Ancient dungeons, political intrigue, impressive side-quests... these are the elements, more than memes about arrows or endlessly ports, that make Skyrim such a classic video game. But how do you bring these elements into a tabletop experience? What's gained, and what's lost? These are the questions we set out to answer as we dive into our review of Skyrim The Adventure Game, a new board game adaptation of the beloved adventure RPG. Created by Modiphius, Skyrim The Adventure Game is out now with an MSRP of around $190 USD, and we got our hands on a review copy to test out.
Want to see what's included in Skyrim The Adventure Game? Check out our Skyrim The Adventure Game unboxing article detailing the core components.
What Is Skyrim The Adventure Game?
In Skyrim The Adventure Game, one to four players take on the role of former members of the Blades, protectors of the emperors of Tamriel. With six available playable characters to choose from (including a Khajit, an Imperial, a Nord, and more), you'll slowly gear them up and grow their levels, becoming renowned in Skyrim.
Ousted from their homes at the start of the game, your playable characters are forced to flee to the cold embrace of Skyrim in the north, where a plot assassinate them and cause turmoil in the realm is slowly unfolding. Played cooperatively between all players over a series of campaign scenarios (there are two campaigns included in the core box of the game), you'll move around a giant map of Skyrim, delving into dungeons, fighting off enemies, pursuing a main quest, and diving into side quests.
All of the questing in this game is done with a massive stack of cards (over 300 quest-related cards in total). When you first draw a card, some (very light) story text will set the scene, and it will often instruct you to place a quest token on a space on the map. Once you move your character to that location (which could take several turns, if you don't have enough coin to fast-ish travel from stronghold to stronghold), you'll usually roll dice based on your acquired skills and attempt to garner a number of matching symbols. These quests could include anything from fighting an enemy to prove your worth to a group of cannibals, trying to convince someone unwilling to help to actually lend a hand, steal a key item, or even help bake an enchanted loaf of bread!
As you adventure, you'll gain experience which will help you level up. When you level, you'll choose a skill from a long list to "learn," which means you'll roll an extra die when attempting a relevant skill challenge. And on and on you'll go, drawing cards, completing (or failing) quests, and drawing more cards which continue to tell the story. Each turn, you'll also flip an event card which adds threat tokens to the board, setting a built in timer you'll be racing against to finish the story.
Along with all this questing, you can fight monsters for treasure, gold, and experience, buy gear at Strongholds, enchant or craft new items, and go foraging in the wilderness. To continue to sum it up here would overwhelm the review, but suffice it to say there will always be more to do than you have time to do it (luckily, there's an alternate "Free Roam" mode of the game, where you can travel and explore the world of Skyrim at your leisure).
How Does Combat Work In Skyrim The Adventure Game?
Fighting enemies in Skyrim The Adventure Game truly captures the feeling of a fight in the video game, as the very first thing you can (and should) try to do in each combat is sneak to get a free hit on an enemy. After you sneak, you'll alternate slugging it out with your foes (who are depicted on cards you'll draw from enemy decks), weakening their armor until you finally destroy them. Some enemies may only have heavy armor, which you'll slowly bash through, while others may have heavy, light, and or magic armor. These alternate tracks of health won't allow for damage rollover, so there's a tricky game here of deciding which armor track to apply your damage to.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the game is the way you encounter some enemies. Sure, you can go to a dungeon and know about which type of enemy you'll encounter, but certain quest cards you pull may instruct you to draw a specific numbered card from the quest deck, revealing a special surprise one-time enemy.
The combat feels fast, fun, and doesn't need you to make tons of decisions or crunch heavy numbers. You're attacked by the enemy first, then you chuck a bunch of dice, which take up your stamina resources (or magicka, where relevant), calculate how many hits you've landed based on your equipped weaponry. It's clean, simple, and uncomplicated, but still satisfying.
Do I Need To Have Played The Video Game To Play Skyrim The Adventure Board Game?
No, but many things on cards don't go into detail explaining terms. You're a member of the Blades, and you're trying to stop the Thalmar from corrupting Skyrim, but there's no context in the cards or campaign book going into much detail on either of those groups. Even having played and loved Skyrim many years ago, I had to do some quick googling to remember certain people, terms, and factions from the game. And while it's fair to assume that an audience purchasing this board game are likely familiar with the general story of Skyrim, it would have been nice to get a bit of that extra lore.
How Does It Feel To Play Skyrim The Adventure Game?
Once you get rolling and familiar with the game, its fun to travel around the map completing quests and delving into the dungeons that litter the land. The main quest of both campaigns, much like its video game counterpart, is much less interesting than the side quests you'll embark upon. While the main quest may have us questioning a wizard on the other side of the map, random side quests could lead you on all sorts of merry follies.
One word of warning, the rulebook, I'm sad to say, is rather rough to get through. Heavy with more explanation than I think was actually likely necessary, it will be completely overwhelming to anyone picking it up for the first time. The organization of the rules feels a bit scattered, with a deep dive into how the combat sequence works coming before more necessary information to understanding the entire game writ large. To help with the shortcomings of the rulebook, there's a short tutorial adventure (designed, oddly, for just one player), which walks you through step by step how to play the game, even telling you to place the dice on specific sides instead of rolling. With the help of this tutorial, and watching several actual-plays of the game online, I finally felt confident enough to jump into the adventure.
Skyrim The Adventure Game - Final Thoughts
And wow! What an adventure it was. When I finally got the rules under my belt and understood what I was meant to do and how the game was trying to thwart my success, everything fell into place perfectly. This is why I stated above that I think the rulebook over-explains things. This isn't a terribly complicated game, there's just a ton of stuff you can do throughout.
And that's what makes this experience feel so special, the depth of adventure on hand if you're interested in diving deep. With a huge amount of side quests to undertake, treasures to find, and enemies to slay, you'll be kept on your toes and entertained throughout the entire process. There are also some unique gameplay mechanics included to help it not feel like a slog when playing with multiple friends. Each turn, regardless of who the Starting Player is for that turn, everyone moves around the board at the same time. You're even encouraged to do your smithing and selling at Strongholds while another player is taking their turn, so that you can quickly move through what would otherwise be a slowing process.
All in all, Skyrim The Adventure Game is a well-constructed cooperative experience that rewards risk-taking and exploration, and while it suffers from a thick rulebook, the game itself is well-designed and runs smoothly once you understand the flow of a campaign session.
Should I buy Skyrim The Adventure Game?
If you're looking for a massive gameplay experience that you can play solo or with a group of friends, and miss snow-shoeing around Skyrim, Skyrim The Adventure Game could be a great fit for your gaming group. If you're intimidated by lots of interlocking systems and don't like needing to remember various gameplay mechanics, a less expansive game may be more suited to your tastes.
The copy of Skyrim The Adventure Game used in this review was provided by Modiphius.