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Subject: Secrets of the Lost Tomb - A Dungeon Dive Review rss

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Daniel Davis
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I judge books by their covers all the damn time.

Same with board games.

And more often than not, my judgement rings true.

In 2016, my wife and I took a day trip to a small college town in the Pacific Northwest for my birthday. I wanted to check out an unfamiliar game store; I wanted a small adventure. While there, I picked up a game that I had never seen before, never even heard of before. The front cover made the game look adventurous, and the back cover showed stacks of modular tiles, piles of loot cards, monsters with stats, and all kinds of things that screamed AMERITRASH!

My kind of game.

I bought it without even looking it up on my phone.

It is now my favorite all-time game.

And that game is Secrets of the Lost Tomb, from Everything Epic Games.

For ease of comparison, Lost Tomb is a co-op dungeon-dive game combining elements of Betrayal at House on the Hill and Arkham Horror, with a strong pulp fiction narrative. While it lacks unique mechanisms, it is overflowing in character and well-executed ideas. Originality is, I’ve often said, highly overrated, and Lost Tomb proves this sentiment true.

The game is played over a series of turns in which the players (1-6) use action points to explore a Lost Tomb, looking for clues, discovering narrative elements (read from a quest book), fighting monsters, gaining loot and treasure, and visiting the Soul Monger (a mystic shop keeper at which experience points can be spent for blessings and items), all while trying to stop the Big Bad from doing bad things. There are also opportunities for your character to level up, gaining bonuses to states and other abilities, and, if playing with some of the expansions (more on those later), there is even more character progression; one of the expansions adds an almost RPG-like element to this aspect. All-in-all, it’s a classic dungeon-dive / fantasy adventure game.

However, what Lost Tomb does really well, better than just about any game I know of, is create a tangible sense of adventure and an exciting narrative-driven experience with a real dramatic arc. Even though many of the elements are random - you will be drawing random tiles, fighting random monsters, and encountering random non-combat events - the theme is so strong, and most everything is so well conceived, that, more often than not, all of the random elements combine into a cohesive and exciting whole. Lost Tomb has an uncanny ability to create dramatic thru-lines out of piles of random encounters and elements.

A lot of this has to do with how the quest book plays into the adventure. At certain points, when certain clue symbols are discovered, the players will read a passage from a book detailing a narrative element that will usually have some impact on the adventure. New things will be introduced, and new obstacles will present new challenges. The narrative adds drive to the game that pushes everything toward a climactic ending. A game of Lost Tomb has a defined beginning, middle and end, all of which follow classic pulp fiction structure.

Unfortunately, the UI and graphic design elements are not nearly as accomplished as the thematic and atmospheric elements are. To be frank, the game looks like a mess. To be more frank, it’s ugly. The colors are garish, the UI is amateurish, the iconography is elementary, and the art is only mostly passable. It looks like a first game, made on an old computer, by a designer not versed in modern graphic design. And while some people my balk at this, especially in these days of games brimming with great art and design, the garish, awkward nature of Lost Tomb’s aesthetic adds to the pulp nature found in its narrative influences, and only further enhances the Ameritrash label.

Lost Tomb is not an elegant Euro, or a finely tuned hybrid. No. It is a big, loud, bold and audacious game in which you will roll piles, and I mean PILES (seriously 20+ at points) of dice, with characters armed with dozens of weapons and artifacts, surrounded by mystical allies, all while fighting mythological creatures, avoiding deathtraps at every turn, and being thrust face-first into a world of pulp adventure more adventurous and more pulpy than any game that has come before.

And I love it. It has everything I look for in a dungeon-dive / fantasy adventure board game.

But, I’m not sure I can recommend it, at least not right now.

You see, these kinds of games live or die based upon the variety of encounters and stuff to discover. These games thrive on the their ability to offer up unique encounters and the illusion of anything being possible. As you play these games more and more, and you start to run into the same encounter cards over and over, the allure can vanish. Luckily, there were a bunch of great expansions released for the game, expansions that added tons and tons of cardboard - more loot, more artifacts, more creatures, more allies, more encounters, more traps, more tiles, and more adventure! Unfortunately, most of those expansions are entirely out of print (at least all the ones with all the great content are).

This sucks.

I have all of the expansions, and so it’s hard for me to imagine just having the base game. I’m not sure if there is enough there to justify the price. Maybe there is. There might be enough there to satisfy a group of gamers who don’t need or want to have everything available. Personally, if I love a game, I want everything for it, and if I know there is something out there that I don’t have, I will do whatever I can to get it.

So if this review has enticed you, just know that you might only ever be able to get the base game. The base game is great, and there is a lot there, for sure, but I enjoy the game as much as I do because of all of the extra stuff that the expansions have added. If the expansions come back into print, I can and will and do recommend this game to absolutely everyone who loves Ameritrash games, dungeon dives, and fantasy adventure games, without a moment’s hesitation. If they don’t come back into print, take my enthusiastic love tempered with the above-mentioned caveat.


-----

For more dungeon diving articles, visit:

https://thedungeondive.blogspot.com/
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Tor Iver Wilhelmsen
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They have a kickstarter up for a sci-fi sequel called "Secrets of the Lost Station", which might be an option. There are some expansion modules listed for it.
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Subatomic Birdicle
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Thanks for the useful info in your review. I was trying to make sense out of the list of expansions for the game, and the list of stuff Miniature Market has for sale for it (the lists do not match much at all). All is explained. I am curious what the "great expansions" are, since there seem to be a lot of expansions (and the current ones seem rather overpriced for what you get).
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Christopher Batarlis
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Indeed! Lots of stuff on is on Miniature Market now on sale for Black Friday etc!

https://www.miniaturemarket.com/eegslt-core02.html

Enjoy
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Doug Walter
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Have you played Fortune and Glory? I was wondering your take on how the two compare to each other?
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Christopher Batarlis
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generalmac wrote:
Have you played Fortune and Glory? I was wondering your take on how the two compare to each other?


Fortune and Glory has really no narrative: whereas Secrets has a ton of story and narrative.
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