Journey Before Destination - A Review of Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive
“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.”
- The first ideal of the Knights Radiant, from The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
For those of you who have already read the Stormlight Archive books by Brandon Sanderson, you’re gonna like this one. For thoses who haven’t read the books yet…STOP AND GO READ THEM! Seriously. Best books ever. Favorites x 1,000,000,000. And, with the fourth Stormlight book—Rhythm of War—coming out this fall (EXCITE!), now is the perfect time to get your Stormlight fix through this board game! (Also, potential spoilers in the pictures.)
Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive is a standalone version of the regular Call to Adventure game by Brotherwise Games. In it, you are building a character’s origin, backstory, and destiny. It’s a simple game of rune casting (instead of dice chucking) and luck, but it hits a sweet spot in narrative board games that’s still good, even if you have no idea what Stormlight is. Or Odium. Or … well, you get the idea.
After a quick solo play (where I failed miserably to defeat Odium), I was into it. I still had some rules questions, but a quick BGG search helped solve those. While the rule book is nice and concise, it did leave some things open to interpretation, such as when certain cards activate, what happens if this edge case happens, et cetera. But, I liked it. And, I liked it more as I played it more. I was super excited to see a Stormlight Archive game, and I am happy with what it is.
Now, as I mentioned, Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive is a fairly straight forward game. On your turn, you can either get a trait or attempt a challenge. Traits are free—just pick them up and add them to the appropriate character card. Some traits have prerequisites you must fulfill first, but regardless of how you get it, it’s always a certain success. Easy pickings, but generally not as fruitful as successfully completing a challenge. Traits will generally have an icon or two along the top, giving your character those attributes (or points or ability to immediately draw a card, etc.). Or, it will have some sort of text to aid you on your next turn.
Challenges involve tossing runes. Tossing runes is essentially like rolling a d2. One side is a success, the other side is blank, a double success, or some other bonus. Challenge cards have a difficulty on them and have a top and bottom challenge from which to choose. Some bottom challenges have +1 added to their difficulty than what the top’s is, but the rewards are generally better for the more difficult tasks.
Attempting challenges is where the gameplay really is. Each time you attempt a challenge, you throw a base set of three generic runes. Now, set collection comes into play as you collect trait and challenge cards with specific symbols on them. As each challenge card shows two additional icons on the side, you may throw one additional rune of those types for each card you have attached to your character cards that match the symbols on the challenge card. So, if it had a sword and that purple mountain thing, and you had one card that was a sword attached to your character card and two purple mountain things, you would toss your three base runes, plus a sword rune and two purple mountain thing runes. These extra runes will be essential for accomplishing more difficult challenges. You may only throw a maximum of three runes per type, though, so if you have four sword icons on your character, you may still only throw three sword runes.
And there will be times when your additional runes simply aren’t enough (at least, with your luck they aren’t). So, you can spend experience tokens in exchange for dark runes, one token for one rune. These runes are great in that they guarantee at least one success, but if you throw a moon symbol, your good/evil track drops down to be more of an antihero. This affects how many points you can score (or lose, if you drop down too far), and which cards you can play from your hand (hero or antihero cards). But, sometimes it’s worth it to visit the dark side in order to succeed. Sometimes it can cost you the game (a fact of which I am painfully aware).
The game’s end is triggered once one player has three cards tucked under each of their three character cards (so nine cards in total). Then, everyone else has one last turn, and the game is over. Points are counted, and the player with the most points is the winner! Huzzah!
Not much to it, but there is a lot to think about still the same. Various cards you can acquire have those rune symbols on them (which is important not just for getting more runes, but for end-game scoring in some instances as well), along with other, less fancy symbols. These shadowed symbols (known as story icons)—and the Radiant symbol—can help with card abilities as well as with end-game scoring. This second group of symbols (not to be confused with Symbolheads, i.e. Cryptics, i.e. liespren) combine to give points by having 2, 3, or 4 of a single type, and can be repeated for the other types of story icons as well. The more of the same type of story icon you have (up to four), the more points you’ll score. So, while you can gain points from cards gained and cards played, you can score a lot for collecting these sets.
At the end of the game, you’re also able to tell your hero’s story through the cards added to your hero cards. This is pretty much mandatory when playing with me. Tell the other players about your hero’s backstory, their motivation, and their destiny. Storms, but I love a good story. Hoid must have had a hand in this end-of-game storytelling.
There is also a cooperative and solo variant, both of which play the same, more or less. Let’s talk about that now.
Solo and Cooperative Play
Solo and cooperative play have you building up your character(s) as normal, but instead of the game simply ending, the last stage is to fight the odious Odium. He starts with 5 tokens on his card per player at the start of the game. To defeat him, you must “challenge” him (like you would a regular challenge), beat him, and have zero tokens left on him at the end. For each value over Odium’s success score, you remove a token from his card. Each player must succeed in their attempt to defeat Odium; if even one fails, Odium wins. Fortunately, there are ways to remove tokens from him throughout the game. Unfortunately, he also has ways to gain tokens as the game goes on. Plus, he has his own deck of cards that is geared toward your downfall, so that adds some added fun into the mix as well.
The way Odium gains or loses tokens, or plays a card, differs depending on which adversary quest you use. For solo, there are only a couple of options, but more for co-op games. Working together as a team to defeat Odium seems a wee bit easier than going solo, due to some hero and antihero cards helping other players. But, solo is very well done. I am quite pleased with how it plays out solo, despite having yet to win by myself. I have beaten Odium cooperatively, though.
I, for one, simply cannot get enough Stormlight Archive in my pathetic, Radiantless life, and this version of Call to Adventure does a good job of bringing the world to life. I love the theme, and I like how the cards play well with that theme. If you have read the books, there are no spoilers. If you haven’t yet … well, you may have some things ruined (not to be confused with Ruin of Scadrial) for you. Nothing too huge, though. I also like how the solo/co-op variant pits the Radiants against Odium. A fitting conclusion to a cooperative game.
The art is storming amazing! I can’t get enough of it. The first thing I did upon opening the box was go through each and every card and basked in their glory. Seriously, the artists must have attracted thousands of creationspren while working on these pieces. I love it! The art really speaks for itself, so here’s another picture to look at.
These are the things that were A+ (for me, anyway):
· The theme (Surprised? You shouldn’t be.)
· The art
· Solid solo variant
Things to Consider
Now, these considerations aren’t necessarily bad. Rather, they’re something you may want to know about before investing (not to be confused with Investiture) in the game.
Complexity: You’re picking cards and tossing runes. That’s really all there is to it. While this is a pretty light game as far as complexity goes, it does what it set out to do wonderfully. And, there are certain aspects, such as set collection, that provide a bit more strategy as well. The cooperative variant is a nice switch up that provides a new challenge as well, so bouncing between that (and solo) and competitive play can help keep things fresh.
Luck: This goes along with complexity, but since your success relies on rune results, there’s not a lot you can do. Sure, you can toss dark runes (which could hurt you while still helping provide success) or play hero and antihero cards for a bit of mitigation, but luck is heavy here. That said, I don’t mind the luck factor at all. In fact, I think it helps add to the tension and enjoyment. But, your oaths and ideals may be different than mine, and that’s alright.
Rules: There were a few shady (not to be confused with Shadesmar) spots in the rule book where things weren’t clarified, but they weren’t crucial, although knowing for certain is always nice.
As an official Edgedancer (take the quiz!), it is my duty to remember. Perhaps that’s one reason I enjoy Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive as much as I do. You see, the game revolves around building characters and telling their stories, and telling stories is one way to remember the past. Even before the official quiz of the Knights Radiant dubbed me an Edgedancer, I have always been about storytelling. Finding out I was an Edgedancer was just a natural process (even though I really wanted to be a Windrunner, which was a close second).
But enough about Radiant orders. The game, itself, is a good game. Great, even, if you are invested in storytelling and the cosmere (or even just Roshar as a whole). I have a feeling, though, that the game might not have enough depth for some of the more die-hard gamers out there. But no matter what your gaming preferences, if you are even mildly obsessed with The Stormlight Archive, you really ought to play Call to Adventure: The Stormlight Archive, as I’m fairly confident you’ll enjoy it. Is it for everyone? Of course not. But I like it, and that’s what matters to me. I’ll probably end up playing this solo more frequently than with others, although playing with others—both competitively and cooperatively—is just as good as the solo variant (and I love a good solo game).
What’s your Radiant order? Take the quiz then share your results! It’s still fun to see, even if you have no idea what in Roshar I’m talking about.
About the Author
Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego’s Copyediting Extension program. He’s a freelance writer and editor, covering everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher. You can also read his board game inspired fiction at BoardGameImmersion.com.