Teaching Time: 20 mins
Playing Time: 60=90 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
It’s a funny part of modern life that so many people rely so heavily on technologies that they only half understand or trust. Taking advantage of the underlying sinister nature of this exchange to create horror isn’t exactly new, but the idea of a cult using the release of a new smart phone to raise a great old one does at least feel fresh. As such it’s a pity that such an interesting idea has been married to a not particularly interesting set of mechanics in Techlandia.
Gameplay involves players using two actions each turn to move around a set of locations and search or fight. Searching is done by flipping cards off a deck and fighting is done by rolling a dice. There are gear cards to shift the odds of doing this a little in the player’s favour. Flip four successful search cards and win three fights before getting to a set location before twenty turns are up to be sure of a win, if not, you might lose.
Techlandia is described as being a dungeon crawl, in that it involves moving around, investigating and fighting that’s probably technically true in some way. On the other hand it lacks any of the most interesting parts of a dungeon crawl since all the locations are laid out at the start of the game there’s no real sense of exploration and since all equipment is one shot there’s no possible sense of progressing upwards in power. Rather, the play is very much a matter of flipping cards and rolling dice, flip the right ones and score highly on the dice and you’ll win, there is very little in the way of real choices. Some rooms are in theory easier to beat, so you’re probably meant to hit the harder ones when you have more gear, but since a room’s actual difficulty is based on the flip of a random card, it generally makes very little difference.
There are a couple of ways to put theme into a game, one is to design it so that the mechanics and the manner of play tell a story. This is generally pretty tough to do, it needs a lot of writing and testing to ensure effective pacing and emergent effects. The other way is to paste a crap ton of flavour text on everything that moves in the game and hope it knits together into an interesting story. Techlandia takes the second option and it does indeed dump a thick layer of fluff on everything. Its not too bad in the game, but it makes the rules a lot more tiring to read than they need to be. Its also, ultimately wearing. Charles Dexter Ward is running a mobile phone company and he’s using the new phone to raise an Old One. That’s the joke, and it’s a nice idea, but the game keeps telling it over and over, without really delivering on the punchline. There’s not really a sense of tension, there’s not a sense of Lovecraftian menace, there’s not even a sense of Microsoftian menace to be honest. I think I’d have a stronger sense of ultimate cosmic horror at an actual tech convention.
The ending of anything is vitally important. In Techlandia the idea is that the new smartphone that will end the world is being released and the player is a tech blogger trying to fight their way into the press release where it is being unleashed. At which point the player’s presence in the press conference presumably magically fixes everything. We never know, because the game ends just as the player steps into the press conference. It spends all its time telling us that the most amazing thing in the game is happening behind a set of doors, and then ends just as we step through them. The game is essentially a lead up that never pays out with a climax and it’s hard not to feel as though the whole thing is nibbling around at the edge of something that never happens.
It can be extremely tough to pace the difficulty of solo or co-op games. In Techlandia players get up to 20 rounds in which each player gets a turn. As such when playing solo they get 20 turns, with four players they get 80. You’d think that therefore solo play would be pretty tough. I won my first game with six turns remaining, and frankly I wasn’t even trying. Playing solo I assume that I’ll lose my first game, or that if I don’t I probably missed a rule somewhere, so I usually coast along to get a feel of things. I hadn’t missed anything with Techlandia, and after a good few playthroughs I can honestly say that I never lost a run. I never played Techlandia multi-player, although I can only see multiplayer as having even less challenge than solo player due to the extra actions, but in solo mode there just isn’t any challenge that I can see.
The physical presentation of the game is okay. It has an excessive number of nice transparent red Euro cubes and the artwork is well presented with clear graphic design. It’s nothing to really write home about, but it’s all functional.
Maybe if you’re part of the tech world Techlandia is packed to the gills with hilarious inside jokes. Personally, it felt full of references that will age pretty badly. It has one central theme idea that is strong and attractive but hasn’t had the mechanics or the finish put into it to pay it off.