The new hotness, as I type this and look at my shelves, is Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood. A huge box (or three) that contains a choose-your-own adventure story punctuated with a boss battle. There’s a reprint campaign for it as I type this and from my first two plays it’s a great game.
But wait, you’re probably thinking, isn’t this a review for Adventure Tactics: Domianne’s Tower?
Yes, yes it is. And that’s where I’m going to say that these games are similar in scope. So if waiting for the Deepwood or reading the story has you depressed, may I suggest taking a look at a vibrant alternative?
The story portions of Adventure Tactics are much shorter than Oathsworn with significantly less world building. And the combat engines are different. But they both use cards, have boss decks, are intimidating to sort, and have semi-colons in their names so they’re practically twins.
Adventure Tactics is a game for one or more players playing three to five characters in this campaign based tactical skirmish game.
Each character starts with one of the five starting classes: Archer, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, or Wizard with each one having a unique class feature card and a deck constructed of several unique cards, and some basic movement and basic attack cards.
Each section of the game has some story and usually one or more choices to make that lead you to an encounter. The book even annotates if one of these is more difficult which is appreciated by someone who prefers a Care Bear-esque gaming life.
The campaign book shows how to set up the encounter including the boss cards that will drive the AI during enemy turns. Then you shuffle the chunky initiative poker chips for each hero with two enemy tokens to determine the order of activation. On their turn, each character can take two actions after drawing their hand back up to four cards.
Those actions can be summarized as:
• Play a card from their hand of four or that is already equipped on their player board
• Prepare a class feature card or equip an equipment card to use in the future
• Discard a card to move half of your base movement
When characters attack, they roll the color dice indicated on the card played or their hero card if using a basic attack. The dice are White (1-3), Red (2-5), Blue (3-5), and Black (1-6), and the result is the damage inflicted. Each encounter will have its own special rules in effect so some attacks may be reduced, but in general what you roll is what you get.
You can either succeed, succeed with a bonus requirement, or fail each encounter. With each outcome comes leveling up (more on that in a bit) and some rewards that might be bags of gold (the currency in-game), items, or perks. Failing may come with some penalties like reduced health for the next encounter or some other small penalty.
Leveling up allows each character to either gain a new level in their current class or any other class. Each level comes with additional health and ability cards and the ability to swap in and out some basic attack and move cards. Once you meet the requirements for an elite class you can level up to it. There can only be one of each special class but several character levels within each of the basic classes.
Adventure Tactics is simultaneously streamlined yet has some meaty tactical decisions. Each battle through the first act has been unique and interesting with some varied goals that have ranged from defeating all enemies to making it across the enemy-filled map. And the allure of leveling up has me invested into seeing how my characters advance (I’m playing two players with two characters each) and how I can make them interact better between them. You feel powerful when you can drop a whole pile of mobs with a fireball spell and then helpless as you discard a good card to move 2 spaces.
And as somebody with bad dice luck, I really appreciate that you can’t miss your attack. Granted that one damage isn’t going to bring the boys to the yard, but Kelis’ milkshakes are apparently just better than my rolling poorly. Overall while playing it reminded me a little bit of the boss battles in MMO’s where there are often special tactics needed to win and you needed people to tank the boss, heal the tank, damage the boss, and deal with the riff-raff.
But, much like running into a new dungeon with a bunch of newbs without knowing the strategy, there was one encounter that I absolutely hated and it felt like a slog of managing a nuisance mob spawning, beating some McGuffins so I could hit the boss with anything better than white dice. And the boss kept respawning the McGuffins putting us into a very elongated loop of wasting time not hitting the boss to get only have the McGuffin respawned before paying any dividends for defeating it. Sure, it was bad luck that caused that respawn three times in a row within a turn of taking it out, but it was demoralizing. We eventually gave up, read the failure text, and moved on.
Luckily the encounter after that restored my faith and was challenging but fun. But noticing that by not getting the success+ results (along with a couple of fails) has me wondering if we’ve unintentionally selected hard mode as we proceed forward short on money, perks, and items. And while I really enjoy the fail forward aspect of the game, does there become a point where it just becomes too hard? So far the answer is no in Act I. Each encounter has its own unique rules that usually revolve around the boss’ behavior and some new mechanic they’re unleashing on you. This keeps the game interesting but is also an opportunity to miss some rules every time you play.
The game comes with minis and standees for the heroes and their summons and standees for the enemies. While I typically prefer minis over standees I prefer the standees here as the minis are significantly smaller. Another advantage is as you take on elite classes the standees can be swapped to match your new look. The only downside is there’s only one character shown for each elite class, so my elderly white male wizard just became a young black female warlock who’s a twin of the Bishop.
Leveling up after each encounter is awesome. Gaining gear (from encounters) and new abilities (leveling up) is fun and getting to plan out what you want your character to be when they grow up is interesting. And since you can’t try all the combinations, I think that’s where a lot of the replay value comes in. There are some branching paths that also add to the replay value as you can try different things and see how those encounters go but I’m presuming that it’s largely the same with a few short or long cuts around specific encounters.
One of my biggest complaints with Adventure Tactics is fitting the game back into the box. I have yet to get it all in without a small amount of box lift and that’s still with one of the tuck boxes for the heroes still flattened. Organizing the game also takes some time and some cards aren’t intuitive where you’d find them when instructed to. I was expecting story perks to have the header of the same color in the book (yellow) but they’re just perks (blue or red).
Despite the cartoony art style, Adventure Tactics is not a kid’s game—t’s a bright and vibrant boss battler that could be a good fit for fans of the genre. While I enjoyed the battles and narrative leveling up after each one was my favorite part as I mix and matched the starting classes to build up to a unique elite class.
Final Score: 4 Stars – This fun tactical skirmish/boss battler game features constant leveling up to uniquely build your characters
• Large box seems a tad too small
• That one mission that sucked the fun out of the room
• Minis and standees are vastly different sizes