Full disclosure: A review copy of What Next? was provided by Big Potato Games.
I got a whole surge of puzzle / mystery / escape room games in the mail the other week, so that spurred a whole Let’s Solve Puzzles Day with my housemate, where I picked up like 10 cooperative games and we just started working our way through them. The EXIT Advent Calendar is going to take longer, granted, as is Chronicles of Crime: 2400, but in the meantime, there are a lot of games that I want to talk about. So look forward to those (as some have likely already dropped). One such game is What Next?, from Big Potato Games. It’s a real interesting one, so let’s dive right in!
In What Next?, you’ll be asking yourself that a lot. Three adventures will take you from a superhero’s house to a koala-filled island to a robot who doesn’t dream of labor, and to get all of them safely to the end of their tales you’ll have to brave many challenges, including the dreaded Tower of Peril. Thankfully, for me, the challenges are pretty much all dexterity-based, meaning you’re going to have a weird time as well as a good time. So choose your own adventure and dive into it! Will you be able to make it to the ending?
Setup isn’t too bad! There are three different adventures in the box:
Inside of the box are Location Cards, Item Cards, and Event Cards. Set those stacks out, and then set aside the relevant dial:
There are some extra components! There’s item pieces, that go in the included bag:
There are also puzzle pieces for certain events!
Set aside the Peril pieces; you hopefully won’t need too many of them, but they’re there.
Last thing is the puck and accompanying triangle! You’ll use that for a few challenges, so set them nearby (preferably away from the Peril pieces):
You should be ready to start!
To start, take Card 0 out of your chosen adventure’s Location. That will start your story! Each card should be read out loud, and will lead you to a choice or an Event! Sometimes even items. Once you get to the bottom of the card, make a choice! Players can vote, if they want, but the player who read the card breaks ties.
If the action leads to an event (the symbol with an ! inside), the same player does the event. If it’s a new Location (the map symbol), the next player in turn order gets to read that. Generally speaking, whenever you change Locations, advance your Time Dial by one. If it gets to the “Danger” space, you need to flip the deck over and play the next Location’s dark side. It’s tough! But should still have an Event or another Location on it. Flip the deck back over once you advance the Time Dial again.
Event Cards will give you challenges, ranging from pushing the puck to building shapes to searching for items to something only ominously deemed “mini games”. You’ll have some practice attempts, but you need to declare when you’re going for it for real. If you succeed, do whatever the checkmark says; if you fail, flip the card over and perform the action on the back. Some Events and Locations will give you Item Cards, which may come in handy later (but are single-use, unless otherwise stated).
Whenever you encounter a skull symbol, you’ve gained Peril! This means you need to add to your Tower of Peril. Peril Pieces must be stacked to create the tower. The first two must be placed with their sides touching the table to form a base, and subsequent pieces must be stacked on top of them. If you knock any over from then on out, you lose! So try not to do that. If you’re a real pro, you may run out of Peril pieces. If that happens, you also lose. But, you know; it’s more impressive.
If you manage to reach the end of the story without the Tower of Peril collapsing, you win!
Player Count Differences
Not a ton, though that works out nicely. For me, I actually like What Next? with more players, since it takes some of the “reading out loud” burden off me, and it distributes the tasks between more players for Events. They’re usually pretty fun to watch, even if you’re not playing, so I’m pretty much fine with those. If you’re not interested in playing games with more players, there is a fully-functional solo mode in the game! It just replaces the events that would otherwise require more players with solo-friendly events. They’re nice! They just usually swap multi-person events for something that you can do by yourself. Beyond that, there’s no distinction between multiple players; you’re exploring the adventure as a group, and you succeed or fail cooperatively. It’s occasionally helpful to have more players to help keep the rules straight and track items and such, but your mileage may vary. I’d probably say the three- or four-player range is a sweet spot for me, but I enjoyed the game just fine at two.
- You really want the Tower of Peril to both be securely built and built in a secure place. If you have it at the wobbly part of your table, someone’s going to kick the table by mistake and end the game, if you’re not careful. Keep it within sight of all players and somewhere sturdy; you’ll thank me for it later.
- Some of the Location “choices” are traps, so be careful about that. If a spot seems too good to be true, it probably is. Think about the situation you’re currently in; what is the next best available move for you? Will it push you closer to your goal? Try to reason out what could happen before you make that choice, especially if you’re getting closer to the Danger spot on the time dial.
- It helps to take advantage of the practice sessions for the various games. Absolutely none of these dexterity challenges are things that I was good at before I started playing What Next?, so I’d highly recommend going through all the practice motions to make sure that you know how to do the challenge before you play for keeps. That said, I’m a board game reviewer, not a cop, so I can’t really enforce this recommendation to any particular degree; it’s just a good idea.
- Remember that you’re turning the Time Dial every round, so you may need to be prepared for a particularly nasty Location challenge. Yeah, the Danger spot flips the deck over, making basically everything nastier, more perilous, and occasionally more difficult. Be careful with those, even though you may not necessarily be able to actually make any changes to your behavior once you’re on the Danger space. When you get there, you’re just there.
- For the challenges where you have to throw things, you don’t necessarily have to throw them quickly. Don’t necessarily assume you have to overhand pitch something at your co-player; you can lob it to try and make it easier for your co-player to swat or something. You’re working together on this, so, teamwork makes the dreamwork. You only win if you both win.
- The puck flick challenges are particularly tough! Good luck with those. I have so much trouble getting the puck on the end of the triangle and I’ve never gotten good at it, so I just end up eating a lot of Peril every time I play. My housemate is much better at it, so I’d love to just let her do those challenges when possible. Naturally, that’s not how that works, so I usually get stuck with it.
- More generally, try not to play on a small table or a table with a tablecloth; it can mess with some of the textures of the components. The Tower of Peril might not be level on the tablecloth, which is bad, and, for instance, I got a challenge that asked me to spin the puck like a coin, which didn’t work really well on my photography surface. Try to stick to your standard wood or stone tables or something, lest you make the game even harder for yourself.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I love the art style for this one. It’s fun and quirky and colorful, and it looks great! I particularly like that the cover opens to a really nice landscape of all the different stories and such. It’s cartoony and a bit sketched and fun. I also appreciate how many of the cards have unique art on them! The game just look great. Even the Peril pieces are fun in a hazardous kind of way.
- The dexterity elements of this game are super fun! I love little dexterity challenges, and there are so many different kinds! There’s flicking and stacking and occasionally spinning the puck like a top or throwing a card at your co-player or something completely surprising and unexpected that I haven’t listed here. It’s a lot, but it’s very good.
- I think it’s nice that the game comes with three starting decks. I wonder if they’re planning on making little booster decks that you can add on? Either way, I appreciate how different the various stories are. They’re adventurous and entertaining, and still pretty fun to boot! Plus, three is one of those classic numbers of “things you have in a core set of a game”.
- It’s pretty replayable, too! I definitely haven’t experienced all of the potential paths. I mean replayable here as “there are multiple paths through any particular story, so even if you get through one story, there might be another way to the end with new challenges and mini-games to play”. I like that sort of thing. I definitely think I’ve only been through probably half of the challenges in each story, which is exciting. Looking forward to returning to it soon enough.
- Pretty easy to understand, even for younger players, so this covers a nice chunk of the “family-weight” population. The general cognitive complexity of the game is pretty low, but some of the challenges are pretty tough. A nice blend of speed and dexterity for some of them.
- The stories are also a nice blend of cute and silly. I mean, they’re a kind of “fun for all ages” set of stories, which I appreciate. Nothing too over the top or scary, which I appreciate. Keeps things fun and relatively simple.
- Plays pretty quickly! Even faster if you lose. I mean, if you knock over the Tower of Peril, you’re done pretty fast. But, more seriously, the game moves pretty quickly since each turn is just a Location and then an Event. They move fast! The mini-games usually have a timer that’s under 90 seconds.
- I think it would help to have some kind of symbol reminding players to advance the Time Dial on the Location Cards; it’s the kind of thing that’s easy to forget when you’re caught up in the other fun parts of the game. That’s just something that we find ourselves forgetting every few turns. The Time Dial is kind of an externality, as far as the rest of the game is concerned. It’s the kind of thing that sits next to the game that you stop noticing because the rest of the game is so engaging and then you forget to actually use it. It’s unfortunate, but, you know, not the worst thing in the world.
- While I do enjoy the Tower of Peril, having the entire game hinge on a single dexterity challenge does restrict the kinds of places you can play, which can be frustrating. I almost wish the pieces were a bit harder to stack and knocking them down took away some health, so you had more shots at it. As it currently stands, it reminds me of a very fun RPG called Icarus where the game ends catastrophically as soon as the tower falls, but there’s a narrative function to that ending, rather than here, where it ends up being unceremonious. You also can’t entirely play this game outside or on certain table types, which is a bit frustrating to boot.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think that What Next? is a ton of fun. It meets a lot of my big criteria, with bright colors, fun stories, and weird dexterity challenges, and that’s just a recipe for a good time, right there. I think that unlike a lot of the more mystery / escape room puzzles, this game also succeeds in creating an experience that’s compelling for more than just two players, since the various dexterity challenges are as fun to watch as they are to do (and taking a break from reading all the cards out loud can be nice). I always hesitate to call things “kids’ games”, since that’s a loaded term with some, but I think the stories are approachable for younger players and they’ll be engaged, even if they’re not able to necessarily do the dexterity challenges included, and I think that’s totally fine. It means you can let them pick what you do and then it’s up to you to execute on it. I like that a lot. Plus, with three stories inside the core game, you can play, replay, and play again until you’ve traced through all the paths, and even then, those paths depend on your starting Time Dial, to some degree, so there’s always more to explore. I think What Next? really captures the fun of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books that I used to read, but the game also elevates that experience by making those stories even more engaging (via interactivity). I didn’t want to review this until I tried all the stories, and now I’m glad that I have (and I want to go back and play them again!). I haven’t heard a ton from What Next?, since its launch, but I sincerely hope this isn’t the last of it. If you’re looking for a fun adventure game to play with friends, you enjoy the occasional mini-game or puzzle challenge or card throwing, or you just want to have a game that looks great and tries to use sustainable manufacturing practices, I’d highly recommend checking What Next? out! I really enjoyed it.
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