Are you ready for an adventure to reclaim a powerful relic in exchange for a free round of drinks at the Chug & Squeeze?
|The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance (2020)|
|Designer(s)||Keith Baker, Jennifer Ellis||Artist(s)||Hari Conner||Publisher||
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a unique story telling game set in the popular Adventure Zone universe created by The McElroy Family. The Adventure Zone started in 2014 as part of The McElroy Family's podcast where they were playing Dungeons and Dragons; it proved to be very popular and has become a unique setting with over 120 podcast episodes as of 2021. An interesting fact about The McElroy Family is they are from Huntington, WV. They supported WVGamers' 2019 Extra Life event that we hosted at the Four Horsemen in Clarksburg, WV, which was very well received by the attendees who loved getting pictures with the family and getting autographs.
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a unique Co-Op game that focuses on storytelling rather than heavy mechanics. Each game will start off with the players searching for a relic that has been stolen by a villain requiring the party to travel to the villain's secret lair. The relic, villain, and location are all determined at the beginning of the game from a selection of decks included with the game. In the current version of the game, there are variations to allow for 64 unique scenarios; there is a lot of replayability with the game and allows the players to create unique stories. Even if the same scenario were played again, it could be very different than the previous playthrough based on the story the players create.
Box and Components
The game comes in a decent size box with a nice insert that has a little extra space for at least one possible future expansion. The game includes:
- 1 Game Board: This will have spaces for each of the decks of cards that will be used during the game except for the Fantasy KostCo cards.
- 5 Packs of Characters Sheets: There are 5 classes players can play each with their own strengths: Wizard, Warrior, Priest, Wizard, and Rogue.
- 12 Mission Cards/Challenge Decks: four Relic, four Villain, and four Location decks each with a total of 11 cards.
- 30 Fantasy KostCo Cards: These are powerful items that will increase your success during the mission.
- 12 Surprise Cards: These are unique cards that represent characters from The Adventure Zone universe that will aid you during your mission typically providing a +1 against certain challenges and a one time powerful ability.
- One Unique 20 Sided Die (D20): The sides are numbered 1-6 (3 of each), 1 Automatic Fail, and 1 Automatic Success.
- 11 Tokens: These include player Action Tokens, a Team Leader marker, and other markers for the game.
There are a fair number of character sheets for each class, but you may eventually find you will need to print off new ones or you can laminate some sheets if you don't keep your previous characters. There were no pencils included, which isn't an issue but just something I wanted to point out.
The Game Board is pretty nice with a nice illustration and a space for most of the cards; there is also a health and strength track that will be used frequently during the game. The only issue I found is I would have liked to have had a space for the Fantasy KostCo cards, but I imagine they decided to have that off board to allow the Game Board art to be seen during the game.
The cards are nice and thick; the quality is overall pretty good. My only issue is they went with a slick finish that resulted in cards sliding off the decks a good bit, but this is something that will lessen overtime as they are broken in and the oils from hands make them less slick feeling. It isn't a major problem for us, but something we noticed after playing a lot of games recently with linen cards.
The D20 is pretty big and feels great; the numbers/symbols on the die is very easy to see so shouldn't be an issue for anyone. The tokens use a nice cardboard and popped out perfectly.
Setup is pretty easy for this game.
- Lay out the Game Board.
- Decide which Relic, Villain, and Location will be used for the game. Once decided, take the Mission Card and 10 Challenge cards associated with each. Place the remaining Mission and Challenge cards back into the box as they will not be used during this game.
- Each Mission Card will provide instructions on the back about how to setup their deck of cards. If playing with more than 2 players, you will also include a Surprise Card facedown after the fourth card in each deck. Arrange the cards and place them on the Game Board in their spots.
- Shuffle the 30 KostCo Cards and place them beside the Game Board.
- Place the Health Token on the Health track (top of the game board) on the number that has dots for the current player count (14 for 2 players, 12 for 3 players, and 10 for 4/5 players).
- Place the Strength Token near the Strength track (bottom of the game board).
- Place the remaining components nearby so all players can reach them.
- Each player will take a character sheet and matching token for their desired class and fill out the information on the sheet; there should be no duplicate classes played. All of the information the players fill out is purely for flavor and for storytelling purposes so have fun with it.
- There is recommended class restrictions for 2 player games.
The mechanics of the game are very straight forward and make it very easy for those less familiar with Roleplaying Games (RPG) to join and enjoy. Throughout the game, there will be three challenges the players will be able to encounter and deal with by using their strength, items, and friends to complete. Essentially, each challenge card will have a difficulty number that players need to meet or exceed to successfully complete that card's objective. I will describe this mechanic a little later; for now, I will walk through the overview of a round. Rounds will begin with the Team Leader and go around the table clockwise to the other players.
At the beginning of the Team Leader's turn, all players reclaim their Character Tokens, if used during the previous round.
On the active player's turn, they will look at the three challenge cards and describe the scene. You can go as simple as just reading the description on the cards, but it is highly encourage to elaborate and make the scene your own to get the most out of this game's experience.
The active player will select one of the three challenges to attempt to complete. They will look at the difficulty of the Challenge Card and any modifiers the neighboring challenge cards may provide as indicated by an arrow pointing at it.
- The active player will calculate their strength against that type of challenge and roll the die to determine the outcome of challenge. This is further described in the section below.
- If successful, take the challenge card and place it beside your character sheet.
- If you have 3 or more Loot value on your completed Challenge Cards, discard Challenge Card(s) worth 3+ and draw a Fantasy KostCo card. Loot value is shown in the lower left of the Challenge Cards beside a diamond symbol. Each player may only ever keep two of the Fantasy KostCo cards, but you can opt to give the newly drawn Fantasy KostCo Card to another player.
Play continues clockwise to the next player.
The game will continue until one of two end conditions have been met:
- If the team's health reaches 0, the party fails. No Drinks For You!
- If the team is able to complete the Relic deck and one of the other two decks, the party has successfully reclaimed the Relic and has a free round of drinks waiting for them at the Chug & Squeeze.
While the party may win or lose, the real win in this game is the story the players are able to create so even if they fail to complete the game's mission, they can still win if they walk away from the game feeling like they created a unique story.
It will take me more time describing how challenges work than it actually takes in person playing the game so bear with me; it really is easy once you play a round or two.
Each Challenge will have a set of symbols on them describing the type of challenge it is and some will have potential +1 Bonuses if the player is able to add to the story by answering questions about the scene. On player's Character Sheets, there is a few numbers that are used for determining their effectiveness against challenges and how well they aid others; player's may also receive additional bonuses from in play Surprise Cards and equipped KostCo items. Finally, you will roll the D20 and add its result to your strength.
Essentially, you will calculate your pre-roll strength by considering the following:
- Character Strength: Is your character strong against one of the Symbols on the Challenge card; the symbol will be beside your second number from the top on your character sheet. If it matches, use that number (typically 4).
- If your character isn't strong against the challenge, use the top number (typically 2).
- Surprise Card Bonus: Is there a Surprise Card in play that is strong against that Challenge card (shown in the upper left or right of each Surprise Card); if so, add 1 to your strength. Some Surprise Cards may provide an additional Bonuses to Challenges but require the Surprise Card to be discarded.
- KostCo Card Bonus: Do you have any KostCo cards that provide a bonus against the selected Challenge Type?
- Player Aid: Is one or two players aiding you during this challenge? Some challenges prevent aiding while others allow for two players to aid; if neither symbol is shown on the Challenge Card then one player may aid you. Aiding typically provides a +2 before rolling the die; I will touch on post-roll aiding in a bit. Players aiding must place their Character Tokens on the Game Board, which will be unavailable until the start of the Team Leader's turn.
Add up all of the bonuses and place the Strength Token on that value on the Game Board. Roll the dice and add the rolled value to the Strength; compare the total against the Challenge Difficulty Value.
- If the die shows the Automatic Success symbol (the Bureau of Balance symbol), you complete the challenge regardless of numbers.
- If the die shows the Automatic Fail symbol (a sort of X symbol), you fail the challenge regardless of numbers.
- If the total value is equal to or greater than the Challenge Difficulty, you complete the challenge.
- If the total value is less than the Challenge Difficulty, you fail the challenge.
- If you were able to accept aid from another player but opted not to before rolling, you may accept aid after the roll potentially turning this failure to a success. Each player has an "aid after the die roll" value, which is the bottom number on the character sheet. For most classes, this number is lower than the other aid number.
Challenge failure will result in health loss as shown by the Skull symbol in the lower right of the Challenge Card. Some Challenge Cards will describe what to do if you fail so be sure to read those descriptions.
Additionally, some challenge cards may boost the strength of neighboring challenge cards; if there is an arrow and number pointing to a neighbor challenge card, that neighbor receives that bonus to the challenge. So if you have a Challenge with a Difficulty of 7 and with a neighboring showing a +1 in its direction, the Challenge Difficulty is actually 8. This could impact how you approach the order of the challenges and makes for an interesting risk/reward situation. This bonus isn't clearly explained in the rules so I wanted to clarify that.
Sixth Player Variant
While the game is technically for 2-5 players, they have included an optional six player variant that essentially has the additional player being Brad Bradson from Human Resources. Brad does not have a character sheet nor makes any rolls. Brad is primarily responsible for building the atmosphere for each scene and keeping everyone focused; essentially, the sixth player is taking over the game master role building the scene for the players and allowing the players to add to the story. This can be good for times when you simply have 6 players and don't want to leave anyone out or when first introducing new players to an RPG.
We really had a lot of fun with this game. Since we were unable to get a group together before writing up this review, we played a couple two players games. We decided to use the non-two players rules to see how the experience should be with 3+ players. As a D&D Dungeon Master, I sometimes find myself having a hard time describing a scene I hadn't fully prepared for; what I liked about this game is it sets you up well to be able to flush out the details of a scene by providing a partial sentence for each you can weave into your overall description. I would definitely encourage people to not just read what is on the cards but rather use those descriptions within your own scene.
I feel this game is a great potential gateway into a full RPG system or perfect for families who want to teach their children how to tell a story. Many RPGs come with Starter Kits that provide everything needed to get started with their RPG System, but players still have to learn all of the rolls, understand the skills, and many other detailed mechanics. This game simplifies all of that by making the number crunching for the rolls straight forward with just a few numbers that need to be considered prior to rolling the die.
I think experienced RPG players will enjoy this game as a light weight RPG filler or even something they could use to run a full campaign of their own by using this game's system. There is really no reason why your couldn't play multiple games back to back linking them together with a story and reusing characters. I think there is a lot of potential with this game and the right players for sure.
There are some minor issues with the rules such as the lack of details on how the neighboring challenge bonus works and a few other small details that could have been better flushed out. However, once you get a few rounds into the game, it really isn't that hard to understand so these minor issues can be overlooked.
I am so happy to see a game that is based on a world created by West Virginians. It is a fun game that I think a lot of people will really enjoy if they give the game a chance and not be scared off by the "story telling" part of the game; that is the part that can be as detailed as you want it to be. I highly recommend checking out The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance and the Adventure Zone books.
We received the product in order to write an honest review; all reviews reflect the honest opinions of the writer.