Your psychic abilities always made you feel a bit set apart from the rest of your friends and family, but lately, you’ve been getting strange prophetic dreams. A gleaming sabre, a mischievous monkey, a secret laboratory… what could these visions mean? Luckily for you, you’re an amateur detective, so these psychic intrusions are nothing but a boon. In the tabletop board game Choose Your Own Adventure: House Of Danger by Z-Man Games, players attempt to chase down their visions and figure out what, exactly, is going on in the titular House of Danger.
For one to 99 players (Or more, why not?), Choose Your Own Adventure follows a format familiar to any lovers of the original series of children’s gamebooks from the late ‘70s to the mid-'90s. In fact, this game itself is an adaptation of a CYOA book of the same name, House of Danger, written by R. A. Montgomery and published in 1982.
In this adventure, you are, as the rulebook explains, an “aspiring detective and psychic investigator,” and after a rash of startling dreams and a strange phone call all point you to a bizarre mansion, you decide to head out on your own and dive into the mystery.
What’s The Story? You Choose!
The game components are relatively simple, including a game board, a few tokens, one six-sided die, and many, many cards. These cards, broken up between small, square “clue” cards and larger “story” cards, are the main way you play the game. Let’s talk about story cards first. Players start with the first sealed pack of story and clue cards for Chapter One and read the cards in order until instructed otherwise.
To begin, players read the intro story on the first few story cards of Chapter One and then will be given a choice. Will you explore the greenhouse? Or head right to the front door of the mansion? Each choice directs players to another numbered story card, which leads to challenges, clues, or other story cards, and the game moves on in that fashion. Through these story cards, some decorated with simple, evocative illustrations, your adventure unfolds.
Get A Clue, Sense Danger, Be A Psychic
Along with making fun decisions and branching out the narrative, players will come across clues as they adventure. Some of these clues are useful items, like a flashlight or a sword, while other clues are more interesting powers that explaining in full detail here would result in some spoiled surprises. Most of these clues stay with you from chapter to chapter, unless used and discarded, or ruined with a failed roll (more on that in a moment).
The core “gameplay” mechanism in CYOA is the interaction between your “danger meter” shown on your game board, and various challenges you’ll come across. Need to balance on the edge of a poorly-constructed roof? You’ll have to make a challenge roll for that. Need to defeat an imposing enemy? Again, you’ll need to roll a challenge roll. The number on your danger meter corresponds directly with the number you need to roll to succeed in the challenge. There are five types of challenges, Climbing, Fighting, Dexterity, Perception, and Strength, and it doesn’t matter the nature of the challenge, for each you’ll roll and try to match or beat the number on your danger meter.
But no good investigator faces dangers without help, and that’s where clues that turned to items, as mentioned above, factor in. Some items allow you to add a set number to your rolls if their type matches. For instance, climbing boots give you a +2 to all challenges that are “Climbing” challenges. The system is simple but smooth, and there’s a bit of a risk in using items. Should you roll a natural 1 on a challenge when you’re using an item, you break that item and have to discard it from the game.
The final clever gaming element to Choose Your Own Adventure is the “Psychic Meter.” Some events will heighten your psychic meter while failing too many challenges could lower it. There’s no health in this game, and in fact no dying either. Should you choose a path on a story card that leads to your untimely demise, you simply go back as the story card instructs, and lose quite a bit of your psychic meter. So how is a psychic meter useful? Certain story cards will offer special bonuses, unique clues and insights, and other benefits to characters with a high psychic meter level.
The Feel Of The Game
Playing Choose Your Own Adventure was an incredibly nostalgic experience for me. I spent many years in my childhood reading through Choose Your Own Adventure books (and their spooky equivalents from Goosebumps author R.L. Stine), and this game truly captures the feeling of those books. I found myself sweating over small choices: do I follow after the businessmen fleeing from a dining room? Or peel off to explore another part of the mansion?
Players looking for a robust, strategic gaming system won’t find much going on here. This isn’t a game where you drive the car and plan the routes, it simply asks you to hang onto the bumper as best you can as it speeds down a winding, branching highway. The game is fun played both as a solo game (as you make all the decisions), or with a bunch of other players. To play multiplayer, you just take turns making key decisions. If Player A decides to go down into the basement, it’ll next be Player B’s chance to decide whether to turn left or right and so on and so forth.
This is, by no means, an in-depth strategy game, but it’s the depth of content is breathtaking. The game plays out over multiple chapters, and after several playthroughs, there are still many parts of the adventure I did not encounter. And, it sadly should be noted, each time I ended the game things did not go well for my poor psychic investigator (or the wider world, for that matter). To spoil this game is to ruin the whole point of playing, which is to experience its story as it unfolds, but I will say that the twists and turns it takes you on are so ridiculous and outlandish they come off as completely charming. This is a game that delights in telling its story, and whether you’re looking for a light solo game or a fun activity to take turns playing with the family, Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger is an absolute must.
Get this game if…
You want to enjoy a wild, winding, (sometimes goofy) story
You love the thought of a branching, choice-driven narrative
You read and were a fan of the original book series as a kid
Avoid this game if…
You’re looking for more “game” in your game
You need to see 100% of all of a game’s contents
You have a chimpanzee aversion
The copy of Choose your own Adventure: House of Danger used for this review was purchased by the writer.