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Subject: Lots of Potential But Still a Work In Progress rss

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Tony Chen
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I got the game free from the publisher to review.

Overview of Gameplay and Some Interesting Aspects of the Same
Crossroads at Darklion Pass is essentially a card driven game (cdg). Like other cdgs (Hannibal, Twilight Struggle, etc), the cards can be used in multiple ways, which I love.

A card in Crossroads can be used in four ways: for Travel, for bidding on Quest Leadership, for combat in Quests, and for healing in Quests.

What happens during the game is that the group will travel through forked paths and fight 6 Quests along the way. Many of the spaces on the forked paths each has a color corresponding to a specific player and when the group moves through it said player receives 100 points. So one way to score points in the game is to play cards for Travel and move the group through paths containing spaces of one’s color. Another incentive to play cards for Travel is that every time a player moves the group through a Treasure Chest, he draws a Treasure. Treasure range from weapons to healing potions to points.

Travel is simple, and the game sounds interesting already. To make things even more interesting, the group will enter (and fight) Quests along the way, which adds an element of timing and card management. There is incentive to burn cards during Travel and dictate the path taken to one’s advantage, but there is also incentive to save cards for Quests because these are big opportunities to earn points as well (each player earns points proportional to how much damage he deals to the creature). In addition to directing the movement of the group, players also want to time their own movements because moving the group into the quests on one’s own turn is generally disadvantageous. The player who does it is burning a card without gaining the benefit of directing the path to his advantage (because the group is in front of the Quest and it has to go in there). Moreover, he is also the first to bid on Quest Leadership and that is a difficult position to be in. If he passes the latter players can win the bid for cheap. If he bids the latter players can outbid him by one so unless he wants to get into a bidding war he’ll have to lose cards for nothing (in this game the losers loses his cards as well a la Taj Mahal). Essentially it is harder to make the right call as first player because he has less information on how much other players are willing to bid.

Quest Leadership bidding
The benefits of winning Quest Leadership are manifold. One, the Quest Leader chooses which character he will fight with first (each player is not a specific character, rather they choose which character they want to use in each Quest and it is possible for a player to use different characters in different Quests). Two, he gets to place multiplier tokens first (these multiply the points earned by a character during the Quest). Three, he attacks the creature first (which could net him an extra attack relative to other player/s because the combat ends as soon as the creature is killed). Four, he decides whether there is a second round of combat should the creature still be living (which could benefit some players more than others). Lastly, he loots the Treasures spat out by the creature first (if the creature is killed).

Quest combat
The way combat works is straightforward. The creature will damage all the players (possibly some players more than others depending on which characters each is using). Then, the players in turn play card/s to damage the creature, earning 10 points per damage applied. (There is also the option of using a character’s base attack which doesn’t cost any cards but these are weaker.) Everyone attacks once, and there is possibly a second round (if the creature lives and the Quest Leader decides to continue the combat).

Quest healing
As a player takes damages from creatures from quest to quest, he may die. The penalty to dying is twofold. One, he will miss out on any further attack rounds (aka chances to earn points) and looting of Treasures in the current Quest. Two, once he is reborn with full health (at the start of the next Travelling phase) he loses 200 points. However, dying may be worthwhile especially if timed correctly because the cost of playing cards for healing to keep oneself alive can be very high.

The Potential
Crossroads is a card (hand) management game at heart and it presents agonizing decisions for the players, which is a good thing. The influx of cards is constant: at the end of each player’s turn during the Travel phase, everybody draws 2 cards. There is enticement to use the cards in each of the four ways (Travel, Quest combat, Quest Leadership bid, healing), but there isn’t enough cards to spend on everything. Knowing when to pick your fights and when to take your losses and conserve cards to fight another day is the crux of the game.

In fact Crossroads reminds me a lot of Taj Mahal, in which players go from province to province and each is an opportunity for players to play cards for points. Just like Crossroads, in Taj Mahal players need to know which fights to get into, and which ones to lay low and get out of fast and cheap while saving up on cards to fight another day. Taj Mahal is no more complicated than Crossroads and it is a great game. I think Crossroads can be a great game as well because I really like the basic idea/core structure behind it. The card management aspect is great. The timing aspects are great (e.g. if you time it right you can even go into a Quest exceeding the hand limit of 7 cards because the forced discards are triggered on your turn only). The dynamic/interaction between the four card usages works great. But the game isn’t great.

The Grievances
I really like the basic game idea in Crossroads but I have two major grievances about the implementation of it. The first grievance is regarding the character selection in Quests. I don’t like it, at all; as in I don’t like its very existence.

I didn’t mention that Crossroads has 4 tech "lines" a la Goa (which has 5). Anytime a player scores 100 points, he advances one step on a tech line of his choice. The tech lines, cards, and characters come in 4 colors (red, blue, yellow and gray). The red tech line and red cards are tied into the red characters in that you can use these techs/cards only if you are using the red character in Quest combat. The same goes for other colors although gray is more flexible. The characters seem to be designed to give each tech line and each draw pile a raison d’etre (reason to exist), but I find that a false and arbitrary motivation for players to tech up a specific line or draw from a specific pile. It is too artificial from a game design perspective, and too limiting from a strategical perspective. It simply ties the players’ hands too much, but more on that later.

Once a players’ hand of cards and techs are fixed, picking a character over another is merely a question of how much damage will he deal to/take from the creature. A similar effect can be accomplished by, instead of players’ selecting of characters (which feels thematically weird anyways--players switching identities with each other), players’ selection of creatures they want to fight. Instead of one creature, how about having one creature per player? Any creature can be high-hit-point-high-attack, low-hp-low-attack, low-hp-high-attack, or high-hp-low-attack. That way the Quest Leader still gets to choose a creature that works best for him given his tech and hand. If his hand/tech is weak (for combat) he might want to choose an easy creature at the cost of lower point potential. If his hand/tech is strong then the opposite. The first player still gets the better pick.

To make things more interesting we can even have the Quest Leader assign creatures to everyone else, so he can screw people by giving someone who wants to fight a weak creature, and someone who cannot afford to fight a strong one. Lower hp creatures has fewer points to give points (because each damage dealt is 10 points to the adventurer), but if a player cannot kill his creature then he doesn’t get to loot Treasure. Or if it takes him extra rounds to kill the creature, in addition to the extra damage taken from the creature he will also be the last to pick from the Treasure pool (first finish first pick).

Additionally, instead of the creature and its Treasures being revealed at the last minute, the creatures and Treasures can be revealed at the start of the game a la Taj Mahal so players can plan their strategy ahead of time. (E.g. I want to fight the weakling in this Quest to pick up this Treasure fast, fight the strong one in the next Quest for points so I need to gather combat cards, give up on the next Quest and focus on Travelling and conserving cards, so I want to draw my cards accordingly.)

In short, I advocate face up creatures and creature selection over face down creature and character selection. It would accomplish similar purposes (Quest Leader picking favorable matchups possibly based on his hand/tech), allow for planning ahead of time, and most importantly remove the artificial tie-in between character selection and cards/techs.

Instead of the red card/tech saying "let the red character do bonus 3 damage," the yellow card/tech "let the yellow character take 1 less damage from creature," the blue card/tech "let the blue character yield two weapons," I want each color to have unique strengths in a more meaningful way. But how do we give each card/tech color its distinction when their corresponding characters don’t exist anymore? My design principle (not that I’ve designed any games) is that when faced with the challenge to motivate players to behave a certain way, look for what is already in the game instead of adding more rules. This is what made Knizia so successful. So instead of bringing in a set of characters (aka more rules) to motivate players to pick one color of card/tech over another, I would give each color a strength in one of the four different facets already in the game (Travel, Quest combat, Quest healing, Quest Leadership bidding).

For example, the red cards can have more footprints for Travel, yellow cards worth double when spent on bid for Quest Leadership, blue cards deal more damage during attacks on creatures, and gray cards better at healing; and similarly for the techs. That way if I look at the next Quest and don’t feel like fighting, I won’t draw so many blue cards. I could draw red cards to dictate Travel, or even rush the group into combat before other players have enough time to draw sufficient blue cards; or I could draw yellow and gray cards to win Quest Leadership, give myself a fast kill to get first pick at Treasure while healing myself back up again, while letting other players take on the more difficult creatures. If I want to fight a tough creature and another player is also drawing blue cards, I might want to draw some yellow as well so I instead of him can get the tough creature. If there are two or more tough creatures then maybe I won’t (draw yellow cards).

To summarize my first grievance, I suggest replacing character selection with creature selection, making these creatures mean different to different players and have them revealed ahead of time, and making each color (of cards/tech) unique in other ways instead of an artificial tie-in to certain characters that really don’t need to exist otherwise.

My second grievance is much simpler and it concerns the amount of text on the cards--there is too much. When using a card for Travel, healing, or bidding on Quest Leadership, it is easy: each card is worth one, two, or three for whatever it is doing (e.g. move two spaces, heal three hp). However when using a card to attack, then it gets really complicated and for not much reason other than flavor--the flavor of complication. Going through the mere tracking of which combination of cards will deal the most damage takes way more time than it should, and it adds next to nothing to gameplay. I'd rather not have to go through analysis like: if I use this card as the main spell for 2d6, and that card as support combo spell for 3, plus the smash effect it'd give me X damage; if I use them vice versa the fire attack will give me 3 + 1d6, the combo card 2, and an additional 3 for the bonus damage the creature takes from fire attacks; etc.

I'd rather spend my time planning around other strategical aspects of the game than on rote crunchwork. These types of damage modifiers work better in games like Summoner Wars and Manoeuvre (and even there it’s not so complicated) and maybe D&D (I’ve never played), but in a game like Crossroads (as I understand/hope it to be) it is out of place.

Crossroads at Darklion Pass has Goa-like tech tracks, Taj Mahal-like card management, and Hannibal-like multiple uses for a card (cdg). I love all of these games/mechanisms and an integration of the three in one game that works well, nicely is promising. The game has a lot of potential but unfortunately it is far from fully realized. In its current form Crossroads at Darklion Pass is a work in progress.

I generally don’t go over quality of components in my reviews because I don’t feel bad components detract from good gameplay. In fact for a self-published game I think they did a great job on the components (by self-publish standards).
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Nice review... The designer sent me a copy of this game too. I played and reviewed it. We pretty much rated it about the same, but I have to admit you introduced some much more interesting suggestions than I.
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Shannon Liska
United States
Colorado Springs
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I received a copy from the designer as well a couple of years ago. I played the game and had some other friends play it as well. I remember posting a review about it but this review above is far more extensive. I got to agree with the points above. Overall it's a fun game and it has a lot of potential, very nice packaging and pieces. I'm going to pass this game onto some other friends so they will have the opportunity to try the game out. However, thank you to the designer for the opportunity to try out this game.
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