Monday, 9 March 2015

Arcadia Quest - Chibi Heroes battling against the Evil Lord Fang, and each other

Arcadia Quest is produced by the people at Cool Mini or Not (anyone else remember when CMON was just a rip off of Hot or Not for miniature painters?) and is an adventure board game that is similar to games like Descent and Star Wars Imperial Assault. Normally I would call this style of game a "Dungeon Crawler" but in this particular case, there are no dungeons, all of the fighting and questing is done in the city streets.

The artwork and miniatures in Arcadia Quest are on in the now well known, Chibi art style. Where the character's heads are pretty much as big as their bodies and everything is over exaggerated. You will recognize this style from another Cool Mini or Not game: Super Dungeon Explore. My guess is that the same artist was used for both games.

Arcadia Quest, at it's heart, is a team based campaign game. It's not designed for stand alone play but is written assuming you are going to play through six separate games with the same players. In each campaign 2-4 player each control a guild of three characters. The players will take these guilds and compete in 6 different missions. Each missions has a different map set up and different quest objectives. Some of these quests are mission based and will have players fighting against the game. In addition to these Player vs. Environment or PvE quests there are always Player vs. Player or PvP quests that reward players for killing members of the other guilds. To win a mission a player needs to complete three of these quests, one of which has to be a PvE one. What is very interesting to note is that, unlike most games in this genre, there is no Dungeon Master or Keeper player.

Guild Creation

The story behind Arcadia Quest is that the Evil Lord Fang has taken over the city of Arcadia and the four Great Guilds of Arcadia are battling to get the city back while also proving they are better than the other guilds.

To start off a campaign players start by creating their Great Guild. They do this by selecting three heroes to play. The rules suggests a few ways to do this, and I strongly recommend the drafting method. When playing with a full four players you will be using every hero that comes in the base game. Cool Mini or Not has already released some hero expansion packs, available separately that can add some variety to this combination.

Each hero has two stats: armor and health, and a special ability. These special abilities range from being able to take extra attacks (by not exhausting cards, more about exhausting later), rolling extra attack or defense dice, doing extra damage, not provoking reactions from the enemies and more.

Once each player has three heroes they get a set of starter equipment cards. These are the same for all players and are a mix of basic weapons and spells. Each of these cards gives the character they are equipped on an attack action once the game start and some cards will also provide other benefits. For example the Parrying Dagger gives the equipped character a two die melee attack and also provides a bonus defense die when defending. Each character can hold up to four different pieces of equipment or cards and all of this is tracked by the player on an individual player board in each player's colour. These boards have slots for three character cards and slots for four equipment cards below each character card.

What I really like about the characters and equipment in Arcadia Quest is that you don't have your traditional fantasy "Class" system. There are no fighters or mages. You are free to put those starting equipment cards wherever you like. Sure different characters have abilities that may make them better at using certain cards. For example opponents don't get to roll defense against Seth's attacks if they are magical, but even with that there's nothing stopping you from giving him a Sword and giving your Life Drain spell to your best armored character.

The Arcadia Quest Campaign

Once each player has created their guild, they decide which mission to play first. The way a campaign works is that there is a map of the city of Arcadia that is divided into three tiers or regions and the players need to move inward through these. The outer region has six missions in it, the middle tier has four and the final tier only has one. This means that the base game comes with 11 different missions. A full campaign has players completing four outer tier, two middle tier and one final mission. Each campaign only uses 6 of the 11 mission, which adds a nice level of replayability to the game.

Missions get more difficult as each is completed with the level of the monsters increasing as well as the difficulty of the mission quests getting up as the group moves up to a different tier.

To compensate for this difficulty creep, there is an Upgrade Phase where players will get a chance to improve their guild between each mission. This phase lets players buy Upgrade Cards with gold gained in the just completed mission. There is a separate deck of cards for each level of play, based on which quest was just completed, with a total of 5 levels. Players create their own market through drafting cards from these decks. Similar to the Hero cards, with a full set of four players, every piece of equipment will be available to purchase each Upgrade Phase.

From their individually drafted market, players can buy up to three new cards. Since each hero can only hold four cards, you will be eliminating some cards from your guild's inventory over time as you get better stuff. 

In addition to new, more powerful, attack cards that work just like the starter equipment, the Upgrade Card deck includes various magic items. These magic items provide a variety of new options like extra movement, dice re-rolls or increasing your characters base stats. There are also suits of armor of which a character can only wear one.

Some of the missions contain quests that can reward your guild with titles. These carry over from mission to mission and getting a title in one mission can give you an advantage in a later mission. I thought this was a very cool way to tie the various missions together.

The one drawback to this system is that the game is completely designed around campaign play. There is a short blurb in the rules about doing a one shot, but really, the game is not made for it. 

Setting Up a Mission

Each mission has it's own unique board layout based on the nine different, two sided, map boards included in the core game. Most missions use 6 of these, but that does vary by mission. The maps go together to form the city streets of Arcadia.

The campaign book has a two page spread on each mission that tells you how to set up the board. Where to place doors and portals, where the monsters start, where monster re-spawn points go, etc. The book also gives a short background story for each mission (which are written rather humorously) and provides the mission objectives and any special rule changes for that mission.

As noted previously there are 11 different missions included in the base game and the actual quests on each vary wildly. Each mission will contain two unique Player vs. Environment quests. These are usually quite difficult to complete (compared to just beating up the other player's characters) and often give a substantial reward like a title or piece of unique equipment.

Some example of the types of quests you will find include: Rescuing captured eagles and setting them free, closing the gates of the city as wave after wave of monsters rush in, stealing Dwarf forged weapons from enemy controlled forges, killing off the Orc commanders, and more. Remember that each player needs to complete three quests to win the mission and that at least one of those has to be one of these PvE quests. This gives the game a very MMO co-op yet competitive feel that I find very unique.

There's a bunch of stuff that goes out on the board for each missions. The most notable are the monsters. The game contains a mix of Goblins, Orcs, Beastmen, Trolls, Witches and Vampires all represented by awesome looking, pre-assembled Chibi Miniatures. Each monster type also has a set of matching cards that show the monsters combat statistics and these cards are tied to what level of mission you are playing. So a mission 4 Orc is going to use the same miniature but a different stat card than a mission 1 Orc.

In addition to monsters there are Portals that make movement around the board easier (and make it so that no player starts with a positional advantage) and Exploration Tokens scattered around the board (based on the mission map). These tokens are flipped over when a player moves a character into a square with and they represent consumable items, like healing potions or treasure chests. These are randomized each game and 2 of these tokens actually represent traps that wound characters with no chance to prevent it when discovered. These tokens are carried by the characters that discover them and are dropped if that character dies or can be stolen by enemy characters.

Monster re-spawn points are also placed on the board. There's a separate graveyard tile that is placed beside the board and once this fills up with monsters that were killed during a mission, there is a chance they will re-spawn at one of these re-spawn points.

Each map also specifies the starting area for each guild and the last bit of set up is players putting their three characters out on the map and choosing how to equip each of them with all of the equipment cards they have accumulated thus far.

Playing Through a Mission (the fun part)

Okay, now that all the set up and explanation is over we get to the fun part, actually completing quests and beating up the other players.

Each turn a player gets to activate one of their guild members. It can be anyone and it doesn't matter if a character was just activated last turn. Once activated, that character gets a move and an attack. All characters get 3 movement points (potentially modified by equipment). Each square of movement costs one point, going through a portal costs one point and opening or closing a door costs one point. Either before or after moving the player gets to pick one of their attack cards, that doesn't have a refresh token on it, to use. They mark this card with a refresh token and then carry out their attack.

What these refresh tokens mean is that as you make attacks the cards get used up. Once used they can't be used again until you rest. This limits how much each character can do before you need to rest. So you can keep using the same character turn after turn but pretty quickly they are going to run out of options as all of their cards get refresh token on them.

Instead of picking a character to activate, a player can choose to rest their guild. The main thing this does is remove any and all refresh tokens from all of their equipment cards. It also allows the player to freely swap around equipment between characters and even move around consumable treasure that was picked up during the mission. Lastly resting lets dead characters re-spawn and come back out on the board.

Actual attacking and defending is pretty simple. Similar to many games that came before it, like HeroQuest, the attacker rolls attack dice and the defender rolls defense dice. Hits on the attack die depends on what type of attack is being used: Ranged or Melee with each symbol of the appropriate type counting for one hit. Each shield on a defense die cancels one of those hits. Left over hits cause damage. In addition to basic symbols on the dice there is also a 'critical' symbol that can trigger various character, monsters and equipment abilities. For the monsters, the player on the right of the active player gets to roll all the monster dice and make any decisions for that monster.

Melee attacks can only attack monsters or characters that are "close" to the target. Close, in this game means in the same square or one square orthogonally adjacent that isn't blocked. Walls and closed doors block squares as does any square with two enemy miniatures in it (which doesn't matter for melee but does for ranged attacks and movement). For ranged attacks there is no range limit, you can shoot all the way across the board if you have a clear shot. Line of Site is required and is determined from the middle of the attacking square to the middle of the target square, blocked squares block line of site as to walls.

As there is no GM role in Arcadia Quest the monsters work on a pretty simple AI system. Each monster guards the squares "close" to it. If a character moves away from one of these close squares or they attack anything other than the monster guarding that square, they provoke an attack from the monster (I can't help but think of the D&D Attack of Opportunity). If multiple monsters guard a square they can each be provoked to attack.

In addition to guarding a square each monster will react if attacked. Each monster has two health ratings, one that shows how much damage needs to be done to kill it and a second that shows how much damage must be done, in a single attack, to remove it from the board without provoking a reaction. Monster reactions are the only way that monsters get to move. The player on the right of the attacker can move the monster up to it's speed and then make an attack against the character that provoked the reaction.

When a monster takes more wounds than it's health it is removed from the board and placed on the graveyard tile. Once this tile fills up with monsters, they may re-spawn on the board. When a character from a guild is killed he is removed from the board. The player controlling the character puts a death mark on the character card. This dead character can be brought back into play, with all wounds healed, during that guild's next rest action. There is no penalty for death during a match but each death puts another death mark token on the character.

Killing monsters and other characters gives the attacker's guild gold, with tougher monsters being worth more gold. In addition killing certain monsters can be part of the mission quests and can give special reward equipment or titles.

So that's basically it. Players run around on the map, killing monsters, trying to complete the mission quests and beating each other up. The first player to complete a quest gets a 1 gold bonus and the first player to complete three quests (with at least one of them being a mission specific PvE quest) wins the match. Each guild then collects one gold for each quest they completed (so the first person to complete a quest actually earns a total of 2 gold for that quest). Treasure chests held by each guild are also converted to gold at this time.

Before going shopping during the Upgrade phase (described above) each player has to draw one Death Curse card for each death mark token on their heroes. The player is forced to keep the card with the highest severity rating. These cards not only take up a valuable equipment slot on the character but also can provide some other limitation. Thankfully these Death Curses go away at the end of the next match or when the character drinks a healing potion.

If the mission you just finished is the final mission, number 6, the player who won wins the campaign and the game overall. Their guild now rules Arcadia. Otherwise the winning player picks the next mission to play and the campaign continues.

What Did I Think Of Arcadia Quest

I really love the way this game looks. It's a beautiful game in many ways. Amazing pre-assembled miniatures. Great looking boards. Clear easy to see and distinguish counters. Great looking and easy to read rulebook. It even comes with a pad of campaign sheets for tracking your progress and what cards each guild  has between games. 

Arcadia Quest also had one of the best packed boxes I've ever seen. I think a Tetris master was used to figure out how to fit everything in there with almost no wasted space. I don't think I've bought a game with less air in the box, and that's impressive if you've seen the size of this box.

I got this game the exact same day I received Star Wars Imperial Assault (check out my initial thoughts here), and I can't help but compare the two games. They are actually very similar. Both adventure games with great looking miniatures that features campaign play.

The one big advantage Arcadia Quest has over Imperial Assault is that it doesn't have a GM role. There's no player running the game, with secrets that the other player's don't know. It's not asymmetrical in any way (at least at the start), with every player having the same resources and the exact same goals.

This lack of GM is also a bit of a disadvantage though. Without the GM you don't get nearly as much story. Really Arcadia Quest is a linked set of brawls in the city streets with only the titles you earn in one match potentially mattering in the next match. You also don't get the depth of character specific mission and/or side quests. This is both a bane and a boon though since you loose some depth but gain play speed. An Arcadia Quest campaign could theoretically be played through in one night if you had enough time. We managed to get through 3 matches with completely new players in under 5 hours. 

Upgrading your team can be a lot of fun. I really like the drafting system used to create your own personal shop during the Upgrade Phase. As mentioned previously, I really like the way that your characters aren't based on a class and any of those Upgrade Cards can be given to any player. The one problem I did see with this system though was that the winner of each mission is generally the player with the most gold. The player with the most gold gets to buy the best Upgrade Cards. The player with the best Upgrade Cards has the best chance of winning the next mission and so on. So there seems to be the potential of a run away leader problem in Arcadia Quest. There isn't any type of catch up mechanic in the game.

My biggest complaint about this game is the same as my biggest complaint about Imperial Assault. The game is written for campaign play. This means that you need the same group of four players to be available and willing to play through six games of Arcadia Quest to fully complete a campaign. Now, for those of you with a steady regular group this is fine, but it's an issue for those of us who play with a variety of different players all the time. As noted previously, there are rules for a pick up game, but really the game can only shine if you play through a campaign.

Final Thoughts

I rather like Arcadia Quest. It's a great looking, fast playing adventure game (dungeon crawler without the dungeon) that doesn't require a player to take on a GM/Keeper role. While the campaign doesn't have as much depth as some other games in this genre this one is relatively short and quick to play through while still having some good decision points and mission linkages along the way. I've heard people compare it to a fantasy Loony Toons or Super Smash Brothers and I can see that, though I think that betrays how much actual depth there is here. 

If you dig adventure games in general and don't mind the Chibi aesthetic (I know some people can't stand it) I think it's well worth trying out Arcadia Quest. Due to the chaotic nature of the game, the fact that it really only works with standing regular group and the price point, I do recommend you try before you buy.

Have you played Arcadia Quest? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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