Your boat, now a sorry wreckage off the island's shore, couldn't cope with that storm. Scooping seaweed out of your hair, you wince as you look back at the ocean, the vessel sinking beneath the waves. If you want to swim out to the sunken boat and rescue the supplies, turn to card 2. If you want to walk along the beach, turn to card 3. What Next…?
I'd wager cold, hard cash that since you're browsing Zatu's blog, you've played a game with this mechanism before. Or you've read one from the 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure' series of books, right? (I got genuine nightmares from the Space Vampires one! Chills. Absolute chills.) They're written in second-person perspective, so you are the protagonist. At the end of each page, you decide how the adventure proceeds. Then you flick to the corresponding page, and the plot continues.
What Next? is a pick-your-path adventure game, stylised in the aforementioned format. But this is by Big Potato, known for being royalty of the party game scene. So what happens when you mix a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure narrative, mini-games, dexterity, plus a smattering of RPG? You get What Next?, the definition of a board game hybrid.
- If you want to read more about my in-depth, non-spoiler thoughts on What Next?, continue reading the '1. What Next? The Elevator Pitch' heading, below.
- If you're an impatient maverick who doesn't play by chronological rules, scroll down to '9. Final Thoughts On… What Next?'.
What Next? The Elevator Pitch
What Next? is, by definition, a party game. The game comes with three individual adventures inside, plus a bunch of components for the mini-games. Each adventure pack is a self-contained plot, and consists of three decks of cards. There's Location Cards, Event Cards, and Item Cards. You keep the decks face-down, with a 'book-end' card on top of each, to prevent spoilers. The action begins with the Location Card, which are all numbered. The first player begins by taking Card 0 and reading the narrative aloud to the rest of the players. Each card ends with two options. Which will you choose?
I'll butt in here - designer Ed Naujokas suggests What Next? accommodates 1-4 players. While yes, the game can play as a solo experience, I can't recommend it at that player count. Games like this thrive best when played as a co-op experience. You'll want to share in the triumphs (and epic failures) together. This isn't a single-player RPG like the Fighting Fantasy books, and I'll explain why in a moment.
- If your curiosity's stimulated and you want to read why NOW, scroll down to '3. Flicking Heck'.
- Already sick of the flip-flopping around? "Just let me read the review, dammit!" Keep reading. Don't panic. I got you.
There's Consequences To Your Actions
You can decide as a group which path to take, or you can have the current active player make the final decision. I prefer the latter - it makes that player feel as though their decision is important. That way, no dominant alpha players can take control.
Next to each option sits a number, and an icon. This icon will either be a GPS pin or an exclamation mark. The pin means that route leads to on to a corresponding Location Card. The ! means you have to find the Event Card matching that number, and trigger it straight away. It goes without saying that when you fish through the decks for the correct card, try not to peek. Willpower required!
If you pick a path that leads to an Event Card, this means the active player has to overcome a mini-game. You'll flick to the correct numbered Event Card, and read it aloud. It's a thematic challenge that you need to overcome. This could involve an Item Search, a Shape Build, the Puck Push, or a different kind of mini-game, all together.
- Love dragging your thumb across your phone screen for the LOLZ? Scroll to down to '6. Now I Am The Captain'.
- If you've already decided to read this review in order (but appreciate the pick-your-own-path options regardless) carry on.
The Push Puck is a flicking game. There's a triangular board, split into regions. You need to flick a plastic disc so it lands within or beyond a certain region. Theme-wise, this represents you doing physical activities, like climbing or pushing.
There's other unique mini-games, too. I won't spoil any of them, but some involve flicking other items, or doing fun actions with the cards themselves. What's brilliant about these challenges are that they allow you a certain number of practice attempts. A practice doesn't count towards an actual success, though! You have to say "This is the real attempt, now…" in order for it to qualify as a success.
I saw players succeed with ease on practice attempts. Time and time again. Then they go for the 'real deal' - and fail in spectacular fashion. (Cue everybody at the table doubling up in fits of giggles.) "How did you miss? You got a 100% rate during the practices!" This is why you play What Next? as a group. Playing this kind of thing on your own is like telling a joke in the mirror. No matter how funny it is, if no one's there to laugh with you, it leaves a hollow impression.
- Want to read about more fun Event Cards? Carry on. As per usual. Like a sensible person.
- Enjoy topsy-turvy scrolling madness? Want to see how you lose the game? Skip to '5. Uh Oh! FAIL!'
Oooh! What Have You Found?
Item Searches involves a draw-bag filled with unique, yellow, plastic shapes. The card states you have to dig around in the bag to find the shape silhouetted on the card. You cannot look inside the bag - you have to feel! - and you can only remove one item at a time. And this is a timed challenge (there's no sand timer included, but you can use your phone, right?). Somehow, everything ratchets up in tension when you're up against the clock! If it's wrong, then back into the bag it must go. (And there's every chance you'll pull it out again… and again!)
If it's correct, hooray! Great success. You found the item within the time allocated. That then lets you flick through the Item Deck (the ? symbol) to the corresponding number. You've found a handy prop of some kind! You can cash this Item Card in at a later point in the adventure. It can assist you as a one-time usage in another challenge.
Shape Build challenges presents you with a silhouette you have to build, using an array of blue plastic shapes. Theme-wise, this represents you fixing or building something. Once again, it's against the clock, so time is of the essence. On a success, the Event Card then tells you which Location Card to go to next (or return to). Like the Item Search, you fail if you cannot complete this task in the time allotted. On any kind of failure, you have to flip the Event Card over, instead…
- Already know the consequences of a failure? Race ahead to '9. Final Thoughts On… What Next?'
- If you've not once entertained the idea of reading this in a madcap order, good for you. Keep on trucking.
Uh Oh! FAIL!
If you didn't complete the task in time, you have to suffer the consequences. Your catastrophe gets narrated on the back of the card. This often includes an apt skull icon. Every time you see this icon, it means you have to then add a Peril Piece into a Tower of Peril. This is like a dexterity game in its own right. There's 12 different purple Peril shapes, about a centimetre thick. They're all awkward - each one having between 6-8 edges, and none of them equal. Symmetrical hex-, sept- and octagons? No chance. They're tricky, wonky, and conveniently cumbersome.
You have to balance these on their thin edge, facing up (not sitting down). The first two have to touch, and then every other Peril Piece has to sit on top of the base two. Once placed, you cannot rearrange the tower. As What Next? progresses, the Tower of Peril grows ever-higher and higher. And the tension and stakes creep up and up, rattling the nerves of even the bravest of adventurers. But here's the clincher: if ever any Peril Pieces topple out of the tower, it's an immediate loss. Game Over. The End.
- Feel like you've missed out on the Event Cards (because of all this bonkers scrolling malarkey)? Go back to '2. There's Consequences To Your Actions'.
- Smug at the thought of having read this in a relaxed state, in the proper orde? As you were. Full steam ahead.
Now I Am The Captain
There's a Time Dial for each adventure (colour-coordinated to match the cards). This is two circles pinned together, and you rotate the top circle round one notch earn turn. Three symbols out of the four notches show a regular icon, but the fourth is a Danger Space. In the Drums of Koala Cave adventure, these icons are a sun, with the Danger Space being the moon (nighttime). This is like a First Player Marker. You pass it one player clockwise each turn, after completing a card.
When that Danger symbol appears, you have to flip the Location Card over to its reverse. These are the harder sides of the cards, at 'nighttime'. Everything's harder in the dark! When you start on Location Card 0, it tells the active player to randomise the starting time of day by turning the Time Dial. This is excellent for replayability. Sure, you can play the adventure by taking the exact same paths each time. But by having a different time of day to start means you'll see alternating 'Danger' cards appear at different plot points.
The only negative I have with this is that the Time Dials (for each of the three adventures) has four spaces. The fourth being, of course, the Danger Space. This means in an two- or four-player game the same player will always be the one that gets the difficult card. If playing with younger kids then you could fix this so it's an adult that always gets the hard card. But if playing with adults, some players might get a bit miffed that they're stuck with the hard option all the time. (Or others might get jealous that one player gets all the dangerous stuff to themselves!) If this dial had five spaces rather than four, would that have been a better design?
- Want to read more about the art style? Leap forward to '8. Must Have: A GSOH, And Quality Components'.
- If you're dead-cert on seeing this through, reading it like a regular review, stick to your guns.
Is This A Railroad?
As I've already mentioned, there's a decent amount of plot variety in a single adventure. Don't forget though that What Next? comes with not one, but three adventures. Drums of Koala Cave is a great starter game, and is set around trying to rescue your colleague off an island.
The Skyscraper Caper sees you as a billionaire crime-fighter based in the city. (Hmm, that sounds familiar!) Skyscraper… comes with tougher minigame challenges. It rewards you for collecting Items and building 'Super Items'. In Blinky's Great Escape you play as a robot trying to flee the doldrums of his manufacturing plant. This is the hardest one of all. If you (as Blinky, a robot, remember) fail certain challenges, you start to malfunction. And this has a physical impact on you as players for future minigames…
One thing I will say, though, is that there's only ever one ending in these adventures. The plot starts off at an initial crossroads, and the options sprawl out and divide. But they always pincer back in to the same climax, every time. I'd have liked to have seen a couple of different endings, based on your decisions. You're somewhat 'railroaded' towards the solitary final showdown. In an RPG this is bad, because it removes player agency. You can argue in What Next?'s case that the fun is the journey, not the destination. But getting back to those Bantam Books from the '80s/'90s, in comparison, they had about a dozen or so endings. Not here. Is that an opportunity missed?
You'll enjoy replaying adventures, though. Even if you take the identical route as before, you'll recognise challenges you faced on a previous attempt. This time, you might triumph! And when you do - reaching unchartered territory in the adventure, beyond the point you reached last time - you feel a sense of triumph.
- Feel like you've almost read the whole review? But one piece might be missing? It must be '4. Oooh! What Have You Found?'
- If you've had quite enough of this craziness, roll your eyes at the other readers, and their clicking mouse wheels. Get off the ride by reading on, in order.
Must Have: A GSOH, And Quality Components
The voice present in the narrative is playful. A wonderful, tongue-in-cheek, quirky sense of humour. I was one of the volunteers on the UKGE Zatu stand, and I demoed What Next? across all three days. I taught the game to a lot of people. Every single group that played Drums of Koala Cave found the kooky scenarios hilarious. It helps that every card has delightful illustrations on them by Beks Barnett and Zoe Lee. These evocative scenes match the ludicrous plots; they don't take themselves too seriously.
Remember, this is a Big Potato title. What Next? is a party game at heart, and for it to be a success, it needs to make us smile. I saw doubters turn into believers when playing this. I caught them looking sheepish when they realised how much fun they were having. It helps that the rest of the components are top-quality, rounding off the experience. The plastic pieces for the challenges are solid and eye-catching.
The Peril Pieces are chunky, their edges having an element of friction to them. From a physics viewpoint, they retain some grip against each other. Of course, if you have all the dexterity grace of a sneezing hippopotamus then that doesn't matter. You'll knock the tower over with naive placement! I doff my cap to the devilish designer, for creating these to appear innocent at first glance. You'll learn - and fast - that none of these pieces fit flush like a jigsaw. Keeping on top of the Tower of Peril is an exercise in hazard management. And it's a visual delight.
- If you feel like I, your humble author, has somewhat driven you on a wild goose chase, chug back to '7. Is This A Railroad?'
- If you've made it this far, and you can almost taste The End, read the next section…
Final Thoughts On… What Next?
The crux of What Next? sees you working - and laughing - together as a team. Some Big Potato party games are so laid back you can play them while lounging on the sofa. Not here. What Next? is a hybrid of a title that demands the formality of a tabletop surface. But believe me, this isn't a quiet nor subtle game. This isn't a candidate to play in the library. What Next? is equal parts raucous giggle-fest and teeth-gritting tension. It's a delicious cocktail, and it delivers every time.
The rules are easy to grasp. At a pinch, you could pretty much play the game by reading the Locations Deck, alone and discovering it as you play. It's important to note that the game hinges on your ability in the mini-games, and then the steadiness of your dexterity skills. This isn't about picking the 'right' path, strategy-wise. You'll find that players when faced with a crossroads, feel swayed to pick the route that includes the Event. Why? Because when you play games like this, the most fun part is your turn. You'll come to crave the danger because that's what these kind of games are all about. Playing safe is dull, and the Locations only allow you to play in this manner for so long, anyway…
Three adventures in the base game is plenty to get on with, for now. But you get the sense that if sales go well for What Next? - and I'm so sure they will - expansions will come. If I were the designer, I'd consider making standalone adventure decks. This base game has all the ingredients to provide a ton of replayability. What Next? is a party game with legs. And who knows? It could be an ideal stepping stone for players to discover the larger world of tabletop RPGs.
- Skipped to the end a tad premature? Feel a bit lost for context? Scroll back up to '1. What Next? The Elevator Pitch'.
- If this is The End, scan Tom's overall ratings below, and make up your own mind. Is What Next? the right game for you?