30 April 2020
An engaging mystery whose puzzles are stronger than its plot
The growth of story-focused games has been one of the most fascinating developments in the tabletop hobby. From the intimate two-player improv of Fog of Love to the branching fantasy plotlines of Legacy of Dragonholt and the binge-worthily episodic Pandemic Legacy, a growing number of designers are experimenting with board games as a narrative medium. The newly launched Adventure Games series is the latest addition to the bunch, and within a few minutes of getting it to the table it’s clear that its co-creators must have spent a considerable chunk of the 1990s playing point-and-click adventure video games like Broken Sword and Monkey Island.
Like the revered PC titles, it sees players exploring mysterious environments, piecing together bits of information and attempting to solve a succession of puzzles to advance through an unfolding narrative, and it’s impressive just how faithfully it replicates the experience in an analogue form. Monochrome Inc. – one of two standalone games released to kick off the series – casts players as a team of thieves and hackers engaged in a spot of futuristic corporate espionage, attempting to steal valuable secrets from a shady pharmaceutical company.
As you play, you’ll reveal a collection of locations within the company’s HQ, picking up an array of potentially useful items and trying to figure out how to use them to sneak your way into top-secret laboratories. In some cases it’s pretty obvious: keys fi t into locks, pilfered security passes override electronic entry systems. But others are less clear-cut; how are you supposed to overcome high-tech security measures using a length of rubber hose, a cigarette lighter and an empty soft drink can?
Working it our requires observation, logic and lateral thinking, and cracking each problem feels like a little triumph. As you sneak through the building you’ll incrementally open up more of the environment, and there’s a real sense of discovery as each new room brings you more information, with new characters to talk to and new clues to guide you through the deepening mystery.
This atmosphere of exploration is reminiscent of publisher Kosmos’s other small-box series, EXIT: The Game, which attempts to recreate the experience of a real-life escape room. But where those games focused primarily on puzzle-solving, the new Adventure Games come with much more of an emphasis on plot. And for the most part, Monochrome Inc. makes a decent stab at presenting an engaging techno-thriller.
While its evil-corporation-vs-band-of-outlaws premise isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it knowingly and lovingly embraces genre tropes. It lacks the deep characters and living setting of Legacy of Dragonholt – unsurprisingly as it’s a much smaller game. But it compensates with puzzles which really draw players in to its air of mystery, contributing powerfully to the atmosphere around the table. It’s a one-and-done adventure, and once you’ve run through it there’s no point going back for another go. But with no legacy-style torn-up cards, you can always pass it on once you’ve finished. It’s an intriguing start, and it’ll be interesting to see how the series develops from here.
Monochrome Inc. stumbles in places, particularly with some clunky dialogue and characters who lack real personality. But it makes up for it with puzzles which tickle various bits of your brain. There’s a sense of exploration as you steadily reveal more of its environment, and it also oﬀers a compelling single-player experience, and its optional companion app streamlines things by saving you looking up chunks of text
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… TIME STORIES
Like the time-travelling series, Adventure Games recreates the feel of classic point-and-click adventures. But where TIME Stories suffered from some clunky repetition, this latest take on the concept is a little more elegant.
Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Maximilian Schiller
Time: 90 minutes
Players: 1- 4
What's in the box?
- Story book
- 4 cardboard character standees
- Adventure cards
- Level cards
This review originally appeared in the January 2020 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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