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Captive Review

Quick Look:
Captive is a single-player RPG graphic novel that combines a simple player sheet with a choose-your-own-adventure style story. Your daughter has been kidnapped by a cult and hidden somewhere in a giant labyrinthine mansion full of cultists, evil critters, and the occasional Lovecraftian terror. On the upside, you have a pistol!  

Designer: Emmanuel Manuro
Artist: Manuel Chevalier
Publisher: Van Ryder Games
Year Published:  2018
No. of Players: 1
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 30-130 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Captive. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


Rules and Setup:

You will need to print the character sheet from vanrydergames.com. There is one printed in the front of the book, but you'll need more. This mansion is unforgiving, and you only have 20 points of health.

The rules are one page long. Whether or not you're familiar with RPGs, you'll be ready to play in a minute or two. Your three stats (Strength, Dexterity, and Will) have a base of 5. You have 5 more points to distribute among those stats. Stats determine the outcome of situations in the story. Strength generally helps in combat. Dexterity helps you get the drop on attackers and dodge the many nasty surprises that await you. Will gives you the nerve to investigate the more disturbing things you find.

Time is a significant factor in Captive. You have 20 boxes that represent the time before your daughter is killed by the cult. Every time you run across a panel with an hourglass symbol, you will mark one of the boxes. A lot of things in the story depend on how many boxes you have ticked at the time you run across them.

You have three item slots. Once they are full, you have to drop something to pick a new item up.

Finally, there is a place for you to make notes.

That's all you need to know.

Theme and Mechanics:

The story starts abruptly. You see a kidnapping, then a ransom note. Three guys show up at a creepy mansion, and the action begins on page 7. Honestly, a little more setup would have been nice. My only real complaint about this game is that they chose to put all the story in the house. After a bunch of run-throughs, I still don't know a lot of the main character's backstory. The information is probably in there somewhere, probably right next to that flashlight I needed so many times.

I'd have liked the opening tell me who I am, who the guys with me are, and maybe a few hints about why I'm being targeted. It's not a big deal, though. There's a lot of story to discover. Once I got going, it sucked me in completely.

With 279 choices, this mansion is huge and easy to get lost in. Even when you know what you're looking for, stuff can be hard to find again. I've played through a bunch of times and I keep finding new stuff. There are items I know to look for that I've never found. I've rescued the daughter several times but never myself.

I really like the way it's laid out. There's a LOT of flipping back and forth, but finding your panel is easy. There are big numbers on each panel and little numbers at the bottom of the pages to help you quickly find the right page without seeing spoilers.

In addition to making decisions of where to go and how to handle various situations, you will be solving puzzles and searching for hidden numbers that lead you to clues, story details, items, and other (usually) useful stuff. Some of them are booby traps. Curiosity will help you find out more about what's going on, but it won't help you win. Most of the time when you get curious something will maim or kill you. The puzzles are handled really well. None of them are very hard, but they're done in a neat way.

Game Play:

Captive is a mashup of dungeon crawl RPG and atmospheric horror. After a confrontation with a cultist, you will choose one of two doors to enter. Each leads to three new doors. Each of them branches off creating an endless maze with unexpected interactions around every corner. There's so much to discover that it's fun to poke around until you die. At least half the rooms have something fun to encounter or discover.  It's very engaging and addictive. I keep running through it and having just as much fun as the first time.

Here's an example of a hidden clue:

See the tiny numbers on the coffee maker?

At the end, there are two pages of achievements that you can use to score your run.

Artwork and Components:
I have a prototype, so I can't say much about the components. This is a little smaller than a regular graphic novel. The pages are fairly thick, which makes flipping easy and helps decrease the wear. If this were a final product, I'd be completely satisfied.

One thing that's not likely to change is the fantastic artwork. Attention to detail can make or break a graphic novel. Manuel Chevalier did an amazing job setting the tone. I particularly liked his use of angles that provide an impression beyond the picture's contents. The hidden numbers are appropriately tricky to find, so I felt like I was searching the room for clues. There's an interesting color palate. It just occurred to me that the coloration could be a subtle clue. I'll have to pay attention to that next time I play.

The Good:
It's an RPG you can start and stop at any time. To save, use the character sheet as a bookmark.
It's cleverly executed, immersive, fun, and fairly tense.
It's a pretty good story. I wouldn't call it groundbreaking, but it's engaging and told well.
Great art and layout.
I loved how unpredictable it is. For instance, there are a bunch of items. Having them at the right time might save your life. At the wrong time, it might kill you. Sometimes you'll have the right item to do a big thing and "Unbelievable! Nothing moves, so you've wasted precious time and the element of surprise." Other things work, though. It makes trying really fun.

The Bad:
I feel like some opportunities were lost where the guy's friends were concerned.
I'd have liked to see some clues about what direction to go. There's a lot of fumbling around from room to room just to see what's there, and that makes it play a little more like a dungeon crawl than investigative horror.

Final Thoughts:
I've always loved choose-your-own-adventure books, but most are kid-lit. Captive is made for an adult audience. There is a lot of death and creepy stuff, but nothing over the top. I have been a horror geek for as long as I can remember, so I'm totally desensitized. I rarely use the word creepy or disturbing. While this isn't Junji Ito creepy (Please God make Junji Ito do a graphic novel RPG), this does fit the bill.

While this format may not have the freeform sandbox style you'd get from a DM, you also don't have to wait for somebody to run a game. It's not a huge investment of time where you have to make characters, learn how various mechanics work, make tons of notes, etc. You simply pick the book up and choose a path. I really enjoyed this and look forward to checking out more RPGs from this series.

For Players Who Like:
Atmospheric horror. Graphic novels. Role-playing. Exploration. Unpredictable storytelling. Choose-your-own-adventure books. Solo gameplay. H.P. Lovecraft (don't worry, it's not another Cthulhu game).

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Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Captive Review Captive Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on July 17, 2018 Rating: 5

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