I had seen Adventure Land on the shelf of my local Barnes & Noble for a couple of years. Even though I was impressed with its 7.0 rating on BoardGameGeek.com, I could not get myself past its generic fantasy cover art or the fact that it was published by HABA, known mostly for lighter kids’ games. And so I watched it move from the main shelf on to the clearance table. I held it in my hand multiple times over those last couple of weeks, wondering if I should take a chance, but inevitably would put it back down and move on. Then one day it was gone, leaving me with only a tinge of regret, though regret there was. 

But fortune was with me. A couple of months ago a copy became available, and this time I grabbed it. I chose…. wisely. Adventure Land is designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer for two to four players. I would definitely call it a family game. It’s easy to learn and has only a few simple rules. It’s also super fun with some good choices. Its theme is plausibly immersive and the artwork (maybe with the exception of the cover) and components are quite attractive.

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The game comes with three unique scenarios of increasing complexity – The Fellowship, The Magnificent, and Escape to the Cities. The Fellowship consists of moving around, fighting monsters, and acquiring gold and companions. The Magnificent introduces more long-term set collection to the mix. Finally, Escape to the cities includes all of the above, plus area control (players score points for controlling the each of the five cities on the map). 

 

The general rules are straightforward. The board is a grid marked with coordinates (A1-K10). Players start with their meeples in the northwest corner of the board and may only move them (rook style) south or east during the game. They cannot move backwards. Each spot on the board has a certain terrain type. There is a deck of cards representing each of the spots on the board (one for each). The deck is shuffled up and placed face down. On a turn a player must reveal two of these cards and place a random marker of the corresponding resource or monster on that spot on the board. Then the player may move 1 or 2 of her meeples based on the movement rules described above. Depending on where those meeples end the turn, they will gather the resource tile on their space or fight a monster. 

Since meeples only move forward, there is a bit of press your luck involved in the game because meeples and resources are limited. Do you move all the way east on a row to grab that sword you need to fight a monster sooner? Or do you move slowly, hoping resources appear in the spaces along the way. It is a decent tension that makes the game quite engaging. Fighting monsters is done RPG style, cashing in swords to roll six-sided dice, possibly adding modifiers or using herbs to increase the results after rolling. If the total value equals or exceeds the monster’s strength, then victory points are awarded. If not, the meeple and any companions accompanying it are removed from the game. The game ends after sword tiles and companions are exhausted. Points are then tallied up per the particular rules of the scenario and a victor is determined. 

 

Adventure Land just works. Its elements come together in a way that exponentially surpasses the sum of its parts. The ten or so plays I’ve gotten in so far have been competitive with tight end-game scores. There is good tension in the decisions presented and by game’s end you’ll either feel satisfaction of a victory well earned or the disappointment of an opportunity missed. Plus, the board looks really nice, especially at the end when everyone’s meeples cover the map. I kinda wish there was an alternate box cover that looked more grown up. That would have gotten me to purchase the game sooner. Still, I chose wisely…. eventually. So should you.

Thanks for reading.

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Rob Fenimore
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