Quick Look: Arena: The Contest – Tanares Adventures
Designer: Alexandre Aboud, Danilo de Alcantara, Michael Alves, Clayton Machado
Publisher: Dragori Games
Year Published: 2023
Tanares Adventures is a massive expansion for Arena: the Contest. With more than 40 miniatures and 70 different types of villains, it takes the cooperative campaign content beyond 100 hours of unique gameplay, and adds a new Combat Role to multiply the possibilities in PvP and Co-op matches.
The PvP Game Modes (Capture the Orb, Tournament, Team Competition) become richer with the addition of the Commanders and their respective Companions. With a second miniature on the board, this new Combat Role (8th in total) brings to the table interesting and varied strategical and tactical novelties, and teambuilding synergies.
The game’s Co-op/Campaign Mode now develops in a semi-open world, where players can consult an Adventure Map and decide where they want to go next, instead of being linearly directed by the story.
The Campaign runs in Cycles, each with three phases: City Phase, Journey Phase, and Quest Phase.
In the City Phase, players have the opportunity to buy items, rest, and develop sidequests related to City Structures (that can be upgraded), Relics (rewards obtained by completing a Quest, that initiate optional story arcs with a puzzle vibe), and others.
In the Journey Phase, players read a prelude related to the region they want to visit, in connection with the overall story, and prepare for the Quest, by studying what they may face (this changes according to Story Facts unlocked), assigning tasks to Assets (helpful NPCs that join the team as the story progresses), equipping items, and more.
Finally, in the Quest Phase, the game board is assembled and dozens of different villains may be faced. The dungeon crawling and replayability vibe is heightened by the addition of random encounters, secret rooms with previously unknown content, events and interactions that require tough decisions during the mission, and more.
All your decisions matter and significantly impact the Quests’ gameplay, modifying even the circumstances of the multi-part epic final mission, and determines the Boss (or Bosses) you might face, in an exciting campaign with multiple endings.
It should come as no big surprise to anyone who read my TOP GAMES OF ALL TIME or my review of Arena : The Contest (AtC) that Tanares Adventures would easily be at the top of my most anticipated games of 2023.
More than just an expansion, Tanares Adventures takes the co-op system introduced in AtC and beefs it up to a fully-fledged 100+ hour campaign game. It does in fact utilize quite a few of the resources (minis, cards, tokens) provided in AtC, but adds a slew of other materials. So much in fact, that Tanares Adventures truly is a beast unto itself!
Now for the sake of brevity, I will say that much of the combat aspect of Tanares Adventures is identical to that of AtC, as this was solid enough in the original game that very little needed changing in the transition to a full sandbox-style campaign game, so I will refer you to my original review of AtC for more information in this department. But there have been some noteworthy changes that I shall mention later, but anyone familiar with the base game will immediately feel at home with the combat.
Even if you have NOT played AtC previously, veterans of DnD (especially 4E) will have an easy time grasping the mechanics of the combat system employed by Tanares Adventures. In general, this plays as a tactical strategic skirmish against the monsters and mayhem contained in the world of Tanares.
The events of AtC serve as a prequel to set the stage for the story of Tanares Adventures. While there were many possible outcomes for the ending of AtC, only one of these serves as the official cannon for Tanares Adventures, and the adventure starts you off with dealing with an invasion (not a spoiler, this is the very first thing you will read in the Tanares Adventures journal).
So what else is there to talk about?
Much. Almost too much to describe.
Those of you who read my AtC Review know very well that I was mostly drawn to the game for its minis and that the possibility of having a great game to accompany them was a mere afterthought.
It turned out that both the minis and game were fantastic beyond expectations, and so it should come as no surprise that one could just easily buy Tanares Adventures JUST for the minis alone and be perfectly satisfied. So let’s just get this part out of the way ; Tanares Adventures is worth it just for the minis alone, regardless of how one might feel about the game itself.
Because Tanares Adventures offers a whole ton of game. In some ways, too much game, if there can ever be such a thing. And mark my words, it will take up some serious shelf space, very much similar to how Shadows of Brimstone has consumed entire clusters of my living room walls. So here a fair warning to potential buyers, this is going to require a sacrifice of your living quarters
Now I will state that it is impossible to detail the rules and all their quirks in the confines of this review, so there are going to be a lot of broad generalizations, but Dragori has a lot of in-depth videos on YouTube that can depict what the actual gameplay experience is like.
I will also state that due to the sheer number of hours this game is projected to take to finish, this is a review-in-progress and subject to change. I will update my thoughts accordingly as I progress, but as of now I am about 1/4 of the way through the game (or so I think), and have had time to form some initial thoughts and conclusions.
Now, the game play :
Tanares Adventures has you cycling through a pattern of adventuring and world-building on a day-by-day basis.
The game starts with players each choosing a character from a wide pool of various classes and personas. The total number of party members to choose from depends on what materials you may have purchased in addition.
Note that regardless of what extras you may have in your possession, owning Arena : The Contest is essential to playing Tanares Adventures, as it utilizes some (though not too many) of the same resources as AtC. It is safe to say that regardless of what you have acquired as of yet, you will probably be overwhelmed with at least 50 characters to choose from!
The classes available are : Brutes, Healers, Shooters, Commanders, Tacticians, Tanks, Controllers, and Bruisers. Each have their own strengths, passive abilities, and 2 unique skill cards.
However, unlike the original AtC, each Hero now has their own DISTINCT passive ability, rather than class-specific abilities that are retained by all members of a specific class. For example, in the original AtC , Brutes would all get a damage bonus that triggers when they attack an enemy that isn’t adjacent to any of your other allies. Now, in Tanares, a wide variety of abilities can be tied to this passive. My favorite for now is that Blake the Vampire gets healing when striking enemies in such a fashion. This adds a whole lot more thematic personality to each character!
In addition, each class gets their own player board with unique skills that can be utilized and unlocked. Each of these abilities is fueled by a new Mana mechanic, where mana is generally gained by killing enemies or “missing” with a Primary attack. However, the counterpoint to this newfound power is that they can only be used on enemy or ally turns—never your own!
Moving on from character selection, a Journey and/or Adventure Phase very much creates a preamble for the quests your characters undertake. Here , you will make important decisions that may actually cause important deviations in your path ; whereas you may have been initially attempting to scale a mountain to reach a fort, for example, certain decisions (or perhaps skill check failures) may end up taking you to an entirely different dungeon or quest than you had intended.
The quests are very much similar to those in Arena : The Contest in terms of setup, layout and feel.
However, the best carryover from AtC is the fact that the design team aimed to have every single quest feature a unique mechanism or feel to it, such that every quest does not get stale with the old “kill every enemy to achieve victory” requirement. Even if killing every mob on the map IS the goal, how you go about this feels radically different each time around due to the said use of varying level mechanics that alter up the “typical” way things are handled.
Without going into too many spoilers, such mechanics can often include teleporters, timers, puzzles, and special moves employed by the dungeon denizens in ways that are never repeated in other scenarios. This helps to really ensure that things do not feel too “samey” after a while, which is quite vital if you are going to be playing this game for 100+ hours.
After completing a Quest, you will then proceed to a City Phase, with its own proprietary map. This acts as small 4-player deck-building hiatus between adventures, and is very much like a mini game that allows you to build up your city and resources over the span of the game’s 100+ hours. Players take turns playing their hand of 4 cards in attempt to build up various aspects of your city.
Without partaking in this phase, you will find yourselves severely hamstrung, as you will lack the ability to upgrade essential buildings that produce hero. weapons, armor, heroes, and more.
Of the many things you can do during this phase (with a weak starting Character deck filled with weak NPCS) are :
Expedition : Attempt to send NPCs from the cards you are dealt into an excursion to acquire more resources.
Acquire Better NPCS : Self Explanatory, some NPCS have better powers that can be utilized not only within to City Phase but also within quests if you are lucky!
Buying / Selling : Self Explanatory
Upgrading: The 4 buildings within the city start out being extremely limited in what they can do. If you allocate previous resources to them, however, they can be enhanced to better perform in the future, enabling you to get better equipment and heroes, as well as convert resources.
Over time, you will (hopefully) build up and empower your Character Deck, which will become vital to the war effort.
After 4 respective Quests and City Phases are complete, this represents what the game structure calls a “week”. After each week, you will then proceed to a distinct World Phase, that is in some ways similar in feel to the City Phase. However, this new phase allows you to allocate resources to a more “Global” map, representing your spending resources to “take over” new regions. Moreover, this phase is highly dependent on your success in completing previous quests—if you failed to take out a Zombie horde earlier in the week in a quest for example, you may find that you are severely limited in how aggressive you can move to reacquire lost territory.
The game is laid out in such a way that players will go through a series of 4 “weeks” as previously described with the Quest/City/World phases until a climax is reached, and the final plot line is revealed, leading to a supposedly more “epic” series of yet more adventures. Note that we are within week 2 of the campaign, and as such are not sure exactly how much longer than 4 weeks the campaign will last, but there is a substantial portion of blank spots on the quest log that persist after the designations for the games’ first 4 weeks, leading us to believe that there are plenty of surprises still in store.
We shall see….
This is a review that will evolve over time as we complete the campaign, but given that we have more than a dozen hours poured into Tanares Adventures, I can say that we have some preliminary observations and conclusions that we imagine will remain the same throughout our journey. As such, here are our collective thoughts:
— The game has a very strong introduction and tie into AtC.
—Easy to organize despite large quantities of cards.
—Storage : Everything has its own nice place with custom trays.
—Easy to understand rule book with lots of examples and clarifications. Exceedingly well written, I must say, and especially impressive given how the rule books alone are over 70 pages, and the other various adventure manuals and journals are hundreds of pages long, collectively.
—Tanares Adventures updates “old” cards that had originally had just PvP exclusive benefits. That is to say, some Heroes were only good in PvP in AtC, but such characters now have ability cards that can only be used in Tanares Adventures. These cards retain the “feel” of the original heroes, but better tailor their use for PvE combat.
—Puzzles! Yes, perhaps my favorite aspect of AtC was their use of puzzles. I am happy to say these are back.
—I cannot understate the significance of Dragori putting pictures of each mini on each of the game’s 100+ Monster Stat cards. It would be a potential nightmare trying to identify each mini individually by name only, otherwise!
—In addition to sporting so many monsters, it is fantastic how even when you have identical groups of monsters (skeletons for example), each monster will act differently thanks to different color-coded cards that modify their behavior. Some will heal, some will target the closest hero, some the farthest, etc.
—Characters make good progression in development thanks to level ups, and gaining of enhanced weapons, items and skills.
—The game breaks you in with an easy yet still captivating fashion. While other games perhaps hold your hand too little or too much, we found that Tanares had a good balance by letting us learn the game without babying us too much.
— Builds upon the PvP of AtC. In the end you end up having 3+ games rather than just one if you count all the add ons (Orignal AtC Cakpaign mode ; PvP mode ; Boss vs Boss : Tanares Adventures campaign. More than 30 new characters, and they all still somehow manage to feel unique regardless of what way you play.
—Tanares Adventure already ties into the Tanares RPG world that is slated for later this year, which promises new 5E character classes. Though in reduced form (relative to the infinitely more complex 5E system) these classes already have been given a presence within Tanares Adventures with their own minis and distinct features.
—The Battle System. This strategically flows very well, though the methods to ensure success in battle vary significantly from AtC, which often felt like a duke-out fest to the death until either a player or monster succeeded in vanquishing their opponent. Tanares Adventures alleviates some of the monotony , and no longer has all players taking turns prior to the monsters acting. In AtC this would often lead to players singling out just one monster and piling enough damage on it in a single round to kill it because it was the optimal thing to do (why start the next round with 4 monsters to face when you can have just 3?). Tanares adventures introduces monster retaliation , which means a monster will take its turn in a round immediately after it is targeted by an attack. This creates a battlefield that changes much more frequently, and requires a bit more mental exertion to stage things for maximum future damage to enemies.
—While the game has lot going on at one time, it isn’t enough to give me a headache making calculations and such — some games have this problem for me. Tanares does not
—The City and World phases are distinct modes of play that are thankfully not too overwhelming. I was expecting to get bogged down, but was pleasantly surprised that these phases not only take a meager 15 minutes or so to complete, but still somehow manage to let you shape the game world. I have played other games (Dawnshade for example) that describe certain gameplay elements as “palette cleansers” , but this is the first time that I have had the experience of having a game one that felt like it was legitimately so with its pallet cleanser.
— Zero downtime. With interrupts, and the new Skill system (which can only be used on turns that aren’t your own) , you can almost always be guaranteed a shot to do something meaningful, even during other player turns.
—Minis. Again, one could easily buy this game just for the minis alone and it would still be worth it.
Potential criticisms :
Story : I have heard some complain that the story of Tanares is “weak”, and while this has not been my experience , I can understand why others think this. If you walk into Tanares expecting a full narrative-style book, similar to Tainted Grail, well then, prepare to be disappointed. The games’ text flows swiftly and efficiently , but given how much time is typically involved in setting up the next Quest you are on, I am all in favor of this being handled expeditiously. The narrative is still very much there, it is just that the manner of presentation may not be what some people had expected.
Moreover, while the story does have numerous branching paths—much more than I have encountered in other similar games—it can feel like being strung along on a series of disconnected adventures due to the quick manner of exposition. However…you nevertheless do have the choice of what adventure to take. Moreover, this is handled better than Gloomhaven for example, which would often immediately lock you out of a quest chain after a single “bad” decision. In Tanares, you usually have some time to prioritize and make decisions ; however, if you neglect a Quest for too long, however, you will find it removed and be given another quest that forces you to pay for neglecting important matters.
Battle System : I was initially concerned with some of the (small) changes between AtC and Tanares which seemed to “dumb down” the enemy AI. In AtC, enemies would fight to survive more, and would never, for instance, walk into lava if it meant it would kill them. In Tanares, enemies do not have such thoughts or safeguards, and I initially contacted Dragori about this concern when I was preparing to undertake this game and review. I was assured that this design choice was for the better, and keeps gameplay from getting bogged down. And in the end, I agree with the executive decision of Dragori, this change does keep things fluid and much easier to handle than it would have been if enemies “thought” more. Rest assured, as much as I was concerned that enemies would be so dumb that the game would not be challenging, the challenge is still there, but takes a different form. For example , overall the monsters are much tougher and hit harder than they did in AtC to compensate. Moreover, changing reaction attacks to be guaranteed hits instead of random dice rolls was again something that seemed like it would be a detrimental decision, but in the end it not only makes the game more fluid, it gives new strategic options that weren’t in the original. Neither approach is necessarily better, I actually like them both.
My Personal Negatives :
—One “negative” thing that I can say about Tanares Adventures so far is that Dragori delivered everything that was promised—which can mean perhaps it is way too much content. But whether or not we as individuals have the capacity to store Tanares Adventures is not really Dragori’s fault either, nor should it be, because anyone even briefly perusing their KS campaign page would have been able to quickly discern that this was going to be a monstrous delivery , regardless of how many stretch goals were obtained.
—Storage : while everything indeed has its own space, it has hard to keep track of so many boxes. I consequently consolidated of all the minis into baggies to place into as few boxes as possible to have more shelf space.
—The map used in city and world phases could be better. It is just paper and I could see this easily tearing. It would have been nice to have a proper board, but given all the expense that was poured into many minis , I can understand why this decision had to be made. The good thing is that we already have a great game board from Arena : The Contest that is utilized for most of Tanares Adventures.
—Again, the game can have a long setup if you have everything there is to buy for Tanares and AtC.
Unknown factors that may influence my final score in the end :
Will character stories from the art book (The Art and World of Tanares) carry over? One of the biggest hooks for me in AtC were the complex motivations each character had. It will be interesting to see if characters with varies rivalries and contentions with other entities will be resolved, peacefully or not.
—Will the game escalate into a climax? Will the game start to feel “samey” after too long, despite the creator’s obvious efforts to make every quest feel different?
“Almost” Final Thoughts (?) :
Once again, this is a review in progress and subject to change, I will update this accordingly as I progress.
Nevertheless, I feel I can give a cautiously optimistic assessment of at least 8/ 10 so far, though the score may be elevated when the time for a final assessment arrives. I know that I may sound reserved in judgement with this score for now, but I do want to give the game a full playthrough before giving a final score. I do anticipate a higher rating in the end, but just how far the game rises above this threshold remains to be seen.
What I will say for now is that the game handles extremely well and is interactive at all stages of play. It should say something that the only real “negative” I have so far is how much physical content there is to drown in!
Is the game a must buy? I will say that within a certain gaming demographic, probably yes. One would be hard pressed to find more value for the money for the quality and abundance of material that has been provided.
And lastly, while I initially felt that the original AtC felt a bit spartan and lacking in its Campaign mode , I feel that Tanares Adventures more than makes up for this, but adds so much variety and content that I actually need to correct myself and now state that both systems and designs (for the respective story modes) have their own distinctive perks and merits. I sincerely hope that both styles of gameplay have a future with the dev team and Dragori games.
Just wrapped up Week 3 in campaign. Updating my comments to reflect that I feel the story feels much more consequential now, and there is less hand-holding. Whereas in the first week plenty of time was given to finish quests, you are now faced with more decisions that have more immediate effects and consequences for neglecting certain strategic opportunities. Things are definitely feeling better in terms of the immersion as a result of this!
Moreover, I compelled to revise my initially hesitant score of “at least an 8/10” for the final score. I did not like the idea of providing a final score when things were just getting rolling given how long that this game is. Since then, several things have happened that have bolstered my impressions. The end result that I am firmly placing this game at at least a 9/10 at about half way through the campaign.
The reasoning lies within the following :
Firstly, bosses (when you encounter them, which can totally depend on the choices you make). These are fun and epic in every sense of the word.
We switched our characters out as we acquired more heroes in our journey, and the amount of strategic options really is not at all obvious until you try out several of the new characters, classes, and skills. All I can say is a was really wowed when trying a Commander for the first time and employing all of the fancy tricks they can utilize with their pet companions!
Moreover, I was actually shocked by some of the choices I was given as a result of a path we had taken as a group ; if you are fortunate enough in your choices, you may actually be able to eliminate certain threats in a rather cinematic fashion…not spoiling anything but the specific event I am referring to was very classy in its presentation. We knew we had to take the chance to eliminate this threat as soon as we had the opportunity, and even though we failed…it was nevertheless a first class experience.
We will of course keep going through this epic journey. The fact that we are even still playing this game should tell you something, as not everything I have reviewed these past few years has passed muster enough for my group to finish the campaign. If you have even been thinking about getting into the world of Arena : The Contest and Tanares adventures, let me just say that with their new Kickstarter coming up, don’t hesitate—buy as much as you can possibly afford.
In the spirit of good judgement and caution, I am generally reluctant to call anything a “must-buy”. But given all that is on the table and that this may be the last print run of Arena and Tanares for a long run, all I can say is don’t hold back! The team of Dragori games has put together a top-of-the-line product, and even though it had a few initial shortcomings in how some of the text handles in the beginning, I have been given a sneak peak at what is in store for the future of Tanares Adventures, and I know that the relatively minor nitpickings within the presentation are being worked on, and the product is only being made better. This will be one of the few epic campaigns that we find will be worth playing again and again, and when combined with the PvP elements of Arena : The Contest, it is one of the very few game systems that can “do it all” with resounding success, whether competition or cooperative. Do yourself a favor if you like either PvP skirmish games and/or dungeon crawls, treat yourself to this experience, as it is worth every penny!
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer
Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services.