You’ve always dreamed of finally being allowed to set off on your own adventure. Here it is, the opportunity has come in the form of an important package with a distant recipient, assigned to you to deliver. Grab your trusty slingshot, wolf down some breakfast, and off you go! What could go wrong … venturing into the dark and uncertain world with nothing but your naive trust of everyone, and some dubious directions. Spoilers, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Let us choose our own adventure and find out!
1-2 Players | A Few Hours | Designed by Gregory Favro
Spire’s End: Hildegard is a spin off game of the original Spires End game. It is a card driven choose-your-own-adventure narrative game in which the player takes control of Hildegard, a young girl with an adventurous spirit, hard set on having an adventure of her own. Favro Games (essentially Greg Favro) brought this beautiful game to life via Kickstarter in mid 2021, becoming available for retail purchase at the end of 2022. The game is illustrated by Diego Frias and Audrey Rouvin. I’ve not played the original game, but I hear that Hildegard provides a lighter look into the world of Spire’s End, and I’m not sure I want to know how much more challenging the original game is after tacking this one myself.
This review won’t have any story spoilers, just don’t pay close attention to the card text in the pictures.
How does it work?
Spire’s End: Hildegard is a choose your own adventure style card game with a little bit of push your luck to complete challenges and combats. After a lengthy setup consisting of pulling the deck out of the box and setting it on the table, you are ready to play. (I joke … but if you’ve played before and your past self didn’t put the cards back in order, you will have some sorting to do here).
The game begins simply by drawing card 1 off the top of the deck. The card begins to outline your adventure, and will instruct you to randomly draw one of a few starting cards that will set the opening scene of the game, present you with your character card and starting items, and push you off into the world of Spire’s End. At its core, there are essentially two kinds of things that you can be presented with in the game: decisions, or challenges/combats.
If a card has a decision for you, it’s usually something pretty simple like ‘Do you want to go to the Inn, or do you want to go to the Market’. Depending on what you want to do, the card will instruct you to draw another card to continue your journey. More advanced decisions might have requirements, such as payment or possession of an item.
Challenges or Combat are dealt with with the dice in a push your luck manner. When confronted with a challenge the player will be given a number of dice, and have a number of ‘sets’ (rounds) to complete the challenge in. The player rolls the dice hoping to gain targets, which are built from partial pieces depicted on the dice faces. You are able to re-roll the dice a number of times before committing to your roll, and often having items or other abilities will give you more control over the outcome.
The player adventures through the world making decisions and meeting challenges. Decision outcomes can be good or bad, same with challenge outcomes. Sometimes that means you will gain something good or be put at a disadvantage. You might complete an objective, or, your adventure might come to an end. When that happens, good or bad, you are free to begin again, or reset to a checkpoint if you made a note of it. Your next adventure will surely be quite different, and you can use what you’ve learnt this time through to your advantage!
What do I think?
I’ve played through the game once so far, which took place over 3 sessions, maybe 4 hours in total. Normally I wouldn’t review a game after just one play, but as the mechanics themselves are straightforward, and used in a piecewise fashion to drive the story. In my opinion, I’ve experienced the ‘gameplay loop’ many times and feel like I’ve got a good understanding of that. I also think I am safe to make (spoiler free) comments on the content of the game, which is the main feature of Spire’s End: Hildegard. While I’ve only experienced some fraction of the game content, it is clearly consistent in quality.
A few people have asked me about the ‘2 player’ mode. While I haven’t played it myself, I did have a bit of a look at the section of the rules and the two player cards. Playing with two players you essentially share the experience between the two players. You more or less act as one entity but with a few extra abilities. You need to take turns doing the challenges and will both follow the same path through the game. I would say the experience would only differ a tiny bit from simply playing the game in one player mode with two people collaborating to make the decisions.
The Good Stuff
- This game has stunning, stunning artwork. I absolutely love it, it’s easily in my top 3 favourite games for artwork if not the favourite. There’s something about the sketch art style that really evokes the fantasy world for me and makes it feel warm and comfortable.
- Overall the game has a very polished presentation. The graphic design is really good, and the theming is well done. The components are also really nice, lots of custom dice and multi-use coloured cubes.
- The world-building is one of the cornerstones of this game. I feel like I’ve been thrown into one of my favourite fantasy novels and now I’m in control! Playing through the game as Hildegard who has little experience with the world is portrayed excellently – you are often faced with two poor decisions that stem from her naivety and you have to help make the best of the situation. The content (both narrative and illustrative) is truly what makes me love this game.
- I found it interesting that you don’t get to see chunks of the game each play through. This basically makes me happy there is some replayability in the game. It’s quite visible as I can see the parts of the decks I didn’t get to explore as I play through the game.
- I found the combat/challenges to be quite fun despite the basic dice rolling mechanic. I’m not usually big on a dice roll especially in a solo game, but it works really well in this game, and felt thankfully quite forgiving to me.
- The game is very easy to pause, pack into the box, and pull out again later to keep playing from where you were up to.
- One of the fascinating things about this game is the introduction of new mechanics (mini games) to portray various challenges as you play. You will pull a card that will have some new rules for what you have to do to pass a test or defeat a special enemy.
- Despite the paths and choice in the game being fixed, you really do feel like you are making meaningful decisions and exploring somewhere new. The wonder and mystery of a young person’s first adventure really shines through and I think that demonstrates a good design and great narrative.
The Bad Stuff
- Completionists may need to play through the game many times to ‘see’ everything and that could be annoying. I can see the beginning of the game becoming well worn – however the manual does suggest a method for creating ‘checkpoints’ as you move to new areas as a solution to this.
- I found the rulebook in general to … not be great. For what is a simple enough game I had a hard time picking it up initially. Several rules appeared to be very vaguely explained in the rulebook. I eventually figured out that a lot of critical rules were contained within example sections (which I usually ignore in rulebooks) and not defined elsewhere. As an example, the rules for dice mechanics not complete or clear without reading the examples. I had so many questions and only 1-2 ‘gameplay paths’ were presented. I ended up settling on what I felt made the most sense to me. I think the rulebook could be fixed with some work, but once I got the hang of things, as I said, the game play is pretty simple and you will rarely need to refer back to the rulebook again.
- Reference card? I played through the whole game with the rulebook open to the page listing the available status effects… I even noted down my annoyance at there being no reference card only to find it when I got to Chapter 4 and opened up the last deck of cards … it was at the bottom of that last deck!
- Sometimes, the additional mechanics added mid-gameplay for special events were vague and required judgement calls on the rules. Again I usually went with what made sense to me, sometimes I think I might have made the game a little easier than intended…
- There is an upper limit to how many times you can play through the game. While there are 20 or so endings I’m sure the narrative and events would become stale before you explored them all. But I see this as a fun narrative experience, like reading a book, you might got back a few times to experience it again or revisit it a few years later, but you will overall be satisfied with your experience of the story from the plays you make.
I really enjoyed my initial experience of Spire’s End: Hildegard, and I’m definitely keen to dive back on for a few more rounds and to check out Spire’s End (the original game) too. I think that something important to keep in mind when approaching this game is, it’s sort of more of an interactive storytelling experience than a game. I think the world-building, narrative and illustration is where this game truly shines, if you are a hard euro or abstract mechanics sort of person, I’m not sure it’s for you. But I really enjoyed it, and it’s totally beautiful. If you want to know more about the game or pick up a copy for yourself, check out Favro Games website!
The copy of Spire’s End: Hildegard used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Favro Games