Updated: Jan 18
WBG Score: 7
Player Count: 1-6
Published by: BLAM !
This review will contain very minor spoilers to explain the games' mechanisms.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of mystery surrounding this game for me. The art for the box was popping up everywhere I looked. Admittedly, confusing me when it was different each time. I did not realise there are four versions of this game at first, but all four looked stunning and so appealing to me. But I couldn't figure out quite how the game worked or how big it was. Not that this matters, but it added to the enigma!
Now proudly owning one copy of this game, I can tell you, first up, its a really fun choose your own adventure style game, in a tiny box! I have the Lhasa version, there is also one called Oklahoma, Vinland and a mini one called Tintagel. Each tells the tale of a different adventurer in four completely different stand alone games.
Cartaventura: Vinland is set in the the land of the Vikings. Players will follow in the footsteps of explorer Erik The Red trying to prove your father's innocence.
Cartaventura: Oklahoma places you in 1854 in the United States. Players play as Bass Reeves, a slave, who works in cotton and sugarcane fields who has intentions for freedom!
Finally, Cartaventura: Tintagel is a mini scenario for Cartaventura. It takes you on the footsteps of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was initially available for free within a French magazine and now I expect, does the rounds at conventions and eBay!
But back to Lhasa, where I have been playing as a French War correspondant, travelling through the Far Eat in search of Alexandra David-Neal. A fascinating woman with whom I have been a little obsessed with since playing this game. It is worth checking her out, even if you just read the highlights here. What a fascinating life.
The game comes with a brief piece of history about her and her life at this time too. Making the adventure to try and find her in the game all the more exciting! The game has multiple endings and it took me three game until I found the ending I was satisfied with, but I wont spoil it by saying anything about what happened in either ending. Or why I wanted something specific. Each game ending was fun and gratifying. But as each adventure transpired, I was left feeling I had either missed parts out, or wanted to try and take a different route.
Learning and playing Cartaventura could not be more easy. There is no rule book per say, and the on-boarding process for this game is fantastic. You simply start playing. In the box is 70 cards. The first few take you through the basics of what each symbol means, a lightning bolt means you must do that card right away for example. Nothing you won't be familiar with already. You then start reading the story and making choices. At the end of most cards there is a two-pronged choice to make. Go here or there. Talk to this person or that. Do this thing, or that thing. You will soon be given resources to manage which will affect which choices you can make as not everything in life is free of course. And you will realise that each action has a consequence. You cannot say something bad about someones business without them having an opinion of your work for example.
Some cards you reveal will be a map, showing where you are and giving you choices of where you want to go. Again, everything will have a consequence, and the game is played with a clever sense of time passing. Doing once thing will affect your ability to do another. A ship may sail and remove your options for other things. It's hard to not go into too much detail here without spoiling the game, so you will have to let your imagination do the rest of the work.
The game has multiple endings, and your actions in one game, will affect subsequent games in a very clever way that again I won't spoil here. There are some parts of the game that will remain the same each time you play of course, especially for the first few turns. But it doesn't take long for your choices to fork, and new experiences to be had.
I found that playing this game evoked a real sense of adventure and mystery. I think games like this rely on the story more than the mechanisms, and the story in Lhasa is truly fascinating to me. This era of history interests me a lot anyway, and I have always had a romantic interest in the area the game takes you too. Learning a little bit more about the people and cultures during this time, in what feels like a historically accurate account, adds a lot to this game. I was curious to try every different option. I wanted to look down every street, talk to every person. Experience every possible eventuality.
This is how the game looks after about 5 minutes of playing, (with a few cards removed) no matter the choices you make. I feel comfortable showing this picture without spoiling anything. It gives you a good impression of how the game looks, and the multiple options that will be available to you at any turn. Most of the criticism for this game I have seen focuses around the lack of options available to you as the player, and how the game has a basic linear path that feels more like a choose your own adventure story and less like a game. I could not disagree more. Each time I have played, the game has felt completely divergent, and the story I told was vastly contrasting, and had very different endings. There is more to this than just your choices, but I appreciate how this can be the case for some.
Of course, the choices will not go on forever. This is a physical product after all. In future, digital versions of games like this will offer more choice. But for a small box, low cost game, I think there is more than enough in this production to justify this game being given worthy consideration of anyone interested in choose your own adventure style games. And that is the key point. If you like choose your adventure style games, I think you will like this. If you don't, then I don't think this will change your mind on the genre.
The main choice if you do like this type of thing, is which story interests you the most. For me it was Lhasa and it's mysterious place in history. But now, having experienced this one and enjoyed the way the game is structured, I want to play them all!