Designed by: Tom Deschenes
Published by: Upper Deck Entertainment
Playtime: 45-90 Minutes
Slightly over two pages of comic make a good first impression for Quest for the Antidote, the short tale detailing the reign of King Mithradates of Greece who spent years making himself immune to deadly poisons after seeing his father die at the hands of an assassin and his poison. Upon coming to a new land to conquer Mithradates realized that he may not be protected against the new toxins they encountered, and thus began experimenting on prisoners. You’ll be playing as one such prisoner, now poisoned and on the run you must seek the antidote along with your fellow inmates. First one to not die horribly of poisoning wins!
Sounds pretty cool, eh? Clearly, some thought has gone into creating the backstory for this game, and yet sadly that’s the last we see of it. There is mention of the Royal army chasing after you, but that’s something that is never replicated in the game itself, rather your job is to run around and gather up the ingredients needed to save your life, although how you know which ingredients to grab is a mystery.
To get started everyone picks a color, takes the two corresponding pawns and then grabs their deck of ten ingredient cards which they’ll shuffle, then randomly pick four of. These are the ingredients the players have to get on their journey, and they’re placed face-up on the table so that everyone else can see where they have to go.
On your turn you grab the movement die, roll and then move up to as many spaces as it shows, changing direction any time you want. The goal is to visit all the green stars that match the four ingredients you need before taking them all back to the center space to win. Simple.
There’s a small problem in your way in the form of big red oblongs containing monster cards that you must pass through in order to grab the stuff you need. Whenever you trot up to one of these you flip the top card over, skim the forgettable text that occasionally tries to be funny and then grab the combat die. The goal is to roll higher than the card’s rating, and you can continue rolling until you succeed or until you decide to leave and come back later, because monsters are polite like that.
This brings us to the game’s single redeeming idea. You see, you have just fifty breaths, as represented by a pawn on the track on the outside of the board, in which to mix up the antidote. The catch is that every single time you roll a die you lose a breath, and once you reach zero you die, presumably while clutching your throat dramatically. You can gulp some air back by defeating certain monsters, or by ditching your Meddling cards for five breaths apiece. It’s really the only good thing Quest for the Antidote has going for it, a simple push-your-luck mechanic where each attempt at fighting a monster drops your chances of making it to the end of the game. However, I did note that a lot of people I played the game with would just automatically not bother rolling against the high-level monsters and instead just leave and come back – assuming they had movement points left – in the hopes of getting something easier.
As for the Meddling cards I mentioned they can be played at any time to annoy the hell out of the other players by doing things like stopping a player advancing unless they roll a certain number, or pushing a player back to where they started their turn. I had some issues with the rules on a few of these, like the one that stops you advancing unless you roll a certain number, because the card says the player loses a breath when they fail, but at the same time the rulebook states that any time a die is rolled a breath is lost. In fact, there were a few little gripes we had with the rules when playing, such as whether abandoning a fight meant putting the monster back on top of the stack or not, which we assumed must be the case since otherwise the pile would be depleted really quickly. But the biggest issue with Meddling cards is that they’re just incredibly vicious in a game that’s already about luck; rolling a sequence of duds and barely getting anywhere is annoying enough without someone then hitting you with a Meddling card that lets them take control of your character for an entire turn, or by a card that makes every other player lose five breaths. There is even a card that forces a player to roll two sevens to progress with each failure costing a breath. At least the person playing the card might get a laugh from it.
There are treasure cards you can snag at the four corners of the board as well, and these provide you with special abilities, but chasing them feels utterly pointless unless you happen to be going near one anyway. You can also gain special cards for defeating specific monsters which is kind of nice.
On top of the luck of rolling the die and probably throwing a tantrum due to someone playing a Meddling card, it’s also possible to duel other players for ingredients. When you roll to move you’re free to go backwards and forwards as you wish, letting you stop on someone elses space and challenge them to a duel, done by rolling the combat die and seeing who gets the highest number. If the attacker is victorious then they get to steal an ingredient card, but if they lose then they have to give up five breaths.
Quest for the Antidote feels like a throwback to a lesser age of boardgame design and while I’m sure there will be people out there who can appreciate it’s simple roll-and-move mechanics and who may find it to be a good family game I just can’t bring myself to like it. In fact, it’s the only board game I’ve reviewed to this day that I actively dislike. Now, I want it to be known that I did try. After me and my friends played it I plonked it down in front of my niece, whose 9, and my mother, and neither of them liked it, either. I guess the issue is I don’t see much of a game here; you just roll the dice and hope for the best. Of course, lots of games throughout history have done the exact same thing and done well, but I can’t help but think that there are so many other games I’d rather play or use to introduce family and friends to the hobby.
At least the artwork is pretty great, looking like it came from a 80’s or 90’s era game. In fact, it reminds me of Key to the Kingdom, as does some of the mechanics.
My recommendation is to avoid this one. It’s just not worth the time, effort or money when there are so many better and more enjoyable games out there that will bring pleasure to your life. Not that I’m judging how