Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Caravan! Reviewish - A Boardgame/5e Hack That is Less than the Sum of It's Parts

"This RPG hex crawl/ board game hybrid is compatible with the 5E fantasy rule set—and can be adapted to other game systems with a little conversion."

What does the above sentence actually mean? 

Well, for one thing, Caravan! is NOT a hex crawl as any old-school gamer would describe it, as there are no decisions to be made about choosing a direction or a hex to explore. Instead, you roll 2d6 and go around the board, and land on a square hex.

Start: Play Starts at the Gull’s Nest hex. Your mercenaries now leave the town, guarding these precious resources as you bring them to foreign markets. Let the first mercenary roll 2d6 to move.

Below is a sample of said board (1/8th of the board to be exact).

So yeah, definitely not a hex crawl. Certainly, a board game that uses D&D 5e as its engine.

What about the conversion to other systems, like more classic editions of D&D and its clones?

Here's the issue - many of these "hexes" require skill checks. I simply don't see it converting well to a simpler ruleset without some heavy-handed finagling. 

Below are some possibilities if you "land" on the Port of Gull's Nest.
5.) Adventure! The Temple of Neptus (God of the Sea) asks characters to assist with the destruction of marine ghouls prowling the sedges by the old Fishery. Under the shadow of night, the party mercenaries encounter 2–5 (d4+1) marine ghouls. If defeated, the group gains experience points and a 2% chance to find a Magical Armament (see Appendix A).

6.) Huge Banana Cargo Load! “What are you going to do with all of these bananas?” Drop off Cargo before landing on or passing Gulls Nest a subsequent time (before the bananas rot) and gain 100 gold coins in banana sales! If a mercenary has Brewer’s Tools or Alchemist’s Tools, a DC 12 (using Intelligence as the ability) can turn a portion of the bananas into rum, tripling the reward to 300 gold coins.

Here is a sample of other squares hexes on the board:

Brutal Winds: Great winds blow the caravan apart! Make a DC 15 Group Check, using each member’s best ability from the following: Strength, Wisdom (Survival), or Intelligence (Nature). Failure causes the group to be knocked back d6 squares. 

Caves of Dor: d6 giant hyenas attack from 30’– 60’ away (d4 x 10’ + 20’). Upon defeat of these beasts, roll d100. 2% chance of a magical armament (see Appendix A) discovered in their bone-strewn lair.

Desolate Canyons: Party is stranded here until an Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Survival) DC 15 is rolled. Three fails brings an attacking harpy. 

Foreboding Mountains: Party is stranded here until an Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Survival) DC 15 is rolled. Three failures bring d4 dire wolves. 2% chance of finding a magical armament (see Appendix A), lying on the altar of a hidden Elder Gods’ shrine.

Then, of course, there are the conversion notes for other systems:

Caravan! may be used with other rule sets and game systems, with a little bit of conversion. For example, let’s say we wanted to run Caravan! for the old-school B/X game system. Here are a few suggestions and changes:

Skills: Players must roll their ability score or less on a d20. See the following modifications:

  • If the DC is 10, give the player a -5 bonus on the d20 roll.
  • If the DC is 15, let the player roll with no bonus or penalty.
  • If the DC is 20, give the player a +5 penalty on the d20 roll.
  • If the DC is 25, give the player a +10 penalty to the d20 roll.
  • A roll of 20 is always successful and a roll of 1 always fails.

That's it. I guess it works, but the text refers to advantage/disadvantage, a concept foreign to many old-school gamers and not explained.

Would this work as a board game? I guess so, but as a DM I'd never allow my players to level up their PCs using what is essentially a board game. 

It likely could be run as a solo diversion, but its replayability would be minimal, and the price ($15) is beyond excessive in my opinion. Priced at 5 bucks, it could be an acceptable diversion for a night when you are missing some players and yet what remains of the group still wants to roll some "D&D Dice" and kill things and take their stuff. Just so long as it was understood that nothing that happened would actually carry over to the regular campaign, as this is, quite literally a board game. If the hexes were drawn as squares, one wouldn't even be able to make the illusionary claim it was a hex-crawl.

As a final note, there is this quote from page 4:

EXPANDING THE HEX CRAWL: There is no wandering off the board. Yes, this is a role-playing game, but if your players decide they want to explore the deepest reaches of the Jildaan Verge, discover the abominations slumbering deep in the Foreboding Mountains, or raid the Lighthouse Mage’s tower in Gull’s Nest, you can take note of this, perhaps incorporating these elements into your personal RPG campaign in the future; for the nonce, however, your players are engaged in a more-structured adventure. Think of board movement as an old school hex crawl, with pre-set encounters. (emphasis mine)

This is NOT how an old-school hex crawl is run, and one certainly does not roll 2d6 to determine your next random hex. It is, however, an attempt to hit some notes of old-school nostalgia, without actually including any old school in the mix.

I can't recommend Caravan! at its current pricing. Despite its claims otherwise, it is a board game masquerading as an RPG product, and it doesn't seem like it has a grasp of its own identity. I know I don't.

Aside from that, having playtesters and design staff writing reviews and glowing commentary is simply distasteful, and for that alone, I'd likely recommend folks avoid the product unless some honest playtests are posted by neutral parties. At 15 bucks, I expect those to be few and far between.

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  1. Roll under your ability score to succeed, but not too low because a 1 auto fails. High is bad, but too high is good because a 20 auto succeeds.

  2. Oh please post this on Drivethrurpg.

  3. Thank you for taking the hit on this one. Removing it from my mental list of possible purchases.


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