Adventure Tours* is a ‘take-that’ and hand management card game from Seiji Kanai (Love Letter, Brave Rats/R) that is both a little larger and a little longer (40+ minutes) than his rather more illustrious micro games. It takes three to six players.
It was originally released in 2010 under the title Mai-Star in a small box format with a geisha theme, which didn’t sit well with some. While still available in this format, Adventure Tours addresses some problems with the original and has higher production values – while costing about the same (£10-15).
The original had 75 cards, six geisha cards and some score sheets to write on; while the re-released Adventure Tours boasts thick cardboard player mats with some lovely artwork, more than 100 cards (with good if unexceptional art, but good iconography), cardboard victory point chits and some useful player aids – but a much bigger box.
As you may have guessed though, the theme is wholly irrelevant in terms of the rules – this is an abstract card game with some nice, colourful art plastered on top. And this is cutesy artwork too – which very much belies the rather nasty nature of the gameplay.
It is also very luck based and swingy, but enough so that things should balance out over the game.
Each player is dealt six random cards (from one big shared stack) at the start of play. In the basic game, your player board starts you with three of each of the game’s three ‘resources’ to get you going.
On your turn you will lay one card – either for its resources or as an explorer (for its action and also end-game points). If you lay a card for resources it will allow you to play more powerful explorers later, as cards cost between 1-9 resources to play.
Cards played as resources mean you have to pick up a new card from the stack to replace it, so you’re not reducing your hand – but you are giving yourself more chances to lay better explorers later. When you lay an explorer, you do not draw a new card.
Explorer actions are very much what you’d expect from a ‘take-that’ style game: make player players draw more cards (to stop them going out), or force opponents to discard/hand you explorers or resources. But some also benefit you more simply – letting you lay another card being the most common.
The advanced game sees you use the flip-side of the player boards, each of which has a special ability and different starting conditions – so that powers that seem stronger leave you starting with hardly any resources.
The real trick to Adventure Tours is to balance getting rid of your cards while also scoring enough points to make ending the round by doing so a good idea, or to just stockpile points regardless – neither of which are as easy as they sound! The nice player aid and simple icons mean everyone should be up to speed within round one.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: This is a rare time when I’m still on the fence despite multiple plays. I enjoy the mood Kanai’s games create and he has worked the same simple magic here – but this is on the cusp of being too long for the game experience it creates. I do enjoy playing, but where the luck of the draw makes me laugh in Love Letter it can have me cursing here, which suggests a slight mismatch in fun and complexity.
- The thinker: There is really very little for the strategist in Adventure Tours. Games instead become about bashing the ‘supposed’ leader – which is more about those with good chat talking the meeker participants into thinking a particular player is winning. The only real strategy seems to be: don’t be leading after round two, then try to have a big third round very quietly. Not for me.
- The trasher: I like this one! It’s all about table talk and hitting the right players at the right times, which is much like spinning plates. Both ways to lay cards make you a potential target, but for different reasons – going out or scoring big. You have to be a hawk, pointing out anyone who is edging an advantage – except yourself of course! And yes, I’m echoing the strategist – but from the complete other side of the table.
- The dabbler: While aggressive games aren’t usually my thing, this one is so nice, bright and colourful that I just got swept along with it. Also the take-that cards never devastate – more hinder – so nothing you can do will put someone out of a round, for example. There is room for clever combos and lots of table talk and laughter, so for me what’s not to like once you get past the fear of being a bit snidey!
If we ignore complaints by people who were never going to like it in the first place, the most common issues with Adventure Tours are that it’s repetitive and that it drags, even for some who enjoy the game.
But simply shortening the game from three down to two rounds (or even one) will solve this – I don’t see how you really lose anything, and it brings the game much more firmly into the ‘filler’ category that the mechanisms suggest it belongs in anyway.
A bigger and related issue is that too many cards make the game last longer. Giving people more cards, for example, rarely feels ‘fun’. It feels like a necessity, while there’s no guarantee it’s even giving you an advantage – you could be handing them the perfect card. But again, this is something that wouldn’t feel like an issue if the game played shorter.
And without wishing to sound like a broken record, for a game lasting close to an hour if played ‘properly’ (ie, three rounds) there are too few options in turns of card options. Essentially they boil down to pick up cards; add extra or take away cards; defend; have an extra go, or get bonus points. You see these cards a lot – probably too much – but over a round or two instead of three I think this is mitigated.
My final concern is the advanced player powers: it’s too early to say for sure, but some of them seem really overpowered. now in the right group this isn’t a problem, as players will realise this and pick on the players with the best powers accordingly – it can actually add to the fun of the table talk. But in less boisterous groups it may be an issue.
And a quick word on the original, Mai-Star. While I haven’t played it I have seen the cards – particularly the advanced player cards – and there have definitely been adjustments made for balance. Have they worked? No idea! But they’ve certainly tried to address well publicised issues with the original and I certainly didn’t think anything in Adventure tours was ‘game breaking’. My fear is they balanced the game by making it longer.
‘Take-that filler game’ is already a niche, so when you put it in a big box (despite nice production) and make it last more than 30 minutes you’re going to scare some people off.
But underneath is a typically simple and fun Kanai game – 12 different cards that interact with each other in interesting ways and get the table laughing and chatting. If you’ve enjoyed his previous titles this is certainly worth a look – although I’d give it the ‘try before you buy’ (where possible) caveat just in case for the reasons discussed above.
* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.