On The Road Again
Braving not so misty mountains, a lack of sanity and miles of desert are all on the cards today, as I empty my rucksack of experiences that I filled whilst playing Cartaventura: Lhassa. A world exploration and scenario game from creators who have brought all of the other Cartaventura adventures to life.
In Cartaventura: Lhassa, up to 6 players can work together to navigate their way from Ceylon and India, all the way to Lhassa in Tibet. Along the way, hard choices will need to be made as players encounter characters, new environments, and various illnesses. Only by making careful decisions and spending resources wisely will they make it to their destination in one piece.
I picked up this game on a whim whilst traveling for work and visiting a board game shop. I was looking for a single player game that I could play to pass the time in the evening, and whilst browsing the shelves, discovered the Cartaventure series. Although there were quite a few to choose from, I decided to start with Lhassa, and it turned out to be a great decision.
This was definitely one of those games where less is more. When I opened the box, I was surprised to find only a deck of cards and a small booklet inside. Thankfully, I didn’t let that fool me into thinking that my adventure would be lackluster. The booklet provided gives an insight to the geography and history behind the story itself, and has no instructions or tips regarding gameplay. This is because all of the rules and instructions are provided on the cards themselves.
Players simply turn each card over as instructed, read the text on the card and make the best decision that they deem suitable. Some choices are easier to make than others, and some may result in new resources to aid in the adventure. From there, players continue to work their way through the cards until they arrive at one of the 5 possible endings; some of which may appear more abruptly than others.
The learn as you go feature has featured in a variety of board games that I’ve played in the past, but none have achieved it quite so beautifully as Cartaventura. Instructions and directions were crisp and clear in a simple concise way. Cards only had what was needed on them, and at no point was the information overwhelming or irrelevant. Because of this, I felt myself glide through each playthrough as I tried different choices for events I encountered.
Down To Business
One of the features that grabbed my attention were promises of an adventure in a deck of cards. Being a huge fan of 7th Continent and the Unlock series, this instantly grabbed my attention. Seeing a world evolve before my eyes on the tabletop absolutely blows my mind, and instantly sells me on exploration games with similar mechanics.
True to promise, new cards are played from the top of the deck, or searched for if a particular numbered card is required. When a new location is revealed, compass icons prompt players to play certain cards face down as an exploration option. As though choices are made, and actions are taken, players will find that certain cards open a pathway across the table, which in turn open up the entire map to them.
Another selling point for this game was the promise of 5 unique endings to be discovered, and although it was very difficult; I managed to complete all five of them after quite a few playthroughs. Each ending was unique and took the player through a journey of decisions unlike the other 4 options. This gave the game a great feeling of variety of replayability; as at no point did the game feel repetitive or stale.
Finally, a mechanic in Lhassa that took me by surprise was the use and representation of money or energy on individual cards. The resources work is so simplistic, and easy to understand; with the max coin you can have being 4, and each side of the card representing a different value. To add or subtract gold from your total, simply rotate the card left or right until your new total is at the top. It’s so simple, that I’m surprised that other card games in the genre haven’t used a similar mechanic. It’s easy to keep track of and visualise, and is easily distinguishable from the other cards on the table. It also means that no other components from outside of the game are needed.
Enjoyable Trouble Along The Way
Throughout my playthroughs, two experiences stood out to me and stuck in my memory. One of them was fooling myself into thinking there would be a risk and reward outcome for a poor decision I was making. Sinking more and more gold into a lost cause; not realising the error in my ways until it was too late and the game was over.
The other memorable moment to stand out was another foolish mistake, but one that I was able to correct in future playthroughs by simply choosing the other option. I had made so many careful decisions and could see the end in sight; so thinking that I might be able to make a humorous decision without any negative outcomes was my undoing. It was only later that I went back through the same path but chose the other, more common-sense, option I had ignored earlier, and found myself at the successful end of the adventure.
And that’s something I found most charming of all in Lhassa. Just because it’s a game, doesn’t mean that it can’t take the player on a realistic journey with realistic consequences. Making foolish choices in real life probably wouldn’t out you in the best situation, so it should be suprising if bad decisions result in bad outcomes in the game either. Needless to say, I recommend picking your choices carefully as you move from card to card, as wrong moves can send you off on a downward spiral.
Just incase I haven’t made it clear, this game has quickly become one of my favourite small card games, and the best travel game I own. Although I’ve only played it so, I’m really intrigued to see how it plays with up to 6 players, as I think more than 2 could be quite overwhelming when it comes to decision making.
I genuinely find it hard to fault this game. It fufills a type of game that I’ve been wanting for a long time. A smaller version of 7th Continent with the same amount of adventure and mystery included. The only thing I would love to see in future games is some hidden elements and puzzles; to add an extra layer of logic to an already amazing game.
Nonetheless, I emplore you to pick up a copy of this game and see for yourself just how fun it can be. I plan on working my way through the ever growing series of Cartaventura games, and look forward to the new adventures that await me.
And thus concludes my review of the absolutely amazing Cartaventura: Lhassa. As you know, I adored this game to bits, but I would love to know what you thought of it. You can let us know by using the @zatugames tag on any social media. But in the mean time, if you choose to embark on a Cartaventura journey; Bon Voyage!