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Subject: Dad's Review of Prophecy rss

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A. B. West
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Beech Grove
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I've been playing games for a very long time. I played (and owned) every bit of Talisman when it was first published. That was along time go (but I have played a few times in the last several years). Now I have 3 daughters - budding gamers - aged 9, 10 and 11. They were pestering me for a game to play today and I directed them toward Prophecy. Now the reason this isn't just a session report (although it could be) is the session wasn't really that interesting nor that long. But it was pretty fun - we laughed alot and the girls stayed very much on target while playing. That made me think about the game itself a bit. Why did it work for them?

Starting with the components - the first daunting part is the number of cards. A game like this probably needs alot of cards to be sure - cards for quests, cards for items, cards for encounters, cards for monsters. Prophecy has alot of cards. One important deck is the 'chance' deck which you'll burn through several times while playing. I'm kinda wondering if that could lead to a bit of strategy - counting on certain cards coming up eventually, like the one that restores magic. There's a nice board to organize the cards - spots on the board itself to stack them and even discard spots. That's all very nice. But when the board is filled, there are cards a plenty and the tend to slip about while playing. The board of course also serves as the place to move around (move on movement below).

The players are represented by stiff character cards in stands. They are large and handy and easy to move. So it's serviceable. Characters by the way are just a little different from each other. They don't have special abilities or anything that truly sets them apart. They do have guilds the belong to (usually 2) and differ in strength/health and will/magic. Most center around a score of 4 in each. Although the rules have a rather elaborate way to choose characters (deal each player 2, pick one, pass to your player on the left), we just choose the ones we want. I'm not sure one character is indeed all that much better than another although admittedly, having a high strength/health seems the better choice. But playing with my girls, they often choose girl characters in this sort of game. And we did want to get right down to play.

As for some other components, there's one I especially don't like. There are these little gems in red (for health), blue (for magic), yellow (for gold) and green (for experience). I'm color-blind and the yellow and green blend in a bit for me. But it's not so much that. It's that there are two sizes for green and yellow. Large ones are worth 5 and small worth 1. But in a dish (which seemed like a reasonable place to collect these tiny bits), they kinda mix together. Yes, I could be more studious and separate them, but really, I'd just prefer one size. In the game, you can't have more than 8 health, 10 magic, 15 experience and 15 gold anyhow. Why not just include enough to let that happen? And for chubby fingers, these small gems will drive you nuts. Thankfully my girls were happy to help out their dad by fishing them out of the dish - in the right quantity and color.

So components in general: certainly pretty good. Needs some work. The girls made fun of the board at first, but it didn't matter at all in the end. They got into it.

The rules come in two versions. A basic game and a full game. We had played the basic game before. But in my opinion, there's no need for it. The full game is really pretty easy to grasp and gives account of all parts in the game. So I'd recommend jumping right to the full game. Thankfully, the opening paragraph on page two encourages you to just jump into the game and start playing. Really, you can - after you catch the turn sequence - and then just reference what 'opportunities' are and how combat is resolved. Somehow, the rules hide those answers somewhat. They rules are very text heavy and are written in a conversational style (but not nearly as bad as say, Return of the Heroes). I think they could stand some significant improvement. The game isn't that difficult, but again, the rules don't leave you at first glance with that impression. Apparently, the designers knew this for they freely admit that fact in the rules themselves.

So rules in general: not too bad, but could be cleaner. Dad got through them quickly enough to get the game going.

So. Let's get into the game mechanics themselves. First, I believe (if you read other reviews) it stands apart with a very nice move mechanic. I always disliked Talisman's simplicity, Return of the Heroes devastating obtuseness and Runebound's fiddly dice. Here the mechanic is extremely simple: move left or right, or pay a bit of cash to move 2 or jump through a port or portal. It's all very nice and lends itself to getting to that particular event card quickly. Which in turn leads to a brisk feeling game.

Second, the combat system is as expected. Nothing unusual here. Pick strength or will (if the monster has such), roll dice for you and the creature, and see who has the highest total. Oh - back to components for a moment. The rules talk of a 'light' and 'dark' dice. But my version came with blue and red dice. Hmm. Which is dark and light? We just decided for ourselves. In any event, combat can end in a loss (in which your character loses 1 health), a draw, or a win (in which you get experience points and often some item - rare or common). I like only losing 1 health. It makes it rather hard to be killed off in the game - which in a lengthly adventure game, that's a good thing.

Third, the encounters. The largest deck of cards is the encounter deck. It seems to be pretty well balanced. I hadn't mentioned it up to this point, but I like the way encounter spaces are filled with cards. You see, instead of the typical method in these types of games of move to a space and draw an encounter, cards are instead spilled out based on the result of a chance card. Each turn, the player draws off the stack of chance cards - this is the deck that you certainly will go through more than once while playing. And a chance card has often enought the statement: "add cards to all forest spaces" or some such. Each space can hold up to two cards - the first one (or top one) is always face up. If you step into a space with two cards, and they are both monsters, you can pick your opponents. Again, this is a kindness. If there's a terrible creature far too powerful for you, you can pick the other lesser thing. If there's a benefitical encounter - such as a peddler selling items, or a scroll of wisdom, or a mine of valuable gems - you do have to dispatch the creature (if there is one). But the chance deck makes all this cycle nicely. You can *see* what's ahead - and that gives the movement mechanic a purpose. This is something lacking in other adventure board games. So often you are just plundering along at spaces, only knowing if it's really hard (the red spaces in Runebound) or possibly rich (the multiple card spaces in Talisman). There are typical spaces too - like a city and town wherein you can buy item (again, these are distributed based on the draw of chance cards).

Fourth, the abilities. A nice feature again - although these seem a bit pricey in game terms. Around the board are various guilds to which your character might belong. Each guild - like a thief guild, magician's guild, fortress guild, etc. has a particular focus. Magician's guild offers magic oriented skills while the monestary concerns itself with protection and healing. The abilities for 'sale' are filled (again) by the draw of chance cards. In this case, if two are placed on a guild, both are visible, but one (the oldest) is replaced if a chance card is drawn. Any character can 'buy' a skill - with experience only if you belong to the build or experience plus gold if you don't. As I said, I felt these were a bit pricey for what you got. After an hour play or so, we were all buying stuff and I did find myself drawn to my home guild - 8 experience + 8 gold was too rich for an ability such as 'move from one forest space to another for free'. The abilities in general only modify the game - +2 for crushing weapons for example. But it is nice that any character can advance in any way, but not all at the same cost. Contrary to what I said above, this does make character different from each other.

Fifth, healing and the like. Many spaces just offer 'opporunities' such as healing or restoring magic. In the game, as you lose health and magic, you move your tiny gems from the right side of your character card to the left side. The stats of your characters are paired: strenght and health, will and magic. So as you lose health, you also are weaker in combat. As you cast spells, you also are weaker in will. But you can recover these bits on certain spaces on the board. No waiting for that special encounter card. And there are a few chance cards that do this to a small degree as well.

Last, the game ending conditions. There are 5 astral plane spaces in the game, each containing a lesser guardian, major guardian and an artifact. The first player to collect 4 artifacts wins - either by killing the two guards (they are tough creatures 2X to 3X times any other creature randomly encountered) and taking the artifact (which are powerful items in their own right). Or by killing fellow players that have the artifacts. The game can spin down in several ways here - all explained in the rules. Nicely done I think, but overly complicated somehow. I don't understand why the game needs several paths to completion - i.e. if a player doesn't have the 4 artifiacts, but all the artifacts are taken, shuffle cards, start attacking each other, if you die now, it isn't like the game before, or you can take artifacts, etc. Too many rules have to change while the game is finishing up. I believe these games need a hard stop possibilitiy balanced with a great feel of epic adventure. It's a hard line to draw admittedly. But I can't help thinking it could have been simplified here. Talisman's is/was rather silly on this count: get the crown, kill everyone - later changed I believe. Runebound is *so* laborious in having to defeat either one red card or more if you can't find that one. So in comparison to others, I suppose Prophecy fares well.

So mechanics spun together: very nice. It all works quite well. The girls caught on in no time and the game started up and ran along just fine.

Over all, the game is probably my new favorite in adventure board games. I'm stacking it up against Talisman (as I remember it), Runebound (as I've played it) and Return of the Heroes (which I just don't appreciate apparently). It has good flavor to it, nice components (with only a few exceptions - dang those tiny gems!) and alot of good depth to play. It moves along nicely too - turns seem to go fairly fast, but decisions are still meaningful due in no small part to the finely tuned movement mechanic that makes *planning* your route possible. The game ending state is obtainable in a reasonable way and time, although a bit lengthy and somewhat overly complicated in resolution. There's certainly enough variety though the characters plus abilities plus items (both normal and rare) plus a large enough encounter deck - all of which seems well thought out and fairly well balanced.

I wonder if Z-Man will make any changes as they intend to release the game here in the US? They mention a "a slightly new look from its original release". If they fix up the gem situation, brighten and extend the art, and tighten up the rules (maybe adjust the ending condition?), I'll buy this one again - plus the expansions.
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Robert Cannon
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Excellent review! Much better than a rehash of the rules.

I need to get some time to run through this one solo before I spring it on my kids.
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David Whitehouse
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Very nice review. I'm on the bubble for this one, but I guess in any event I'll be waiting for the new edition which is coming out soon.
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