Full Disclosure: Brotherwise Games sent me a review copy of Call to Adventure.
What is this game about?
Call to Adventure is a game about creating a hero and helping them progress through an epic story, beginning with the hero's origin and culminating in an ultimate destiny. To build your hero, you begin with three cards—an origin, a motivation, and a destiny—then pick up character traits and complete challenges across three acts in order to "fill in" that character's story. Your hero may be more heroic or skew a little towards the dark side, with consequences in terms of what cards you're able to play based on your current ethical orientation. In a multiplayer game, the first person to complete Act III triggers the end of the game. In a solo game, players race an adversary who is trying to gain a certain number of experience tokens before their hero can fully take form.
Call to Adventure is also a game about building up your dice pool. Instead of dice, however, the game features very fun two-sided "runes" that you can cast to complete challenges. Each card you gain will give you some sort of benefit in future challenges, and will make changes to the "pool" of runes that you can cast on your turn. You can also take a risk and cast "dark runes," which can provide enormous benefits in a challenge, but can also corrupt your hero.
Although Call to Adventure is essentially about acquiring cards for your hero, it is not enough to just acquire a random assortment of trait and challenge cards. The ultimate winner of a multiplayer game will be the hero with the most points, and different cards will offer different rewards, including story points or interesting bonuses. In a solo game, a player must defeat the adversary on their last turn in order to win the game—so you'd better be looking for cards and configurations of runes that lend themselves to victory.
How does it play solo?
Call to Adventure does have a solo/co-op mode in which players face off against an Adversary from the game. In this mode of play, you are essentially racing to acquire character cards and ultimately defeat the Adversary before the Adversary gains a certain number of experience points. The Adversary will also have turns during which it plays cards that interfere with players' attempts to complete challenges. Overall, though, the Adversary can't do too much to you—the main thing is figuring out how to build your pool of runes in a way that will help you achieve victory against the Adversary later.
I really wanted to like Call to Adventure, and there are a lot of things to appreciate about it. The component quality in this game is excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed the card art, and casting the runes feels very satisfying. There's something a little extra exciting about those!
The overall outline of a story that you can create for your character by the end of a game of Call to Adventure is also fun. While not required, it is recommended that players tell their heroes' stories at the end of the game, and I think that Call to Adventure could be a fun way to inspire new DnD characters or perhaps even short stories. It's fun to see an epic narrative distilled down to its bare bones, and future expansions of this game promise further excitement in this area—they will incorporate real story elements from the works of Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson. I think a lot of fantasy fans will find this exciting. It's enough to keep me waiting to see if Call to Adventure continues to evolve as a game system.
But in the end, Call to Adventure in its current form feels only partially baked, especially when it comes to solo mode. Although the Adversary has a deck of cards that can interfere with you, it never feels like Adversarial intervention is that big of a threat—and thus there is not that much tension in the game. You can definitely get unlucky if you fail too many challenges or if you are not revealing cards with the correct runes on them, but that feeling of slugging it out with an opponent isn't there. I'd really like to see meatier solo/co-op play, or I might as well just shuffle the cards and lay them out in interesting combinations to create homebrew fantasy narratives. (Which actually sounds like a fun idea...)
The rulebook for Call to Adventure has some issues, as well. Although this game is light as air, I found myself rereading several sections and hunting around for information that wasn't intuitively placed. It took me a moment to really understand how to complete challenges because the visual example provided was not crystal clear, and the solo/co-op rules could also use some clarification and perhaps an example of gameplay. In a game that is otherwise so well-produced, I found this particularly frustrating.
Finally, as is often the issue I have in games that try to both be a game and help you create a fun story, Call to Adventure sometimes gets in its own way. The winner of the multiplayer game is the one who tells the "most interesting story," as determined by points earned throughout the game. But often, you find yourself picking the card that is worth more points instead of the card that actually tells a more interesting story. In solo, there is no score at all—just a drive to collect cards fast and beat a final challenge. Because failing even one challenge can really set you back, you'll find yourself inclined to go only for challenges that you're fairly certain you can win. Taking big risks is great fun in a story, but it can backfire in a board game, and that's a restriction I don't enjoy when going for my own version of "most exciting" epic narrative.
Do I recommend it?
In its current form, I do not recommend Call to Adventure. Some people will like it—it's light, it's relaxing, and if you're the imaginative type you can create some fun narratives with it. But as a game, I don't feel it's entirely there. I would at least wait to see if there are improvements made to gameplay when the next KS campaign rolls around.
Overall Rating: 2.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.