Back in June I attended my first UK Games Expo at the NEC in Birmingham. It was an incredible event; a paradise for gamers and games creators alike. One of the features it boasted, in addition to vast trader areas and gaming spaces, was the chance to test out games that were still in development. Some of them were from big games companies, while others were one-man-bands happily showcasing their stuff to hordes of enthusiasts on their way through the event. Steve Venezia was one of these, chatting to punters and dealing out cards from his game Side Quest. He explained how it worked over the hubbub and it sounded kind of cool, so I took down some details. We got in touch again recently and Steve was good enough to send me a copy to play-test and preview in advance of their Kickstarter campaign. Here’s what I made of it..
The sub-title of Side Quest is Pocket Adventures, and it’s a pretty good description. All it takes to play the game is a deck of their cards and a couple of normal dice. Simple, portable, sorted. Fans of pen and paper RPGs will be familiar with the concept of a Dungeon Crawler. For the rest of you, it’s a kind of introductory adventure. Your heroes go into a situation where they’ve got to pretty much hack their way through monsters, puzzles and traps to find and kill some random overlord. The emphasis is on action rather than plot, and they’re designed to do two things: to engage the player on a visceral level and to teach them the basic mechanics of play. Side Quest is a dungeon crawler in card form, letting you carry your adventures in your pocket, ready to pull out whenever the mood suits.
Once you’ve picked out your hero or heroine, equipped them with their basic weapon and chosen one of three dungeons to raid, the rest of the cards split down to three basic types: Locations, Items and Monsters. Each location gives a certain benefit or drawback, and gives the game a sense of physical spaces to move your between. The game scales up according to how many players you have, between 1 and 4. A pre-set number of items and monsters will be shuffled together to form an encounter deck and then you’re pretty much good to go. As with most games it’ll take you a couple of rounds to get to grips with what you can do and, to a degree, how you should play together as a party, but once you’ve got the hang of it game-play can rocket along at a fair pace.
The phases of the game ensure that everyone gets a chance to do something before the monsters attack, but if they start swarming you it can get pretty sticky. Add in wild-cards like the Damsels in Distress and you could find yourself pulled all over the place. The key seems to be balancing the need to loot for better weapons, to thin the hordes before they become too much to cope with, and to work your way through the dungeon with enough health to survive against the dungeon’s Boss at the end. I should mention at this point that this is a co-operative game. If one party member dies, you all lose. Rather harshly (in my daughter’s opinion) you also lose if a Damsel in Distress gets killed. Just part of the burden of being a Hero, I guess.
Done right, a dungeon crawler can be a bundle of fun to play. Get the right atmosphere and the right bunch of people together and you can have a right laugh. Munchkin and its many spin-offs are a great example of this; using humour to keep the slaughter frothy and ridiculous. Get it wrong however and it can feel like a meaningless grind. I felt that Side Quest fell somewhere between these extremes. By and large its a fun game, encouraging the team to talk together and figure out the best ways to achieve their goals. The artwork could do with being improved and the rulebook needs a little work, but these are the kind of kinks Kickstarter is designed to solve. It is unfortunate that its main selling point – the pocket adventure – also limits it in terms of the number and variety of cards you can expect to encounter as you quest. Then again, you’ve always got another pocket. There’s clearly room for expansion in terms of locations, monsters, spells and items – all of which are planned for the future – and there’s no doubting they will boost the longevity of the game. It all depends on how well the Kickstarter goes. You can support the Side Quest Campaign from 9/9/15. Why not give it a look?
GS Blogger: Dion Winton-Polak
GS Preview Rating: 3/5