[In this issue, we are pleased to welcome a new voice to our pages: Sarah Pruzansky. In describing herself, Sarah says:
“Sarah Pruzansky has always loved the art of storytelling – from drawing her own imaginative animal species as a child, to watching the captivating storylines unfold while playing Crash Bandicoot video games, to designing stories and characters in her head as she plays board games such as Evolution and Terraforming Mars. As a professional blogger and aspiring novelist, she loves games that give her the tools to start creating. And she also has quite a bit of the competitive streak, so if she has the opportunity to win and gloat, she’ll probably take it.”
And take it she does as she heeds a Call to Adventure!]
Reviewed by Sarah Pruzansky
CALL TO ADVENTURE (Brotherwise Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 30-45 minutes; $39.95)
Storytelling dates back to the B.C. era when the first stories were printed on stone pillars. And that’s just printed storytelling – oral tales go back even further. The act of captivating an audience with a thrilling recap of events or detailed creation of fantasy creatures and individuals, is ingrained in our human nature. Today, we still bring characters to life through printed books, board games, movies, video games, and more. But how does a character go from something that seems utterly fictional to one that you feel emotionally attached to, no matter how fantastical their world may seem?It’s the character’s traits, the choices they make, and their resulting destiny, that make them come to life. Whether you’re looking to build a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, write a novel, or just spend up to an hour creating your own story, then Call to Adventure, a hero crafting tabletop game designed by Chris and Johnny O’Neal, may be right up your alley.
Here’s how Call to Adventure opens up a whole new world to storytelling:
You start the game with an origin card and a motivation card that everyone else can follow along as you tell your story. You also have a destiny card to keep secret from the rest of the players, to be revealed at the end of the game.
Each player is dealt two of each that they can choose from to set up the base of their character’s story.
I personally love a good villain story, so twice while playing I’ve chosen the secret destiny of becoming a villain, while choosing character cards and playing for story cards throughout the game to fulfill my destiny.
The game is separated into three different acts, getting more difficult as the game continues. Each act has its own story cards in which you’re tasked with acquiring three per act. Each round you have your opportunity to acquire a card by selecting which card you’d like to attempt.
Each card has its own specific rules on how to acquire it, oftentimes by casting runes. Challenge cards have two options for which path you can take (aside from adversary quest cards and ally cards), which will give you certain rewards (additional traits and/or story icons). If you fail when casting runes, you get experience tokens instead of the card. Other trait cards are a free grab instead of playing for a challenge card, so long as your character meets the requirements of the card.
You’re granted three runes each time you play for a challenge card, with the option to purchase dark runes at the risk of corruption. You can then add on runes for your specific traits (knowledge, strength, dexterity, etc.). The more runes you roll, the higher chance you have of acquiring the card for your story.
Throughout the game, there is a destiny track to determine essentially how triumphant or tragic your character is. As you play, this determines whether or not you’re able to play hero or antihero cards, additional cards you acquire throughout the game that gives you additional abilities as you play. If you’re too triumphant, you can’t play antihero cards. If you’re too tragic, you can’t play hero cards. If you stay right in the middle, you can play both.
But at the end of the game, you can acquire four extra points for having a certain amount of triumph, or four extra points for a certain amount of tragedy. But go too tragic, and you’ll lose points. Throughout the game, it’s important to keep an eye on your corruption as you play for dark runes, strategize with hero and antihero cards, and strive to win the game.
You accumulate points by choosing cards with light and dark diamonds, saving experience tokens, collecting story icons, picking up cards that align with the instructions on your destiny card, and more. But mostly, staying on theme (picking cards with matching traits and story icons to what you have) is an easy way to accumulate points while simultaneously having your story make the most sense. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
So how playable is this game? My first play-through took some time to learn, as learning most games does. My one hour game extended into a full afternoon of learning. Granted, I didn’t mind as I was enthralled by the excitement of building my character and telling her story. After learning the first time, play-through was fairly quick (less than an hour) in all other plays.
One aspect of the game that I struggled with was that some runes within the trait runes have special abilities. But you can only use these special runes once you have three of that trait. This was confusing with storing the runes during gameplay. I kept accidentally grabbing that special rune to cast during play when I could only grab one rune. Therefore, the storage could be improved. This is easy to solve by creating your own separate storage system for special runes. Or by looking before you throw… I guess I’d just get excited and forget to check.
I also had trouble remembering the names of the different traits – they are all represented by symbols. On the character mat, there are images of the different symbols but I would’ve liked a cheat sheet explaining what each trait is instead of having to reference the rulebook each time it was my turn.
I didn’t win the first time, but this game is fun regardless of who wins or loses because of the compelling story-telling aspect of the game. Each player has a chance to tell their story, and you can have a great story and still not win. Either way, you’re bound to have a good time, and it’s hard to tell who will win until everyone calculates their points. You can even play this game solo or in co-op mode.
I’ll admit that it is very easy in this game to get caught up in your own story and not get involved in the stories others are telling. A remedy for this is to tell your story as if it’s going on in the same world as the characters of the other players. That opens the game up to finding ways all of your stories correlate, turning the game into something that involves more socialization, since the competitiveness isn’t a critical aspect of the game.
This isn’t to say that you can’t play this game competitively though. Antihero cards allow you to do actions such as blocking other players from being able to cast runes for a specific challenge. So if you are competitive, don’t worry. You can still have fun wreaking havoc on your fellow players. (But the game technically has a solo play option as well.)
One of the best features of Call to Adventure though is its replayability. Because there are so many different ways to combine cards, no game is quite like the last. Even when I had the destiny of a villain in two separate games, my path to getting there was completely different than the last. And the game is only going to become more replayable. I’m excited to try out The Name Of The Wind expansion and The Stormlight Archive standalone expansion inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s novel series.
Call to Adventure both looks and feels good to play. With the beautiful artwork on the cards to the feeling of the acrylic runes in your hands to the fun of deepening your voice and narrating your character’s story, Call to Adventure immerses you into a childlike state of play. From mechanics to theming to replayability, Call to Adventure is going to be at many more of my board game nights and it definitely deserves an appearance at yours. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sarah Pruzansky
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