Designer: Gordon LeVasseur
Publisher: Upper Deck Entertainment
Year Published: 2021
As the old axiom goes, “Two is company ; Three is a crowd”. As much as I love board games with large player counts, sometimes, all I want is a good two player game. So when I caught wind of Keepers of the Questar from Upper Deck games, I was very keen to get my hands on what the publishers were calling not just a 2-player exclusive game, but also an open-ended competitive dungeon crawler.
Being that this is my favorite genre, I jumped on the opportunity to see what this game is all about!
The premise of the gameplay is simplicity in its purest form : Two opposing factions are searching and vying for the Questar, the usual Ultimate Relic of the Land.
Each player will control a group of adventurers, leading them through an unexplored dungeon hoping to uncover this treasure, while simultaneously playing the role of Quest Master, leading their primary competitors (the second player) into a dungeon they have personally constructed in hopes of leading them to their doom. Whosoever locates the Questar first and escapes becomes the winner and the Keeper of the Questar, inspiring tales of heroic deeds for ages to come!
Upon first opening the package containing this game, I was pleasantly surprised by the form factor it came in. While I was in no sense expecting a large box, such as with Catan, or Clank!, I was nevertheless taken aback when seeing that it was substantially bigger than something like Sushi Go! or Boss Monster. So my initial impression was that it would be a welcome addition to my shelf, occupying a space that was neither too large nor too small.
The innards within the box, however, were not what I would call superlative, for the most part. There were a lot of cardboard tokens that were of passing quality, perhaps most comparable to Gloomhaven in terms of their construction and durability.
There are 8 Adventurer cards to be used by players in the game that, while artistically fitting and good, nevertheless felt a bit too thin for my liking—even just a tad more thickness would have made things feel less flimsy for these, but what’s done is done, and there is no turning back the clock now to remedy this, so there is little use complaining.
What did stand out from a production standpoint to me were two durable Quest Master screens (similar to DnD Dungeon Master Screens used for obscuring player views) and the ample supply of Quest sheets that will help players enjoy this game many times before needing to print or obtain more.
There is also a series of 8 double-sided maps (4 Adventurer maps and 4 Quest Master ones). It should also be noted that these supplied maps are of outstanding quality—now this is what “thickness” is all about!
The Rulebook is clear, well-detailed, and pleasing to look at, although rather than being a “book”, I was surprised to find that unfolds like a magazine poster, which left me feeling like I was orating an edict from Augustus Caesar to the gentry when attempting to read it (“Hear, ye! Hear, ye!).
Aside from a few issues (which I shall describe later), everything was intuitive and easy to understand. There was certainly no need to spend more than 10 minutes learning the rules, which is much appreciated these days!
Getting things started, each player takes a Quest sheet, a dungeon screen, and takes turns selecting Adventurers until each player has 4 characters to use. They also “select” a mode to play. While the Quest sheets allude to different modes of play and have check marks for “Rescue the Captive” and “Clean out the Infestation”, there are actually no instructions for these within the Rules, what I felt was rather peculiar. More on this later.
As such, the default mode of play for most players will be “Retrieve the Questar”. The objective, pure and simple, is to explore, find the Questar, and escape the dungeon.
Each player then gets an assortment of tokens, which are as follows:
Traps (Level 1, 2, and 3)
Monsters (Level 1, 2 and 3)
Dungeon Entrance token
Dungeon Exit Token
Questar token (representing the relic you need to obtain)
There are also heart tokens and numbered tokens that will be used to represent damage characters take and experience they receive while in the dungeon.
Lastly, there are 6 hexagonal token each player receives that are inscribed with both letters and numbers. These will be described in greater detail later.
Each player also takes two cardboard standees, one of which represents their party, the other which marks the position of the opposing party within their self-crafted dungeon.
Now the fun part begins! Each player first determines what kinds of threats are represented in their dungeon, and assigns a monster or trap to their numbered tokens.
For example, a player may decide that their level 1 monsters will be skeletons, while the level 2 monster tokens will all be arachnids.
A level 1 trap may do damage, while a level 3 trap may cause a player to lose an entire turn!
Players then decide if they want items / treasures in their dungeon. If so, values for these are now assigned. The default choices offered are Experience Potion, Resurrection Potion or a Mimic chest that will instead turn into a monster. Note that there is only 1 chest per dungeon.
Next, players reveal the starting location to each other, and place their own respective standees on the starting location designated by the opposing Quest Master. The maps are designated in rows and columns that is quite reminiscent of Battle Ship, so it is quite easily to instruct the other player what to do, ie, “You start on G4”.
Players will then proceed to take turns. The active player will state what they intend to do with their Adventuring Party, (represented by the red or blue standee). Having one Exploration Point available per each adventurer that is still alive in their party, they may use these to perform the following actions :
—At the commencement of their turn, they may consume all of their Exploration Points to recover one Hit Point for an adventurer.
—They may use an Exploration Point to Investigate a tile adjacent to their current location. This allows players to know threats or items that are in close proximity without triggering a fight or trap.
—They may move one space per Exploration Point, with a player usually declaring something such as “I will move one space west on to point C7” on the map grid.
Walls and obstructions are clearly denoted in red lines—Players cannot look or move through walls, unless a special exception or ability grants it.
If a player moves onto a monster or trap, it is immediately revealed to them, and the current Quest Master initiates an encounter.
Remember those 6 Hexagonal tokens that each player has? In a rather distinct fashion, encounters in Keepers of the Questar are not handled using dice at all!
Rather, they are handled with a unique guessing game that pits players in a direct match to outdo each other in predictive ability. Depending on the monster levels and abilities, the Quest Master will select one of the Hexagonal tiles that are numbered 1-6. A low level monster may require they select a 1-4 value token, while a higher level monster may require selecting a value from 1-6. This token is then kept hidden from the Adventuring party, who will then attempt to guess what number the Quest Master selected. If they guess correctly, they automatically win the fight, and gain a number of Experience Points equivalent to the level of monster they defeated. If they guessed incorrectly, they suffer 1 point of damage per incorrect guess until they manage to correctly discern the number that the Quest Master chose, in addition to other consequences denoted on the Monster Abilities section of each player’s Dungeon Screen.
Additional side effects of guessing incorrectly can be loss of remaining Exploration Points, movement, or even subsequent turns! Ouch!
If damage is taken, the active player can assign damage to any adventurer in their party. If the adventurer is assigned as many damage tokens as they have Hearts (health), this party member dies, and the player has one less Exploration Point to use on subsequent turns.
Once the encounter is completed, the adventuring player places a marker with a check mark to show they completed an encounter on this particular space (the Quest Master simply flips their respective monster token over to the side with the check mark, since it is already present on their dungeon map).
If a player managed to gain Experience during a monster fight, they may assign the Experience to any adventurer in their party, potentially gaining new abilities! Assigning a total of 1 point in a particular adventurer will gain them a level 1 ability, 3 cumulative points nets them a Level 2 ability, and a total of 6 points attributed to an adventurer yield a powerful Level 3 ability. These abilities may be used once per adventurer per player turn, and include a diverse range of effects that allow teleportation, damage reduction, enhanced healing , trap detection, free guesses during monster fights, and more! Overall, these seem to be well balanced and do not offer a lot of overlap in functionality, meaning that for the most part, each adventurer feels their own person.
Traps normally trigger immediately upon landing on them, but some characters sport the ability to disable them with varying degrees of success. These character abilities give a limited opportunity to disarm the trap, and are handled similarly to monster encounters — the Quest Master chooses one letter from the word TRAP and the opposing player has a chance to assume the letter that was chosen. If they guess correctly, the trap has no side effects, otherwise, they suffer the full effect of the trap selected, as denoted again in the Quest Master’s screens.
Once the Adventuring Party has exhausted all of their Exploration Points, there is one last thing for them to do ; donning their Quest Master’s hat, they may opt to move one of the monsters in their crafted dungeon one space, maneuvering it into a position that aligns with their current strategy, which may include initiating conflict or direct obstruction of dungeon corridors.
The next player then proceeds to take their turn and advance their party through the dungeon as described.
Play continues until one contestant locates the Questar, finds the dungeon exit, and proceeds to move their adventuring party to this location. Otherwise, should one player’s entire party meet its demise, the opposing player will win the game.
Critical Analysis :
Prior to having seen Keepers of the Questar, I found it rather odd that I had been thinking of the old classic Battleship game quite often for several weeks. While admittedly not the greatest game ever created, there is something of a fond reminiscence that I had been experiencing in my memory of playing that particular game, and for some unknown reason, I had been undergoing not just a longing for this particular game, but also a desire to see someone build upon this classic engine. Because, let’s face it, there can only be so much fun to be had in a game with so much random guessing and otherwise “static” or “non-moving” “interaction”.
I am hoping that the creators of Keepers of the Questar aren’t offended by such a comparison, but after a quick perusal of other gaming message boards, it seems that I am not the only one to have observed that Keepers of the Questar feels like Battleship thrown into a dungeon crawl environment and injected with a super serum growth hormone. The result feels like a sort of Super Battleship, that compensates for some of the more static and boring elements of the original game by allowing features such as movement, varying threat types, and Level Ups.
Now is the game fun? Well…yes. But even though I could and would describe it as such , that would not be my first word to describe it.
More than anything else, I would characterize Keepers of the Questar as a “diversion”.
To explain what I mean by this, I will note that my wife, having been born outside of North America, had never played Battleship at all, was quick to point out after playing Questar that it felt surprisingly long for a game of its type. In her view, this was the result of the super methodical approach that players might have to take to explore every nook and cranny of the dungeon they find themselves in. This was not only in alignment with my own view of Keepers of the Questar but equally applies to Battleship as well.
Remember that feeling of getting “miss” after painful “miss” in Battleship as a result of our inability to correctly predict and outwit our opponents’ placement strategy? That feeling is present and abundant in Keepers of the Questar, and remains fully intact. Does this sometimes make the game take a long time (Longer than the stated 45 minutes on the box)?
Yes. But I would say that this is part of the game’s charm.
I have many memories as a pre-teen or teenager of being stuck in an after-school supervision program on a rainy day with nothing to do for hours waiting for parents to pick me up after school. Or other such days where a friend and I desperately needed something to pass the time or otherwise die of sheer boredom. Battleship again, is not admittedly anything remotely close to the “Greatest Game of All Time”, (I would rank that game’s “Fun” factor about a 5) but it does have that one singular quality that it excels at due to the precision guesswork it can take ; it is a master Time Killer.
Having later directed a number of programs for K-8 graders over the course of more than 15 years, it was similarly observed on my part that many children treat Battleship in the same way.
With this being as such, one of my first recommendations for Keepers of the Questar is for anyone who spends a lot of time working with kids, particularly 10+ year olds.
That is not to say that adults will not have fun ; but I will reiterate that it was quite an amazing first-time observation that my wife had for Keepers of the Questar—it does indeed best exemplify itself as a great form of diversion more than anything else.
Other “positive” features of the game are more of a “hit” or “miss” (hah!) in terms of how well we reacted to them. While we genuinely appreciate the effort the makers put into the game, we felt that too much was left ambiguous or un clarified.
Part of the reason for this, according to the developer, is they want gamers to have an open-ended experience where they can create their own encounters, items, monsters, and more. And at face value, I would normally take this approach to be not only welcoming but highly lauded.
However, we were a bit disappointed that more options were not presented for us right out-of-the -gate.
For example, all of the level 1 monsters are virtually the same in everything other than name ; A Skeleton is the same as a Goblin which is the same as a Zombie, with virtually no distinction between them. They all simply require a correct guess of a 1-4 number to vanquish.
Likewise, you may remember that we mentioned the Quest sheets have an option for “rescue the captive” and “eliminate the infestation” mode, but players are left to define conditions for victory themselves—no directions for these “modes” are provided.
While I would most definitely appreciate the rule set encouraging players make their own custom scenarios, I do feel that they could have provided more example and direction for players that are less creatively inclined, as well as more fleshed-out and defined Level 1 monsters.
As of the time of this review, I am not seeing any additional files resources for Keepers of the Questar on its homepage nor on BGG. What this potentially means is that if you run out of Quest Sheets, there isn’t an easy way to obtain more, short of photocopying them yourselves ; a PDF copy of these would be nice!
As for the default “Items” that players may choose to include in their self-wrought dungeons, these may be either helpful to the opposing party or harmful to them. Given that the primary objective of the game is to “Win”, we had to rhetorically ask ourselves why in the world a player would give the their opponent any sort of advantage if they want to win when they can just stick it to them with a mimic monster? We did conclude that in pursuit of “fairness”, it is probably a good idea for players to have a bit of dialogue prior to starting the game to determine what exactly constitutes reasonable and fair.
Another example for a potentially big stumbling block along these lines, is that while we love the idea that players are encouraged to craft their own items, traps, and monsters, given the contrast between some overly competitive gamers and potentially more peace-loving individuals , we could envision scenarios where one person creates a potion or trap that instantly kills another adventurer, while the other player opted to create a much less lethal device that does a measly one point of damage or some such minor affliction.
In order to eliminate such disparities, we find that for those who feel more inclined to draft their rule sets, it would be beneficial for all parties involved to gauge the relative potency of self-made items, traps, and monsters prior to starting the game to ensure a fun, fair and balanced experience.
With that being said, I am sure that it would be great to let creative juices flow, as I could easily see people making full spreadsheets of all sorts of dungeon materials to select during gaming experiences.
Lastly, we are concerned about the standees that are used for this game, and we are wondering how long they will last (or would last in a room full of kids). While we do not mind cardboard for the standees themselves, we were surprised that base for each standee is also cardboard, which will most definitely not help them live a long life. A plastic base would have served better, or it would have been nice to include something like colored, translucent 5mm cubes to represent players, as they would still fit nicely onto player boards and would be sure to last indefinitely.
We feel that Keepers of the Questar occupies quite a nice little niche. It is priced comfortably between $20 and $25 USD as far as I can tell after a quick browsing of the internet, and performs quite admirably — definitely much better than the aforementioned Battleship, and more involving and interactive. It would be nice if future printings could offer some more options for new players to make it easier for them to have a variety of options at their fingertips—that would be a tremendous asset in our view, and it would be doubly nice if some day there is a blank spreadsheet on the Questar website so that players can fill in their own monsters onto a chart rather than having to design their own. If the game really takes off in sales (and we hope it does), I hope this would give Upper Deck good reason to upgrade some of the components, as we feel the game definitely deserves such treatment!
I hesitate to call any of my qualms with the game “flaws”, it really feels more like oversight than anything else in a couple of instances, things that can be easily rectified due to the open-ended game design.
All in all, we found Keepers of the Questar to be a Keeper and not a Sleeper. Its strength lies primarily in its ability to make time pass with little mental exertion required, which is sometimes all we need, whether adult or child.
For this reason, we do feel inclined to create a separate rating category that we normally do not include in our rating system for this one time ,as its ability to be used as a Diversional activity is almost unparalleled, especially for the age range it can potentially captivate. It definitely is much better than Battleship, offering a whole lot more in strategy and interaction.
We love how it forced my wife and I into a sort of pseudo-psychology evaluation of each other, with each of us trying to determine how well we thought we knew and could predict each others’ patterns of thoughts and behavior. (“Would she choose a 6 in this situation? She would, wouldn’t she?) It is very fun trying to psych out your rival.
Likewise, the fluid rule set gives rise to a “Flexibility” rating for this game, whereas we normally do not rate games on this level. We do feel this aspect does need to be highlighted given that will probably be much more attractive to certain audiences due to this feature set.
We would both recommend this game.
Component Quality : 6
Gameplay : 7.5 (hard to rate this, given that the experience can vary widely depending on what players create!)
Flexibility : 9
Diversion : 9
Fun : ~8 (again, hard to rate given the fluid rule set and how player interactions can vary dramatically. We envision this could fluctuate a point or two in either direction depending on the circumstance/players involved).
Ease-of-use/ accessibility : 9
Theme : 5 Generic but then again, there aren’t a whole lot of games of this type meant for two players in a dungeon-crawl experience.
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer