I’m currently hooked on playing a simple game that fits in my pocket. It’s called Pocket Book Adventures and I’ve been playing it at home, in the car, at coffee shops and basically everywhere I go.
Pocket Book Adventures is a solo RPG experience that mixes dungeon crawling, monster battling, leveling up and puzzle based movement.
Read on to learn more!
Disclosure: Thank you David David of Grumpy Spider Games for sending me a prototype copy of Pocket Book Adventures to check out. No other compensation was provided.
What is Pocket Book Adventures?
Pocket Book Adventures is the creation of David David. He’s currently crowdfunding a release through Kickstarter (which was live and well past their funding goal when I was writing this).
The Kickstarter is being produced via David’s company, Grumpy Spider Games. This will be the second game they’ve published, the first being Rucksack which was successfully Kickstarted last year.
Pocket Book Adventures is a solo dungeon crawling game with each level taking only five to ten minutes to play through. All that’s needed to play is a copy of the game and a pencil.
While the physical copies of the game are only meant to be played once, through the Kickstarter and later directly from Grumpy Spider, you also get a PDF copy of the book so you can print it out and play as many times as you wish.
One of the most impressive things about Pocket Book Adventures is its price point. On Kickstarter, it’s only $12 US and that includes shipping. However, those of us outside of the US do have to worry about shipping costs on top of that.
In Pocket Book Adventures you are presented with a classic Japanese RPG style map (think early Zelda or Final Fantasy games) filled with terrain, treasure, monsters, an exit, and a starting point.
You start from the starting point and move orthogonally around the map grabbing treasures, battling monsters and eventually heading out the exit. You then find out your score which is based on how many monsters you killed, how much health you lost, and how many stops it took for you to get off the map.
Between adventures you go to town, train to improve your character, and go shopping for items and weapons.
At the end of each section, there’s a puzzle based boss fight for you to get through. Once you finish all fifty maps and defeat the final boss you add up your score and find out what title you’ve earned.
Since my copy of Pocket Book Adventures is a prototype copy we didn’t record our usual unboxing video. However, it ends up that the final version looks pretty much the same as ours. Though I do know that some of the instructions within the book have been clarified.
There really isn’t a lot to talk about as far as components with Pocket Book Adventures. The entire game comprises of one small pocket sized spiral bound book with a surprising number of pages. The pages aren’t numbered but there have to be more than one hundred pages here as there are fifty two-page adventures inside the book, plus all of the pages for instructions, boss fights, and between adventure town visits.
The front and back covers of Pocket Book Adventures are made of thin cardboard and the pages are thin paper.
There’s nothing fancy here, but it works for what it is (and helps keep the game at its low price point). More importantly, the rules are very clear and understandable, the iconography is clear and easy to read and so are the maps.
I honestly have no complaints about the quality of this small game.
How to play Pocket Book Adventures:
Playing Pocket Book Adventures couldn’t be simpler. Once you read through the seven page How to Play section at the start of the book, you flip the page and find yourself in the Grasslands.
This is the first region in Pocket Book Adventures. The start of each region tells you how movement works within that region. In the first region, the grasslands, you move orthogonally in a straight line going from one to four spaces. If you hit any of the scenery you turn 90 degrees and keep moving. Later regions feature their own movement rules, some more puzzly than others.
In all regions, when moving you collect any treasure you pass over, but have to stop if you run into a monster. If you stop in any of the eight squares surrounding a monster you must fight that monster. To gain a treasure chest you must stop exactly on its square, and you also have to have the key to open it (there’s one set of keys and one chest on each map). Each map includes one exit that you need to reach to finish the map.
Treasures you can pick up include individual pieces of gold, piles of gold, hearts, heart containers, and other various items like Remedies that cure status effects and Pixie dust that heals you. Hearts heal you, while Heart Containers give you additional Maximum HP, and gold can be used to buy healing, items and weapons when you are in town
In general, you are probably going to want to try to pick up as much treasure as you can before leaving a map. To get a full score you are also going to want to fight many, if not all, of the monsters and you want to do all of this without making too many stops on the map.
Combat in Pocket Book Adventures is one of the most unique and innovative parts of the game.
Every monster on the map has a spot on the previous page showing its icon, as well as a bar above that icon that has one large dot on it and a bull’s eye style target below the icon. When battling a monster you put your pencil tip on the dot, close your eyes, lift your pencil and then try to put it down on the target.
Where you land on the target determines how much damage you take. You take zero damage for a bull’s eye, and one damage for each ring going outward. In addition, each monster in the game has a special attack. These go off if your pencil ends up on one of the darker, shaded-in, areas of the target.
Special attacks include all kinds of fun things, which can be one time effects or permanent status effects that require a remedy to get rid of them. The monster abilities, and the complexity of their targets, change, with things getting more difficult to hit as you get deeper into the game.
Death is one very real possibility when playing Pocket Book Adventures but, in this game, it’s no big deal. You either choose to lose half of your collected gold, or you drop your weapon and items. You then go back up to full health and keep playing, but the monster that killed you is still alive. There’s no permadeath here. Though I’m sure there’s someone out there who insists on playing in hardcore mode.
Once you complete a map by leaving via the exit, you calculate your score. Very much like many adventure game apps, your score comes in the form of stars. You receive one to three starts in three different areas. The first set of stars is earned based on how many monsters you’ve killed, the second set of starts is based on how much damage you’ve taken and the last set of stars is awarded based on how many stops you made before exiting the map. The maximum score would be three stars in each of these areas for a total of nine points.
After recording your score, you flip the page and discover what’s next. I don’t recommend peeking ahead. It’s more fun not knowing what’s coming up.
Most of the time the next thing you will encounter is going to be another map. In which case you carry over your health, gold, items, and weapons from the map you just completed and just keep playing.
Now and then, when flipping the page, you will get to go to town. When on a town page you can pay gold to train. Each training page features three different targets you can try to hit, each of a different size, with the larger targets costing more gold to try. If you get a hit your maximum HP goes up. If you miss any gold spent is wasted.
Now one thing that I didn’t realize when playing through the first series of dungeons is that you can do this training as often as you like as long as you have gold.
In town, you can also heal up, remove status effects, and buy useful items like Remedies and Pixie Dust. Finally, you have the chance to buy or upgrade your weapon. In Pocket Book Adventures you can only ever hold one weapon and they aren’t cheap.
Weapons give you some form of advantage. For example, my first weapon was a Thief’s Knife which let me open the chest on a map without a key. I later swapped to the Outer Light Sword which had me draw a heart in all of the monster targets’ non-shaded outer rings. Which meant that I would take one less damage when hitting one of those spots.
Each town has three weapons available, with most items being offered a couple of times in a row before being replaced by something new and tempting.
The other thing you can find after flipping the page is a boss fight. There is one of these in each region and each has special rules for how to play through them. Boss fights, exactly what they are and how they work, seem like the kind of thing that I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.
After you defeat a boss and get your bonus (usually more maximum HP) you add up all of the stars you’ve earned in that region and record it. Then you flip the page and find out where you are delving next.
I don’t want to give too much away other than to say that there are seven different regions total to explore.
The big thing that changes in each region is how you move. In some regions the game becomes much more of a puzzle, a slider puzzle specifically, where you move in a straight line until you hit something and stop. A least one region also has you moving blindly, having to use the blind pencil point system to get around. New regions also mean more challenging maps, new boss monsters, better weapons, etc.
Once you finally get to the end of the Pocket Book Adventures book, you sum up your stars for all regions and find out your title. This title is made up of three parts, one for each of the three scoring types (monsters killed, damage taken and stops made). Once you have this there’s a memorandum page you fill out with your final rank.
On the final page, you will find a QR code where you can pick up another copy of the game or download the PDFs so you can try again and see if you can beat your score (or share the Pocket Book Adventures love with someone else).
Why I love Pocket Book Adventures:
Right from the start, I thought the concept of Pocket Book Adventures sounded pretty neat. This seemed like the perfect game for me to play while sitting in the car waiting for my mom or the kids at whatever appointment I had to drop them off at, and I was totally right, this game is perfect for that.
What I didn’t expect from this portable game is just how much fun playing through one of these short map based adventures really is. In this way, Pocket Book Adventures far exceeded my expectations.
The entire product is brilliant.
Look at the actual physical book. The size really is perfect for fitting in your pocket. The spiral is wide enough to hold a pencil and the cover is just thick enough to protect the pages. The only real issue I ran into is that the inside pages are just paper, so you probably want to actually close the book when transporting it instead of leaving it open to your next dungeon.
As someone with some vision problems, I would have liked it if the text was a bit bigger. This isn’t much of a problem though as there really isn’t anything you need to read once you actually start playing a dungeon. Having the PDF helps with this, as you can just blow up the rules to whatever size you need.
Speaking of the rules, they were perfectly clear and made total sense reading through them the first time.
While Pocket Book Adventures is a solid physical product with clear rules, it’s the actual gameplay that is the most impressive to me. The mechanics here just work, and they work extremely well. The movement system is brilliant, the maps are very well designed and the difficulty curve is perfect.
I found that with the first few dungeons it was really easy to get under the stop target and you didn’t have to kill every monster on the map to get the total score. As things went on this changed to that you had to kill every monster to get the maximum score. It also became impossible to get all of the treasure on a map and make it out in few enough steps. This leads to interesting decisions on what way to go, what to grab and what to leave behind.
I love seeing this kind of onboarding in games. It’s the type you don’t even notice is happening as you play.
My absolute favourite mechanism in Pocket Book Adventures is what they call the “point and write” system. This is the system where you point your pencil, close your eyes, pick up the pencil and then point it somewhere else. It sounds rather silly but works so well.
I’ve played through a Pocket Book Adventure dungeon while sitting in the driver’s seat of my van, while laying down on a couch, and while sitting at a table, and this pencil pointing system worked just as well in all of these situations
An aspect I enjoy about this system is that it does require a level of player skill. This point and write system is a mini dexterity game of its own and I think I prefer it to the randomness of dice. The problem with this system though is that it is manual dexterity based and that above all other aspects of Pocket Book Adventures is going to limit who can play it. If you have any difficulty grasping a pencil or suffer from shaky hands, this game probably won’t work for you, which is a shame. I would have really appreciated an alternative system there for people who are differently abled.
Another thing I want to call out is that Pocket Book Adventures hasn’t gotten boring. My biggest concern with this game was that it would quickly start to feel the same game after game but David has done enough different things here to keep it interesting. These include varying monster types and terrain, a wide range of status effects, different movement systems for different regions and unique boss fights. With the different weapon options, you also get a simplified way of playing different character builds.
While I will say I can get tired of playing Pocket Book Adventures after playing about three maps in a row, I’m always ready, willing, and excited to come back a day or two later for more adventures.
Besides a possible accessibility issue for some players, the biggest problem with Pocket Book Adventures is that you can only play it once. This has actually been a problem for me personally as my wife saw me playing and really wanted to try it out. In order to give her a chance I went back and erased my first map. This worked well enough but she liked it so much she now wants to keep playing.
Now what do I do? Do I go through and erase every game after I play so we can compare our scores? I guess that works, but it’s not optimal. We also talked about using different coloured pens or pencils, but then you can see what the last player did.
Of course, the real answer is to pick up a second copy, and there’s a QR code in the back of the book that will let you do just that. You can either pick up another physical book or get the PDF. If you back the Kickstarter you actually get the PDF along with the physical copy, so you can just print out another full set of dungeons.
The other issue I can see some people having with this game is that it is a solo only experience. While I’m sure you could play the game with a larger group, maybe taking turns and working out a group score for your whole group or sharing a book and trying to make decisions together, that’s really not what this game is designed to do.
Overall Pocket Book Adventures has become one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had this year. It’s a fantastic product that does exactly what it sets out to do. You get a small portable book full of dungeons for you to explore and puzzles for you to solve. This game is great as a time killer when you’ve got about ten minutes to kill.
If you are at all interested in solo adventure games I encourage you to head over to Kickstarter right now and back Pocket Book Adventures. It’s only $12 US and that includes shipping within the US.
Even if you don’t normally enjoy solo games, or you aren’t really a single player board game player, I suggest giving Pocket Book Adventures a try. I’m not usually much of a solo player myself, yet I’ve found myself hooked.
If you still aren’t sold on this portable gaming experience I challenge you to head over to the Kickstarter page and download the Pocket Book Adventures Sample Pages. This will let you check out the game for yourself without having to spend a dime.
That’s it for my review of Pocket Book Adventures, a point and write solo dungeon crawler that’s got me totally hooked. As of right now, you’ve got three days left to back the Kickstarter. What are you waiting for?
At this point, Pocket Book Adventures is my biggest tabletop game surprise of the year. It’s nearing the end of October, what game has surprised you the most this year so far? Tell us about it in the comments below!