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Sleeping Gods: Primeval Peril review


There’s different types of adventure for different types of people. This is how I justify dodging my way out of certain activities. I’ve been told, for example, that dropping out of an aircraft at high altitude and tumbling to solid earth with a bundle of cloth on your back is excellent fun. I’m happy to accept this without testing the veracity of the claim personally. What I mean is, if you told me that stealing a television was bad, I wouldn’t have a moment where I thought I don’t know about that, I’ll have to nick one myself before I can truly understand that it’s a poor moral choice. I can extrapolate from other people’s experiences. I can nod along, I can might the right noises in the correct parts of the conversation. Zipline from one cliff edge to another? Yep, I totally believe you that it was an adrenaline rush, I can tuck that info away and leave it in the file to gather dust.

Exploring rainforests and all that type of malarky is another activity that I feel has been thoroughly covered by others, to the extent that my participation would add nothing further to humankind’s collective knowledge. I’ll watch documentaries about all the Amazonian flora and fauna all day long (that might be an exaggeration: I could probably manage about an hour, as long as it’s in 4k). Having an actual physical presence in such locations does not, however, feature on my bucket list. It’s not even a substitute option. It’s all the bitey things that concern me. There’s big bitey things, there’s small bitey things, and it’s difficult to decide which is worse. The big bitey ones can take an arm off. The small bitey ones can pop a bit of poison in your veins. None of this sounds good.

This brings us neatly to the adventurous world of Sleeping Gods: Primeval Peril. Why risk your life for real down a jungle river when you can pretend to be five other people and let them face the dangers instead? Yeah, that’s the spirit.


We won’t go too deep into the story for fear of spoilers. The story itself is the point after all, and the game will work much better if you discover it for yourself. To be fair to the characters in Sleeping Gods: Primeval Peril, they didn’t actually intend to go for a pootle down the Amazon’s more dangerous cousin. Sometimes bad things happen to good people…

Captain Jim Vine steers the Harpy - a small fishing vessel - along the familiar contours of San Francisco Bay when a thick fog descends upon the boat. The boat belongs to Jon Li and his family, who are out on this auspicious night looking for his father’s missing gear. They find more than they bargained for. First, a man and a woman thrashing for their lives in the water. And that’s not all…

Fig 02: The tiniest possible taste of the story for you. No spoilers here.

First impressions

My initial impression is that I love the artwork, which holds true to the style of its bigger siblings. It puts me in mind of a graphic novel, in fact, something you’d be happy to flick through pages and pages of. This standard of artwork runs throughout the product, even to the insides of the lid and the base of the box. I think this is a nice touch, and aids immersion within the game: once you open the box, you’re completely inside the world. Nothing here is ‘below par’. Everything card-based is made from nice thick stock with a linen finish, and the various counters are sufficiently different in shape and colour to be easily differentiated.

The rulebook is well-produced and glossy, with everything in a sensible order (trust me, in the world of board games I have learned that this is not always the case). Fair warning - don’t flick too far through the rulebook as it also doubles up as the storybook. The last thing you want is accidental spoilers, as this game is all about the story and where it will lead you.

Next we’ll look at the atlas, which is like a game board inside a ring-bound book. This is a standard element of the Sleeping Gods games. I’m a big fan of this style of ‘board’. The fact that you’re only seeing a section of the larger map at one time means you have to move to the edges to see more, you have to push to the end of the pages, and this brings out something of the adventurous child in me. As a bonus, almost everything here is clear and well-illustrated, with icons and descriptions easy to read. We’ll come back to the atlas later, however, as there is an unfortunate issue which reveals itself as the game progresses…

Besides the rule/storybook and the atlas, there is a nice chunky pad of twenty sheets or so. This is the voyage journal upon which you will record your progress. It has a full version of the game’s map to help you chart your course (and later on to mark off parts of the map that you cannot return to), space for notes, and bloodflowers for you to cross off as you collect them - and you will need to collect them.

First playthrough

There aren’t too many pieces and not a lot of different types, so it’s relatively easy and quick to set up. The one thing that I found it took me some time to learn was the different uses of the various items available. There’s a bonus point here for the rulebook - it has a basic glossary on the back, with a list of symbols and their meanings. However, it could have done with a little more detail on the uses for the resources your team can gather. I had to go back into the rulebook a few times for clarification when having a short summary on a single page would have been a boon. Some of this comes under my usual inability to absorb information, I’m sure: for example, fruit is for health and meat is for stamina, but a couple of times I automatically used meat for health by mistake.

Fig 03: Plenty to manage for one or two players. These poor characters have no idea of the disasters I’m leading them towards.

You can have three or four players if you wish, but I wouldn’t recommend it (and neither does the rulebook, actually). Your sweet spot here is one or two players. I’ve only played it solo. All the characters are yours to command, leaving you free to roleplay the entire team yourself (quietly, though: people tend to wig out if they hear you doing five different voices whilst hunched over a table). The more players, the less there is for each player to do, as the five characters have to be shared around, which would result in a fairly unsatisfying experience. Two players I feel would work well for a cooperative experience, where you take two characters each and split use of the Captain.

Here’s another bit of advice: resist the urge to rush. My very first playthrough came to an abrupt end due to not thinking every move through. If you’re going to succeed here, you’re going to need to upgrade your characters, and upgrades require bloodflowers, and finding them demands exploration and tenacity. The combat in the game is tough, but the challenges you’ll face - a lot of which can reward you with a bloodflower or three - are even tougher, and if you’re not careful you’ll cut off parts of the map and miss out on opportunities to harvest valuable resources. Take your time, think your options through.

Speaking of the challenge, there’s easy, normal and hard difficulty levels, with an option to switch levels on the fly should you find yourself struggling to get anywhere. It would be wise to discard any thoughts of the easy level entirely. This isn’t the longest game you’re going to play, so don’t sweat it if your playthrough starts going wrong. Let it. Then try again.

So, what works?

Sleeping Gods: Primeval Peril is like an elaborate Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy book from the ‘80s (oh, you wonderful decade). The kid version of me would have sold his He-man figures to get hold of this.

Every component in the game – even the box itself – looks and feels great, so there’s a high level of immersion here, there’s nothing that makes you wish it had been made to a higher quality and thereby taking you out of the game.

There’s something compelling about reading the opening section of the story with the scene set and the stakes laid out in front of you before the game hands the reins over to you. And for a while the game has that exciting feeling of an adventure movie full of action sequences and special effects.

As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult. By the time I’d got past my second page of the atlas I was already in trouble. You can spread damage and status effects across your team, but I’d almost buggered all five of them and the ship within about twenty or so minutes. One of your action choices is to repair the ship, so you can do some mending on the go without having to stop anywhere, but the dice had no interest in helping me, and I seemed to spend the majority of my time chuffing along on fumes (it should be mentioned that this is standard practice for me across all known board games – dice see me coming and throw all of their weight behind the ones and the twos).

Fig 04: Dice and cards. A board game hobbyist’s delight.

There’s a strong sense of suspense, and I genuinely was never sure what might happen next. This feeling of trepidation grows the more you mismanage your crew and the health points drip away. Resources are tightly limited as well: you really have to scrabble around the river to find enough items to assist you in the challenges, such as torches for the caves or treasure maps to trigger a skill check for that loot. The challenges – which are one of your main methods of gaining those essential bloodflowers for character upgrades – are as tough as some of the monsters, and were regularly the biggest cause of my difficulties. There’s plenty of creatures to face too, and when you’re up against a stack of three you’re almost guaranteed to take some amount of damage. This particular part of the Sleeping Gods universe does not want you to survive.

And what doesn’t?

This is a very short experience. While the mechanics are solid, the artwork is immersive, there’s a variety of choices available to you on each page of the atlas, it won’t be more than a couple of hours until you’ve seen everything that Primeval Peril has to offer. This might be the game’s only downside, but it’s a biggie. When the surprises have all gone, what’s the point in returning for more? I initially thought that the Journal pad was a little stingy as you only get 20 sheets on there, but it’s become clear to me that I won’t need anywhere near that many. The only real use for all of these Voyage Journals is to pass the game along, where it can give someone else two or three hours of entertainment. Now, it’s nowhere near the cost of the larger volumes in the series… but I don’t feel that the amount of time I spent with this game (or want to spend) justifies the price paid. There are many games out there in this price bracket and lower that can be brought out again and again. This isn’t one of them.

Fig 05: Fight! The crocs will be one of your earliest challenges, and it only gets tougher from here.

Final thoughts

It’s a bit of a mixed reaction to this one from me. Certain elements have to be taken into account before I reach my final decision, for example the game’s roots as a gift in the pandemic, it’s positioning as a short adventure in the Sleeping Gods universe, it’s significantly lower price point in comparison with its older siblings. However, in the end I have to judge this on the experience I have had whilst playing Primeval Peril. What started life as a brilliant freebie that no doubt brought a lot of people some pleasure during one of the grimmest times in modern history does not, unfortunately, translate perfectly into a paid boxed product. Yes, it has been expanded and somewhat revised from its print and play origins, but it remains a short experience that is fun during the initial playthrough but with very little to command any replays.

It could be a gateway experience leading the uncertain gamer towards the much larger and more expensive original… but I’m not quite caught on the line. The Sleeping Gods-lite flavour of the package leaves it somewhat shallow. I don’t feel that the experience that I had was strong enough to warrant another run through.

This, then, is for two groups of people: Sleeping Gods fans who will want to complete their collection no matter what, or those who know beforehand that they’ll give it a go, have a fun couple of hours, and then pass it on to friends or a local gaming group.

I was expecting to fall in love with Sleeping Gods: Primeval Peril, but sometimes relationships don’t go the way you expect. We got on well for a while, sadly it wasn’t meant to last. Hearts aren’t broken but we’re unlikely to keep in touch. I… I don’t know what I’m going on about now. Move along, nothing to se here.