A shadowy corruption has infected the land, and it’s up to these brave young adventurers to defend the world. Load up your save game, level up your heroes, and enjoy the cut-scene dialogues in The JRPG Tabletop Adventure Game!
[UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Kickstarter campaign was canceled on August 29 because the project was not gaining traction. Luke Peterschmidt of Fun to 11 wrote this post-mortem about the campaign. I hope it gets picked up by another publisher, because there’s some amazing stuff going on here, but for now you’ll have to just live vicariously through my description of the experience.]
What Is The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game?
The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game is an adventure game designed by Luke Peterschmidt and Paul Peterson for (ideally) 4 players, ages 12 and up, and takes an hour or two to play (per session). You’ll always have four characters in play, so if you have fewer than 4 players, some players will need to control multiple characters. Although the game is rated at 12 and up, mostly for game complexity, my 6-year-old was able to enjoy it as well, with some help with the rules. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $119 plus shipping for the full game. (There are also two other tiers, which will include other Fun to 11 products that ship now while you’re waiting for the JRPG TAG, which is expected to deliver in September 2020.)
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “JRPG,” it stands for “Japanese Role-Playing Game,” a style of videogame popularized in Japan that includes titles like the Final Fantasy series. While the term literally means an RPG made in Japan, it’s often used in a broader sense to include other games that share similar design features. The JRPG Tabletop Adventure Game is inspired by this style of videogame, but brings it to a tabletop game format.
The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, which includes only one particular story path—it’s estimated to be roughly a third of the total content that will be in the completed game. The component quality (as nice as it was) is also not final. I’ll list what was included in the prototype, but the final game will have much more not pictured here.
Because the game is story-based, I’ll try to avoid narrative spoilers, but will show you some components that are unlocked during play, without giving too much story context.
Here’s what’s included in the reviewer prototype (listed roughly in the order they’re pictured above, from left to right, top to bottom):
- 4 Player Upgrade boards
- 4 Player bags (each with 17 chips)
- 4 Player boards
- Card box
- 4 Game Books
- 4 sets of player components, each containing:
- Health/Mana Tracker
- 5 Shadow tokens
- 6 Aggro tokens
- Player mover
- Miscellaneous tokens (for advanced moves)
- 24 Grind dice (six-sided dice, 8 each of red, blue, and yellow)
- Atlas tokens: location tiles, Party mover
- Encounter Board components:
- 12 Health dice (10-sided)
- 6 Corrupted tokens
- 6 Defeated tokens
- Battle Book
- Grind Board
- Encounter Board
- Additional chips (for advanced moves)
As you can see, there’s a whole lot in the game. The game books will be perfect bound instead of spiral bound, roughly 350 pages each. (Each player gets a copy of the book to follow along as you play.) The artwork, by Jordan W. Martin, is fantastic and fits the weird world of the game. The monsters range from slimes to mechs to sentient food, all of them illustrated in a cartoony style. Even though the gameplay is inspired by JRPG videogames, I’m kind of glad they didn’t go with a pixel art style (which may have been expected) because this artwork is so fun to look at.
One of the features of JRPG TAG is that you learn as you play. The game has a one-page “Loading Screen” in the box, and the idea is that you read that page, and then you just dive right into playing, with instructions for specific situations provided when you reach them. Because of that, I think it makes sense to delve into more details about the components in the context where they appear.
How to Play The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game
Just read the Loading Screen, and you’re ready to go, right?
Well, okay, not quite. The rulebook for JRPG TAG doesn’t work quite the same way as most games, so this How to Play section will be atypical. I’ll walk you through various pieces of what happens as you play—though I’ll also mention that it is a game that you learn as you play. So if you want to be totally surprised, just skim over this section and don’t get too bogged down!
First, the setup.
After everyone chooses a character on the Loading Screen, each player gets a Game Book and then turns to the page indicated for their character. The gamebook shows you where to place the few character items on your player board, and then also provides some instructions on setting up the main area. Each character is given one task to set up, which speeds things up.
Your player board has various spaces: a health/mana tracker, your current level (which shows your maximum health and mana), various equipment spaces, gold and other loot, a token tracker area where you place tokens that have been drawn from your bag, and space for three moves, each tied to a different gem color.
Eventually you’ll end up with something like this photo. The character boards are on the edges. In the center (from left to right) are the Grind board, the Atlas, an empty space, the Encounter board, and the card box. As you play, the Game Book alternates between instructions and dialogue between the characters (and NPCs, which are linked to particular players). Every so often there are big STOP signs that indicate you should stop reading until something is resolved.
The Atlas is your mini-map. Each page of the Atlas has instructions on one side, as well as some flavor text describing the area. The flavor text in the game (and the dialogue) is a lot of fun to read, filled with humor and often breaking the fourth wall to refer to the fact that the characters are in a JRPG. The left-hand page tucks underneath the map once you’ve read the flavor text and instructions.
Each location has its own set of tiles, which are placed on the indicated spaces. (Many spaces have the same illustration, so these tiles are randomized.) The party mover shows all four characters in one standee, and shows your current location. As you move around on the mini-map, you’ll turn to specific pages if the space indicates, or else reveal the tiles when you reach them. Some of the tiles have page numbers that will send you to particular encounters, and others show a number of slimes that let you “grind” to earn loot and work toward leveling up.
If you find some slimes, you flip a Grind card, and check whether you’re facing one, two, or three slimes. Each one shows how many red, blue, and yellow dice to roll. Dice are assigned to players based on what they roll. Red dice damage your health, and blue dice drain mana. Yellow dice give you treasure. You get a chance to resist the damage by drawing tokens from your bag and trying to match the particular rune shown at the top of the card.
In some cases, you’ll have a longer encounter, which is a battle against six enemies. Each page of the Battle Book is a different encounter, with setup instructions and special encounter rules printed on the left-hand page (along with more flavor text), and then the six enemies and their attack abilities on the right.
Dice are used to track each enemy’s health, and the back cover of the Battle Book extends to provide six spaces for the adventurers to set up for battle. These encounters will last until all the enemies are defeated, or all the heroes have been knocked out—or if the Golden Beetbird (at the bottom) gets too corrupted.
During the hero turns, you get to pick a move and a target, and draw three tokens from your bag. Some moves will cost mana, and some are free. Each move shows the number and type of gem you’ll need in order to do damage, and of course some moves will have other effects as well. Tokens are placed onto the tracker area of your board until you hit at least 12, and then you refill your bag and also gain a refill bonus (refilling mana and health in some cases). Aggro tokens are placed on the monster you hit, because now it’s mad at you and is more likely to attack you instead of anyone else.
Of course, the monsters get a turn to hit you back! You draw a Monster Attack card, which shows all six monsters and what each one does. Some monsters might miss entirely, but others will attack using a blue, purple, or pink crystal—the effects are printed on the page next to each monster. Each monster will also pick a target according to the card: the character that matches its aggro token, the first character straight ahead of it, or a randomly chosen hero. Finally, monsters will become corrupted according to this card. When a corrupt monster hits you, you add a Shadow token to your bag: each time one is drawn, the Golden Beetbird gets hit.
Whether you win or lose the battle, the bottom of the encounter page tells you what page to turn to in the Game Book, which then continues the story.
There are a couple ways that your characters will become more powerful. One is just as you make progress through the story—you’ll get training or learn new techniques, represented by the cards on your player board. Most moves also come with a specific token that gets added to your bag, one that’s particularly good to draw when you do that move. If you replace the move, you remove the token from your bag.
Throughout the game, you’ll also level up, usually after winning a battle. You’ll get a new Level card that goes onto your player dashboard, increasing your maximum health and mana as well as your refill bonus.
Finally, there are ways to earn upgrade points, which can be spent to improve the tokens in your bag. Each player has their own upgrade board with a sort of tech tree: you have to upgrade tokens along the paths, but you can decide different directions where they branch. Each time you upgrade a token, you put the new one in the bag, and the old one face-down on the upgrade board.
The upgrade boards are dual-layered with a hole to help push out the chips. Printed underneath each token is the basic token that it replaces, so you can find the right match and place it into the upgrade board. Upgrading your tokens adds more gems and runes, so that you’re more likely to succeed with your moves.
The cards are all numbered at the top, and organized in a card box (which I imagine will be much larger in the final game). Throughout the game, the Game Book will tell you when to find certain cards from the box, which can include loot and treasure, curses, and more. There are also many NPCs (non-player characters) who show up from time to time, and there are cards representing them as well, so you can link them to a particular player, who will read their parts. It’s always exciting when you get the high-numbered cards because the back of the box is where the new moves are stored!
As you play and level up, the monsters get stronger, too, of course. The reason there are so many health dice for the monsters is because pretty soon you’re in the double digits for health, and a lot of wild effects when they attack.
For instance, you can get set on fire, which does damage to you every turn until you manage to put it out. There are monsters that do Area of Effect damage that hits everyone, or even some that will move the heroes around so that it’s harder to protect those who typically hide out in the back.
The game takes place over three Acts (and a Prologue). There will be different choices for each Act (though the reviewer copy only had one of each), and there are also points within the stories where certain players will be called upon to make a decision. The Acts that you choose and the decisions you make during the game will determine the form of the final Mega Boss at the end.
I’ve blurred out some of the text here, but you can see that the final boss isn’t just printed on this page of the Battle Book, but is made up of several cards. These cards are selected based on your choices throughout the game, and each one has a small bit of dialogue on the back to tie it into the story. This is where you find out whether you’re truly the chosen ones…
(As you can see, we did managed to defeat the Mega Boss, though we had some really close calls.)
After playing through the story, you can reset everything and play again, choosing different paths, which will then result in a different story and a different Mega Boss to face at the end.
The game is designed to be played in about four sessions, with “save points” at the end of the Prologue and each Act. The Acts do get progressively harder, so the game sessions got longer. While the listing says it takes one or two hours, we did have some sessions that topped three hours (though keep in mind that I was also playing with a 6-year-old).
Why You Should Play The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game
First off: any game that all three of my kids (ages 15, 12, and 6) are not just willing but eager to play with me is a pretty big deal. My oldest has been getting into RPGs with some classmates, but doesn’t typically join in for game nights. My middle daughter loves games and usually joins me for a game or two until it’s her bedtime, but she can be a bit picky about which games to play. And my youngest loves playing games, too, but even though she’s great at reading and learning rules, it can still be difficult for her to pick up on more complex strategy. Put all of those together, and it’s rare to find a game that all four of us can play that holds everyone’s interest—for hours at a time.
But the JRPG TAG did just that. I introduced it to my daughters this weekend, and we immediately fell in love with it (though there was a small fight over who got to play as Kosh, the dark mage). The silly humor, the fun characters and their dialogue, and the variety of different types of gameplay kept everyone engaged and having fun. The encounters can be challenging, and figuring out which enemy to attack and what move to use can be difficult, but as we played we started to figure out how to use our characters well. (That didn’t prevent me from drawing so poorly at times that Dylan the fighter totally whiffed his attacks.)
For those who like tech trees and upgrades, the player upgrade boards give you lots to think about. Do you diversify and get a little of each gem, or do you double down on one particular move? (There are four different gem colors, but each player only uses three.)
In future plays, you’ll also save the moves that you learned in previous play-throughs, giving you more options each time you earn an upgraded move. That doesn’t happen in the first time, but I’m looking forward to those expanded options.
For those who like stories, the JRPG has a lot of fun stories included, with lively NPCs. There are hints that some of the characters have some secrets—maybe we’ll find out more about those if we pick different paths? One of the acts we played included an island called Citylandia, and it was definitely a parody of Portland. As a Portlander myself, I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted, but we definitely caught a lot of the references in that chapter. I also loved the different personalities that the characters had: Dylan liked to charge in, never mind talking about strategy. Sourt (the white mage) spoke in cryptic phrases, kind of like the Sphinx in Mystery Men. Gherky (the rogue) for some reason was always picking on Kosh, and she was also always hungry. And Kosh was usually cheerful and optimistic, despite being the dark mage.
The first time through, there’s definitely that sense of discovery and wonder that you get when playing a legacy-style game: revealing new cards, discovering how strong you get when you level up, learning how new moves work, and so on. Unlike a legacy game, though, nothing is destroyed or permanently changed, so you can still reset the game and play again, but with a totally different outcome. My kids are already excited to play it again, though we’ll have to wait to get the rest of the content! In the meantime, my oldest daughter has been making fan art of her character:
A couple of caveats: Depending on your gaming group, the 4-player design may not be ideal. You need all four characters for the story and the game, and it’s possible for players to run multiple characters. (I managed two character for the Prologue the first evening before my 6-year-old joined in the next morning.) However, it’s still best for a group of four.
It also has a hefty price tag, and so I understand that’s not for everyone. I feel like the experience I’ve had with my kids on a single play-through was exciting and engaging, and that’s hard to put a price tag on. But the material value of the components will also be significant: six large books, the dual-layered upgrade boards, hundreds of cards and tokens… this is going to be a massive game. JRPG TAG also won’t be hitting retail, because it’s such an expensive game to produce. It’s not often that I’ve seen a game publisher put a limit on the total reward levels.
When I first heard about the JRPG TAG from Luke Peterschmidt a while back, I was really curious how it would work. He described a game that taught you as you played, like a videogame tutorial, but also incorporated story and battles and leveling up. Having played through it once, I’m pretty convinced. Even with a few wrinkles here and there due to the prototype being incomplete, the JRPG TAG sucked us into its world and turned us into adventurers for four days. And when it was all over, we were ready to dive back in again!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the The JPRG Tabletop Adventure Game Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.