#530 – Adventure Games: Monochrome, Inc. [Spoiler-Free]

Box

Base price: $20.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: ~90 minutes per session. Game can be played over three sessions.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Monochrome, Inc. was provided by KOSMOS.

No more EXIT games for a bit. Yes, to my great disappointment, they actually have to keep making them since we’ve kind of hit the tail end of the English-language versions. Alas. In the meantime, though, the fun doesn’t stop with KOSMOS; we have Adventure Games, now, too! They’re meant to hearken back to a bygone era of computer-based narrative-driven adventurey games, like King’s Quest or Monkey Island or something. I was a bit too young for all of these. Either way, let’s see how things are with the first one, Monochrome, Inc.!

In Monochrome, Inc., you play as recent recruits asked to do a bit of, you know, the usual industrial espionage (and some sabotage, if you’re lucky). There have been mysterious goings on at Monochrome and the team sent in before you hasn’t come out. Just like Luigi’s Mansion, you say, fully aware that a lot of people won’t get that reference. Either way, the task now falls to you. Can you figure out what Monochrome is up to and put a stop to it?

Contents

Setup

Don’t look at the fronts of any cards. That may cause you to get story spoilers.

Set up your Characters, first:

 

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Each player should choose one, along with their associated card. For a solo game, play with two characters and take both of their cards. Now take the A / B / C / D Level Cards and make a vertical stack of them (with A on the bottom, and B above it):

Levels

Place alarm level cards A1 and A2 on top of each other:

Alarms

Set the cards nearby:

Cards

Once you’ve done that, you’re basically ready to start!

Gameplay

So, remember old computer-driven adventure games? No? Neither do I. But that’s okay; that’s what this game is all about. We’ll talk you through it. You’ve been sent to Monochrome, Inc. to get more information about their newest drug and do some industrial espionage. Get in, get the information, and get out with your lives, preferably. That would be nice.

What happens is a series of turns, each with five steps:

  1. Exchange Adventure Cards
  2. Move Character
  3. Reveal Level
  4. Take One Action
  5. Exchange Adventure Cards

Let’s go through each (except for the last one; I hate redundancy):

Exchange Adventure Cards

Before (or after) your action, you may exchange Adventure Cards with any player on the same level as you. This cannot happen during your action. Note that the elevator is considered to be on whatever level its currently on on a turn, so you can exchange Adventure Cards with a player in the elevator if its on your level (or vice-versa).

Move Character

Now, move your character to a new location. You may either use the elevator(s) to move freely between levels depicted on their cards, or you may move to another location on the level you’re already on. Just be careful; as mentioned, the elevator is considered part of the level it’s currently on, so make sure you don’t drag unwilling participants somewhere dangerous.

You do have to move somewhere, either onto or off of the elevator or somewhere else in the level.

Reveal Level

If you move to a level that is not revealed yet, flip it over and reveal it. Also, read the text for that level card from the Adventure Book.

Take One Action

Now, take one action. You must do any of these:

  • Explore a location on your level: Do this by reading the entry for that location’s number in your adventure book. Some locations have symbols by them; if your character has a handicap card, raise the alarm level by 1 for every handicap card your character has matching that symbol.
  • Combine two adventure cards: Every adventure card is a two-digit number. To advance, sometimes you’ll need to smoosh a couple of them together. Simply combine the numbers in numeric order (30 + 11 -> 1130) and then read that entry in the Adventure Book. If one doesn’t exist, that’s not a valid combination of items, and your turn ends. You cannot combine adventure cards in the elevator; it’s just too risky.
  • Combine an adventure card with a location: This one’s effectively a “use” command. Do you have a grappling hook (41)? Do you want to use it on location 305? Then look for entry 41305 in your Adventure Book. As with combining Adventure Cards, if there’s no entry, your turn ends.

Game End

There are technically three chapters per game. At any point, you can end the game and come back to it by just taking a picture of your state and putting everything together in the box, which is nice.

Either way, the game ends once you’ve completed Chapter 3! Tally your score and see how you did!

Player Count Differences

The major difference is that at higher player counts, you need the extra levels of structure provided by the game to be functional. At two, you might as well play it as though you’re one congealed mass of players that kind of go everywhere and do everything together. At four, you can divide and conquer in a more useful way (and split up the reading, I say hoarsely). That said, there’s a lot more downtime since you’re not actually in control of the other three characters. I tend to prefer this game when it’s more active, so I’ll likely stick to two, personally, but if you’re looking for a strong narrative-driven experience for four this is certainly not a bad option.

Strategy

  • If you can’t interact with something now, make a note of it! You may want to come back later. There will definitely be times where you need to hit an elevator or go through a door or find something that doesn’t quite work yet. It’s totally fine to come back later when you feel like you have the right equipment for it! Trying to perform an action without the right equipment may not quite lead to the outcome that you’d hope for, especially if you just go sticking your arm into random things. It’s mildly unwise. By mildly, I usually mean extremely unwise, but, you know, it is also that.
  • Be mindful of your weaknesses. These can really saddle you. You should definitely not have characters with known weaknesses go after those spaces; you’re not going to like what happens. The nice thing is that each player has a distinct weakness to start, so you don’t need to worry about investigating something the other player cannot. That said, you know, you should be careful; who knows what might happen?
  • Try to avoid setting off alarms, if you can. This is good advice for the game and for real life. You don’t want to let anyone know that you’re basically doing some pretty high-level corporate espionage, and setting off the massive alarm is definitely going to do that.
  • Don’t just … do everything impulsively. I mean, if you feel like running into a heavily-guarded room or an electric fence or a river of fire or something with no plan is a good idea, I literally cannot stop you from doing so, but please also consider … don’t do that? You should make sure that the places you’re going and the things you’re doing aren’t just … frivolous. There’s definitely some temptation, but you certainly cannot just stick your head into any nook or cranny and expect that to go well.
  • You may want to try presenting items to an entry before reading the entry straight. I think there’s a slight desire to read an entry as soon as it becomes available, but you run the risk of “activating” it, essentially as though you hadn’t brought anything. It may be worth considering trying out your items on a new opportunity before you actually go through with reading the entry on its own. This is a mistake that we made, but honestly, it’s not a huge one. Just something worth noting.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I appreciated the dynamic aspects of some locations. Just because a location is the way that it is when you find it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to stay that way forever. It’s a bit unexpected if it happens, but it’s really cool! Makes each location a bit more full of potential and more interesting than I initially took it for. That’s always nice.
  • Being able to combine items with both items and locations was a lot of fun. Being able to use items on locations alone would have been plenty of fun, but I really like that you can combine two items. Reminds me of all the things in Final Fantasy X that I liked. Honestly, even more fun than the successes is the weird failures that you can get! They’re worth investigating, but don’t necessarily just start mixing everything together; it might blow up in your face (do I mean that literally???).
  • I appreciated that which character you chose actually mattered. It’s cool that they have different advantages and disadvantages, yes, but also some of the entries require you to check different entries based on your character! It’s a really nice way to affect the game.
  • It’s replayable! I’m just used to these EXIT-sized boxes being disposable. I mean, I’m going to pass this off to another person so I’m not going to replay it, but I think the ability to do so is really nice.
  • I also like that you can save your state. I’m kind of a “power through it in one go” kind of guy, but you know, again, the concept of being able to save your state is really nice. The games typically don’t take the full 90 minutes (though I imagine that would change a bit at higher player counts), but if they did I’d definitely want to save some state.
  • I bet combining these with the EXIT games would be awesome. Imagine if instead of getting cards, you get some envelopes with some puzzle parts in them and solving the puzzle gives you a new adventure card or unlocks a location? It would be really neat to see a middle ground between the two game types. Though it may not be as replayable.

Mehs

  • The concept of “turns” isn’t super helpful at lower player counts, I feel. You kind of end up approaching tasks as a bit of an amorphous player-shaped blob, which, mood, but that’s kind of fine? Just keep track of who’s doing what. Sometimes you do need to track turns, but I found that this is kind of the same problem I had with Legacy of Dragonholt; more often than not it’s just easier to handle everything as sort of a two-headed industrial espionage kind of person. And that’s fine.
  • Hitting a blank entry is kind of a bummer. It’s sort of like tripping when you walk. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but if you’re hoping something will happen it’s a tiny bit disappointing. This is where an app would help; just have a generic code for missing a combination. For a book, you would have to write up every conceivable combination, which is hardly efficient, so, that’s not gonna work for that.

Cons

  • The way the adventure book is organized makes it really easy to read a lot more than you wanted to. I think Red Raven manages to do a good job with this by using bold headers to separate content. This makes the book longer, naturally, and it seems like that’s not ideal, but I end up reading important story details every time I open the book. If you really wanted to fix it without spending too much more money, you might be able to use a thin red filter, kind of like what they use with Decrypto or Red Scare to obfuscate the other text so you can only read the numbers but the actual text needs to be covered by the thing? I suspect that would work pretty well.
  • The narrative can occasionally feel disjointed. I was discussing this with my coplayer (who is, admittedly, much more experienced in narrative design than I am). Part of what we arrived at is that this game doesn’t necessarily lean into the tropes that would be pretty close (cyberpunk-esque) to its overall narrative, so when it skips a few steps (as many nonlinear narratives do), it’s harder to piece in the gaps because we just don’t have as much experience with it? It would have been nicer to see some more investment from the game in its own narrative, I suppose. Things felt like they just kind of happened for the sake of happening? That’s kind of on-brand for an adventure game, even if it’s not always the easiest thing to follow as a player.

Overall: 7 / 10

Overall, I thought Monochrome, Inc. was pretty fun! I think that it’s not a bad first foray into narrative games, though I’d still recommend taking some pointers from other narrative games with regard to how they handle possible spoilers and the ability to accidentally read ahead; I ended up with a lot of information I didn’t want about the game just from trying to find my entry, not to mention that for a given item if you look it up it basically shows you everything that it can possibly combine with, which isn’t awesome. That and a slightly disjointed narrative feel like growing pains to me more than Actual Problems, though; I’ll be interested to see what the general take on these is and how KOSMOS incorporates that feedback into future iterations of the games, since I doubt that these are the only Adventure Games to come out. It’ll be nice if they start inching just a bit closer to the EXIT games, though; most of my favorite EXIT games have some sort of overarching narrative, but they’re more puzzly than the Adventure Games. A happy medium between the two would be a really fun experience, for me. That said, there’s a lot to like about this. I love the ability to combine items and use them with locations, and I felt like that was solidly implemented. Additionally, boxes this size used to stress me out a bit because these were always EXIT games and I’d have to destroy them, but not this time. This game’s got the ability to both save its state and replay it! And it actually makes sense to do so, as your character choices influence a few different things about the game. If you’re excited about spending a big chunk of your day on a narrative adventure, I’d recommend checking out these Adventure Games! I’ve liked what I’ve seen of them so far.

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