No time for opening jokes today with a truly massive game to discuss. Tanrares Adventures is the PvE-centric expansion to the PvP and PvE game Arena the Contest. While technically an expansion, it brings such a massive amount of content it’s being reviewed like it’s a unique game.
Tanares Adventures is a cooperative campaign based board game for 1-8 players that takes 3+ hours to play.
This briefest of overviews will only cover the highlights of each phase of the game.
The Journey Phase is the focus of the game where you select four characters, an adventure card, and embark on some choose-your-own adventure quests that eventually lead you to a tactical battle map where the dungeon crawling happens. Once on the board, players will take turns moving, attacking, and interacting with the environment. The key concept in combat is you have four primary attack abilities, two special attacks, a basic attack and you can select one to use each turn. The primary attacks and one of your item cards can be refreshed once all of them have been used while the special attacks are once per scenario.
Characters roll a d20 to attack. Many of the enemies have defenses of five to eight so hits are frequent. Attacks do between 5 and 20+ points of damage when you hit and some attacks do small amounts of residual damage when you miss. But enemies hit just as hard and have 35 to 70+ health so you’re not going to one-shot them. Players also have four skills they can use on other players’ or villains’ turns that can help turn the tide of each battle. These skills are activated by spending experience that you get by defeating enemies. And after a skill has been used once, the cost to use it increases by one until all four have been used, a special effect happens, and then the costs reset.
As you defeat enemies, you’ll unlock events that set up the next stage of the scenario and it’ll continue until you succeed or fail. You’ll collect loot cards at the end of the adventure and mark down improvements to various factions and other items as indicated on the quest card that will impact your campaign.
The city phase takes place after most journey phases. In this phase, each player will use four cards drawn from a deck of characters to accomplish various tasks such as upgrading your buildings, collecting more loot, gaining NPCs (who will improve your deck), revealing item cards to purchase, and culling your character deck of the starting riff-raff. Each character gets one turn to spend all their cards as efficiently as possible with some NPCs having special abilities that allow them to activate when it’s not their turn.
After every four journey phases, there’s a world phase. This is similar to the city phase except it takes place on the world map and is a significant source of upgrades to your faction reputations. In this phase you’ll place the completed quest cards in regions (which will provide various boosts), then you’ll place each hero in an area and try to accomplish as much as you can with your hand of four cards plus your character’s abilities.
Throughout the game you’ll gain and lose quest cards based on previous decisions until you get to the final boss encounters that conclude the campaign.
I’m 12 scenarios through a campaign of Tanares Adventures and I can already see that this offers far more replay value than almost any other narrative-based dungeon crawler I can think of. For a spoiler-free example, I went on a quest to a town with a problem and during the journey phase, I learned of an item that could help address the problem. I chose to go after the item and went through a different scenario than if I had stayed on task. I’d often agonize between picking two seemingly important quests and after completing one the other would be removed and I’d note something on my campaign page for the future. A Tanares Adventures campaign is 22 scenarios plus up to seven final encounters which is only about a quarter of the 100+ the original campaign promised although some content is locked behind expansions such as the dragon collection.
The game’s mechanics are simple, but the challenge comes in maximizing the use of your abilities. Part of the planning is manipulating the AI. Each enemy color has a preferred target that you can exploit who they target and the path to them. This ends up being deceptively complicated as you calculate shortest and safest pathways for them to traverse. But with clever positioning, you can get the enemy to hurt or even eliminate themselves getting to their desired target because love stops at nothing, including lava.
The scenario design has been fantastic offering a wide variety of experiences using additional mechanics. One of them had me trying to position barrels and figures on sheets of ice to break them open to cause damage while another had me trying to re-position portals and an enemy to vanquish them. Another was almost a side-scroller as we traveled down a road while yet another was a race across a collapsing structure. Challenges that grant extra loot when completed also add to the replay value.
Character leveling in Tanares is deeper than Arena’s generic boosts with improved primary attack cards and items that are unlocked through improving buildings during the city phase. The ability cards are all cool but I did feel like my characters were becoming more generic as the campaign progressed as I replaced their characters’ starting ability cards with role-specific ones. Using skills when not your turn is a little counterintuitive, and possibly more challenging for a solo player (which is how I’ve been playing), but it would keep everyone at the table engaged.
The games, including a semi-laborious setup time, can run 3+ hours but with the improved storage in the upcoming campaign, that should be a little faster. A second potential issue is table sprawl despite the fixed sized map. However, comrades offer simplified character builds to use that takes up less space and are easier to control. This game with four full characters will gloriously, and unforgivingly, sprawl across most tables.
The game is also very dense with a long rulebook and several other books to jump between so it may take a few adventures to fully click and I found I was still making little mistakes for several scenarios. It took two city and two world phases to fully understand how those worked and to feel like I had internalized the game’s flow. This is a game that takes some effort to shine and has been well worth the effort. Dragori games provided two documents (enhancements, tutorial) that can be helpful for getting organized and started while also providing some rules light variants. It also contains the campaign and save sheets you can print out.
Players can also swap characters based on new characters they’ve unlocked through their adventures allowing for some team customization for specific missions and with each role playing differently you won’t feel stuck with a character you don’t like. Meanwhile, every character role I’ve tried between AtC and Tanares Adventures has been a blast to play.
Lastly, like Arena, Tanares Adventures has puzzles to solve for rewards at various points. One of them was decoding some characters to unlock an object. The elemental puzzles are small mini-games in the vein of Mastermind and I haven’t tried the lockpicking puzzles yet further illustrating how much game there is.
I’m thoroughly enjoying Tanares Adventures and I’m excited for the new crowdfunding campaign to see the reorganized books and improved game storage solution. The depth of the system hiding beneath the simple engine takes some time to grasp but is worth investing the time to learn. And some of my grumblings sound like they’ll be addressed during the next campaign. Tanares Adventures has become one of my favorite dungeon crawlers due to its combination of level design, puzzles, and a world full of lore.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – Tanares Adventures is a fantastic dungeon crawler with branching narrative and clever scenario design that rewards strategic planning.
• Journey phase choices can change which scenario is experienced and the overall campaign
• Tons of party customization options
• Replayable narrative based game
• Clever and interesting scenario design
• Players are engaged when it’s not their turn
• Steep learning curve and it’s easy to miss small details
• Characters can feel a bit generic within their role as they level up
• Counterintuitive that skills are used on other player’s turns