Deep in the forgotten parts of the jungle lies a terrible secret. Many secrets actually, and it’s up to you, the intrepid adventurer to explore this dark river jungle to uncover the secrets that lie within. Why you ask? For fame of course… and maybe some money too.
That’s the theme behind the new dice rolling game Ancient Terrible Things by Pleasant Company Games. This pulp, dice rolling game funded on Kickstarter in 2013 and is now on store shelves vying for your gaming dollar. With some slick looking visuals and familiar game play, does Ancient Terrible Things have the legs to make it on your crowded gaming shelf? Lets find out!
Ancient Terrible Things is a dice rolling game for 2-4 players that takes about 45-60 minutes. Ancient Terrible Things plays well with any number of players.
In Ancient Terrible Things, the goal is try to score the most victory points. How do you do that? By overcoming an “Ominous Encounter” each round and unlocking its “Ancient Secrets.” To accomplish this, players will be rolling dice to try while trying to hit a specific combination of results. They will have 3 rolls to hit their target result, which varies between high numbers, 3 of a kind, pairs and runs.
Throughout these attempts, players will be using equipment and playing feat cards to make these tasks just a little bit easier. If the dice are favorable, you’ll unlock the Ancient Secret and earn victory points. If not, you’ll unleash a “Terrible Thing”, which will earn you negative victory points at the end of the game. Once players have made it through all the encounters, the game ends and the player with the most victory points is the winner.
The thing that first attracted me to Ancient Terrible Things was its stellar artwork. I really enjoy the pulp feeling to the drawings and it find that it fits perfectly with the theme of the game. I think artist Rob Van Zyl did an absolute bang up job with the artwork in Ancient Terrible Things and I consider it to be a strong point of the game.
Moving on, the game comes with a large number of die-cut tokens printed on heavy stock. I have no worries that these will hold up to regular use. There is a large game board that goes in the middle of the table to house various cards during the game and each player gets a character board that also doubles as a turn order summary.
All together, first time publisher Pleasant Company Games did a wonderful job putting together Ancient Terrible Things and I think this bodes well for future games they might publish.
How to Play:
To setup the game, each player selects a character to use and collects the corresponding board and token. Other than their starting bonus token, the characters differ only in color. Then, the various decks (encounter, equipment and feat) are shuffled and placed on their respective spots on the game board. Finally, six cards are drawn from the top of the encounter deck and placed in the “Fateful Locations” along with their specific bonus token.
Starting with the first player, each player takes a turn which is divided into 7 parts:
1. Riverboat Phase – This phase is skipped unless all the encounter locations are empty. If they are, then all six locations are all refilled.
2. Explore Phase – Move your pawn to one of the 6 encounter locations. Then collect any token on that space and take the location action (optional). These actions will let you do things like collect more tokens, trade in cards or grab the first player marker.
3. Desperation Phase – Each encounter card has an Ancient Secret value in the upper left that also doubles as its Victory Point amount. Instead of fighting the encounter, a player can discard courage tokens equal to the Ancient Secret value to instantly beat it.
4. Encounter Phase – Each encounter card will have some dice faces on the bottom of the card. These are the target rolls a player has to achieve to overcome the encounter. These will vary from high numbers to three of a kind to runs. All should feel familiar to anyone that has played Yahtzee. A player has up to 2 re-rolls they can make after their initial roll. When doing a re-roll, a player can either re-roll all the dice or spend focus tokens to re-roll specific dice. A player can also play a feat card to help overcome the encounter. After the rolling has finished, a player can spend the dice to overcome the encounter (if possible) and/or achieve scenario goals (acquire tokens).
5. Terrible Thing Phase – If a player failed to overcome the encounter, the card is discarded and they take a Terrible Thing token from the side of the board. These equal negative victory points at the end of the game.
6. Trading Phase – A player’s pawn is moved to the trading post and they can optionally buy any of the three face up item cards.
7. Refresh Phase – A player refills their hand to 3 feat cards and any used items are available again.
After this the next player takes their turn. Play continues in this manner until either all the encounter cards are gone or all Terrible Things tokens have been claimed. Players then total up their victory points and the one with the most is the winner.
After reading the rules, my first thought was “Hey, this game is just like Yahtzee.” I’m sure you won’t be shocked to hear that was not a good thought as I’m not a very big fan of that game. Fortunately, while it does share some mechanics with that mass-market game, it’s way better and vastly more fun.
One design decision that I love about Ancient Terrible Things was the inclusion of the scenario cards. These give players another way to spend dice on their turn. That way if you completely fail on your rolls to overcome an encounter (which will happen), your turn won’t be a total loss. The scenario cards let you spend dice to earn any of the games 4 different currencies (depending on the dice you have to spend). It was really a brilliant move by the designer, as not only does that give players options on their turn, but also can set them up to succeed on a future turn by giving them tokens they will sorely need. I’ve also read strategies of people purposely failing early encounters (when the Terrible Thing tokens are low in value) to stock up on tokens and items. It’s that kind of flexibility that helps Ancient Terrible Things be such an entertaining game.
We’ve had a lot of fun with this game and I was actually a bit surprised that I could have that much fun with mechanics that inspired by Yahtzee. The game is very easy to learn (especially for anyone who has played Yahtzee in the past) and the turns go by pretty quickly. That’s definitely a good thing because there isn’t a whole lot to do when it’s not your turn, other than root against your opponents.
I mentioned earlier how much I love the artwork and think it works really well with the theme of the game. That being said, I’ve heard Ancient Terrible Things described as a thematic game. I probably wouldn’t go that far though. While there are some great graphics and even quotes on the cards, there is a pretty strong disconnect between the mechanics of the game and the theme. Ancient Terrible Things always felt like a dice rolling game, not really an exploration one. But that’s OK. I’m not playing Ancient Terrible Things for a deep, thematic experience. I’m playing it because it’s a game I can dive into quickly and is a ton of fun.
As with any dice rolling game, your fun will also be tied to how well lady luck treats you. Thankfully, designer Simon McGregor did a great job of giving players different ways of reigning in the mistress of luck. In addition to the aforementioned scenario cards, there are also equipment cards and feat cards. Both of these will not only let you modify rolls, but also interact with your opponents. There are also some equipment cards that will give you other ways to score victory points, adding to the flexibility of your strategies. Even if you have some unlucky rolls, you still have a chance of turning things to your favor.
If I had a complaint about Ancient Terrible Things, it’s that I wish there were more encounter cards. In a 4 player game you will be using all of them, so it won’t be long until you are seeing the same ones over and over. Perhaps a future expansion will providing some extra variety.
Ancient Terrible Things ended up taking mechanics from an old and popular game that I despise and turning it on its head into something that looks and plays great. If Yahtzee were fun, it would be Ancient Terrible Things. The nice thing about using these familiar mechanics is that anyone who has played Yahtzee will have no issues jumping in quickly with Ancient Terrible Things. There are many dice rolling games out there, and while some of the mechanics for Ancient Terrible Things aren’t new, the game still feels fresh in its own right.
At the end of the day, we’ve just had a lot of fun with Ancient Terrible Things. It’s even replaced Elder Sign as the heavy dice rolling game of choice for our group. If you are in the market for an easy to learn game that’s really well put together, then this one is absolutely worth checking out. And here’s hoping they have an expansion in the works, which I’d snap up in a second.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, you can get it for about $50.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great dice rolling game that’s both easy to learn and full of clever game play options. Well worth a spot in your game library.
• Needs more encounter cards