A Review of Adventure Tactics: Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Adventure Tactics: Domianne’s Tower is a cooperative dungeon-crawl/adventuring game for 1-5 Players.

Adventure Tactics was on Kickstarter August 2019 or so and just delivered a few days ago (Dec. 20 2020).  I would have played it earlier, but Adventure Tactics is a big heavy box that looks like it demands some time.  As a Kickstarter backer, I also got an extra adventure book and the first expansion (with a few more characters, see below).

Components

This is a big box full of stuff! A lot of the cardboard is either shrink wrapped or in little plastic bags (see picture above).

One of the first things you find when open the box is the Class Guide: this really gives you a sense of what to expect in the game: the art style and what to expect inside the box. As expected: everyone will take the role of a one class and do some adventuring!

Each player will get their own player board (notice the class is hard-coded into the lower right corner).

Note that the hit point counters are recessed so it’s easier to keep the hit point markers stable. Nice touch!

There’s quite a bit of content here!

Right away, you see the campaign guide: this is a fairly thick campaign guide. It’s very clear this is a campaign adventuring game that will take place over multiple plays!

There’s TONS of little cardboard components (for hit point markers, monsters, and some other tokens). See above!

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There’s also a few cardboard tiles (see above) that are used as a play area.

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Wow!  Still more stuff!  We can see TONS and TONS of cards in shrink wrap, some miniatures for the characters, some initiative tokens, and a bunch of plastic bases, dice, and cubes!  So much stuff!

 

The miniatures are quite nice (if unpainted) and it’s pretty easily correlate the miniature to their particular character.

The initiative tokens (used to indicate the order of players and monsters during the game) are really nice, heavy poker chips. They kind of remind me of the poker chips from Splendor! They are really nice!

There are a lot of cards. But, they are all very nice, linen-finished, and easily readable.

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In general, there are a lot of very good quality components!

 

Unboxing

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We are doing the unboxing as a separate section for one reason: it was a lot of work. There’s the general “expected” unboxing work (punching cardboard, taking plastic wrap off), but Adventure Tactics seemed to be a lot harder to unbox than most games for one reason: the cards.

There are a LOT of cards. There’s all the cards in the first section (see avove) and all the cards in the second section (see below) …

 

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So, it took me several hours to unbox the game. After you do the normal unboxing, you have to take the cards and sort them by type (Basic Moves, etc like the dividers above). The game comes with nice dividers, and a good number of the cards are labelled BUT NOT ALL OF THEM!

The first page of the rulebook (see above) talks about how to sort the cards, but the cards aren’t always clearly labelled. It’s perhaps more frustrating because some of the cards are! I spent an hour and a half pouring through the cards trying to discover where they all went (see picture below). Even after all that, I’m still not convinced I got them all in the right spots. As annoying as that was (I won’t say frustrating, just annoying), it was probably important for me to see/handle/sort all the different cards so I would know all the cards in the game.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is big with big fonts.  The first few pages do what’s expected in modern rulebooks: components first!

Interestingly, set-up is NOT the next section: we start into rules!

So, you should be able to see that the rulebook is big and friendly and warming: there’s a lot of pictures, and the font is actually quite big! (I like bigger fonts in my rulebooks!)

But this rulebook … has some issues. It doesn’t “really” help you get into your first game very well. This game really needs a tutorial/first play set-up.

The game is all about fighting and levelling up you character: that’s very clear from the first few pages of the game. If you enjoy that, this is your game.

In general the rulebook was “good enough”, and I found all the rules I needed (for example: see above for a nice description). I have played a LOT of Dungeons and Dragons and other board games in my life, and I had trouble setting this up and getting going. I think a first-time set-up/tutorial would go a LOOONG way towards making that first play more fun.

Solo Play

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The game always requires that there be 3-5 characters in the game (see above).  This means that the solo gamer will be playing 3 characters right away.   I remember when I was first setting up, I sighed inwardly when I read this rule.  I was barely getting through getting one character set-up and going, and now I was going to have to play 3. 

I don’t think this would be so bad if I didn’t feel like every step of my first play-through and set-up was a fight.  The thought of playing three characters just seems very daunting, especially for the first play-through, which will probably be a solo game for a lot of people.

First Set-Up

My first set-up went poorly.   I had to find all the cards that each player needs and that was more difficult than expected: the rulebook isn’t very good at showing pictures of that first set-up.   For example, the only real picture the rulebook shows is this:

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BUT … the extra slots are only filled after you’ve found all the cards!!!!  It’s not clear (again, this is the first-set-up) that all the cards in the player set-up picture HAVE TO BE EARNED IN THE ADVENTURE.  You start out with practically nothing.   And what cards do you start with?  The CLASS Guide shows one set of cards, and the STARTER card shows a slightly different set! See below!

I made a decision that the starter card is probably the extra cards I start with, but the rules didn’t say anything about it and the cards/CLASS GUIDE were inconsistent.

Once I got through everything (which took sometime as I had to keep correcting things), it looked good.

… or did I?  Oops! See above! the CLASS FEATURE card (which is not marked) goes INTO your deck, and ONLY comes out to the center position when it is played.  Again, not clear.

In the end, it took me just as long to set-up as it did to unbox.   I was moving from annoyed to grumpy, BUT I realize this is a one-time thing!  Once I’ve gotten through the set-up and unboxing once, I don’t think these will be issues in the future.  The game does look nice when it’s all set-up.

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Initiative

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The nicest components of the game were the initiative tokens!  They kind of work like the initiative cards in Aeon’s End: players shuffle the really nice tokens and spread them out.  The monster gets 2 tokens, and the players get “however many characters they are playing”.

Recall that we HATED this initiative system in Aeon’s End! Why?  Because it’s possible the monsters can go 4 turns in a row!  We house ruled this in Aeon’s End (see Seven House Rules in Cooperative Games) so that the monster can never go more than 2 turns in a row, and I suspect you’d want a house-rule like this.   The thing is, there are actually at least two mechanisms to mitigate this in Adventure Tactics:

  1. The Archer can move up or down one in the initiative order with the Passive Skill
  2. The Revive potion can be discard to re-shuffle the initiative order

Since there is SOME mechanism to mitigate this turn order thing, maybe you and your group don’t need the House Rule.  But I suspect the House Rule will the game more fun.

Deck Building vs. Deck Advancement

When I first was playing Adventure Tactics, I was thinking “this is a deck-building game”.  But I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

I reviewed Etherfields here a few weeks ago here, and I called Etherfields a deck-building game at its core.  While I think this is technically correct (as Etherfields calls itself a deck-builder), I think it’s more of a deck-advancement game.   The following question that differentiates the two: How fast can you add new cards into your deck?  If the answer is “during main gameplay” (like Dominion or Aeon’s End or any game from my Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games), then I would call that a deck-builder.  If you tend to make your deck “better” after you play (like adding upgrades for the NEXT game you play), then I would call that a deck-advancement game.   This is, of course, a continuum, as some games have elements of both! 

So, Adventure Tactics  (and Etherfields) is a deck-advancement game, as you level-up your character (much like Dungeons and Dragons) and add better equipment and better attacks after you have completed an encounter.

Campaign

To be clear: this a campaign game.  The campaign book that comes with the game is quite large and it looks there is quite a bit on content.  The Kickstater also comes with a SideQuest book:

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This game is pretty much all about the campaign and levelling up your characters.  If you enjoy the long game and upgrading characters as you go, this is the game for you.

The game even comes with little boxes to keep your upgraded decks in (see above)!

Conclusion

In the end, the Adventure Tactics game feels like lighter cooperative Dungeon-crawl campaign game.  If I had to compare it to something, I’d say Adventure Tactics is a lighter Gloomhaven (recall, we reviewed Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion here).  The Adventure Tactics rulebook is sematically lighter (and has a bigger font), the box is physically lighter, and the art seems “lighter and airier” than Gloomhaven‘s dark world.   But in so many other ways, it reminds me directly of Gloomhaven: minis for the characters, standees for the monsters, boards and stuff to set-up like the base Gloomhaven!   If you are looking for something that feels like Gloomhaven, but maybe is lighter and easier to get into, Adventure Tactics might be a good choice for you. 

Be aware that your first play-through will be very rough as there is no tutorial or primer.  I warn you now: the lack of a tutorial may completely repel you, and I’d get it.  But, this is a decent game.  I don’t think I want to play it solo (as you have to play 3 characters), but I could see having a lazy Sunday afternoon with my friends and Adventure Tactics.  Of course, you could also just play Dungeons and Dragons

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