The following is an abridged version of the original review. For the full version, complete with links, pics and clever quips, go here.
Four Taverns is the illegitimate lovechild of Smash Up and Lords of Waterdeep, and in my humble estimation a bit of a gem that’s been flying under the radar.
As everyone knows, all great adventures begin in taverns, because taverns are the preferred hangouts for heroes and other adventurer sorts. Just like real life. I defy anyone to tell me the last time they went to a bar and didn’t see some kind of champion. As a player of the game, you own and run one of the four taverns prominently featured in the title, and you want to be the kind of place that attracts the most of these people. Heroes are known for having ridiculous amounts of money, and judging by their choice of hangouts, they’re also known for being alcoholics. Look, you work up a mighty thirst after some dungeon scouring, and there’s no fantasy equivalent of Gatorade. Attract enough of these guys to your place and you’ll get crazy rich without ever picking up a sword and risking your neck like those idiots. Most of these guys will drop a silver piece on a mug of your shitty watered-down beer because they’re too lazy to make change on their character sheet.
There are two decks of cards, an Adventurer deck, and a Quest deck.
Players are dealt a hand of four cards from the Adventurer deck and three Quests are placed in a queue in the middle of the table. Each player is given 5 gold pieces. The game is now ready to begin.
Each quest has requirements of each class in able to complete it, and a reward for completion. At the beginning of a player’s turn, they draw two cards from the Adventurer deck. From there, as often as you like, you can pay 1 gold to send a basic adventurer (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric or Thief) on a Quest. There are Tavern Marker cards to indicate which Adventurers belong to which parties. Once you meet all requirements of said quest, you collect the rewards, Gold and Renown and add a new quest to the queue. Any other Adventurers in other parties are sent to the discard pile. Once per turn, you may also discard two Adventurer cards in order to collect 1 gold, and/or spend 2 gold to draw 1 Adventurer card.
The quests have varying difficulties and reward levels. For example, some quests may have 5 levels of Fighter required, if you do not have a 5th level Fighter in hand, you can send a 4th level and a 1st level. Ideally, you want to spend the minimum number of cards on any Quest, but as we all know, that’s not always how it goes.
There are more than basic hero cards in the Adventurer deck, there are also Champions and Action cards. Champions are dual classed badasses. Not only do they pull double duty on class requirements, but they automatically meet the level requirements of any class they provide. Champions cost 2 gold to play. There’s a special Champion, the Monk, which acts as a wild card, allowing you to pick which two classes he fulfills, but instead of paying 2 gold to the bank, he pays 2 gold to the player with the fewest gold. Action cards are where a lot of spice gets added to the game. Cursed Dagger allows you to cause a random discard to another player or to kill any Character on a Quest, fantastic for when they play that Champion to finish a Quest. Summoning Scroll allows you to look at an opponent’s hand and take as many cards as you like from it, but you have to replace them with cards from your hand. Mystic Tome allows you to refill your hand to its maximum value before drawing for the turn. Mithril Shield cancels another action played. There are others, but I don’t want to give away everything about the game.
Each Tavern has 4 levels. Every 5 Renown you gain levels up your Tavern. The reward for leveling up your Tavern is an increased hand size, which is a bigger deal than what it sounds like. The game ends when one player reaches 20 Renown.
This is an odd one. I applaud Rather Dashing for printing locally, but there are some things I feel could have had better production quality with the game. The cards themselves are not the highest quality, so I would recommend sleeving them to increase durability. Also, the box is absurdly large for the game. I suspect the box size was determined by the punchboard for the Gold Piece chits, but once punched, the box is entirely too large for the game. This having been said, the materials are by no means a dealbreaker, and considering that they didn’t have Kickstarter funding them to the highest card quality possible, I can hardly fault them for this. Everything is perfectly functional, and in the end, I’ve been spoiled by other materials in games.
There’s only one real complaint I have about Four Taverns. Every game needs a random element to keep the game fresh and replayable. In the case of Four Taverns, the random element is drawing cards, which leads to the occasional Godhand. Drawing a spectacular hand (the odds of which are pretty low) with a strong Quest in the queue can snag you a quick level which will give you a hand size benefit advantage. It’s pretty rare, but when it does happen, it gives that player considerably better odds of being able to coast that to a victory. This is something that can happen in almost ANY card game. Most of us have lost numerous games of Magic: The Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings, Doomtown, Warlord, Rage, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Spycraft, Poker, Rummy, etc. to that jerk who just drew into the perfect hand of opponent annihilation. It happens, you play again.
That complaint is mitigated by the numerous perks of this game:
The game plays fast. Like, maybe 20-30 minutes per game tops.
The game is deeper than it appears. After that first game, we started paying a LOT more attention to when was the optimum time to play our action cards, how much to gamble on our Arcane Tomes, which quests to go on, weighing odds on sending heroes on a quest you couldn’t complete right away in the hopes that it would come back around to give you another turn to try; balancing hand-size limitations and gold pieces with what you need to do. There are some who complained about the simplicity of the game, and whereas I don’t think it’s as deep as Agricola, it’s not as simple and random as War. There’s a lot more to this game than appears at face value.
It’s fun. Light hearted and fast paced, we had a lot of laughs playing this and I look forward to sharing this game with more people.
When I set about to write a review, I spill out all the scribbles what make words, then take a quick jaunt around the post-apocalyptic wastelands of the internets to look at some other reviews. Not to check for consistency of voice (which would defeat the entire purpose of writing a review) but to see if someone else saw something I didn’t. What I found was a pronounced dearth of reviews, which made me sad, as I enjoyed this game a great deal. I hope that this review can help spread the word for a solid game.