Monday, March 6, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Cauldron Quest - by Peaceable Kingdom

Cauldron Quest
Designer: Department of Recreation
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4p | 20m | 6+
GJJG Game Reviews - Cauldron Quest - by Peaceable Kingdom

Game Overview:
I started out 2017 with a review of Race to the Treasure, the children's cooperative game from Peaceable Kingdom.  It was a cute game and the components were pretty nice, but I felt it was way too simple, even for the five to seven year old audience it is aimed at.  But Peaceable Kingdom has a whole line of cooperative games for kids that grow in complexity as kids grow in age.  Now I'm taking a look at Cauldron Quest, another cooperative game, but this time aimed at slightly older kids, ages six and up.  So does Cauldron Quest fair better?  Is it a game that you'll want to play with your kids?  Read on to find out.

In Cauldron Quest one to four players (or any number really) work together to try and get the right magical ingredients into the bubbling cauldron in order to create a potion that will defeat the evil wizard.  But the evil wizard is trying to stop you.  Cauldron Quest only takes about 20 minutes to play and is great for kids agest six (or maybe even a bit younger) and up.

Components & Packaging:
As usual, the components in Cauldron Quest are excellent, just as with other Peaceable Kingdom games.  Cauldron Quest contains a large, round game board, six plastic ingredient bottles, a handful of tokens, a wizard hat standee, and five dice.  All of the components in Cauldron Quest are manufactured with the same environmentally friendly materials and processes as other Peaceable Kingdom games, so you can feel good about helping to conserve the environment when you buy a game.
Cauldron Quest comes in an eco-friendly box that is not shrink wrapped, yet the components are outstanding.
Unlike in Race to the Treasure, the tokens in Cauldron Quest are nice and thick.  Everything feels substantial and high quality.  The plastics used for the dice and component bottles feels natural and equal to non-corn based plastics.  The board is great, even the box is nice and sturdy.  My only issue with the components is with the small circle bits that fit into the potion bottles to show what ingredient they contain.  These occasionally popped out, but it's nothing a drop of glue can't fix.

I was also very pleased with the artwork.  It is whimsical, but not too childish.  The ingredients are your standard spell ingredients, like bat wings, dragon eggs, and the eye of something.  The path blocker tokens that represent the wizard's spells include a unicorn, owl, chalice, and more.  The board is gorgeously illustrated, and the wizard's hat is large and mysterious looking.
All pieces are manufactured with environmentally friendly materials and methods.
Score: 8/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Cauldron Quest is a breeze to set up.  The game says it is for ages six and up, and a six year old shouldn't have any problems setting up the game.  Setup involves unfolding the board, turning all the potion bottles, ingredient tokens, and path blocker tokens face down and mix them up.  Set the dice, spell breaker token and wizard hat to the side.  Then, place each of the potion bottles, face down, on each of the starting spaces on the board, three of the ingredient tokens face-up on the cauldron at the middle of the board, and the wizard on the arrow on the central ring.  Now you're ready to play!

The rules are also very simple, but they are a bit more involved than in Race to the Treasure.  There are more decisions to make in Cauldron Quest, although they are pretty basic and still rely heavily on luck.  The object of the game is to get the three necessary potion ingredients into the cauldron at the center of the board before the evil wizard manages to block all the paths.
All set up and ready to play!
On your turn the first thing you'll do is roll the action dice to decide what action you can take.  There are four possible outcomes, each with an equal probability of happening.  You'll either get to move a potion bottle, move the wizard, block a path, or roll the magic dice.  If you get to move a potion bottle you'll get to move one potion bottle three or four spaces along the path toward the cauldron.  If you have to move the wizard you'll move he wizard clockwise around the ring three or four spaces.  If the wizard moves over or lands on a potion bottle that potion bottle must return to the nearest start space.  If you have to block a path, choose one of the path blocker tokens at random and add it to the matching space on the board.  This path is now blocked and can't be moved through, except with the proper charm.  However, you do have a one-time-use spell breaker token that lets you remove one path blocker once during the game.  If you get to roll the magic dice you'll have the opportunity to try to cast a helpful charm.

There are three possible charms you can attempt: Reveal Charm, Swap Charm, or Super Power Charm.  The Reveal Charm lets you reveal one of the ingredients in a potion bottle.  The Swap Charm lets you swap the locations of two potion bottles.  The Super Power Charm lets you move a potion bottle six spaces, even through a path blocker or the wizard.

To cast a charm, first you have to declare what charm you are attempting.  Then you get up to three chances to roll the three magic dice to get the value required to successfully cast the charm.  On your two rerolls you can roll as many of the dice as you like and keep any dice you like.  To succeed at the Reveal Charm you'll need to roll all even values.  To succeed at the Swap Charm you'll need to roll all odd values.  The Super Power Charm is the most challenging though.  For that charm to succeed you'll need to roll a value of exactly 12 on the three dice.
Two action dice and three magic dice.
The rules are simple enough that even younger kids should be able to play on their own, especially after playing with an adult or older child a few times.  The rules state that the game is for two to four players, but each player has the exact same choices and controls the exact same pieces, so there's no reason it can't be a solo game, or accommodate five or six players, except for downtime between turns.

Score: 9/10 x2

Cauldron Quest does offer a few more decisions to make than Race to the Treasure, but the game is still pretty linear.  Each player does the exact same thing on their turns and a lot of the game comes down to how the dice roll.  There's no real strategy, especially once you've managed to reveal which potion bottles have the ingredients that you need.  Once you've completed that it's just a matter of if you roll the dice that allow you to move those ingredients into the cauldron before you roll dice that cause all the paths to be blocked.
Simple, yet fun gameplay is great for kids.
The game is not at all engaging for adults, and if your kids are used to more complex games they'll have limited patience for Cauldron Quest.  My sons are seven and ten and, while the enjoyed playing, they haven't asked to play again.  But they're used to playing much more complex cooperative games, like Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert.  For kids that aren't engrossed in modern board games, Cauldron Quest is a refreshing change from Snakes and Ladders, Candyland, Operation, Mousetrap, and other 'traditional' kids games.

Score: 6/10 x2

Cauldron Quest is not your typical educational game.  It doesn't teach history or science, or present a lot of trivia.  But it does teach several important life lessons about cooperation and winning or losing graciously.  It also teaches about taking turns and does have some very basic decisions to make.  Players will need to decide which potion bottle to move and which to reveal.  When casting charms they'll need to decide which charm is the best to attempt.

When casting charms, players will also work on some basic math skills.  The Reveal and Swap Charms will provide the opportunity to learn about odd and even numbers, and the Super Power Charm requires some basic addition of three numbers.  There is also, obviously, counting during the movement actions.
Math skills reinforced include odds & evens, counting, and simple addition.
Depending on how path blockers come out there could be a bit of strategy involved in deciding to either move the incorrect potion closer to the cauldron to later use a Swap Charm to get the correct potion bottle to the cauldron, or to just move the further potion bottle the long way to an open path.  However, these types of decisions don't come up very much because most of the game is determined by dice rolls.  So whatever you decide may not be an option according to the dice you roll.

Also, as with Race to the Treasure, Cauldron Quest does not teach teamwork.  Each player's turn is exactly the same as the other players.  There are no roles, abilities, or special jobs that only certain players can handle.  It doesn't matter if you have one person playing the game or twenty, each player is faced with the exact same options.  To really foster teamwork, each player must have strengths and weaknesses that can be put to use.  This can be through roles with special abilities, like Pandemic or Forbidden Desert, or it can be through players each working toward independent goals, like in F.U.S.E. or Hanabi, or even just a straight up battle against the game where everyone is on equal footing, like in Castle Panic or Escape: The Curse of the Temple.  Yes, these are a bit more complex than Cauldron Quest, but they have the teamwork aspect that gives a cooperative game that feeling of camaraderie.  There's no reason that can't be taught starting at a younger age (my youngest started playing Forbidden Island at four).

Score: 6/10 x1

For younger kids I can see Cauldron Quest being a game that they'll like to play multiple times.  The randomness of the dice ensures that each game is different and at times exciting.  But it also means that the lack of real control will get stale pretty quickly.  Some kids will enjoy Cauldron Quest endlessly, and that's fine.  It's much better than some other games, movies, or books that kids can obsess about.  But for older kids and adults the game's novelty will likely wear off pretty fast.
Replayability is low for anyone with experience playing other designer games.
Score: 6/10 x1

General Fun:
My sons and I did have fun playing Cauldron Quest.  It was very light, and didn't require much thought at all, but it was interesting to see what was going to happen and fun to hope we'd win.  We won the first game we played and when I asked if they wanted to play again they said sure.  We ended up losing the second game, but just barely.  When I asked them what they thought about the game they both said they enjoyed it.  My oldest said it was nice to play a game that didn't require thinking too much or any hard decisions.  I asked if they'd like to play again sometime and they both said sure, however neither has asked to play again and the one time I suggested it they wanted something different instead.  For younger kids, or kids new to modern board games I think Cauldron Quest will have more life and keep their interest for longer.
Winning generates smiles!
Score: 7/10 x2

Overall Value:
Cauldron Quest is only $20 and the components you get are very nice.  It would make a great gift for a younger family that is new to gaming.  I figure it'll keep kids interested from about age five to maybe eight, and occasionally beyond eight (especially if there are younger siblings that want to play).  For $20 this is a pretty good deal.  But if you want a cooperative game that's still good for families and will have a bit more staying power, and hold a lot more interest for adults, Forbidden Island can be found for about the same price.
For $20 you do get a beautiful game that's a great alternative to the typical mass market games.
Score: 6/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I definitely enjoyed Cauldron Quest a lot more than Race to the Treasure.  It's a much more engaging game that should be fun for younger kids and won't bore parents to tears.  The lack of any aspect of working together as a team really detracts from the feeling of cooperation and collaboration though.  With each player doing the exact same thing and controlling the exact same pieces, it gets repetitive very fast.  And while there are some decisions to make in the game, ultimately everything is controlled by the roll of dice.  There are plenty of times where you feel helpless because the dice just aren't going your way.  When you keep rolling for the wizard to move on every one of your turns the game can get boring pretty quickly.  You feel like you're not contributing to your team and there's nothing you can do about it.
Cauldron Quest is quite fun for the first few plays, but adults will quickly get tired of it.
So, while I think Cauldron Quest is a good option for younger kids that aren't already interested in games, if your family is like mine and kids have been playing full scale games since age four, Cauldron Quest will quickly be forgotten.  Cauldron Quest is definitely aimed at the younger, less experienced crowd, and would make a good first introduction to cooperative games.

Overall Score: 70/100

Want another opinion?  Cauldron Quest was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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