Buzzworthiness – The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac

Over the years, many games have tried to capture the essence of Indiana Jones in a box.  One of the most successful, if you ask me, is

image by BGG user zombiegod
image by BGG user zombiegod

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac was first published in 2009 by Dust Games and AEG.  Fantasy Flight picked up the license in 2012.  The game (designed by Guillaume Blossier and Frédéric Henry) is for 2-6 players and takes around 45 minutes.  In the game, each player controls a characters entering an ancient Mayan temple, and are trying to make it out alive with as much treasure as they can get.

As a note: the full title of this game is The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac to differentiate it from its sequel, The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus.  But because it’s too much to type that every time I refer to this game, I’m going to be referring to it as TOC from here on out.

TOC comes with a board that represents the inside of the temple, 12 adventurer minis, 12 adventurer cards, 18 wall cards, 40 wall room treasure cards, 10 lava room treasure cards, 10 river treasure cards, 5 alcove treasure cards, 28 glyph tiles (14 clue and 14 lava room), a large tile to cover the lava room, 2 plastic walls, a plastic bridge with 5 detachable planks, a boulder, and 5 dice.  In the beginning, the 14 lava room glyphs are randomly distributed in the lava room, then covered with the large tile.  Treasures are sorted to their individual spots while the boulder, bridge and walls are placed in their starting position.  Each player gets two adventurers and chooses one to start with – the second is a back-up in case you die.  Each character has a special ability that can be used once per game.  Set your load level at 2, and place your mini on the start space.

TOC follows a linear narrative from start to finish, and is played over a number of rounds.  The first thing that happens in a round is that the start player rolls the five dice, and everyone checks their load level.  Load level is determined by the number of treasures you are holding – 0-3 is 2, 4-6 is 3, 7-9 is 4, and 10-12 is 5.  This shows you how much the treasure is slowing you down.  With the die roll, you will get one action per die that equals or exceeds your load level.  So if a die shows a 3 and your load level is 3, you get an action.  However, if you have a load level of 4, that 3 doesn’t give you an action.  You can get a maximum of five actions per round, and it is likely that people will not have the same number of actions.

In turn order, players take all of their actions.  It’s easiest to describe possible actions by going through the narrative of the game:

  • You can spend an action to move orthogonally one space.  This is the case all over the temple.
  • The first room you come to is the walls room.  Each of the four spaces is associated with a treasure pile, and you can use an action to draw a treasure card.
  • You can also use an action to look at the glyph for the space you are in.  Each of these glyphs match one of the lava tiles.  If you plan on going through the lava room, you need to peek at the glyph and REMEMBER IT.
  • Once you exit the wall room and pass the wall that blocks your character’s sight of the lava room, you may remove the large tile covering it.  You may then choose to continue down the hallway, or step onto a lava tile.  Each lava tile shows a complicated pattern that may or may not match one of the tiles in the walls room.  If it does match, the tile was unsafe and you fall into the lava.  Your character is now dead.
  • If the tile was safe, you may spend an action to draw a treasure card from the lava tile.  This tile is now replaced by its empty match (the lava tiles are gold on one side).
  • If you decided to continue down the hallway, you can stop at one of the four alcoves and attempt to get the treasure card.  Spend an action to roll the five dice, trying to get 1-2-3.  If you do not, you can spend another action to reroll as many dice as you want.  You can keep doing this as long as you have actions to spend.
  • Once you get to the river, you can choose to jump in or keep going down the hallway.
  • In the river, you can choose to spend an action to draw a treasure card.  If you do this, you must move with your next action – the current pushes you along, so you can’t just camp in one space and draw treasure cards.
  • When you get to the end of the river, you must roll to get out.  Roll as many dice as your load level.  If you roll a 1, you will go plummeting over the edge of the waterfall.  Your character is now dead.  You can choose to discard three treasures per one you rolled to reroll them.  As long as you don’t have a one in the final roll, you can move out of the river into the hallway.
  • If you chose to remain in the hallway, your next choice is to move onto the bridge.  If you do, you roll one die per plank still on the bridge.  Each 1 you roll breaks one of the planks.  You can then choose to spend an action to jump on the bridge in an attempt to break more planks and make it harder for people coming after you.  If you ever break the last plank, you fall into the chasm below, and your character is now dead.
  • If you continue through the hallway, you can choose to stop at the last alcove and try to get the last treasure.  This works almost the same as the other alcoves – roll all five dice, but this time you need 1-2-3-4-5 for success.

After each round, you first move the walls by drawing the top three cards of the walls deck.  If the walls snap together and someone is still in the walls room, their character is dead.  After the walls, the first player rolls dice (1 after the first round, 2 after the second, 3 after the third, 4 after the fourth, 5 for the rest of the game).  For each three or higher rolled, the boulder moves one space.  If it rolls over a character, that character is dead.  If it reaches the end of the track, anyone still in the temple is sealed in for all eternity and loses.  Those who made it out can count their treasure, and the winner is the one with the most.

COMPONENTS: The bits in this game are very nice.  The board is well illustrated, the minis are well crafted, and all the information you need clearly visible.  Setup can be a hassle because of all the decks of cards.  Treasures are printed on small size cards, which always annoys me.  I know there are logistical reasons to use tiny cards, but I have big hands and it makes them harder to shuffle and handle.  Cards are kept off the board, but there are marks on the borders to show where they go.  Character cards are standard size.

There are 14 different glyph tiles in the game.  There’s a simple side that is visible in the wall room, and a far more complicated side that is visible in the lava room.  Each is unique, and can be differentiated from others easily (though there are similarities).  The biggest problem I have with the lava tiles comes in setup.  You have to randomly distribute them, then cover them up with the large tile.  This is kind of clunky, particularly since you aren’t supposed to know what they are.  I usually put the tiles out before anyone knows what they are for, try not to look at them myself, then cover them up before doing any other setup.  The rules suggest that everyone do this together, but that seems odd too.  I think the best way might be to wait until the lava room is revealed, then place the tiles randomly (but beginning in a particular square and working your way around so you’re not unconsciously building a path).

The board itself is the main focus of much of the game because where you are determines what you will be doing.  It is laid out well, and it is easy to see where you are.  Spaces are clearly defined, and the board does give a thematic sense of where you are at all times, as well as what is coming.  The character art is cartoony, though it does fall into the trap of making a few of the women characters practically falling out of their tops, leading me to wonder if the art designers were 12.  I know, it’s standard practice to give women huge…tracts of land in this type of game, it just doesn’t sit well with me.

The plastic bits in this game are fantastic.  The minis are very detailed, and unpainted (you can buy painted minis separately).  The walls are nicely constructed, and the boulder is awesome.  It is flat on the bottom so it doesn’t roll away, which is good because it is the game’s timer.

Overall, the components in TOC are great, and definitely a visual draw for the game.

THEME: I mentioned in my intro that this game was one of the most successful at integrating the Indiana Jones theme.  You’re not archaeologists per se, nor does anyone really look like Indy.  However, you do get a sense of the intensity of that first scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Particularly with the boulder, which is not only an effective timer, but also a great way to bring the trap home and give you the sense that you’re racing against something.  The game has a great narrative arc, and you can really get into the perils of running through a temple, trying to grab as much treasure as you can before getting out.  This theme is very well integrated into the gameplay.

MECHANICS: TOC is a very linear game, and the theme/story drives the mechanics.  The load level mechanism is pretty novel, where you determine how much you can do based on how much you are carrying.  Before the dice are rolled at the beginning of each round, you can choose to throw out some treasure to decrease your load level.  It’s a good time to get rid of some 1s, and also gives you a better chance to do more on your next turn.  It’s rare to see people go above level 4 in this game.

Player elimination looms over the game, and really needs to in order to make your decisions mean something.  A lot of people dislike player elimination, but I think it works well here.  Since you start with a backup character, you’re not totally out of it when your first character dies.  However, it is unlikely that you’ll win with a second player, primarily because you have to lose any treasure you collected, and you’re starting behind the boulder (most other characters are probably in front of the boulder).  It is possible for everyone to lose this game, though I’ve never seen it.

There is a memory element in the game with the lava room.  If your memory is bad, I’d recommend going around.  Of course, it is very entertaining to watch someone take a risk and die, but less fun when it happens to you.

The mechanisms and theme of this game are very well integrated, and the game is successful because of it.

STRATEGY LEVEL: TOC is a push-your-luck game, and everything you do has to be weighed against the possibility of death.  How long do you dare stay in the wall room?  Do you try for lava treasure, or do you run out to the alcoves and try those?  How long do you stay in the hallway with the boulder bearing down on you?  Do you jump in the river and risk the waterfall for some treasures and a shorter route to the exit?  There is luck in dice rolls and card draws – nothing like taking an insane risk to draw a treasure worth 1 point at the end – but there are decisions to be made throughout the game.

ACCESSIBILITY: The most complicated thing about this game is figuring out how the load levels work.  Once you’ve got that, it’s very easy to decipher how the game works, partially because it is so linear.  I find that new players also don’t quite understand how the lava room works, but after a play, you get it.  I think I would classify this as a gateway game – it has an accessible theme, and gameplay is simple to understand.

REPLAYABILITY: This, I think, is the weakest point of TOC.  Because of the linear nature of the game, which enhances the theme and increases the accessibility, this game is going to play out the same way just about every time.  There’s not that many new strategies to explore.  So you might like to play a bunch, but the game will feel samey after a while.

SCALABILITY: This is a 2-6 player game, but I think it’s best with more players.  2 or 3 seems like too few to be really competing for these treasures.  4-6 are fun numbers.

FOOTPRINT: You’re going to need space for the board and all the card decks.  However, you don’t really need much space for things you’ve collected, so I think a medium sized table is probably going to be sufficient for the game.  It is in a Ticket to Ride size box.

LEGACY: This game was successful enough that it spawned a sequel, Pyramid of Horus (POH).  POH adds more varied strategies as there are more opportunities to collect treasures.  However, the danger is also ramped up as there is the ability to collect wounds, cards that go into your treasure pile and affect your load level.  Additionally, there are random stones falling from the ceiling, which can block the exit.  However, I think TOC is a much better game because I feel more in control – POH has a little too much going on, and doesn’t have the clear ending point that TOC does.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  If you like push-your-luck Indiana Jones-style games, this is for you.  If you like lots of strategy, you’re not going to get it here.  This is a game you can just turn your brain off and enjoy, and sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered.  Thanks for reading!

PS: We called the dog Indiana.

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