13 September 2018
Have dice, will travel in this roll-and-write adventure
A set of three roll-and-write puzzle games, Penny Papers Adventures puts players in the shoes of an intrepid explorer delving into undiscovered corners of the world, armed only with a pencil.
The games share the same mechanical underpinning. In each round, players roll a set of three dice, using the results to guide Penny around a grid-patterned map – one for each player. You’ll be able to use results from individual dice, or combine them to make bigger numbers, writing them on your map to mark off areas as Penny visits them.
Each game comes with its own ways to score points, though. The simplest, The Temple of Apikhabou, rewards players for making continuous chains of numbers across the map, or for creating adjacent groups of matching values. Skull Island, on the other hand, is a little more complicated, granting you points for creating intersecting points between matching numbers – a bit like a kind of reverse sudoku, where you’re actively trying to place multiples the same digit on the same lines.
Then there’s Valley of Wiraqocha, the toughest of the lot. It sees players exploring a South American landscape, forming different groups of numbers to represent jungles, towns, mountain ranges and pyramids built by ancient civilisations. You’ll also be able to build huts and mines, boosting your score by placing them next to certain types of newly-discovered terrain. It’s by far the most complex instalment in the series – the most likely to please seasoned gamers, and to intimidate newer ones.
As you might expect in a game with an adventurous theme, you’ll face dangers on your travels. Unlucky dice rolls see players running into vengeful mummies, venomous snakes and treacherous conditions. When that happens you’ll swap your sheet with an opponent, with everyone choosing a spot on their rival’s map to place a hazard. It means you’ll be able to block off vital spaces, disrupting other players’ carefully laid plans, and stops Penny Papers falling into the antisocial trap of 'multiplayer solitaire'.
Despite this nod to player interaction, though, at its heart the series is a competitive puzzle with more of an emphasis on optimising your own game than interfering with your opponents’. It’s also possible to play it solo, although it does introduce one major annoyance. In multiplayer games, everyone’s working with the same pool of dice. No matter how poorly you roll, the challenge is to work with what you’ve got, using the dice at your disposal more efficiently and cleverly than your rivals. When you’re playing alone, your only goal is to rack up the highest possible score, and a run of unlucky rolls can make it impossible – a frustrating situation that leads to a temptation to scrunch up your map and throw it in the bin.
There’s a lot to like about these small, quick, cerebral games, though. If you’re a fan of brainy puzzles, they’re definitely worthy of your attention and, with three levels of complexity to choose from, you’ll be able to progress through them as you become a grizzled, veteran explorer.
The Penny Papers Adventures series takes a simple roll-and-write premise and tweaks it to deliver a varied and distinct set of challenges. It packs the same kind of brainy punch as an addictive smartphone puzzle, although in solo mode it can result in some frustrating games where you find yourself at the mercy of unco-operative dice.
Designer: Henri Kermarrec
Artist: Géraud Soulié
Time: 15-25 minutes
Age: 7+ to 9+
Price: £15 (each)
This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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