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Fantastiqa Rucksack Edition

Players: 2-4

Age: 8+

Teaching Time: 5 mins

Playing Time: 45-60 mins

Setup Time: 15 mins

Value For Money: Low

Luck: Mid

Complexity: Mid

Strategy: Mid

Price: £40

Recommended: No


Somewhere around the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl it was decided that movies should no longer be numbered to indicate sequels. Boardgames always enjoyed obscure sub-titles to indicate expansions, re-designs or, in some cases, utterly un-related games. It is for this reason that I found a recommendation for Fantastiqa: Rival Realms and ended up owning Fantastiqa: Rucksack Edition. Still, I’m writing and releasing a deckbuilder, so the more I can play the better for everyone and I was happy to take a look at a new one.

As far as gameplay goes, players are on one or another location in the game. Between each location there is a monster, on each location there is a statue and off to one side there are some quests. Players draw cards from a basic deck, if the symbols on their card match those of the monster between them and another location they can spend the card, claim the monster and hop to the other location. This can be done as many times as a player wants, potentially chaining a mighty swathe through the lands of Fantastiqa. Alternatively, players can check in at their location’s statue, allowing them to buy stronger cards into their deck using gems captured from monsters or earnt by completing quests, or to pick up more quests. Finally, if players have the cards to match the symbols on a quest they can complete it, if they complete enough difficult enough quests they win the game.

First off, the main thing I cannot forgive this game for is that sub-title, not because it confused a well-meaning relation at Christmas time, because really that’s the fault of Rival Realms, but because it’s just a lie. The idea of the ‘Rucksack Edition’ is that its stripped down for portability and size, to a degree it is, they took out an unnecessary board, replacing it with chunky cards for locations, but just because the original was the ‘honkingly unnecessarily big edition’ does not make this one the ‘rucksack edition’. When you open the box, its two thirds cardboard inlay. Not the good sort of inlay which this game could really use to sort the array of cards, tokens, gems and such like, the rubbish sort of inlay which is just cardboard filler for the fact that you made your box three times bigger than it needed to be in order to elbow out more shelf space and now all your stuff is skidding about in the huge box getting damaged during transport. Generally, this sort of thing annoys me, but I let it go, because generally games aren’t called the ‘no wasted space in this box guv’ edition but this time it’s just infuriating.

Once the box is finally open there’s a lot going on, both mechanically and visually, initial set-up is long and frankly confusing with decks to be separated and stacked and the layout of cards in relation to each other hard to visualize when set-up is begun. Visually the game feels like its been pulled from many different worlds, and not really in a good way. Fine artwork card illustrations sit next to acrylic plastic gems (that have varied colours for no reason) and chunky wooden meeples, its all rather chaotic and doesn’t set entirely comfortably together. Even the fine art choices seem to have been a little haphazard, having little of style, era or region to relate them to each other, making what should have been a smart and potentially coherent choice feel jarring. The jarring visual effect is turned up a notch by iconography that fails to sit into the cards or be clearly cut out of them.

Gameplay wise as a deck builder its hard to actively do your deck building. Since there is no direct marketplace there is no generic resource to buy the face-up cards, if you happen to pull the right matching symbols to claim a bunch then you do, if you don’t, you don’t. The only cards that can be bought by the generic gem resource are pulled from face down stacks, will they work with your engine? Maybe, maybe not. As such, even mid-range planning or basic deck engine building is extremely tough, with decisions being far more re-active than active. Also, since there is no generic action for cards it is not at all impossible to be trapped in a corner location for several turns with little or nothing to do. If the cards you pull don’t happen to match your current monster, or even the monster you could skip to with a magic carpet token, and you’re low on gems there is little to do but skip your turn and hope for a better pull next time. Some sort of alternate use for cards such as earning gems would have cut this out with little need for extra design work.

Fundamentally the game feels like an unusual amount of faff for fairly little return. Much like its box, the whole thing could have fitted into a much smaller space, both figuratively and literally. The extra bells and whistles of moving around the fantasy landscape, basing options on locations and deck building to complete quests don’t seem to add that much in the way of fun gameplay or interesting choices, but they add a whole heap of complexity and fiddle.

Fantastiqa isn’t a terrible game by any means, if someone else is setting it up and you’re not too bothered by not having a wild amount of choice and control it will happily fill its time without upsetting too much. Its just not a great game, its not a game I’d miss if I never played it again.

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