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Subject: Venture Forth review rss

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Marieke Franssen
Netherlands
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I've played Venture Forth with a group of friends in Essen, and liked it enough to buy it. We played it again right after Essen, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on the game.

Overview of the game
In Venture Forth, players gather a group of adventurers that can complete quests (called 'ambitions' in the game) to gain victory points. Each adventurer has their own personal quest that they want to complete as many times as they can. Unlike most adventuring games, this one starts with a mostly empty map; filling the map with adventurers and enemies is part of the game.

On their turn, players can do one of several actions. The two main choices are:
- placing an encounter card on an empty square on the map and
- walking along a completed path (with no empty squares) and encountering every card on it (this is called 'venture forth' in the game).

Encounter cards are either adventurers or enemies. Playing a card onto the map gives you some resources (gold or willpower), which you can later use to recruit new adventurers, complete quests and allow your adventurers to increase their strength for an encounter. Some squares allow you to place an explore token along a path on the map. These give rewards to the player who next walks along that path. The reward can be gold or treasure cards. However, some of the bigger rewards also give you despair tokens, which are worth -3 victory points at the end of the game. You want to get rid of these before the game ends. The treasure cards can be used during the game for their one-time special ability, or saved up for victory points at the end.
When you walk along a completed path, you encounter the cards placed there. Adventurers can be recruited into the party by paying gold. Enemies can be defeated by your party; the party simply needs to be at least as strong as the enemy. You can use willpower to double the strength of an adventurer. If you can't defeat the enemy, it will demand a price in gold or willpower from the party, or give the party some despair tokens.

The adventurers each have a personal quest that they can complete during certain encounters. The quests are about encountering or recruiting adventurers and encountering or defeating enemies. For instance, the poet needs to encounter an enemy with strength 10 or higher to be able to complete his quest. Every time an adventurer completes a quest, you can spend willpower to earn some victory points, or a bit more willpower to earn more victory points and level up. There are three levels; the first two provide victory points and remove despair tokens on completing a quest, while level 3 gives only victory points on completing a quest but also a special ability that can be used during the game.

Apart from playing cards or walking a path, a player can also choose to do a temple action. Temples are preprinted on the map and are the endpoints of the various paths. You can do the action that belongs to the temple where your pawn is currently standing. Temple actions include things like exchanging money for willpower and teleporting to another temple. Lastly, a player can choose to discard some or all of their cards on their turn, and then refill their hand.
The game ends when the last explore token is placed onto the map (each player gets a final turn). The player with the most victory points then wins the game. Willpower and treasures are worth some victory points at the end.

My thoughts on the game
First of all, I'd like to mention that the game doesn't really play like a classical adventure game or dungeon crawl. It isn't a game where one quest is followed up by the next, you don't dress up your adventurers in fancy armor or weapons, and the adventurers don't increase in strength as they level up (except for the special ability at level 3). This does absolutely not mean that it's a bad game though; you just shouldn't be expecting to play a shorter version of Talisman. In fact, the gameplay feels pretty unique to me, with quite a few novel concepts. I'll talk about the things that seem interesting to me and also some of the things that still concern me about the game.

Encounter cards
Since they both build the adventuring paths on the map and are your major source of resources, there's some interesting decisions to make here. Generally, the options seem to be:
-Play a card onto a path near your own pawn, to make that path better for you
-Play a card onto a path square that gives you a type of resource you want
-Use a card to make a path near an opponent more difficult to cross (for instance, by putting a very strong enemy onto it)
-Use a card to make a path near an opponent less interesting, by using a card that is no use to any of his adventurers' quests. (This one I'm not sure about yet, it seems to be a viable option later in the game.)
Of course, you prefer to combine the 'get some resources' option with one of the other ones, but that can be hard to achieve sometimes, especially as the map fills up and not as many empty path squares remain. Generally, playing a good card onto your own path is good for you, but if that means you complete a path that you can't really profit from yet because you're short on resources to recruit or complete a quest, it may be better to hang onto the card for now. Also, when two pawns are adjacent to the same path, you run the risk of someone else recruiting or defeating your good cards before your next turn. Another thing to consider is when to discard some cards from your hand for new ones. This can feel a bit like 'skipping a turn' but in fact it seems to be a very useful option to consider. At the start of the game you can annoy your opponents by placing powerful enemies onto their paths, but later in the game your opponent will probably simply kill them, and maybe complete a quest in the process.

Resources
Willpower seems to be pretty scarce in the game, especially since you can never have enough of it: the more you have, the more completed quests you can turn into victory points. Willpower is bound to a certain adventurer when you get it, so you want to make sure you distribute it in a good way. Especially at the start of the game you will often have to choose between defeating an enemy by using willpower to increase an adventurer's strength, and saving the willpower for quest completion and paying the enemy tribute when it defeats you. The game is not all about resource management though, but it is a factor to consider.
Next there's two ways to use treasure cards: for their special abilities during the game (one use only) or for victory points at the end. Especially for treasure cards with high victory point values this can be a tough decision, even more so when the game nears its end and the final victory point count approaches.

Collecting and managing adventurers
This is the part where I feel there's still more to the game than I've discovered so far. There are tons of adventurers in the encounter deck, each with a different quest. They all have strength 1, 2 or 3. It may be a good idea to pick adventurers with many different quests so there's lots of ways to gain victory points. On the other hand, it may also work to find adventurers with similar quests, so you can complete multiple quests on one encounter. There's also the total strength of your party to consider: the stronger the party, the less willpower you will have to spend to defeat enemies. I'm also not sure yet whether you want to level up as many adventurers as possible to get a lot of level 3 special abilities, or to get one or two adventurers to level 3 and then complete their quest as often as possible to get the higher amount of victory points. I'm looking forward to finding out what options will work well there.

Two player playability
My second play was a two-player game. So far the game seems to work well with two players. You have slightly more control because there is a smaller chance that someone else will be adjacent to the same path as you, which means you can safely complete a path and count on being to walk along it yourself on your next turn. Other than that, the level of interaction doesn't decrease.

Degree of randomness
This is my main concern about the game. Since you draw cards randomly from the encounter deck, it's possible to be stuck with a hand of useless cards, and if that happens to you several times in a row, it can make you feel bogged down. The encounter cards can only be placed near cards or temples of the same color, which means that sometimes you need a specific color to complete your own path. It can be very frustrating if you keep missing out on that color. However, discarding your hand once or twice will usually solve this situation. Also, there are enough turns per player in a game to make this happen to everyone a couple of times and to make missing out a turn less painful. So far I think the randomness of the cards is not going to be a problem, especially considering the length of the game: 60-75 minutes. Still, I'll need more plays to be sure.

Conclusion
I'm very glad I added this game to our collection. It’s fun to play, and different from most games that take about the same amount of time to play. It has interesting choices to make that are at the same time not too complex. It's a refreshing alternative for a number of one-hour euro games that we have kind of played to death by now, especially because it's something of a cross between a euro game and an adventure game.
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Andy Andersen
United States
Michigan
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Very nice review. Thank you.
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Dan Manfredini
United States
Austin
Texas
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Thanks for the great review Marieke! I agree with you that managing your party is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. Do I recruit a lot of guys or just a few? (Personally three is what I tend to like). Who should I level up and when? Should I recruit adventurers with complimentary ambitions or get a variety? Who should get the will? Who should get the despair? Have fun exploring all of the combinations!
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Patrick Leder
United States
Saint Paul
Minnesota
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For me one of the joys of learning the game was watching Dan try to and almost beat us with 1 adventurer. This is a great design I really look forward to owning and playing it.
 
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Homer S.
Germany
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Good review. I second your impression and got me a copy of that fine game in Essen, too. For me it was - sadly - one of the most overlooked games at the fair.
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