Theme and What is it?
*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.
The tales of adventure thrill and excite us. They can also show us the dark path some brave souls fail to take. Today we hear your story. What was your beginning? Are you a farmer, a noble, or perhaps an orphan? What will you make of yourself? Will you face great challenges and find yourself on a dark path or guided towards the light? In the end will you find triumph or tragedy? Will you find victory?
Call to Adventure is a dice pool building game where you create the history of an adventurer. Moving through three acts and ever increasing challenges you’ll gain abilities, allies, and adversaries. Can you find the way to a true epic?
Call to Adventure is a dice pool building game. You begin the game by selecting an Origin, a Motivation, and a Destiny. Origin gives you a base set of symbols that you can use. Motivation gives you a rule or bonus of which you can take advantage. Destiny is an end game scoring condition. Those are the mechanical choices; the game builds on this by giving each of these things a flavor. Your origin could be a farmer, merchant, or pickpocket. Motivation can be a vow of vengeance, thirst for knowledge, or lone wanderer. Your destiny can include things like blood of dragons, mighty villain, or hero of destiny. While choosing these you are building a mechanical pool if advantages for your game as well as a narrative. I know that this section of the review is focused on mechanics but even still the narrative element bleeds through. I feel I need to talk about that here as well.
I should clarify something else here. I call this a dice pool game but in fact you are casting runes. The game comes with sets of two sided rune stones that are used to determine success or failure. Your rune/dice pool is a set of three standard runes that can give a 1 or 0 and a special one that gives a 1 or lets you draw a card. There’s a set of dark runes that can be obtained by spending experience that are worth 1 or 2 points, but the 2 point symbol also advances you on the tragedy track. There are also six sets of attribute runes. You can add these based on the types and number of a given symbol you have in that attribute. The first two are 1 or 2 point runes. The third and final rune of the set adds 2 points or a special draw or other advantage but is worth 0 points towards overcoming the challenge.
There’s a large tableau in the middle of the table that’s divided into three acts. The first act consists of Challenge, Ally, and Trait Cards. On your turn you’ll choose one of these cards to attempt. If it’s a trait you simply need to meet some requirement or pay a cost to add it to your origin card. If it’s a challenge you’ll have two paths to choose from each with a unique reward, and sometimes a varying difficulty. These rewards can be anything from hero/anti-hero cards, additional dice for your pool, triumph/tragedy points, or narrative symbols that are scored in sets at the end of the game. Traits tend to give you many of the same things plus a quick boost to your character. Ally cards enter play and are attached to a Challenge. They make completing the challenge more difficult but give you additional bonuses, rules, or ways to score points at the end of the game.
Once you have three cards from one act you move onto the next. Act two introduces adversary cards. These cards tend to have high difficulties and additional rules that are required to overcome them. However, they’re also worth more points.
One of the rules in Call to Adventure that I feel deserves special attention is what happens when you fail. If you fail at a challenge the card is discarded and replaced, but you also gain an experience point. These can be spent for a variety of different advantages over the course of the game, such as purchasing dark runes for use on a single roll. Experience is also worth points at the end of the game making it a useful resource but also a costly one. I like that you get experience from failure because it means that no action is wasted and we learn more from failure than success so getting experience tokens for it made a nice thematic sense.
You also have a destiny track that measures how your story is going. The track moves between tragedy and triumph. For the purposes of points these are interchangeable. Triumph points are worth no more than tragedy points. However, if you go too far up one side or down the other. Then you won’t be able to play certain cards. There’s a deck of Hero/Anti-Hero cards. You’ll have a hand of these and they add bonuses to rolls or add an element of take that to your opponents depending on what type of card you’re playing. In the beginning you’re at destiny neutral and able to play both types of cards. As the game goes on you’ll start to slide one way or the other. The farther you go on each track the more point you’ll get but it will cut off your ability to play cards from the other end of the spectrum. Additionally, if you slide to far down the tragedy track you go from tragic figure to villain. Anti-Hero cards are powerful and have some impressive bonuses but go too far that way and there is a point penalty for dipping to deep into the well.
Once you’ve finished all three acts, everyone adds their scores and the person with the highest points wins. There is a variant in the rules where you take a moment to tell your heroes story at this point. That’s up to you and your group on whether you wish to do that or not.
I honestly hadn’t heard of this game until a week ago. That said, looking into it I was surprised at how nice it looked and how the rules felt full enough to offer difficult decisions while being simple enough that I could teach the game to younger players. Also, I was very happy with the presentation once I opened the box for the first time. The insert in this was very impressive and showed a lot of attention to detail and care on first glance.
Game Build Quality
Overall, I think the quality here is good. I wish the cards were a bit thicker and the player boards did warp a very small amount that was easy to bend back into shape. The runes are a nice quality plastic and I liked how they felt when thrown.
The rulebook is good but there are some things missing. I wish there was a card anatomy to let us know what specific things were. There were also a couple of places where we had to muscle our way through card text. We were able to figure it out but I’m hoping for a good FAQ in the near future.
The art is beautiful. Some of it is a bit dark but it’s in keeping with the theme of the particular card that it’s used on. There’s never a point where I wasn’t impressed with how everything looked. Some of these were very much poster images. I really wanted a few of these on my wall.
This is a good fun game with a nice bit of thinking and a fine story being told. Even when not doing the narrative variant, I found myself referring to my session as my character’s story. It was never, I’ll do the top of that card. It was I’ll go duel the enemy commander. In my first play through we got to a point where I was taking a lot of military missions, another player had ended up at sea, and we were joking when a third player would get a dragon and come in from the air. We talked about how our kingdom was under siege. It naturally felt a part of the game.
There is some take that to the game that will come in with the Anti-hero cards. It didn’t really affect us all that much but I can see it coming in where players are going for a tragedy heavy game.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 13+ and I think that’s decent. I may try this game with my niece but I suspect that I will have to point out the different options and help her with her end game scoring options. That said, the rules are pretty simple once you get used to how everything fits together. It took a couple of rounds to get our heads in the right place to play this one but once we were there it was full speed ahead.
TLDR: I love this game.
I think Call to Adventure is a ton of fun with a great feel. You can also have different styles at play at once. In my first game one player was focused on the solely mechanics while the rest of us got wrapped up in our stories. Usually a game will force one style of play over the other. In this instance it was very easy for us to enjoy the game while having both styles at play.
There are interesting decisions in this game. When do you buy dark rune, do you push for harder difficulties, and do you focus on one or two ability triggers or spread around your try and amass different types of runes. These are small quick decisions but they lend themselves to the depth of the game.
As for the narrative structure of the game. I like that. The way you end up telling a story, even if you don’t use the variant where you actually tell your story. This game encouraged storytelling without punishing the person who didn’t want to take part in it.
As I said, the rules need a little bit of buffing and a clarification or two. I’d like them to standardize the language a bit on the cards so you know exactly when some cards are played. However, we were able to muscle through that and figure out when things happened.
The narrative of this game is so well developed I think there’s a way you could use this to create a characters background for a role play game. Do you want a good history for you Dungeons & Dragons campaign? Here’s a place for some pretty good ideas.
Beyond the story I like the mechanic. The system of the runes is easy to use once you get a round or two under your belt. I think the rules are pretty easy but the idea of using rune stones made for a such an original twist on the game it took our group a bit to wrap our heads around it. I also like that they have the built in limit of three runes to each attribute. Coupling that with the third rune giving success on one side and a special bonus on the other but not helping with the challenge made it feel like you never had an auto success.
I will always recommend try before you buy when possible. If you can, give this a go. However, if you want a quick evening game that doesn’t take very long and gives you an enriching experience this is a damned fine one.
Other than that I can’t really say more on the subject, but if you have a moment let me tell you about my Farmer who has sworn to protect the weak and defenseless…