The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Captive
Captive is one of a set of five Graphic Novel Adventures game books that are being imported to the U.S. by Van Ryder Games from French publisher Makaka Editions. Each of the five books tells a stand-alone story with different themes and art styles, and unique ways for the reader to interact with the books. In Your Town, for example, the reader becomes the mayor of a small wild west town. In the cartoonish Sherlock Holmes: Four Investigations, the reader will be tasked to solve mysteries as either Sherlock or his companion, Dr. John Watson.
These books create a solo game experience that is similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books from yesteryear. However, they are graphic novel-based instead of being text-based, and allow for more interaction as the reader has some input into the character’s creation and will be able to interact with items in the story in a deeper way. I recently had the opportunity to play a preview copy of Captive, a dark story where the reader takes on the role of a man trying to rescue his daughter from kidnappers, and wanted to share my experience.
The copy of Captive I received was a very high quality softcover book, but note that the production copies will be hardcover books. As this is a reprint of an existing European series, the artwork is complete, and it is top-notch, and quickly pulled me into the narrative of the story. The art in Captive is easily on par with graphic novels being put out today by the top comic publishers.
The book is the sole component, making this an exceptionally portable option for solo gaming while travelling, or other times when space is tight. The only thing you need to add is a pencil and paper -- and while any paper will do, Van Ryder will be uploading fancy character sheets for each of the books.
I won’t go into too much detail, as I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, but I’ll give a basic overview of how playing Captive worked, so you have an idea of what to expect.
Before the start of the story, there is one page of instructions that will direct you to fill out your character’s stats. Each stat -- strength, dexterity, and willpower -- starts at a base five, and you can add five additional points among the three attributes as you see fit. At different points in the story, you will be directed to different pages depending on your decisions. A fictional example: You try to budge the door. If your strength is 8 or higher, go to 188, otherwise go to 37. You are also told to start with 20 health, 0 time spent, and with three inventory spots to hold items you may find along the way. That’s it.
At this point, the graphic novel’s story starts in earnest, with a few introductory pages that set the scene before you have any decisions to make, and then it is left literally in your hands. The numbers corresponding to the panels you should proceed to are drawn right into the graphic novel, but are still clear and easy to follow. There are also hidden numbers in some panels, however, which are not nearly as obvious, but happen at points in the story where you’re already scanning the page in an effort to find clues about your kidnapped daughter. At some points, I found there to be a lot of options regarding directions to move in, and accidentally backtracked to the same room, so I recommend keeping a finger on the last page you were reading while seeking out new panels.
Captive is unlike anything I've experienced before, and felt like a combination of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, an escape room in a box, and a roleplaying game. The artwork is spectacular, and pulled me headfirst into the story, giving credence to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I have not been so immersed into the narrative story of a game since playing BioShock on my PlayStation 3 almost a decade ago, and I’ve certainly never been so immersed in a solitaire tabletop game.
The game is quite challenging, and there is definitely replayability in finding a way to succeed, as well as in discovering all the intricacies of the story, but even if you only play each book once to its successful completion, you’ll have gotten much more than your money’s worth.
If you are looking for a solo experience that transcends the limitations of the genre and tells an interactive story that gives you a good amount of agency, you simply can’t go wrong with the Graphic Novel Adventures series. If this particular story seems too dark -- and make no mistake, it is dark -- there are four others, featuring bounty hunters, werewolves, cowboys, and Sherlock Holmes himself, that each play with slightly different rules and focuses, and have different art styles and overall tones. I’d highly recommend checking them out.
The Graphic Novel Adventures Kickstarter campaign can be found here, and is running until April 24.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Captive from Joshua Acosta of the WDYPTW podcast, who received it from the publisher.