Dan Manfredini


No. of Players:
3 - 5



Adventure boardgames are a classic category in the world of games, ranging from all-time classics like Talisman or Heroquest to big-sized games like Warhammer Quest or Arkham Horror. Many players around the world are fond of these games due to their fantastic background stories - you venture forth with your own character in search of gold and glory. However, looking from a boardgamer's perspective, this boom of adventure games always has been a bit of a paradox, since the playing mechanism of many of these games can be reduced to a core which is based on simple dice-rolling. Okay, to be fair it should be stated that Arkham Horror is somewhat more sophisticated than the other examples mentioned above since it demands some real decisions of the players, but nonetheless a high element of luck is characteristic for all of these games. So, it must definitely be the topic which is attracting so many gamers, and this brings up the question why so few adventure games with a more strategic background have been created so far.

Keeping this introduction in mind, I was even more happy to see Venture Forth at the SPIEL 11, since this game by Dan Manfredini actually seemed to include a somewhat higher strategic approach than many other adventure games. Like Flash Point - Fire Rescue, Venture Forth is a project which was funded through the Kickstarter website, although the final level of funding which was received for this project was considerably lower.

The game is set in Ancient Greece, with the players facing a somewhat functional gameboard showing five different locations (country, mountains, 2 x wilderness, seashore) and some paths interconnecting these locations. The paths are made up by two to three spaces, and in these spaces encounter cards (heroes and enemies) will be placed during the course of the game. Each player begins the game with one semi-randomly chosen level-one adventurer, some coins and a random starting hand of five encounter cards. Each player places his pawn at one of the locations on the gameboard, with the restriction that each player must begin at a different location.

The core element of the game will be the adventures which the players parties will face when travelling from one location to another. However, before a player may chose this "venture forth" action which will initiate a voyage all spaces on the path between the starting location and the destination must be filled with encounter cards. Thus, at the beginning of the game no player is allowed to travel because no path is ready, but instead the players will take turns placing cards from their hand onto empty path spaces of the gameboard.

Two factors must be observed when placing a card, and this is the colour of the card and the resource symbol depicted on the path space which is covered by the card. The colour of the card determines the area in which the card must be placed, e.g. a seashore card must be placed on a path space which is adjacent either to the seashore location or to another seashore card. All encounter cards are placed openly, so that each player knows which adventurers and enemies will wait on all spaces. The resource symbol on the chosen space on the other hand is used to determine which kind of benefit the active player will get for the placement of his card. These benefits range between gaining coins for the player's purse, will cubes to place on the player's adventurers or a randomly drawn explore token which the player places openly adjacent to a path which has not yet received an explore token. After placing a card the players are allowed to draw a new encounter card to refill their hand.

As can be seen the placement of cards onto the gameboard serves two purposes at the same time. On the one hand the pathes slowly fill with cards, meaning that the point comes closer when the player's may start travelling between locations, and on the other hand the placement of a card is also profitable for the active player because he will get some money or will cubes for his adventurer(s). This idea already shows a bit of the tactical approach which is chosen in Venture Forth, because players will have to take a number of factors into consideration upon placing a new encounter card. Which benefit will they gain for the placement, at which locations are the parties of the opposing players, and will the placement of the new card actually be unintentionally helpful for an other player?

If, during a player's turn, a path connecting the current location of his party to another location is completely filled with encounter cards, the player may chose the "venure forth" action and travel to the new location. Now all spaces of the path will be encountered on a step-by-step basis, but all of this will happen within the same turn of the player. Path spaces containing adventurers are easy to deal with. The player either spends an amount of money shown on the card to hire the new adventurer for his party, or he simply moves on and ignores the adventurer. Enemies on the other hand are more tricky, since they bear a power value which must be overcome in order to slay the enemy and to avoid damage. A player may chose to give up a will cube on one or more of his adventurers in order to double the power value of that adventurer for the duration of this single encounter, but if the total power value of all characters in the player's party is not high enough to overcome the power value of the enemy card the player is forced to take damage in form of the loss of will cubes or coins, or - even worse - by adding a despair cube to one of his adventurers. The despair cubes will give negative victory points at the end of the game, but there are some possibilities to remove these cubes.

Upon arrival at the new location all defeated enemies will be removed from the path, whereas all cards remaining on the path will be rotated 90 degrees. If they already were rotated when the player ventured forth, the cards are also removed even if they were not hired or defeated, and so each card remains on the board for a maximum of two travel actions on this specific path. In addition, if there is an explore token next to the path, the active player is entitled to take the token in order to receive benefits like money and a treasure card. However, in most cases these benefits come at the price that an additional despair cube must be suffered by one character as well. The treasure cards each have a treasure point value and a one-time ability, and the player may opt either to keep the card until the game's end for scoring the victory points (provided the card then can be associated with an adventurer matching the treasure's type), or he may use the card's ability and then discard it.

A considerable amount of playing depth is added by the fact that each adventurer card not only possesses a power value which is needed when facing enemy cards, but furthermore each adventurer also is driven by a specific ambition which he wants to fulfil. Various ambitions exist in the game, and like the Poet whose ambition to write an epic tale is fulfilled when encountering an enemy with 10 or more power, all other ambitions likewise are triggered by specific events during the game. When an adventurer's ambition is triggered, the active player is allowed to discard will cubes from this adventurer in order to convert these into victory points, the loss of a despair cube and possibly a levelling up of the character, with the exchange rate being depicted on the adventurer's current level card. Each adventurer starts on level one, but - as might be guessed - the exchange rate becomes better with each new level. When the adventurer levels up, his level card will be exchanged, and all adventurers may go up to level three. At that level they will get an additional special ability which can be used for the rest of the game without the need to pay will cubes for its activation.

Finally, it should also be noted that each location on the gameboard contains a temple dedicated to a different Greek god. Instead of playing a card or venturing forth the active player also may opt to visit the temple a the current location of his party, and here money may be spent ("offered") on new will cubes, a free transport, additional turns etc.

The game ends after the round when the last (22nd) explore token was placed on the gameboard next to a path, and now the players sum up their victory points. During the course of the game victory points could be generated by spending will upon the triggering of an adventurer's ambition, and now at the end each remaining will cube and each two coins will be worth an additional victory point. As indicated, each adventurer in the player's party now also can be fitted with a matching, unused treasure card in order to score victory points as shown on this card, and some bonus points also are assigned to the player who has collected most explore tokens. Finally, three points will be lost for each despair token left on a player's adventurers, and the player with most victory points will have won the game!

Dan Manfredini has identified one of the big weaknesses of traditional adventure boardgames, and this is the random card-based event mechanism which is used in games like Talisman. In these games players move, draw a card and see what happens, but they have no real control of their fate and they cannot make real tactical choices. This is the point where the playing mechanism created for Venture Forth builds on, since here all the events which may happen on the different paths remain in control of the players. So, the players can try to place useful cards close to their own party in the hope to get these cards, while other players may add challenging enemies to the same path in hope making travelling more hazardous. While it is true that this mechanism works better with a full cast of four players due to the fact that more competition exists on the small gameboard, the game still can be played with two players at a more tactical level. And, as indicated earlier, the players also need to consider the benefits they may get for the placement of a card (as shown on the path spaces), and taken together all these elements effectively eliminate the drawbacks which are associated with the traditional mechanism of drawing random events.

What is more, no dice is needed in Venture Forth, since all information is accessible to the players and outcomes of encounters can be calculated with ease. Instead, the game is focused on a clearly discernible strategic approach which forces the players to weigh the banes and boons of each travel action, and this gives Venture Forth a playing feeling which could not be found in any of the older classics. However, the magic known from adventure games is not lost, but instead character abilities and the possibility to level up are cleverly integrated into the general playing mechanism.

Overall, Venture Forth is a very convincing game and yet another splendid example of the things which may come to life through collecting funds by a Kickstarter-project. The game offers a nice, new approach to the experience of adventuring, and apart from the slightly simplistic gameboard graphics all components are up to modern standard. Especially the artwork chosen for the encounter and treasure cards is quite beautiful, and so you should venture forth in order to search for this great game!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany