Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Uncharted : The Board Game

Hi again everybody!

Today I'll be adventuring through dense jungles and ancient cities in search of treasure, and along the way might have to battle an enemy or three, as I attempt to discover the treasure that lies inside Uncharted the Board Game.

Uncharted was released by Bandai back in 2012, and was designed by Kisaragi Hayato, who also designed the totally bonkers Gamushara Gang.

I'm finding few people knew the game even existed, as it seems Bandai slipped this one out quietly for some reason, and I really feel this under-appreciated gem deserves some recognition and appreciation, even though it's now out of print. However, copies can still be had easily, and for a very decent price, at various places online.

I'm a huge fan of the video game franchise this game is based upon, so getting this to the table was an easy choice for me. Fortunately it also ended up being a really fun, interesting game!

Combining the aspects of a board game and a deck building game, Uncharted crosses this strange line where your deck interacts with the board, in that you're attempting to discover treasure and fight off bad guys while doing it.

It also straddles another line in that while semi-cooperative, each player is vying for victory points.

And while I called it a deck-building game, that's only sort-of correct.

You see, there's a central shared deck that everyone draws from, and you kind of build the "deck" in your hand and play cards to your play area (or Tableau, as it's now come to be known) directly in front of you apart from the board. So while it feels a little like a deck builder, your entire deck is played open in front of you for all players to see. Any cards in your hand never stay there for long as you can discard cards for myriad effects, and as a payment for the cards you wish to put into play.

The interesting bit here is that each card's art is bordered by a color - red yellow blue or green - and those colors correspond to certain aspects of the game, such as red for fighting or yellow for searching, allowing you to discard them for their specific color's special effect, should you find you have a few cards in your hand you deem otherwise useless.

So the game goes a bit like this :

You start with 4 Basic Actions in your play area, and each corresponds to one of the four colors I just spoke of.
As you move through the game you draw and play more cards from the central Action deck, building your Tableau, allowing you to execute bigger and better actions to take on bigger, badder enemies, or discover any of the game's shiny shiny treasures, as you interact with the various cards played to the board. Oh, and you're only allowed three cards of each respective color in your tableau at any time. This may later lead to some interesting play choices, as incoming cards boot in-play cards out of your tableau.

Speaking of, I can't recall the last time outside of Tiny Epic Galaxies that I've ran across a board - especially one that supports four players - that packs so much into such a small amount of real estate.
Across the top of the board is the VP track, where you and your co-adventurers will move your ancient coin token along as you gain (and sometimes lose!) VP.
Below this is the Action Pane, a 3x2 area where the treasure and enemy cards are played.
To one side of this is pretty much the whole of the game's rules laid out, while to the other side is where the Action, Special Actions, and Adventure decks are placed.

As you interact with the board - either by discovering treasure or battling bad guys - cards in the Action Pane will be added or removed as scored by the players.
You score cards by gaining enough search tokens (in the case of treasure cards) or having more attack points (in the case of enemy cards), and those cards are then removed and replaced with new cards from the Adventure Deck

Each player also assumes the role of one of the main characters from the video game series : Nathan Drake, Sully, Elena etc, and are given a card used to track health that they place in their tableau representing that character. In a neat bit of minor difficulty scaling, these cards are dual-sided, with one side carrying potentially game-altering effects.

Another scaling aspect is the adjustment of the contents of the Adventure Deck. 
You can noodle with these contents, increasing or decreasing the game's overall difficulty, as the deck also scales in size to the number of players.

You attempt to gain as many VP as you can while also helping the other players, before either the Adventure Deck or Action Deck runs out of cards.
Getting down to those last few cards really amps the tension up!

I've found that during a game, a player can jump very far ahead in VP, only to have them stripped away later in the game. This lends a thrilling, seat-of-your-pants element to the proceedings as the game goes on. In my last game, as an example, I was really far ahead of the other players in VP, only to have a creature that drains VP from the person in the lead at the end of every round show up in the Adventure pane, with no easy way to kill it. Consequently, as the game ended, I only won by one point! 

The board and components are average quality, not much different than any other card or board game, and might actually wear quickly with frequent plays. 
Everything you need to play is included, and I suggest sleeving the cards to help prolong their life.

Let's talk a little about the theme.
The Uncharted series is a massively popular franchise, with four games to its ranks, which allows for the use of a rich, densely populated universe.
This is reflected pretty well in the cards, but ultimately can feel a little pasted on to the ruleset.
You don't get to keep the treasures you and your friends discover ; you simply take whatever action or execute whatever effect is listed on them, score the VP, and discard the card. Which, now that I think on it, is a little like the games, but I wanted the treasures to mean more than just some minor effects or VPs. A couple had game-altering rules-breaking effects while they were in play, but this led to the dilemma of scoring them - and thereby removing their effect from the game - for the VP or simply leaving them there, clogging up the board.

And fighting the bad guys should have a larger impact on the game as well. That specific mechanic is simply adding up your Attack Points and comparing it to their health, then removing that card and scoring any VP they might allow. Oh sure, doing in a bad guy gains you one of the Special Action Cards, but these are sometimes likely to just be a higher-cost version of a card you already have in play.

Which brings me to my next issue with the game :
Some of the cards feel "under-costed", while other are too expensive. As I spoke of above, I might have a card that, when I rest it, allows me to draw a card. I might draw a card from the Action or Special Action decks that is the exact same card, but just has a higher cost slapped onto it. It made little sense.
They tried to mitigate this by giving each color a "special ability" that you can simply discard the card to activate, but that mechanic felt like a tacked-on afterthought, and comes off as simply fiddly.

The final issue I have is a weird one, with the in-game ability to add actions to your turn. May seem really good at first, right? Well read on...
Play goes around the table, each player taking two actions ("resting" - turn 90 degrees - a card for each action to do so) each time their turn comes around, until everyone passes.
There are cards that add actions to your turn, but you're limited by the ready cards in your tableau. If you front load your turn too early, you could be removing yourself too soon from the round (as, after passing, you wait for everyone else to finish their turns), which might make for some boring between-turns game time.

One other aspect I did like is the idea that this game is simple enough to act as a gateway to board gaming. Casual gamers can pick this up quickly, and fans of the franchise might find themselves open to a new aspect of gaming.

So overall I really liked the game - as did my playgroup - and agreed that it's simplicity and easy set up make for a fun, lite filler or end-of-the-night game, despite the theme and gameplay being nearly mutually exclusive. And since the game can be had on-the-cheap, so to speak, it's a game I recommend adding to your collection.

Thanks for reading everyone, and if I'm not lost in a Peruvian jungle, I'll see you next time!

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