Board Game Review: Techlandia where Silicon Valley meets Lovecraft

Techlandia is a dungeon-crawling board game set in the modern world where you play bloggers attempting to sneak into the Techlandia Head Quarters and get the scoop on The One Cellphone to Rule Them All.

To save you some time, you can probably stop here. This game is terrible. This isn’t an enjoyable game, rather it’s more of a joke. It’s either a tongue-in-cheek look at the tech journalism industry, a form of social commentary, or trying to prove a point about Kickstarter, or likely all of the above.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of Techlandia. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is the board game Techlandia about?

The cover of the board game Techlandia Techlandia was designed by Dan Ackerman a very well-known Tech Journalist who started off as a radio DJ, moved on to blogging and eventually became the Senior Managing Editor at CNET. He’s also a published author with one non-fiction book under his belt: The Tetris Effect: The Game that Hypnotized the World. With Techlandia Dan now gets to add Published Game Designer and Successful Kickstarter Runner to his list of accolades. 

Techlandia is a competitive, hex-based dungeon-crawling board game for one to four players. Each player takes on the role of a blogger who is attempting to crash a cell phone launch event at the fastest-growing tech company, Techlandia. As uninvited guests, the bloggers will attempt to find four QR codes that they can present to security to allow them entry to the keynote event. To do this they will have to investigate four rooms while using their gear to deal with Techlandia’s various Tech Cultists, hopefully attaining some description codes along the way while avoiding losing their objectivity and becoming a dreaded Fanboy. Can one of the bloggers make it past security before the “Definitely not a Doomsday Clock” runs out?

For a look at exactly what you get in this box check out our Techlandia Unboxing Video on YouTube

I have to say the physical quality of the components in this game is good. There was only one punchboard and it punched easily. The plastic stands hold the cardboard standees well and they fit back in the box without having to take them off. The cards are of good quality, even if some are abnormally large.

An example of the repetitive re-use of art in Techlandia Where this all starts to fall apart is the graphic design and artwork. This game made $12,013 on Kickstarter, which I admit is nothing compared to some board game Kickstarters yet still way more than many independently published games. Based on what you get in the box, very little of this money was spent on artwork. 

Every card in this game has one piece of artwork. Thirty different gear cards, all have the same picture of a book on them. Twenty Encounter Cards, all with the same art. Ten Investigation Cards all featuring the same dark picture of a door. Six Tech Cultist standees, all identical. While the art they did get is decent enough, there’s not nearly enough of it. Even Monopoly features different line art on the Chance cards. 

How do you play the modern dungeon crawling game Techlandia?

Ready to play Techlandia from Dan AckermanYou start a game of Techlandia by building the map of the Techlandia HQ. This always starts with four purple tiles laid out in a row. The Welcome Center, Security, The Press Room and finally the Elevator. You then draw and place four room tiles, two on each side of this initial row. The game comes with enough tiles to have twenty-four different possible room combinations (though I doubt anyone would be interested in trying them all). 

From here, players each pick a Tech Blogger to play, taking the Standee of their choice and a cell phone card. On that card, they will pick one skill that they are an expert at and mark that with a cube. The skill choices are Spyware, Disinformation and Memes.

Card decks are shuffled, a cube is placed on the Twenty spot on the Definitely not a Doomsday Clock, the story deck is stacked in order, Players place their standees in the Welcome Center. Each player gets to draw five random Gear Cards and the game begins.

Every game of Techlandia begins with someone reading off the background information from the rulebook followed by reading the first card from the story deck (which notes it should be read when the Doomsday Clock is at Twenty.  This flavour text is rather well written if a bit snarky, and gets everyone into the theme of the game which is basically corporate greed meets Lovecraftian horror. 

I won our first game of the board game Techlandia The goal of Techlandia is for the bloggers to investigate four locations at the Techlandia HQ, and find four QR codes, present the right QR code to security and get to the elevator before the timer runs out. Players will also want to defeat a few of the Tech Cultists along the way to improve their odds of picking the right QR code at security.

Each turn players get two actions chosen from:

Move: Move your blogger one hex on the map.

Investigate A Room: Take an investigation card and do what it says. These are split evenly between success cards and failure cards. Success cards will have you place a QR code somewhere on the map, if you are lucky it may even be in the room you are in. Failure cards force you to draw an Encounter Card and do what it says as well as providing an additional penalty if you fail in a red (high security) room. Encounter cards do a variety of things like spawning enemies, forcing you to move, causing you to lose gear, etc.

Once you successfully investigate a room you place a cube on your cellphone dashboard to show you’ve completed that room. To complete the game you MUST successfully investigate all four rooms (even if you’ve already acquired four QR codes).

Pick up a QR Code: Once a QR code is placed on the map anyone can pick it up. An oddly oversized Enemy card from the modern dungeon crawling board game Techlandia

Fight a Tech Cultist: If you find yourself in a room with an enemy and you have an action left you then fight that enemy. This starts by flipping over the top enemy card which will tell you what type of Tech Cultist you are fighting. Each enemy has a skill they are susceptible to at the bottom and a target number at the top. You roll one die and add +1 if you have the appropriate skill.

If you roll equal to the target number or higher you defeat the enemy who is removed from the map. You also gain one Description Code which you mark on your Cellphone Dashboard with a cube (note you can only have a maximum of three codes, defeating more than three enemies in a game earns you nothing). Finally, the Enemy card is placed on the bottom of the deck.

If you fail to beat the target number you are defeated. You are escorted to the Welcome Center and you lose one point of Objectivity. Your character has three points of Objectivity, which basically are your Hit Points in this game. If you lose all of your Objectivity you have fallen for the media and become a Techlandia Fanboy. Your turns are now spent working against the other players, at least until the Doomsday Clock hits the next red number at which point you regain your senses. 

What the game fails to tell you is what to do with the standee and the enemy card when you are defeated. To us, it made sense that the enemy would stay on the map and that the Enemy card for that enemy would stay in play so that you or another player could encounter that enemy again later. The problem with this is that all of the standees are identical and there’s no way to indicate which enemy card belongs to a particular standee. This is not a problem when there are only a couple of baddies on the map but once we got to four or more it became hard to track. Now maybe you are supposed to put the card back on the bottom deck, with the Standee simply representing a Tech Cultist of some kind, or maybe when defeated the enemy walks you to the Welcome Center and disappears into the crowd. Without any direction from the rules, who knows what the right answer is?

Reloading your Gear in the Press Room: While in the Press Room, you can use an action to draw a gear card. You can hold up to seven gear cards. These cards all break the rules in some way in your favour. They can do a variety of different things, like allow you to move yourself or an enemy or another player, give you re-rolls on the dice during combat, instantly defeat an enemy, restore some objectivity and more.

One of the QR code cards from Techlandia Submitting a QR code to security: When you finally have investigated the four rooms and have four QR codes in your possession you can submit your codes to security. You pick one of the four QR code cards included with the game and scan it with your actual phone (there is an alternative provided for those without a phone).

This will bring you to a website that will either tell you it’s a bad code or a good code. If you chose a bad code, alarms go off and you are eliminated from the game. However, if you do show security a bad code, if you have any Decryption Codes, which are collected when beating enemies, you can try another card instead. Assuming you eventually find the right code, all you have to do now is move your playing piece to the elevator hex and you win the game.

After each round (a.k.a. every player has completed their two actions) the Doomsday Clock advances one space (it can also advance due to some encounter cards). Some of the spots on the Clock are marked in red and when you get to those you will read another card from the story deck. As time goes on and the story evolves there are a growing number of penalties applied to the players and if no one has made it to the elevator before the clock reaches zero you get to read the final card and learn how the world ends.

Despite having some interesting ideas Techlandia is not a good game.

Playing Techlandia from Dan AckermanSo now that you’ve heard how to play Techlandia I’m sure you are thinking what I was thinking after just reading the rules: that doesn’t sound all that bad. 

There are some interesting sounding concepts here. The concept of sneaking around a Tech HQ searching for codes, using your tech gear to avoid and/or defeat corporate drones, the entire concept of becoming a Fanboy and hindering the other players by getting in their face about how awesome Techlandia Corp is, and more. 

The story in particular is rather unique, entertaining and engaging. The writing in this game, while a bit punchy and derogatory at times, is really solid. It makes sense, Dan Ackerman is after all a writer first and foremost. The entire concept is solid.

The problem is that it just doesn’t really work. The actual gameplay in Techlandia is highly random, frustrating and boring. Added to that, the lack of artwork does the entire theme and story a complete disservice. How can you have such a cool story concept and not use the game’s artwork to flesh that out?

Most of your time playing Techlandia will be spent moving to a room, trying to investigate the room and failing, over and over again. In our first game, Deanna ended up failing in her investigation ten times in a row! Failing over and over like this is not fun. Not only is it not fun for the player it happens to it holds up the game for everyone else, as without someone else succeeding it is possible that there aren’t enough QR codes generated for the other players. 

Exploring the Techlandia Headquarters in this modern dungeon crawler.With all of these failures, the board quickly filled up with Tech Cultists and that’s where we ran into the issues of not knowing what to do with the Enemy cards. We even looked online for an answer and failed to find one. Our table was cluttered with large Enemy cards and we kept having to ask, “Which baddie goes with this standee?”

The problem with the investigation system is that it’s binary, with a fifty-fifty split. When you draw a card you have an equal chance of success or failure and when done, success or failure, you put the card back into the deck and shuffle it, so the odds never change. What I really dislike about this is that it’s completely arbitrary, there’s no player agency here. While there are Gear cards that modify dice rolls to mitigate the randomness, there are no dice rolls during an Investigation. There’s also the fact that having to reshuffle the investigation deck at the end of each players’ turn gets old really quick.

The combat system can be just as bad, if not worse, than the Investigation system due to the fact many of the enemies require a roll of five or higher on a D6 to defeat. At least here many of the Gear cards can help you out and mitigate that randomness. 

Interestingly, there’s a Tabletopia version of  Techlandia that you can get to from the Kickstarter page. Both Sean and I checked this out before I played my physical copy. I was surprised to discover that it’s based on an older Beta version of the game. In that version, there were a lot more things dependant on die rolls, one of them being the Investigation system.

Back then you rolled a D6 when you investigated with an even roll meaning success and an odd meaning failure. At least under that system, you end up with a number of gear cards that can actually help you mitigate the randomness of an investigation. 

You cannot resolve this card in Techlandia with the rules as written. This change from a dice-based system to a card-based system has caused other problems. During our last game, we drew an encounter card that said to roll the die, on a success do this and on a failure do that. With the actual production copy of the game, there is nothing in the rules that tells you how to determine a success.  If you draw this card, you will have no idea what to do next and will have to come up with some kind of house rule for it.

Now having seen the Beta we knew that in the old system even was a success and odd was a failure so we used that, but I doubt that many picking this game up will even realize there was an older version. 

Overall what you have here is a game with an amusing tongue-in-cheek story that has some interesting concepts all executed poorly. The theme is great, but it’s wasted on boring, random, repetitive gameplay. 

What Techlandia really reminds me of is the Labyrinth board game. In my Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Board Game review, I talk about how my biggest disappointment with the game is that it comes so close to being a decent game but fails to actually get there. It’s so close to being fun, and if some of the concepts in the game were just developed further it could have been great, but instead, it’s a total waste of the licence. Techlandia is exactly the same. With some more development work, it could have been a good, if not a great, game but instead, it’s just a waste of what’s really a rather cool concept and theme. 

Look at all my awesome gear in Techlandia, too bad it all looks like a book.I am sorry to say there’s no way I can recommend this game to anyone. Not even as a joke gift for someone who’s a big techie and Ackerman fan. While Techlandia features a great concept, a very cool theme and a well-written and entertaining story, the lack of artwork and gameplay just isn’t there to support it. 

I personally wonder if creating a good game was even Dan’s goal here at all. Perhaps Dan just wanted to prove you could publish anything on Kickstarter with the right amount of clout. Or perhaps this isn’t meant to be a game but rather a social commentary on the world of tech journalism (which reminds me a bit of CO2 Second Chance which is a statement on climate change made through an intentionally almost unwinnable game). Or maybe Dan just wanted to be able to say he designed a board game or that he ran a successful Kickstarter. 

Whatever the goal of publishing Techlandia was, if it had anything at all to do with making a fun playable game, it failed, miserably. 

While I always like to say not every game is for everyone, sometimes there are games I try out that I don’t actually think are going to be enjoyable for anyone. They don’t come around often but Techlandia is definitely an example. What’s the last game you played that was so bad that you never plan on playing it ever again? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below!

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