AlderQuest: Searching for Snowflakes Amidst the Acorns

  • Designers: Ryan Ward, Mike Gnade
  • Artist: Lawrence Burns
  • Publisher: Rock Manor Games
  • Kickstarter Date: January 7th

Disclaimer: A prototype of this game was provided to us by designer Ryan Ward for review.

Luke: You know, I’m not entirely sure why this game is called AlderQuest.

Phil: Well, an alder is a type of tree, much like the one that sits in the middle of the board-

Luke: Right, so we’re not really “questing” for the tree. It’s, like, the biggest thing on the table!

Phil: It is pretty big; I have to say, it’s a pretty neat centerpiece to the board, even if it gets in the way at times.

Luke: Oh sure. When I was playing this with the designer at a local pub a week back, people were stumbling over all night in awe, asking about what game we were playing. Table presence has its perks but at the cost of having to stand for most of the game to see everything on the board.

Yggdrasil has nothing on this beauty.

Phil: To be fair, it is the thematic and mechanical focal point of the game; players are trying to gather up the valuable acorns of their opponent and bring them to the tree, hoping to score them by matching various symbols on a sideboard. Whoever scores the most by the time 4 snowflakes are removed from the game (signaling the start of winter) wins.

Luke: The aesthetic makes great thematic sense and has been popular lately in the board game industry, with a few notable woodland-themed games released in the last couple of years.

Phil: Players control 3 heroes, representing action points you have on your turn, as well as some special abilities you can access. There are 4 different guilds you can use, each with their own focus and theme; each player will get to use 2 of these guilds, shuffling together their action cards alla Smash Up.

At the start of your turn, you’ll place any acorns you’ve accumulated face-down on the board. Generally speaking, you’ll always have one to place, but the effects and abilities your opponent uses might increase this number. Acorns can be victory points, valued 1, 2, or 3, snowflakes that trigger end-game, or traps that allow your opponent to get into some mischief.

Eenie, meenie, miney…

You’ll place each of your tokens face-down, making your opponent wonder; what is that token? Why did they put it so close to me? Are they trying to make me think it’s a trap, or is it ACTUALLY a trap??? The bluffing element can be very interesting, assuming players take the time to think about it, but more often than not, unless card effects added more traps into the game, there’s no reason not to take the time to check each token in hopes of points.

Luke: It can also be pretty hard to keep track of when your opponent put down what token, so by mid-way through the game, you barely remember what the chances a given token is one thing or another.

Phil: After placing your acorns, you’ll draw 3 tokens from a public bag. This will provide you with symbols that must be placed on the equally-important sideboard. Much like Candy Crush, players are looking to match symbols of 3 or more to try and gather resources. Match the symbols associated with your guilds, and you’ll get those tokens as a form of currency. Match your opponents, you’ll get to add a random line of 4 tokens to the top of the board. And match any point tokens and/or snowflakes, and those tokens will score, with snowflakes being set aside as the timer.

Matching comes naturally to a seasoned player.

Luke: Is there any particular benefit to making sets of more than 3? Other than more resources I mean.

Phil: Each faction has their own effect that comes into play if you successfully match 4 of your guild’s symbol, and a match-5 will result in you receiving a powerful effect that can be activated for devastating results.

Luke: Goes to show that perfectionism has its perks.

Phil: Perhaps, but the only times you’ll be able to pull off a large match like that is if luck is very much in your favor. Set it up for the next round, and it’s more than likely your opponent will take the time to dismantle the opportunity, leaving you out of luck and with fewer resources to boot.

Luke: Fair point.

Phil: Using your actions will allow you to slightly affect the sideboard, swapping adjacent tokens and adding lines, but you can also spend a resource to summon a minion. Each minion, starting the turn after it’s summoned, has a movement of 2 and can be moved across the board to try and collect your opponent’s acorns or to act as goalies and block the opponent’s progress. If minions run into each other, they “squabble” and are removed from the board. Some effects will allow them to be upgraded, giving them abilities and special movement properties.

Birdies and turtles and toads, oh my!

Lastly, each hero has its own abilities that can be activated for a cost of 2 or 3 tokens, depending on how strong the effect is. This in tandem with the Quarrel cards that can be activated at any point during your turn provides a plethora of options that make each guild feel all the more unique.

When you’re down taking actions, you’ll draw a card if you’re below 3 and draw an acorn to be placed on your next turn. This continues until the 4th snowflake (and the loser) falls.

Luke: A lot of the effects in this game seems geared towards a take-that mentality.

Phil: Absolutely, fans of the mechanic will feel right at home here, having fun poking at their opponent while trying desperately to find ways to defend themselves against similar attacks.

Up to the treetops, sneak, sneak, sneak…

It can also mean the game can run particularly long; the box suggests 60 minutes, but the process of finding snowflakes, getting them onto the board, and activating them in a way that also earns you points can be a daunting and timely task. Not to mention if one player starts falling behind, they can use all their cards and abilities to slow down the game in hopes of giving themselves the chance to catch up.

Luke: That being said, I can certainly see couples or friends spending an evening head-to-head, trying to outthink each other in a tense battle of wits.

Phil: One more thing I’d like to touch on is the art; I absolutely love the Looney Toons aesthetic at play here, giving some great character to the woodlands creatures that populate the land. The coloring and design make each animal pop in a way that sticks in my mind.

Luke: They certainly look good, but some players might find the number of colors and information on the board to be overwhelming, as it can be easy to miss a couple of key details amidst the flurry of images.

A lot of game in a pretty skinny box.

Verdict: AlderQuest looks great and has an interesting gameplay loop that will keep fans of take-that enamored with it for hours at a time. It’s a little long for our tastes and progress is slow-going here, but if you think this is the game for you, be sure to take the time to back it on Kickstarter here.

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