Spice It Up! with Captive, a Graphic Novel Adventure from Van Ryder Games

Like you, I play a lot of board games. Some of them come in traditional board game format, like the big beautiful board of Lisboa, with its meeples and its cards. Some come in a smaller format, for instance, the small board in the new Remnants game I just received from Fireside Games with tons of chits and cool custom dice.

But every once in a while, I stumble upon a completely different experience. Maybe it is the hot-and-getting-hotter genre of roll and write games like the Ancient Artifacts project that I am waiting on Kickstarter to deliver. Or maybe it is a miniature heavy game like the Shadespire game from Games Workshop that Dustin and I like to play during lunch.

Or maybe…it is not really a “board game” at all!

When I was a kid, one of my favorite activities was going to my friend Jon’s house. Jon taught me how to play D&D, and he had a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books, too. We spent so many hours with our thumbs and fingers holding our places, knowing that the next page choice might be the one that makes us go two or three fingers back to the start.

Would your game group like to recreate the experience they may have had reading those old choose your own adventure book experiences AND infuse some dungeon crawling fun, to boot?

If that’s what you are looking for, then let’s Spice It Up with Captive — or any of the other Graphic Novel Adventures coming to North America via Van Ryder Games.

Van Ryder Games was kind enough to send me a review copy of this new concept in gaming. Captive is one of five books in the series so far, all beautifully illustrated and all have choose your own destiny type structure combined with an element of solo role playing. They are calling them Graphic Novel Adventures (“GNA”), and the name is very apropos.

In Captive, designer Emmanuel Manuro teamed up with artist Manuel Chevalier to create a graphic novel book that incorporates some dungeon crawl elements. Players will take on the role of an investigator searching for a lost loved one, exploring the inside — and outside — of a foreboding mansion set far back from any civilization.

Obviously, I was hampered a bit in writing this review because I do not want to spoil the surprises you will find. I heard Robb Rouse on Blue Peg, Pink Peg podcast say recently that his favorite part of gaming is “the reveal”, and I am very similar to him in that regard. Therefore, I have kept the descriptions of what happens in the story intentionally vague so as not to spoil that experience.

If you have ever read a choose your own adventure book, then you know most of the premise behind the game. In this case, instead of words, there are pictures for you to look at, sometimes with text on them. You may be staring at a hallway with three doors. Each door has a number on it, so choose one, and then turn to that corresponding panel number to see what happens next.

Even better, some of the room illustrations in the graphic novel panels are very, very detailed. In those details are clues that you should study closely. Miss a clue, and you could be wandering the halls of this dark mansion for a long time…

But let’s not forget about the dungeon crawl aspect. Each person will also have three stats for their character: dexterity, vitality, and will. Within the rules of the game, you can tweak your character as to these stats, and many of the situations that you will face will require you to meet certain stat challenges.

These stats are kept on a handy sheet of paper, that slightly resembles the old character sheets from AD&D. There is room for your basic inventory — you will find items as you explore, and in addition to the basic items that your character has at the start of the adventure, you can also carry three optional items like matches or flashlights or weapons. Plus, there is plenty of room to take notes, which comes in handy as you learn about the secrets of the mansion.

And there are threats all around the mansion. Some of these can be beaten with your mind, or handled with the weapons you have at your disposal. Some of them are nasty brutes that can kill you in an instant. (Don’t worry, I’ve proved that many times while playing.) I let a friend try, and he broke my record on killing his character in just the first five minutes of playing!

The artwork is really interesting, the story has so many cool twists and turns, and the gameplay is infectious. Everytime you hit a wall, or make a bad decision, you will want to try again and fix your mistakes this time.

By the time I got my review copy, the Kickstarter had already ended. But, if any of these elements that I have described (great art, interesting puzzles, customizable characters, and an intriguing storyline) have enticed you even a little, you owe it to yourself to check into these books. Here is the good news — Van Ryder’s Kickstarter page for this project promises that the entire series of books (five separate adventures in all) will soon be coming to retail.

Did I win? Sure, after dying numerous times, getting stumped by a puzzle or two for a while, and even restarting my character, I finally solved the puzzle.

But, the more important question is: Did I have fun? I did, and even as I turned the last page and saw the final panel of my little story, I knew that there was a lot of adventure left in those beautiful pages. I guess I’ll just have to revisit the mansion again someday.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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