Full disclosure: A preview copy of Pocket Book Adventures was provided by Grumpy Spider Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
More crowdfunding! It’s that time of year, especially in the US. It’s essentially that Gen Con to Essen pipeline, which I imagine also has something to do with the whole manufacturing and production thing. That said, I have no idea, so, I’m just speculating. But towards the end of the year, I do tend to see a rise in crowdfunding, especially from the previewer side. This one’s a bit different than my normal fare, so, I’m excited to dig into it and check it out!
In Pocket Book Adventures, you’ve got some loot to find and monsters to fight if you want to become your own legend! Unlike most dungeon-crawling games, however, you don’t need dice or cards to get through the levels. Here, you just need the game book and a bit of dexterity. Do you have what it takes to get through all the areas of these tiny dungeons?
None here! Take the notebook, grab a pencil, and you’re ready to start! Read the rules and begin on the first level.
Pocket Book Adventures is a very literal pocket dungeon-crawling game! As you explore the different locations in the notebook, you’ll fight monsters, acquire items and gold, and travel through various types of levels to reach your goal and make a name for yourself as a legend! Let’s talk about how that works.
There are seven major areas in a campaign, each with their own specific set of movement rules. Generally speaking, however, you can move a certain number of spaces in a straight line with some restrictions. As you move from space to space, draw a line connecting where you started and where you finished, indicating the space you finished on. I usually use an arrow to indicate direction, but that’s me. There are some spaces you cannot move into; these are dark-shaded spaces called terrain.
Should you end your movement on one of the eight spaces around a monster (or on the monster’s space, as living monsters block your movement), the monster attacks! This is where a major concept, aiming, comes into play. On the left sheet, each monster type is pictured, along with a bar above it and a target below. To fight the monster, you’ll place your pencil onto the dot on the bar above the monster and then, without looking, try to move the pencil to the center of the target below the monster. If you land in the outer ring, take two damage. If you land in the inner ring, take one damage. If you land in the center bulls-eye, you take no damage. Some monsters have abilities which activate if you land in the shaded areas, so if you do, activate that ability. Long-term abilites are denoted | like this |, so you can tell which ones affect you for a while, yet. Either way, the enemy dies unless your HP drops to 0. Then, you’ve been killed.
If your HP drops to 0, you revive immediately (that’s handy), with some penalty:
- Lose half your hold or lose your weapon and items.
- Refill your HP back to your maximum.
- Cure all status effects.
- Continue your turn; the monster is still alive.
So that’s not so bad. There are also objects you can pick up, like gold or hearts, and special objects, like gold stacks (aim from your position to the target below the area grid to gain a max of 5 gold) or max hearts (increase your HP and Max HP by 1). For Treasure Chests, they work like gold stacks but doubled, and they require you to open them with a key from the same area.
Should you cross the arrow pointing towards a gap in the edge’s terrain, you can move on to the next level. When you do, gain stars for your total movement, total damage, and total monsters defeated. Then move on to the next level! Sometimes you’ll have to fight a boss, with their own special rules, or you’ll end up at a Village, where you can heal up, buy weapons, and train.
Keep going until you’ve defeated the final boss (and / or died trying!).
Player Count Differences
None! It’s an entirely solo game.
- You should practice aiming before each session of the game; you’ll want to be good at it. Aiming is the core mechanic of this game, and, frankly, it’s not as easy as I immediately assumed that it was. You can try and do a quick “pop” from start to finish or you can try to perfectly sight it up and then look away and do a slow, crane game sort-of affair, but you need to get some technique for it if you want to avoid damage, acquire wealth, and not … die.
- Going after gold can be pretty helpful! You’ll lose some stars for it, but you can pick up items and weapons (and more health) to make the game easier. Just like real life, having more money makes a lot of things easier, even if you didn’t expect it. But more seriously, you’re almost certainly going to take some damage every so often, and one of your best bets for reliable healing is villages, every so often. You can go through levels to get hearts, but you may end up encountering more monsters as a result.
- You should probably go after a few enemies for the stars, but keep an eye on your health. Enemies are generally defeated after one combat encounter, which is definitely helpful (less bookkeeping), but if you go after every enemy on the map you’ve got a real risk of dying. Later-game enemies do progressively more damage to compensate for your gradually-increasing health. The more you go after, the more stars you can get, but taking damage will also cause you to miss out on stars. It’s a tradeoff, but I always recommend having a pretty healthy supply of gold before you exit an area.
- If you don’t have any gold, you can die pretty much without consequence, so, don’t worry too much. Keep in mind that this stops being relevant as you progress through the game, essentially as soon as you get your first items and weapons. At that point, even if you have no gold, you have stuff that you lose if you die, so that becomes less ideal. Towards the later part of the game, losing half of your gold instead is also a pretty tough trade, so, keep an eye on your health. But use the first level or two as a way to learn the game’s mechanics and rules without stressing yourself so much about dying. Or, another way to think about it, make sure you always have at least one gold when you die so you don’t have to lose any items or weapons.
- Resting up at Villages and buying extra Max Hearts is also, generally, a good plan. It’s just good to get more max HP! Then you can take more hits, and, more importantly, you can start to tank the more aggressive moves that come up later in the game! Some will legitimately add on five or more extra damage to a hit. Without more Max HP, you’re just dead.
- Carrying a Remedy or two can be pretty helpful. Some of the status effects are pretty nasty! A late-game one, for instance, just kills you as soon as you leave the area. You don’t want that, so, keep a Remedy around to ward off any particularly-nasty status effects. Or, you know, just avoid the enemies so that they can’t inflict the effects on you. I’m not that good at this game, so I carry the Remedy.
- Going for chests is usually good, since they give you so much extra gold, but getting the key and getting to the chest is going to be a major detour. Chests work exactly the same as a gold stack, but doubled, so you can potentially land 10 gold out of a single space if you know what you’re doing. Pretty nontrivially clutch. The challenge is that, for the most part, the game puts the key and the chest pretty far apart, so going after it is essentially the same as giving up on any stars from traveling through as few spaces as possible.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really appreciate how short each “level” is. It’s the kind of thing that I can spend about five or ten minutes on as a quick distraction and then pause once I hit a Village or a Boss or something. I appreciate how digestible the levels are! It’s a low lift to play the game, especially if it’s somewhere I usually am sitting for a while (or in a travel backpack).
- The art is very cute in an 8-bit minimalist kind-of way. I think it’s fun and simple, though it’s not really 8-bit; the icons are just small and single color, so my brain tends to associate them with old PC graphics.
- This is a very portable game, which is always appreciated. I mean, I literally can fit it in my back pocket, but you could easily put it in a purse, bag, or backpack without much trouble. It helps a lot that there are no additional components, either, other than a pencil / pen, which I usually tend to have around me anyways.
- There’s also a lot of levels! Kind of the ideal office game where you can sit around and just knock out a level every now and then. Got a bit of time between meetings? Bust out a level. Winding down at the end of the day? Bust out a level. Watching TV and need something to engage? Bust out a level. The ease and simplicity of Pocket Book Adventures as a solo title really helps me find places to pick it up and play.
- I think the aiming system is honestly genius. It encodes random rolling into a pseudo-dexterity game effect that you can actually get better at. Really smart. This is, for me, the highlight of the game. I love that they’ve chosen a dexterity game effect to simulate randomness! It allows players to actually get better at the game as they play, and introduces a technique / skill curve to things, which I really like. Plus, it’s pretty fun, as far as simple dexterity exercises go! It’s got a neat little challenge and I appreciate how many different, novel use cases the game gets out of the mechanic.
- I appreciate that the penalty for dying isn’t all that severe. I also appreciate that it gets more severe as you have more things to lose. That means that novice players will mostly be okay, and more experienced players will have to be careful or risk losing a bunch. I appreciate that gentle learning curve for the game.
- There’s not a ton of humor in the game, but what’s here is pretty amusing. It’s cute and endearing, as far as in-game humor goes, so it’s appreciated.
- It’s a little difficult to keep track of weapon effects without having to write them on every page, which can feel a bit tedious. it wouldn’t be such a big deal if you didn’t need to copy them over and over again on every page, which is a bit unfortunate, especially if you’re holding on to the same weapon for a while (or any weapon, really). Having a removable sticker or a perforated tear-out would almost be preferable.
- Similarly, counting the number of steps you’ve moved every level can be a bit tedious, too, for an otherwise-short game. I’d say a good portion of my 5 minute round can often be just me counting and recounting how many steps I’ve taken, but that’s also largely because I lose count every time. It’s hard to maintain precision! I’m just not great at it.
- I can totally see the reasoning behind everything being grayscale, but I do like a game with some color, so that’s a bit of a disappointment. I just think a little bit of color would really pop, whereas the grayscale doesn’t, as much. The pages don’t quite look samey (changes in terrain and monsters help a lot with that), but I’d love to see what a more colorful version would have looked like.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I found Pocket Book Adventures to be a delightful and novel experience! I was a bit worried, at first, because I’m not wholly into dungeon-crawlers as a genre. Too much combat for me, generally, and not always enough of an emphasis on the exploring part. It’s why I like Betrayal at House on the Hill; the combat is wild and the exploration is a major component of gameplay. But, critically, I think Pocket Book Adventures has captured something pretty special with a simple design: a very leisurely dungeon-crawl experience. You can pop in for a bit, do a couple levels, and keep going, always keeping track with your current page without much effort. I love that! It feels like a dungeon crawler for busy people, and I’m busy people! What really sold me on the game, though, was the dexterity-based, one shot approach to combat. Fighting’s no longer a tedious slog (except for the occasional enemy that can revive); instead, it’s a quick-but-challenging dexterity challenge to give you some of the thrill of randomness while still keeping the game quick and snappy. I was impressed by that! The one thing that complicates the game’s speed-based approach to everything is that it does take a little bit of time to update your next sheet with your previous information, especially if you want to keep track of what your weapons do, but as far as complaints go, that’s not too minor. I would have preferred a more colorful version of the game beyond just the grayscale reminding me of the Dragon Quest games of my youth (Dragon Warrior, at the time), but everyone’s got their preferences. I’ll say, though, that I went in a bit skeptical and left impressed, so that earns pretty solid marks, from me. If you’re looking for a small-but-mighty solo title, you’re into dungeon crawling but you don’t have a ton of time, or you’re looking for an interesting dexterity challenge, I’d recommend checking Pocket Book Adventures out! It’s a neat one.
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