“Does anybody want a peanut?”
“Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”
“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
“Never go up against a Sicilian…when Death is on the line!”
“You are the Brute Squad.”
And those are only the first six quotable lines off the top of my head from one of the most perfect movies of all time. That’s right, I mean The Princess Bride, and if you haven’t seen it you’re not allowed to read this article. Not just because spoilers, but because you don’t deserve to.
Actually, it was a book before it was a movie–it took almost two decades to get the movie made, believe it or not. How many of you know that? And if you haven’t read the book, you should. It’s about more–much more–than the film lets on. Which is no knock against screenwriter William Goldman; he was adapting his own book, and he knew what to cut out, what to rearrange, and what to emphasize.
The first Tabletop adaptation of TPB was a roll-and-move piece of garbage that came free with the first release of the movie on VHS (that’s video cassette for you youngsters) in 1988. I didn’t even know it existed until five minutes ago. We can move on.
Then in 2008 I walked into one of my FLGS’s to find Storming The Castle on the New Releases shelf. Honestly, I didn’t even think twice, I just bought it. FINALLY! A game about one of my favorite movies!
Oh god the game was awful. Players were competing to get to the castle to rescue Buttercup, which makes no sense, there was plenty of Take That and randomness and just…ugh. It was only later that I found out that someone had had the idea to retheme an Indiana-Jones-knockoff game Temple of the Monkey (which at least made sense, even if the gameplay was still awful).
So I had to wait five MORE years for The Princess Bride: Prepare to Die from Game Salute, which was worse than Storming the Castle if possible. Yes, let’s take the tag line from the arguably the true heart of the movie and turn it into a Mad Libs-type party game! Someone got paid to come up with this idea!
The waiting continued. Surprisingly, it took until 2015 for Princess Bride’Opoly to appear and even more surprisingly it put a neat twist on things with players each taking the role of one of the film’s main characters, each one of which having unique special powers. This at least was something I hadn’t seen before in a Monopoly game.
That same year, Game Salute (who had perpetrated Storming the Castle) surprised me and I suspect thousands of others by stealth-releasing not one but three little TPB games: A Battle of Wits, As You Wish, and Miracle Pill. They don’t have great ratings on BGG but they are streets beyond any TPB-licenced product up to that point. They’re actual games by actual designers that make at least some thematic connection to the movie. Battle of Wits is, as you’d expect, a bluffing game based on Vizzini’s challenge to The Man in Black, As You Wish uses Kingdomino-like drafting and tableau building as player assemble point-scoring plotlines, and Miracle Pill uses 7-Wonders-style pass drafting as players compete to concoct the best brew (but don’t go swimming for at least an hour afterwards). They’re all fine introductions to basic Tabletop mechanics, and if you’re a fan of the movie you can forgive their tresspasses.
And so we come to 2020. And folks, the wait is over. If you’ve been looking for a game that lets you and up to three others follow in the footsteps of your favorite characters, then your game has arrived. It’s not perfect–but It. Is. Here.
Designer Ryan Miller’s first published (co-)design was 2001’s Warhammer 40K CCG, but his main claims to fame before The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game (TPBABG hereinafter) were as a contributing designer to Betrayal Legacy and Axis & Allies & Zombies. He certainly hasn’t been afraid to try his hand at many different themes and formats, and he certainly must have held the source material close to his heart.
In TPBABG 1-4 players work together Robinson Crusoe-style to complete the six “chapters” of the game. Everyone can control any character on their turn–which might disappoint some but is the only choice that makes sense given that not every character appears in every chapter.
The games chapters cover the main plot points of the film:
The game is card-driven, with players drawing from a main Story deck with four unranked suits. Players can also earn Special cards from a second deck by completing challenges or by picking up Miracle tokens from the board. Special cards have special powers (duh), and accumulate in the Story deck from chapter to chapter, so as a group players get stronger/more flexible as the story progresses–an elegant levelling mechanism which minimizes fiddliness.
Chapters each play out on a two-page spread of the Storybook, with a network of spaces representing the scene, surrounded on both sides by chapter-specific rules and challenges. Players take turns clockwise until all challenges are met or the chapter is “interrupted”, in which case they get one re-do and if they fail that then the game is over and you have to rewind to the beginning. “Interruption” can be triggered by chapter-specific events or by running out of Plot cards–so there’s no time for dilly-dally, shilly-shally, or fiddle-faddle.
Each player starts their turn by choosing one figure to move up to 2 spaces or two figures to move 1 space each. Then they play as many cards out of their hand as they want to complete challenges or trigger Special powers. They can also trade cards with other players or cash in Miracle tokens (which also accumulate over the game) to draw more cards from the Story deck or add a new Special card to their hand. After all cardplay is done they draw 2 new cards from the Story deck.
Next the player moves the Plot forward by revealing the top card of the numbered Plot deck and consulting that Chapter’s Plot table to see what that result might mean. Almost always it’s a Bad Thing, gumming things up for the players–not to mention simply running the clock down. Finally the player discards down to 6 cards if needed and play moves on to the next player.
And that’s basically it. It’s a race against time and surprisingly challenging at lower player counts (because you have fewer trading options). In fact, playing solo is very hard, to the point that I want to houserule either a larger hand size or a card market to trade with.
Each chapter takes about 15 minutes, which means the whole thing is playable in an evening, but you can “pause” the game between chapters and there’s a little section in the rules about how to do that. What is not made explicit is that you essentially need to follow this “pause” procedure every time you finish one chapter and move on to the next. It’s not a big deal, but it could/should have been dealt with in the final proofread stage.
The graphic design is an interesting compromise: instead of screen grabs from the film (as all other TPB games have done) Ravensburger decided to commission original artwork which obviously drew from the film but in a kind of Beaux-Arts style. It’s not 100% faithful (which might annoy some) but on the other hand gives the game a more storybook-ish quality (which is after all what it is). I happen to be fine with it, but ymmv.
When it all comes down to it, I think TPBABG achieves its goal very well indeed. You and your friends get to relive some of the best parts of the movie, quote some of the best lines, and in general have a good time. It’s definitely replayable, gameplay-wise, so its replay value is probably about the same as the movie’s–and I’ve seen TPB dozens of times and never get tired of it. So unless you can get your hands on a copy of the Princess Bride RPG, this is the closest you’ll get to buckling your swash and stick it to the Six-Fingered Man. And isn’t that what we all want?
Many thanks to Ravensburger NA for providing an advance copy of The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game for this article.