Ancient Terrible Things
Ancient Terrible Things leads you down a dank jungle river to a handful of Fateful Locations where Ominous Encounters will lead you to precious resources (or ruin) while time hurls you closer and closer to the Unspeakable Event. Sound bleak? Well don’t fret… you’ve got all you need in a handful of dice and a few thoughtfully purchased pieces of Swag. Now bring on the Yawning Chasm and the Accursed Shrine!
Ancient Terrible Things is a dice game with a large footprint. To get started you need to set up a full-sized game board and create several draw decks for the different types of cards you will encounter or acquire throughout the game. The primary deck of cards – the Ominous Encounters – provides the mechanism for moving the game forward. You’ll create this deck with a player-count-appropriate number of red encounter cards (the most difficult) at the bottom, followed by yellow, then green (easiest) on top. Once the deck is created you’ll draw the top 6 cards and place one on each of the board’s Fateful Locations.
The remaining decks are more basic; you’ll simply shuffle the Feat and Swag decks and place them on their designated spots. The Swag deck – which features all of the powerful items you’ll need to give yourself a chance of surviving the Unspeakable Event – is located in the Trading Post, a decrepit riverside shack rife with arcane artifacts. Three starting artifacts are revealed from the deck and start the game face-up.
Next you’ll create the Expedition Track (which would have been more accurately titled the Terror Track, but that name was taken). This track provides a secondary source of pushing the game’s momentum, and it houses all of the bad things that will happen to you should you fail an encounter. Each of the included Terrible Thing tokens (16 in total) has an image of 0, 1, 2 or 3 tentacles on it. Each of these tentacles provides one negative Ancient Secret (Ancient Terrible Things‘ victory points) for end-of-game scoring. You will randomly draw between 7 and 13 of these tokens (depending on number of players) and place them face-up in tentacle order on the Expedition Track.
Finally, each player will need to select their character and collect the appropriate starting resources. This is a variable-player-power game, so choose wisely!
On your turn you take control of the riverboat and perform one circuit of the board. You choose which Fateful Location to stop at along the river, have an Ominous Encounter there, then retire to the Trading Post to spend any spoils you may have acquired in your journey. Once finished, you hand control of the riverboat over to the player on your left.
The adventure of the game lies in the Ominous Encounter phase. Once you’ve chosen the location you’ll attempt to overcome, you will collect all resources sitting on that location and prepare to throw your bones. Note that you receive any goods sitting on a space whether or not you succeed at the encounter; it may behoove you to face an encounter you can’t succeed at just to get a resource you’re in desperate need of. The Ominous Encounter card residing on your chosen location shows the numbers you need to roll on your dice to succeed.
You have a pool of 5 green dice available to you initially, which you can re-roll in its entirety twice each turn if you choose. Success will grant you the Ominous Encounter card and its associated victory points; failure will thrust upon you the lowest-tentacled Terror Token remaining on the Expedition Track and its negative victory points.
There are numerous means to manipulate your dice in Ancient Terrible Things. The resources you collect will be your first line of defense:
- Focus: by expending these green tokens you earn the right to re-roll an individual die. You can keep the dice you want, and re-roll one die for every Focus token you spend.
- Feat: by expending these blue tokens you can add 1 to the value of any blue dice you roll. Blue dice are not a given; you will only be able to add them to your pool by acquiring a Feat or Swag card that allows it.
- Courage: by expending an amount of these purple tokens equal to the victory points an Ominous Encounter provides, you can completely circumvent rolling the dice and automatically succeed.
The final resource you’ll collect – Treasure – can’t manipulate your dice directly. Rather, it provides the monetary unit necessary to purchase Swag cards, which may offer their own dice manipulation powers.
Play continues until either of two occurrences triggers the Unspeakable Event:
- The final Terrible Thing token is removed from the Expedition track
- There are no Ominous Encounter cards left to explore
Players immediately total their Ancient Secrets (which will come from Ominous Encounters beaten, certain Swag cards and the First Player marker, and will be lost to Terrible Thing tokens). As this is pulp horror, nobody actually wins… the player with the most Ancient Secrets merely survives the Unspeakable Event, only to loose his/her mind in the aftermath. The other players, naturally, perish in the Unspeakable Event.
Pleasant Company Games manages to pull off quite a bit as a first-time publisher with Ancient Terrible Things. While you don’t go into a dice game expecting a beautiful board, you get one here. Schematically, there is a place for nearly all of the game’s components. But more importantly, the strikingly unique artwork serves to keep you tied into the theme. Press-your-luck dice games are frequently prone to theme ambivalence, but the board alone will keep you from forgetting where you are and what you’re rolling those dice for.
There are 110 cardboard tokens used in Ancient Terrible Things, and they are quite thick. However they are prone to fraying, so you’ll want to be patient and careful when punching them.
Like the game board, the game’s cards include some incredible artwork. There are 107 cards in total, and they are each unique. There are monsters… creepy people… magical objects… the pictures on the cards serve to hammer home the story that the game board starts.
Unfortunately, many people will judge the component quality of a dice game strictly on the dice. And while there is nothing at all wrong with the 11 included dice – in fact, they’re high quality translucents – they aren’t custom. With dice games in general we’ve become accustomed to unique dice, and particularly within the pulp horror theme. Some may be let down by this.
Press-your-luck dice games are simple to pick up, but Ancient Terrible Things adds enough to the formula to require some attention. While the rules of the game are easy to comprehend from one read-through, the multiple means of dice manipulation take a few games to master. Anybody can play the game competently on their first play; to become fluent you’ll need to absorb the nuances of when and where to cash in your scarce and hard-fought-for resources.
Who would enjoy this game?
What a breath of fresh air Ancient Terrible Things is to press-your-luck dice games! It tightly wraps itself within its theme, and quickly makes you forget that your dice don’t have skulls or potion bottles or monsters on them. If you’re planning on spending an hour throwing around a handful of dice, there are scant better or more thematic ways to do it.
There is a light-hearted air to the game that makes it easy to love. Like the best B-movies, Ancient Terrible Things is here to have fun rather than worrying about collecting awards or accolades. During your travels in the jungle you’ll cross paths with the expected assortment of mystical shamans and Lovecraftian monsters, but never content to leave well enough alone, Ancient Terrible Things will just as swiftly steer you into displaced dilettantes and boxers. Yes, there is a guy running around the rainforest in his boxing trunks with his hands and feet taped… and you’re going to have to deal with him if you want the treasure he too seeks!
Until an expansion is released, Ancient Terrible Things can run thin on Ominous Encounter cards. If you play a 4-player game you will see all of them. The only variability between games will come from which Fateful Locations those Encounters land on. And, of course, the variability of the dice roll. The other decks are not so skimpy – it’s not likely you’ll get through the whole Fate or Swag decks in a game, and even if you do only a small percentage of those cards will find there way to players’ hands. If the lack of custom dice and an abundance of cards are the game’s only weaknesses, this is easily fixed by one quality expansion. Fingers crossed!
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