Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Temple of Elemental Evil Board Game

Bowen's finally getting around to doing addition in school. Geek that I am, I decided that the best way of reinforcing that is to get him into D&D. I thought about ordering the Basic Set, but decided that that was way too abstract (despite the fun dice). The Temple of Elemental Evil board game, however, looked like it would be fun (and had lots of fiddly bits), and was a cooperative game, so we didn't have to worry about being competitive. And yes, I'm the kind of parent who looks at the suggested age (14+) and think that it's ridiculously silly, but it's probably set for an age where a kid can open the box with his brothers and read the rules and understand everything. I wasn't expecting Bowen to read the rules, just understand them.

The game does come with a ton of fiddly bits. There's a load of miniatures, multiple dungeon tiles that fit together like a puzzle piece, and a couple of rulebooks. There are also character cards, condition markers, hit point markers, and a set of character cards for each character. And of course, the trade-mark d20. We spent a happy hour punching out all the counters, sorting the cards, putting the minis into various zip-loc bags, and then proceeded to play the game wrong once before finally figuring it out.

The sequence of play is straight forward: you can move and then attack (or attack and then move), then draw a dungeon tile (if you've stepped onto a square to extend the dungeon) and/or an encounter card, activate monsters, and then pass it on to the next player. What's tricky about the game is that it makes a distinction between tiles and squares (the grid marked onto the dungeon tiles) and I failed to understand the difference at first because real D&D only counted squares and didn't have the concept of tiles.

That aside, Bowen found the game surprisingly fun. He immediately decided to play the Cleric, and I picked up the Rogue. The game has a lot of traps, but that was part of the fun. He loved rolling the d20, and then I'd help him add the modifier. (There's only one, and it's usually +5 or +6, but there are +4s, +2s, and various other combinations here and there) I had to frame his decisions for him, or he'd get lost, but he loved killing monsters and picking up a treasure card.

The game itself is actually quite hard. Encounter cards are very dangerous, so you have an incentive to keep exploring as much as possible so as to not necessarily have to draw encounter cards. (You have to draw an encounter card anyway if the tile you drew had a black arrow, and yes, Bowen had no problem understanding that rule) You can prevent encounter cards by spending experience (which you accumulate by killing monsters). You can spend treasure to level up (each character only has 2 levels)

The game thus scales itself with more players: each additional player means more encounter cards. In addition, if you play the game with its 13 scenarios as a campaign, the game self-adjusts in difficulty: the more successful you are, the more dangerous encounters and monsters get added to future scenarios. If you barely succeed, then less dangerous encounters get added, and you also get more treasure to spend to upgrade your characters and buy items. If you fail completely, you get to keep the treasure, but you also have to replay the scenario. I can see scenarios under which this gets you into a death spiral and then you'd have to replay the campaign and start over.

All in all, the game does a good job of simulating D&D, and teaching someone how to add. It does have a ton of fiddly bits, which meant that until Bowen was 4, there was no way playing this game wouldn't get all the minis destroyed in short order. I'd also worry about small children swallowing the d20, so I'm keeping the game strictly away from his younger brother for now. But it definitely seems like a great game for the rainy season. And hey, maybe one day that D&D Starter Set wouldn't seem like it would be too abstract for him.


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