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Four Taverns – One Review. More than a beer & pretzels game.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

And now for another installment in the Better Late Than Never series…
 
GenCon 2013 saw a lot of me doing the old hat and cane routine for PSS. It’s hard being the new kid on the block, dreamy though they are. I made it a point  to try to stop by the booth for everyone Bill listed in his GenCon preview last year, which included Rather Dashing Games.


 
Right off tips, these guys had me hooked.  Rather Dashing is a fantastic name for a company. It’s right up my alley in terms of cheekiness. The booth attendants were all geared up in some pretty sweet Victorian steampunk outfits. I appreciated them as a cosplay daydreamer, but guys, if I were in charge of a place called Rather Dashing, I’m pretty sure I would have tuxedos, top hats, monocles and sashes with messages emblazoned on them like “Very Important” or “Sash.”
 
One of said attendants approached me, a lovely young lady who introduced herself as Reanna and offered me a pin. She amiably chatted with me for a while about their game line, and the fact that they are an indie game company that had not (as of yet anyway) funded any of their games on Kickstarter. More impressive still was the notion that they printed their games right here in the good ol U S of A, the only game off the top of my head that has done this. It’s a real mark of integrity to keep the printing job here despite higher prices and the fact that  board games are not the most lucrative manufacturing endeavors one can have in the first place. The notion that they did this without the Kickstarter funding is doubly impressive. So here was a ragtag group of game lovers going against the grain in two pretty significant ways and from the looks of it, having a blast. Onto the game!
 
Four Taverns is the illegitimate lovechild of Smash Up and Lords of Waterdeep, and in my humble estimation a bit of a gem that’s been flying under the radar.
 

I don't know about you guys, but I do most of my drinking and gambling fully armored.
I don’t know about you guys, but I do most of my drinking and gambling fully armored.

THEME:
As everyone knows, all great adventures begin in taverns, because taverns are the preferred hangouts for heroes and other adventurer sorts. Just like real life. I defy anyone to tell me the last time they went to a bar and didn’t see some kind of champion. As a player of the game, you own and run one of the four taverns prominently featured in the title, and you want to be the kind of place that attracts the most of these people.  Heroes are known for having ridiculous amounts of money,  and judging by their choice of hangouts, they’re also known for being alcoholics. Look, you work up a mighty thirst after some dungeon scouring, and there’s no fantasy equivalent of Gatorade. Attract enough of these guys to your place and you’ll get crazy rich without ever picking up a sword and risking your neck like those idiots. Most of these guys will drop a silver piece on a mug of your shitty watered-down beer because they’re too lazy to make change on their character sheet. 
 
GAMEPLAY:
There are two decks of cards, an Adventurer deck, and a Quest deck.
 
Players are dealt a hand of four cards from the Adventurer deck and three Quests are placed in a queue in the middle of the table. Each player is given 5 gold pieces. The game is now ready to begin.  

Each quest has requirements of each class in able to complete it, and a reward  for completion. At the beginning of a player’s turn, they draw two cards from the Adventurer deck. From there, as often as  you like,  you can pay 1 gold to send a basic adventurer (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric or Thief) on a Quest. There are Tavern Marker cards to indicate which Adventurers belong to which parties. Once you meet all requirements of said quest, you collect the rewards, Gold and Renown and add a new quest to the queue. Any other Adventurers in other parties are sent to the discard pile. Once per turn, you may also discard two Adventurer cards in order to collect 1 gold, and/or spend 2 gold to draw  1 Adventurer card.

The quests have varying difficulties and reward levels. For example, some quests may have 5 levels of Fighter required, if you do not have a 5th level Fighter in hand, you can send a 4th level and a 1st level. Ideally, you want to spend the minimum number of cards on any Quest, but as we all know, that’s not always how it goes.  
 

Fucking trolls. No wonder these guys drink.
Fucking trolls. No wonder these guys drink.

There are more than basic hero cards in the Adventurer deck, there are also Champions and Action cards. Champions are dual classed badasses. Not only do they pull double duty on class requirements, but they automatically meet the level requirements of any class they provide. Champions cost 2 gold to play. There’s a special Champion, the Monk, which acts as a wild card, allowing you to pick which two classes he fulfills, but instead of paying 2 gold to the bank, he pays 2 gold to the player with the fewest gold.  Action cards are where a lot of spice gets added to the game. Cursed Dagger allows you to cause a random discard to another player or to kill any Character on a Quest, fantastic for when they play that Champion to finish a Quest. Summoning Scroll allows you to look at an opponent’s hand and take as many cards as you like from it, but you have to replace them with cards from your hand. Mystic Tome allows you to refill your hand to its maximum value before drawing for the turn. Mithril Shield cancels another action played. There are others, but I don’t want to give away everything about the game.
 
Each Tavern has 4 levels. Every 5 Renown you gain levels up your Tavern. The reward for leveling up your Tavern is an increased hand size, which is a bigger deal than what it sounds like. The game ends when one player reaches 20 Renown.   
 
COMPONENTS:
This is an odd one. I applaud Rather Dashing for printing locally, but there are some things I  feel could have had better production quality with the game. The cards themselves are not the highest quality, so I would recommend sleeving them to increase durability. Also, the box is absurdly large for the game. I suspect the box size was determined by the punchboard for the Gold Piece chits, but once punched, the box is entirely too large for the game. This having been said, the materials are by no means a dealbreaker, and considering that they didn’t have Kickstarter funding them to the highest card quality possible, I can hardly fault them for this. Everything is perfectly functional, and in the end, I’ve been spoiled by other materials in games. 
 
OTHER MUSINGS:
There’s only one real complaint I have about Four Taverns. Every game needs a random element to keep the game fresh and replayable. In the case of Four Taverns, the random element is drawing cards, which leads to the occasional Godhand. Drawing a spectacular hand (the odds of which are pretty low) with a strong Quest in the queue can snag you a quick level which will give you a hand size benefit advantage. It’s pretty rare, but when it does happen, it gives that player considerably better odds of being able to coast that to a victory. This is something that can happen in almost ANY card game. Most of us have lost numerous games of Magic: The Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings, Doomtown, Warlord, Rage, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Spycraft, Poker, Rummy, etc. to that jerk who just drew into the perfect hand of opponent annihilation. It happens, you play again. 
 
That complaint is mitigated by the numerous perks of this game:
 
The game plays fast. Like, maybe 20-30 minutes per game tops.
 
The game is deeper than it appears. After that first game, we started paying a LOT more attention to when was the optimum time to play our action cards, how much to gamble on our Arcane Tomes, which quests to go on, weighing odds on sending heroes on a quest you couldn’t complete right away in the hopes that it would come back around to give you another turn to try; balancing hand-size limitations and gold pieces with what you need to do. There are some who complained about the simplicity of the game, and whereas I don’t think it’s as deep as Agricola, it’s not as simple and random as War. There’s a lot more to this game than appears at face value. 
 
It’s fun. Light hearted and fast paced, we had a lot of laughs playing this and I look forward to sharing this game with more people.  
 

Well played, indeed.
Well played, indeed.

CLOSING THOUGHTS:
When I set about to write a review, I spill out all the scribbles what make words, then take a quick jaunt around the post-apocalyptic wastelands of the internets to look at some other reviews. Not to check for consistency of voice (which would defeat the entire purpose of writing a review) but to see if someone else saw something I didn’t. What I found was a pronounced dearth of reviews, which made me sad, as I enjoyed this game a great deal. I hope that this review can help spread the word for a solid game. I encourage all three of my readers to give it a try. You can pick it up here.  Tell ’em Joe sent you and you’ll get 10% off. (Don’t actually do that) 
 
As a side note, Anyone reading this who works in a booth at GenCon would do well to swing by and check them out. Reanna was a class act in every capacity, and I left their booth feeling both well-informed and cheerful by her extremely warm and friendly demeanor. Mike was also engaging and friendly even though he was clearly up to his ears in demos. As someone whose livelihood is based on creating a good customer experience, I’m happy to say that this was a pleasant human experience which further endeared me to them.
 
Pretty Sneaky Sis would like to thank Mike Richie and Rather Dashing Games for donating their game to our cause most noble and thank them again for their grace and patience while they waited for us to deliver the goods.

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