Sunday , August 1 2021

Game Review: ‘The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance’ from Twogether Studios

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance from Twogether Studios came about when the My Brother, My Brother, And Me podcast had a special episode of the McElroys inviting their father to join in on a roleplaying game adventure. Some RPGs work to be intensive simulators following statistical generation for their actions, making them seem like a long-winded word problem in math class. The Adventure Zone, however, focuses on storytelling to carry the game with some randomness in the die rolls to keep things even more unpredictable.

The overall setting for The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a mash-up of fantasy and science fiction. Players are a team of Reclaimers working for the bureau to collect relics from fantastical locations, which pits them against rugged, sometimes ridiculous, challenges and terrifying villains. Rather than a “game master” creating the scenario for the players to explore, several decks of cards combine to build out a randomized quest. Having three ways to combine the twelve major cards with a deck representing each of them generates dozens of quests, each with thousands of different challenges to beat.

To begin the game, each player takes a character sheet. These are divided into classic fantasy classes, such as the Bard that gives team bonuses, Priests that heal, hard-hitting Warriors and Wizards, and the crafty Rogue. Rather than stats, each character is assigned straight bonuses for different kinds of challenges. Players get their improvisational skills warmed up by describing their characters and backgrounds before leaping onto their adventure.

For each game, one player takes up the role of Team Leader, starting and guiding the adventure with questions for clarifying how the storytelling teammate might overcome a Smack-Talking Skull or Big Weird Eyeball. Using the cards on the table to spell out a challenge, the player tells the story of how they attempt to overcome a situation such as “You’re being hunted by a Living Blade… while making a Perilous Climb… while investigating the Eerie Statues.” Players take turns describes how they will act against each and make a roll to see if they are successful, adding in bonuses from their skills as well as allies joining in.

The key to The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is improvisation to have a fun time. There is no one right way to defeat a challenge, giving players the opportunity to be as creative as possible. The more they succeed, the more bonuses they collect from progressing to help overcome the villain. In a novel mechanic that encourages teamwork, the game uses a Team Hit Points counter rather than for individual characters, keeping everyone working together to achieve the mission or face defeat.

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a storytelling game for two to five players aged thirteen and up. It is a fairly lengthy session, lasting over an hour so that players may expect to dedicate a whole game night to it. With a Team Leader willing to do some extra guidance, it may be joined in by younger players, but the lack of rules might make things convoluted at times. But, as an imagination game, that chaos can yield infinite laughs and adventure. A how-to-play video shows the bureau in action:

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.