The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Mystery
Last year I took a look at Captive, one of the game books that made up a set of five Graphic Novel Adventures that was imported to the U.S. by Van Ryder Games from French publisher Makaka Editions. That set successfully funded on Kickstarter last April, with 3,850 backers raising almost $300K for the project. Considering that success, it's no surprise that Van Ryder decided to import more of these books, and a second set of five -- Mystery, Pirates: The Great Chase, Pirates: The City of Skulls, Sherlock & Moriarty: Associates, and Sherlock Holmes: The Challenge of Irene Adler -- just funded on Kickstarter this month.
Fellow Punchboard Media creator Theo Strempel, a.k.a. Geeky Gaymer Guy, was kind enough to pass along his preview copy of Mystery to me. For the record, Theo's thoughts were, "I've been LIVING my superhero fantasy in Mystery from Van Ryder Games!! The art is super cute and reminds me of a Pixar movie. I love how the progression works in this choose your own adventure. It's my first GNA book and I already want to play them ALL!!" While I didn't get a chance to check it out before the Kickstarter ended, I still wanted to add some of my thoughts on Mystery, now that I’ve had the chance to experience it.
Like all of the books in the series, Mystery creates a solo game experience that is similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure book. 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.
The preview copy of Mystery was a very high quality softcover book, but the publisher noted that the production copies will be hardcover books, the same as with the first set they imported. As this is a reprint of an existing European series, the artwork is complete, and it is top-notch. The book is the sole component, which makes for 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 printable character sheets for each of the books onto their website.
As with my initial impression of Captive, 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 Mystery worked, so you have an idea of what to expect.
The story starts with a few introductory pages that set the scene before you have any decisions to make, followed by a page of instructions that will direct you to fill out your character’s superpowers, allowing you two points to spread out among four categories -- flight, strength, super-senses, and super rich. You begin as a Level 0 superhero, looking to level up by earning Hero Points in order to attract the attention of The League of Champions. Your character's abilities will determine how you can handle potential conflicts. So a panel may say "If you have 1 flight point go to panel 237, if you have 1 strength point, go to panel 86." If you have both, you can choose which superpower you think is more appropriate for that situation.
The story then starts in earnest, with you looking at a map of the city and the different spots you can visit, all of which have numbers leading to different panels. At some points, panels will tell you to return to the previous panel, so I recommend keeping a finger on the last page you were reading while visiting new panels.
Mystery has brighter art and a much lighter tone than the previous two graphic novel adventures I'd played, Captive and Tears of a Goddess. I think this would be a great entry to play along with a child, or to give to an older child to play by themselves. The story is also a bit more linear, in the sense that it funnels back at the beginning of each new level -- and this is not a spoiler, it clearly shows this on the character sheet. That said, how you decide to play each level has a lot of freedom, and allows for a good deal of exploration. The level system also gave the story natural points to pause the book, if you wanted to leave it and come back to it later. In my case, I completed levels 0-1 in about two hours, put the book down, and finished levels 2-3 the next day in another two hour session.
My favorite new addition to Mystery was the QR codes. In some panels, there will be a QR code that you can scan with your cell phone, providing you additional details about that location or character. While they are completely optional, and the book can be done entirely without them, they made the experience much more thematic, and added some great color, and a few of the hints proved quite useful.
The game had some challenging moments, especially a few panels that featured puzzles, 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 it once to its successful completion, you’ll have more than gotten 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.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Mystery from Theo Strempel, who received it from the publisher.