Call to Adventure review
The young apprentice vowed to wreak vengeance on the Assassin’s Guild that executed her father. But in order to do so, she had to train as a killer and infiltrate them, learning dangerous forgotten lore along the way.
The foundling squire was an unabashed thrillseeker, though he had a good, unselfish heart. After defeating a foul sorceress he put aside his daredevilish ways and became an enlightened master, sharing his wisdom just as he’d once shared his gains with the needy.
The lone hunter earned praise for his heroic acts, yet all along he was pursuing a villainous, secret agenda, manipulating events for the benefit of his dark, demonic master.
In most games, this trio of fantastical narratives might offer a starting point: a set character you select to head off on further tabletop adventures. Call to Adventure takes a different, rather novel approach. All of the above represent three different players’ endgame outcomes, each formed from a tableau of tarot-sized cards collected and played during an interestingly narrative-driven engine-builder.
Many RPG players would agree that character creation is the most fun part of the process, and what Johnny and Chris O’Neal have done here is construct an entire game around that idea. Where their Boss Monster was about building dungeons, this is about building protagonists. Starting with an origin, a motivation and a hidden destiny, each player builds their own three-act story by choosing traits to add to their character or challenges to set them – each challenge offering two different paths, often (but not always) presenting a choice between a triumphant or a tragic result.
It’s a very simple structure, and most sessions may whizz by too quickly for some hardcore gamers’ tastes. But the O’Neals tweak up the engagement levels by adding hero and anti-hero cards which can help with challenges or hinder other players’ attempts and, best of all, by replacing dice-rolling with rune-casting.
Satisfyingly cast in smooth acrylic, Call to Adventure’s runes represent the seven core D&D stats – strength, dexterity, constitution, etc. – and can be cast only in combinations that specific challenges allow. However, you always have a set of three core runes (one of which has a 50/50 chance of adding a hero or anti-hero card to your hand) and you can spend experience to add in ‘dark runes’, which can boost your result while potentially pushing you down your player mat’s corruption track towards the ‘dark side’.
It’s a superb alternative to dice and has been integrated so well it doesn’t feel like a novelty. Indeed, it makes up for some of the game’s flaws, such as the way the tableaux are tricky to arrange, with gained cards having to be tucked under the character cards in such a way that they’re all too easy to whack out of alignment at the slightest brush of a shirt sleeve. Or a scoring system that feels more fiddly and less intuitive than it should for such a relatively light game.
But these are minor complaints. If you’re a sucker for fantasy and appreciate games that are fuelled by narrative, then you should definitely answer this Call.
PLAY IT? – YES
A neat, swift, story-driven tableau-builder whose rune-casting element provides an elegant and innovative alternative to dice.
Full disclosure: The author of this review was a backer of Call to Adventure on Kickstarter.
Designer: Chris O’Neal, Johnny O’Neal
Time: 30-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 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.