NOTE: My full review of Journey to the Center of the Earth will appear in the Gamer’s Alliance Report. What follows is a brief overview.
The science fiction novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by the legendary Jules Verne is a recognized literary classic. Originally penned in 1864, it has been in constant print since, and has spawned no less than five film versions and numerous television adaptations. The fanciful story of the exploration of the earth's core continues to fascinate readers and viewers. What is surprising is that it took so long for the novel to be the subject of a board game.
Designed by Rüdiger Dorn, Journey to the Center of the Earth takes players to the earth's core in search of rare fossils, precious metals and gems. This is done by moving explorers through caverns, across a subterranean lake, and finally, along a flowing volcano back to the earth's surface. This is accomplished by collecting and playing cards, which are used to move the explorers, overcome obstacles, and dig for fossils.
Each turn, players may draw new explorer and/or equipment cards, or move one of the three explorers. Each space moved into requires the expenditure of one card, but obstacles will also require the expenditure of the appropriate equipment or additional movement cards. The ultimate objective is to reach spaces where you can dig for fossils and gems. These spaces depict one or more equipment icons, and matching cards must be played in order to draw fossil cards.
There are a variety of fossils. Some are completed with just one card, while the more valuable fossils require multiple cards to complete. Gems -- gold or quartz -- increase in value with each one collected. Players must also collect water stones, lest risk losing valuable fossils.
The lake phase is played much like the caverns, but all explorers move together on a raft. Digging is a bit different, as each player has the opportunity to play the required equipment cards and draw fossil cards. After the boat is moved, a Sea Adventure card must be drawn. These cards can either reward players with additional fossils, or require the players to discard fossils.
The final journey through the volcano will be quick, but potentially painful. Players must discard the appropriate equipment cards or lose fossils. This process continues until the raft exits the volcano, thereby ending the game. Players tally the value of their fossils, gems and water-stones, with the victory going to the player with the greatest total.
Journey is not aimed at folks who crave a deep, strategy-laden challenge. It falls on the lighter side of the strategy scale. What it does offer is a pleasant experience that involves collecting cards, and using those cards in the optimum fashion to increase one's odds of collecting the proper combination of fossils and gems. A considerable amount of what happens is random in nature, and players must often react to these circumstances. There are steps a player can take to somewhat prepare for these potential occurrences, but these steps are not foolproof. My biggest worry is that the game can last a bit longer than it should.
This drawback, however, is not enough to derail the game for me. I continue to enjoy it, as do most folks to whom I've taught it. It is not as deep or strategy driven as many Rüdiger Dorn titles, but rather aims at a different audience. It is a very satisfying family-style game, much on the order of Michael Rieneck's Around the World in Eighty Days, another game that found its inspiration in a classic book. Sadly, Journey doesn't seem to be fairing as well as that effort, which is a shame.
Jim and Alison were far more efficient than me in collecting fossils, besting me by nearly ten points apiece in that venue. I did manage to collect both bonus cards, but that wasn’t enough to overcome their lead.
Finals: Jim 58, Alison 47, Greg 46
Ratings: Jim 7, Alison 7, Greg 6.5