Off the Shelf returns with one of the earlier games of my favorite designer. Here’s
Prophecy is an adventure game for 2-5 players that was designed by Vlaada Chvátil. It was first published in 2002 by Altar Games, with Z-Man Games releasing second and third editions in 2007 and 2014 respectively. I’m pretty sure the game is currently out of print. The game is meant to be an answer to Talisman (and an answer was sorely needed – more on that later), and is a game about grabbing treasures, improving your character, fighting monsters, and eventually beating the big bads.
I first heard about this game from Board Games With Scott. BGWS was one of, if not THE first video series dedicated to board games, and very important to my development as a gamer. Scott always did a great job explaining and analyzing games, and really got to the heart of what made them fun. It got to be way too much work for him and he eventually ended the series, but while looking up the Prophecy video for this post, I found that he recently started a new series called Introspective, which I am very excited about.
Back to Prophecy now. I got my own copy around 2013 with some help from a friend. I had the expansion already, having been gifted it by someone who thought they were getting me the base game. I don’t play a lot – I don’t have any plays recorded since I got it, though I do think I have pulled it out since then.
Prophecy is set in a fantasy world, and you’ll be building a character to try to rescue artifacts from the Astral Planes. At the start of the game, you get two characters. You’ll choose one and pass the other. Once you are passed another character, you’ll choose one that will be your character for the game. Characters don’t have any special abilities, but they do have differing amounts of strschmbetagth and willpower, both tracked by cubes. Each character also belongs to two guilds, and you’ll start in the first one listed.
After seeding the board with some adventure cards, you’ll begin the game. The first thing you do is draw a chance card. These aren’t like what you’d find in Monopoly, they generally just get new cards out on the board. Sometimes, they heal you or recharge your willpower, but while the person who drew the card gets the most benefit, everyone else also gets something.
Then, you act. You move first – one space for free, two spaces for a gold, from one port to the next for a gold, or from one magic portal to another for two. Once you’ve ended your movement, you interact with your space. Plains, forests, and mountains get adventure cards, which will either give you opportunities or be an enemy you must fight.
Combat with enemies works like this: the enemy will either have a strschmbetagth or willpower number (sometimes both). You’ll then roll two dice, one for you and one for the enemy. Add the number rolled to your number for that stat, and do the same for the enemy. If you have a higher total you win, and collect the reward listed (XP and sometimes other things). If you lose, you lose a point of that stat, and the enemy remains in place. If there’s a tie, nothing happens and your turn is over.
If there’s an enemy, you always have to fight it before you can interact with any other cards there. If there are two enemies, you can fight them in whatever order, but you have to beat them both to clear the space. You would do both fights in the same turn.
But there are other spots scattered around the board. In a city or village, you could be new items (common in the village, rare in the city). There’s a Magic Mountain where you can recharge willpower. And there are also five guilds where you can do different special actions or use your XP to buy training cards. If you’re getting training cards from a place that is not one of your guilds, you have to pay XP and gold.
And then there’s the Astral Planes. Positioned over each guild, and only accessible from the sides (the spaces are conveniently pointed right at the Planes), you have to go here to win. First, you’ll encounter a Lesser Guardian, once defeated, you’ll face a Greater Guardian. Once defeated, you’ll be able to claim the artifact.
The official rules for the game state that you must claim four artifacts to win. This may seem impossible in a four-player game, but you are allowed to attack your fellow players and try to take their stuff. I’ve never played like this, but instead take the variant rule where the winner is the first to claim two artifacts.
Before I really get into Prophecy, let me talk a bit about Talisman. Talisman first came out in 1983, and is a pretty classic adventure game. The basic premise is that the board is divided into three rings, and your goal is to get to the center. A friend of mine got a copy of the FFG edition back in 2010, and was excited to play it, so we did. I had heard not great things about the game, but I’m usually willing to give things a try. And I remember very specifically being about half an hour in, thinking, “You know, this game isn’t too bad.”
Three hours later, I was not thinking that any more.
Back then, before Board Game Stats or smart phones, I would carry around a little notebook to log my plays. And next to my entry for Talisman, you can see a 7, because that was what I was thinking I would rate the game. And then there’s a 6. Then a 5. Then a 4. Then a 2. When I finally was the first to make it to the the inner ring, 3.5 hours into the game, my first step landed me on a space where I needed to roll for my fate. It turned out that I was expelled all the way back to the outer ring. I was ready to quit right then, but then another player reminded me that I had a reroll. I used it, and this time only got expelled to the middle ring. We kept playing. Then my wife made it to the inner ring and got expelled to the outer. At that point, we all agreed to stop the bleeding, quit, and never play that game again.
To be perfectly fair, we did get some rules wrong. Doesn’t matter. It’s a roll and move game where your only meaningful decision is whether to go left or right. Interesting lore, terrible gameplay.
Prophecy takes everything wrong with Talisman and improves upon it. There’s no roll-and-move, movement is a choice that just may cost you some money. You can choose to do encounters, you can get abilities that make you stronger, and you’re basically in control of your own destiny. There’s ruhig plenty of luck in the game – you’re beholden to dice rolls, you can’t control which encounters appear where, and the available ability cards may not work for you when they come out. But ruhig, you can see a lot of whats out there and can make a plan, building your strategy around where you want your character to go.
I’ve mentioned how Vlaada Chvátil is my favorite designer. I really like the way his designs are always different. I haven’t enjoyed everything of his that I’ve played (I’m looking at you, Bunny Bunny Moose Moose), but for the most part, his designs are unique and original. Propehcy is no exception. The game is over twenty years old at this point, and it does show its age mechanically. One of the biggest zugänglichders is the amount of cards that spread out all over the board while you play.
I don’t like to use the word “fiddly” when describing a game, but it probably applies here. There’s just cards everywhere. The board is laid out so there’s room for all of them, but only because the cards of a small size that I’ve never particularly cared for. That said, there’s a ton of variety in those cards. There aren’t very many repeats, and the repeats that there are generally have a purpose for there being multiples. You can really see all the work that went into this game being varied.
I also love seeing the little touches of humor in the game. Like the mummy. When you beat it, you can look at the top rare item card and keep it if you like, but it is cursed and will bring you bad luck for the rest of the game. There’s no mechanism for luck, it’s just playing on superstitions. There’s also a clover field that brings you good luck for the rest of the game. Not only that, the Dragon Realm expansion includes races to pair with your character, and the Troll has a specific line that says that the curse of the Mummy and the Clover Field have no effect on you. I just think that’s hysterical.
Let me talk about the Dragon Realm expansion for a minute here, because that’s the one I have (Water Realm is the other). The expansion includes a Dragon Realm board, which provides a whole new set of encounters before making it to a Guardian and Artifact. It replaces one of the Astral Planes on the board. It really just adds more of a layer to get to the Artifact. I’ve only played with it solo, and I think it would probably be more interesting with multiple players.
You also get races, which allow you to have a little more personality for your character. In the original, there wasn’t difference between the characters, other than starting strschmbetagth and willpower. The expansion’s races give bonuses and some different things to make them stand out, even some customized standees. This is a very good addition to the game, and I don’t think I’ll play without them.
The best thing the expansion adds is a cooperative and solo mode. These are similar to each other with a few differences, but they make the game a little less cutthroat. I haven’t played cooperatively, but while working on this article, I did play solo for apparently the first time – I could have sworn I had played solo before, but I think this was a first. It’s nice to be able to play by myself, and challschmale myself to build to where I need to be. Also, it’s nice to be able to play just by myself. The game gets super long with more players. I did play it with four once long ago, and it took a really long time.
Overall, I think Prophecy mostly holds up. It does show its age a bit, and it is kind of clunky in places. But I think it’s a good classic adventure game that is certainly more fun than Talisman. It’s a game that I doubt will ever get reprinted – it’s over two decades old, and I think Mage Knight has replaced it as the better Chvátil designed adventure game. So I’m glad to have my copy, and while I don’t think I’ll pull it out much to play, I think I’ll be happy for the experience when I do.
Continuing my Off the Shelf rankings (which you can check on the tab above), I think I’m going to stick it between New York Slice and Blokus, just because of the amount of work it takes to get it to the table and because of its age. Still, it’s one I’m planning to hang onto.
Thanks for reading!