Altar Quest is a miniatures dungeon questing game designed by the Sadler brothers, who created one of my favourite small box dungeon games, the Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game. It’s overall design pays homage in its theme to HeroQuest, particularly with its use of a set board to play on, rather than using and laying out individual tiles, and has room object features for players to interact with. Your heroes will undertake a quest to find an underground altar, but their reasons for doing so will change depending on the quest you selected.
The game is modular designed, in that for each adventure you can select different card decks for your heroes, villains, threat and your quest objective to create a new adventure, it is really easy to do and hugely reduces the normal set up time compared to setting up a pre-built dungeon or story adventure. It also means that you can, to some extent, build the dungeon flavour you want to experience from a pool of available options.
My biggest complaint is the rulebook, which whilst explaining the mechanics does not do a good job of drawing you into how to play, especially regarding the area of actions, reactions and free abilities that do not cost you to use them. Use the BGG resources or video playthroughs to learn the game first.
The general production quality of this game is good, with nice plastic models and interesting room objects, all covered by some lovely card artwork. The board is particularly eye catching with rooms of differing colours, sizes and also style, including a glassy floor and another with roots growing through. The enemies used are somewhat unusual comprising Frox (frogs) and Raglanders (pigs) in the core box, but upon reflection they do make a nice change from the usual goblins and orcs. It is worth adding that the way villains attack just really seems to fit their personality, with Bolx the Frox king for instance burping acid and lashing you with his long tongue.
The mechanics of playing this game are simply amazing fun, as each hero has their own card deck which is unique enough to create an individual character flavour. Cards are used to fight, interact with objects or undertake feats and it gels together as a great experience, always providing different tactical options and choices. It is also really thematic, so taking the halfling Rowen Luffin character as an example, you will soon be laying and disarming traps, throwing knives, cooking food to buff yourself, and using your rope to swing around the room or immobilize minions. Other characters from the stretch goals even have a pet to assist you or turn into a werewolf, which is so very cool to play. Your hero feels alive and generates a story by what they are doing, making the game feel special and it gives me the feeling i have with the outdoor adventures of Runebound 3rd edition, where my game plays out an unfolding story, and whether i win or lose ultimately becomes secondary to the experience.
Whilst the card decks are probably the best game feature, the use of dice is also inspired, as you have magical altar rhunes energy that will constantly change, bringing your hero and enemies extra abilities that flow in and out of play during the game. The action test dice you roll just feel full of positives, as even rolling badly sets up focus tokens to improve your next roll, and the critical rolls that allow for a cumulative re-roll are just great fun when they happen, and always give you the chance to pull off something unexpected. The game also scales really well, as different player counts spawn extra threats, and villains have more health, and so playing solo with one character in a dungeon crawler actually works pretty well.
This review is initially based on just the core box content, which i wanted to look at in isolation to all the kickstarter content, and this box does deliver a great fun experience and is one of the best card driven dungeon crawlers. However, the game does suffer in a couple of areas against other dungeon crawlers, as some the animal enemy decks are slightly on the quirky side, and many of the better ones are found within the stretch goal box rather than the core box. It also requires a lengthy game session to complete a mission, as the altar is usually buried deep, taking a long time to discover, and rooms can begin to feel repetitive as a result, although this aspect could be levelled at many crawlers. Overall though this dungeon crawler does offer something new with its great card mechanic system.
Here are the additions you can make outside of the core box (my additions highlighted green = own, blue = part owned, red = not purchased) :
Given this was a kickstarter a lot of the extra content was packaged up within the stretch goals box which is only really going to be available now on the second hand market. In the case of this game all the extra heroes with their card decks, and additional monster groups and miniatures are so good that if you love the game then it is really worth the outlay to expand your game choices.
Ruins of Arkenspire
This is a box expansion that adds in a new hero, threat and villains with an undead theme and an new quest story to play through. It also plays encounters which are shorter versions of the main game. This is a great addition you can make outside of the stretch goal box if you want more playable campaign content, but is not my first choice to get.
First Four Hero Pack
A set of four extras heroes with their models and card decks. If you already have all the extra stretch goal characters then this is a luxury addition, however if you only have the core box and want to expand the hero choice then this is a really good way to do it.
This was an add on purchase to a range of miniatures kickstarted by Blacklist games (who produced Altar Quest), providing a set of 12 new roaming monsters with their lurker cards. The miniatures are good and having played the core set a number of times this fixes the problem of encountering similar random monsters all the time. This expansion is probably going to be really hard to find, but i feel it is the most useful expansion if you only have and want to play the core set.
These are non essential extras such as extra dice, base rings and a neoprene mat which may appeal to some players, although the board in the core set is pretty great anyway.