I had just battled to victory against the dreaded King Mithradates, I was battered, bruised, and breathing like a jogging Darth Vader, but I was victorious. Then, my seven-year-old son, who to be fair had been unusually excited during my epic struggle, pulled a huge grin and dropped a card.
Some games come into your life riding the tidal wave of hype. For months before you eventually get eager mitts on them, whispers of greatness are carried on the air smack bang into the part of your brain that determines which games you simply, must have!
Others stay low, completely undetected by the board game radar, the ‘playdar’, if you will. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, and that probably thoroughly disappoint developers and publishers across the globe, some games barely make a ripple in the waters prior to launch.
Quest for the Antidote, is one such game. I had no clue such a quest existed until it appeared by surprise at my table and I was off in search of the ingredients that could save me from a grisly fate. This is only partly true. I was entirely unaware of the game before I knew it would be winging its way to me, but I did embark on a little quest of my own before getting it to the table. I trawled the comments section and forum boards of the internet to get some inkling of what horrors and delights might await us in our search for an antidote to some ailment we had yet to discover. And, I was left a little bewildered by what I found.
To say opinion was split would be something of an understatement. It seems Quest for the Antidote was either a solid gold ten, or, an utterly shambolic one. I read on, and found that those scoring the game a one were of the belief that the high scores were fake, and were also disgusted that someone could release a roll and move game in 2017!
So, there I was, sat before, what I could only describe as, a simply gorgeous looking game sprawled across the table, wondering if in an hour’s time I would be embracing a love in, or filled with roll and move fuelled hate?
And, I am delighted to report, it was kisses all the way. Pucker up Quest for the Antidote, you deserve some love.
Let’s backup slightly though. I think some foundations need laying before we proceed. Quest for the Antidote, designed by Tom Deschenes, and published by Upper Deck, places two to six players into the frantic shoes of escaped prisoners. I say frantic as each has been poisoned and has a finite amount of actions to take before they draw their final breath. They must race against each other to gather the four ingredients that will together produce the life saving antidote, however, the many winding paths are fraught with danger, generally in the shape of various beasts and baddies intent on working a quicker death for our players than the poison could ever manage. The backstory is detailed in a few comic panels at the opening of the rulebook and proves a nice touch.
Now, the nuts and bolts.
As the game is prepared, each player is tasked with drawing four random cards from a deck of ten. These four depict the ingredients required to produce the antidote. Each location is situated in a different area of the good sized board. Depending on the luck of the draw, players may find themselves with a, fairly, short journey, or, could be covering the entire board in search of the items. Either way, the journey is still guaranteed to be a challenging one due to the other elements at play, but more of those in a moment.
Play is classic move and roll, with a little, simple, combat thrown in, and a few opportunities for sabotaging opposing players via ‘meddling’ cards. Despite the genre of play being of the well-worn variety, the actual route the players choose is open to a little strategic thinking and alleviates the feel of repetition somewhat. You see, rather than following any sort of pre-determined path around the board, Quest for the Antidote, is riddled with intertwining routes offering players a multitude of movement options. Players can also move both forwards and backwards along routes in the same turn, and if they are lucky enough to snag the right card, they can even hop on a boat and take to the seas for faster travel.
The wonderfully vibrant game board is populated at set up with mini decks of monster cards. These decks are five cards deep and hold a brilliantly imaginative range of snaggle toothed beasts and steely bladed foes. Perhaps our plucky poisoned prisoner will get lucky and stumble upon a low level Surly Turtle, or maybe it’ll be a mid-level Goring Boar that offers us a challenge, or, God forbid, we might reveal the serious health risks posed by the two top level monsters in the game, namely; Dragophant, the part elephant part three headed dragon thing, or, King Mithradates, the poisoner and imprisoner himself!
As players travel from location to location in search of such wonders as; eye of cyclops and snow of mountaintop, it is inevitable they will have to overcome an array of monsters along the way. How this works is beautifully simple. If a player travels towards a deck, they must stop at a predesignated space next to said deck and draw the top monster card. Upon this card will be a title, image, brief description of the enemy, and a strength rating between two and ten. To defeat the monster the player must simply roll equal or above the strength rating on a ten-sided-die. Simple. However, and this is critical throughout the game, each player begins their quest with 50 breaths in their body. This is marked by a scoring track that runs along the outside of the board like Ticket to Ride in reverse. Every time a player rolls either the six-sided-die for movement, or, the ten-sided-die for combat, they lose one breath. What this means in fights against tougher foes is that, if you roll low and fail to defeat the monster, combat continues, and every additional roll costs one more breath. This can lead to players having to make tricky decisions to either fight to the death, or, if they have enough moves left from the previous movement roll, retreating to lick their wounds.
I love the breath tracker idea. It is in place to depict the poison coursing through veins as we slowly die on our mission for the antidote, and it works brilliantly. Combat is very simple, but, in a game that I believe thrives on its lack of slowdown, and ease of access for all, it keeps the pace ticking beautifully.
Combat against some of the tougher monsters isn’t without reward either. Beat a level eight or above and chances are there will be some form of treasure dropped. This might be an actual magical item to aid the quest, or it might be that the player can gain five breaths upon victory. This again adds some depth to play as the items themselves can really swing a game in your favour and can see other players having to adopt differing strategies going forward. Also dotted in the four corners of the board are loot spaces. Each of these hold strong items for those willing to go the extra mile (or four or five spaces to reach them). Loot comes in forms such as, a summoned fighter card that allows the using player to summon another player to battle for them, taking all damage in the process. How mean is that? Loot does require a few extra breaths to reach, but it pays some big dividends for those bold enough to venture forth.
Elsewhere, and another delicious element, are the meddling cards. Players have a small hand of three meddling cards that can be played at any time during the game. These cards are used to hinder opponents, snatch victory from them just as they were about to do the victory dance, and generally be a real nasty piece of work. As an example of the cards, and an example of why I really enjoyed this game, I had just battled to victory against the dreaded King Mithradates, I was battered, bruised, and breathing like a jogging Darth Vader, but I was victorious. Then, my seven-year-old son, who to be fair had been unusually excited during my epic struggle, pulled a huge grin and dropped a card. Upon it was the information that I had only beaten a fake King Mithradates, Mythradates perhaps, and now had to fight the real one all over again. I did. I died. Two moves later my little son was the one doing the victory dance having made it back home with the antidote stored snug in his pocket. The wonderfully sneaky little sod!
This though is why, Quest for the Antidote, really struck a chord at our table. The game is full of brilliant little moments of joy and despair that will have the whole table laughing, talking and having huge amounts of fun. The game looks, absolutely, gorgeous as well, which is a nice bonus. Visually it really appeals to young and old alike and there are little details that will catch the eye and surprise even after you think you’ve seen everything. Equally the components are solid if a little unremarkable, and the artwork upon the cards carries the same cartoon-like vein as the main board.
One for the Kids?
Absolutely! Quest for the Antidote was an instant hit with my own children. They loved the colourful design and then fell about laughing at the creatures and the moments of meddling. My seven-year-old played unaided throughout and had no problems with the simple ruleset and order of play. This should be the go to game in my opinion whenever the Christmas call for Monopoly goes up. It is faster, funnier and less inclined to end in a fist fight.
Harrison, 7, said, “It was good, but it needs more big monsters! I liked it when I beat a boss with one roll. It was funny to play and is one of my favourite games now.”
Quest for the Antidote won’t be to everyone’s taste. For many, they will undoubtedly view it as being far too simplistic and free from strategy. To be fair, side by side with many of today’s games they would be right. And even some simpler games such as the aforementioned, Ticket to Ride, still have a strong layer of strategic play to dig through. However, I don’t think Quest for the Antidote is looking to compete with these games, and neither do I think it needs to. Sure, it’s roll and play, yeah it lacks strategic depth, and of course it’s very light-hearted, but, don’t worry about it. Just embrace the fun.
What we have here is a game that can be placed upon the table and enjoyed by all for its speed, simplicity, and familiarity. It is the game that should be replacing Monopoly this coming Christmas, because not only is it infinitely better, it is also a genuine gateway for new players into our wild world of board games. It flows, it has backstabbery at its best, it has beasts far more fantastic than anything in Newt Scaramander’s suitcase, and more importantly than anything else in my opinion, it has fun by the cauldron load. This is a game that can be pulled out in between those longer and more serious games to bring some light back into the room, to rest the grey matter, and simply laugh for a while as we do our utmost to scupper those around us.
As many board games become ever more complex and grow in size and scope, Quest for the Antidote rolls back the clock to a simpler time, and then adds a few twists and turns to proceedings to keep things fresh. It might not have the legs for the long run, but, when the rulebook dipping has become too frequent, the set-up too long, and the details too tiny, then, look no further, for I might just know where the antidote lies.
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