Monday, December 19, 2016

Exploring a tomb in just one page

Tombs: The Sword of Valhalla is a solitaire PnP that combines an interesting theme with fascinatingly minimal mechanics to create... okay, not that great a game. That said, I can't help but appreciate how the designer crammed an adventure game into one sheet of paper. 

T:tSoV describes how a team of archeologists are exploring and excavating the tomb of a Viking king, in search of the fabled sword in the title of the game. One of the most crucial mechanics is managing your resources by selling off artifacts you find.

Okay, make that a team of ethically questionable archeologists. Or just a group of tomb robbers. 

The entire game consists of one sheet of paper, which includes the rules, a map of the tomb which looks like it was made out of Viking Legos, a couple of tracks and an event table. All you need to play is four dice.

One die serves as the pawn to show where you are in the tomb and track how many party members are still alive. One die will help you track how many accused hex points your tomb desecration has earned you. One die lets you track both your supply inventory and the number of artifacts you've found. And you actually roll the last die for the event table.

Basically, the game is one combat-system short of being a dungeon crawl. 

It's cute how the whole thing fits on one page. The designer did a good job with the flavor text, creating a legitimate narrative of exploring the tomb. And I think that the way all the bookkeeping is done with just three dice is really neat.

But the game play is basically slogging across the map to the last chamber. If you run out of supplies or if everyone dies (which becomes a lot easier in the last chamber), you lose. You're not entirely at the mercy of the dice since you can use your supplies influence the roll but most of the decisions are pretty obvious ones.

So, while I admire how the whole idea of fitting an adventure on one page and the elegant way of book keeping with just a few dice and no pencil or paper, the actual game play just didn't excite me. I wouldn't have paid for the game and if it took more than ten minutes or so, I doubt I'd have tried it.

I admit, if I had found T:tSoV in an issue of Dragon Magazine in the early 80s, I'd have probably played the heck out of it for a few weeks. Since, hey, easy solo adventure. Indeed, it feels like something out of that era, before mobile devices made that sort of thing commonplace.

Seriously, mobile devices have really changed the whole solitaire game experience, at least for me. When I can turn on a dungeon crawl and get in some solitaire gaming with a device that I carry around in my pocket almost all the time, it makes games like T:tSoV seem kind of superfluous.

So I find myself being glad I found and experienced this game because it speaks to my inner eight-year-old. It's not something that I will revisit very often, maybe not at all. But it was fun to see something like this again.

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