forth, pay a tribute, or regroup.
Playing a card is simply a matter of playing a card down on the path. The cards must be played next to a temple site of that color (yellow, blue, green, or purple) or must be played next to a card of the same color. This puts monsters that you (or opponents) must fight along the path, as well as heroes that you can potentially recruit. Playing a card also gets you some goodies. Each spot on the board has a symbol on it representing will, gold, or venturing tokens. Will and gold are picked up immediately and added to the heroes in your party. The venturing token is played next to the same path that you just played the card on, to be dealt with later.
Venturing forth, can be done when the route between the temple your pawn (which represents your party of heroes) is on and the next temple on the board is completely full of cards (i.e. One on each spot). To venture forth you simply move your pawn along the track, stopping on each spot, and face the cards you find there. If the card you venture over is a hero, you may recruit them to your party by paying the amount of gold indicated on their card. If you don’t want that hero, or can’t afford them, then simply leave them there and move on. If the card you venture over is a monster, you are compelled to fight it.
Fighting a monster is a very simple matter. Each of your heroes have a given strength. You add up those values and if you meet or beat the monsters strength, then you win. The monster comes off the board and nothing bad happens to you. If you fail, then some bad stuff happens. Usually to the tune of losing some money or some will to the monster, or potentially gaining a despair token.
After fighting monsters and encountering heroes is done, players check to see if their characters’ ambitions have been met. The ambitions of each character are in the box at the bottom their card. If that event occurred during this turn, you can turn in a given amount of will (dictated by their level) to gain victory points, lose despair, and gain levels.
In addition to completing ambitions, after venturing forth, players pick up the venturing token that may be on that path (remember those?). These tokens gain heroes more money, will, and treasure.
Treasure is… interesting, and leaves the player with a dilemma on their hands. Treasure does nifty things to help your party along, should you choose to use it. But deciding to not use your treasure could be to a greater benefit. This is because each treasure can be turned in at the end of the game for victory points instead, if you have a character that can carry it. The nature of your heroes ambitions must fall along the same vein as the the treasure card. The symbol of the hero’s ambitions is shown on the top right of each card as either wealth, knowledge, or might. If the treasure has the same symbol on it, then your hero can carry it at the end of the game for points. Otherwise, it’s of no point value. Also, each hero can only own one treasure, so choose wisely.
Instead of playing a card or venturing forth, you can also decide to pay tribute at the temple. The nature of the tribute, and it’s reward, is listed at each of the temple sites. This can be as simple as pay one gold for one will, or it could involve taking additional turns or jumping to other sites.
Lastly, you can “regroup.” This is a mechanic for when you have terrible hand of cards. Simply discard your hand, draw five new cards, and hope that the Gods have smiled on you this time. That’s it, easy peasy.
So after that long winded explanation, what did we think? It was entertaining. We really got into it by the end of the game, and the smack talk started flying, which is always fun.
There is one mechanic I wish had been different though: card drawing. Each time you play a card, you just draw a card off the top of the encounter deck to replenish your hand. This left some people with very lopsided hands (all monsters, or all heroes) or with cards that were not of a color that was along their path. This led to some frustration. What I would have liked to see instead is a galley of cards, like you see in Ticket to Ride, in which players could pick from a series of face up cards or just take one face down off the top of the deck. This would have helped balance those extremes and made for a far more even game.
There is also one small component complaint that I must voice: Colors. Remember that I mentioned earlier that cards must be played next to their own color? Well during our first game there was some confusion. Take a look at that photo of the board. Notice how the spots between the temples are colored white or yellow? Well my players kept mistaking the yellows for meaning that they had to play a yellow card next to it. It had to be repeatedly explained that the color of the temples and cards were the only thing that matters. I understand now that the color of the spaces denotes if it gives will or gold, but it was confusing and unnecessary. Also on the subject of color there really isn’t any other defining mark on the card to dictate cards with matching colors, which could be a real issue for our colorblind gamers. A simple symbol on the cards and temples would have gone a long way.
Other than that, I think the game held up pretty well. The components were solid, the rules were well written, and (most importantly) the game play was fun. I would certainly play this one again.
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