House Of Danger
Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 5 hours
Setup Time: 15 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Solo Play Review
Throughout my youth as a child of the '80s solo game books were a much cherished method of gaming and so it is with mixed emotions that I've been approaching the recent trend for recreating these books in solo boardgames. House Of Danger recreates the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books specifically but I feel that it fails in the task of recreation.
Right from opening the box House Of Danger seems a little confused, its inlay is constructed from card rather than the more usual vacuum formed plastic which would be used for such a complex inlay. This is presumably done to cut down on plastic wastage, as such the cardboard inlay is intricate, ingenious and a total failure. The inlay is awkward and annoying and will generally need repairing before use but far worse is the fact that each of the games five chapters two deck packs are separately
cellophane wrapped for no good reason. Now, personally I have plastic game box inlays over 30 years old, which means that Zman Games here have very carefully replaced a piece of multi use plastic with a bad cardboard replacement while increasing the level of unnecessary single use plastic in the box five-fold.
The game itself is based on a fairly standard decksploration mechanic and suffers all the failings of that format with a few new ones added in. It uses a single dice roll for skill tests with boosts from certain cards making the tests in the early game annoyingly random and in the later game a forgone conclusion. Unusually for a decksploration game it uses two decks, one for locations and one for items. This is partly because it has a mechanic to return you to location cards after failure but since the game loops paths and choices it could not do so without using some item cards as locations. Cross usage of these two decks makes it easy during play to accidentally pull a location card rather than an item card leading to confusion. No effort is made to avoid this by numbering the cards distinctly differently.
Its probably fair to say that there were three giants of the solo game book world each with their own strengths and weaknesses and method of promising replay value. Fighting Fantasy books would hide vital clues making multiple replays and meticulous mapping necessary. Lone Wolf required abilities, items and clues provided at or before the outset of the game allowing multiple routes from initial conditions. Choose Your Own Adventure game books provided 20-30 different endings with divergent story paths to allow repeated play. They did so by offering reasonable, logical choices and removing random dice roles and continual book keeping. House Of Danger manages to make the majority of choices arbitrary or grinding, inserts dice roles and requires fiddly book keeping of items and abilities. Particularly annoying and not in the spirit of Choose Your Own Adventure books is that all possible endings are contained within the game's chapter 5, no path taken up to there can rule out more than one of the limited range of endings, an effect exacerbated by the game offering the chance to repeat choices and circle back. The overall effect is that rather than multiple play throughs offered by the original books you get a single extended play through, a less satisfying and ultimately reduced experience.
In short, the game is not challenging, in fact actual failure is a practical impossibility; it has little or no replay ability making value low and the experience of playing is not of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Which is understandable since the original books would not stand up today as attractive to a sophisticated adult audience, but these changes pay homage to those books in look and text only, not in either spirit or heart.