How many times have we read some version of the following, “The knight leaps off of his trusty stallion, races to the top of the tower, kicks in the door, and rescues the poor, defenseless maiden”? Nope. Not this time. This time the strong, independent maiden saves herself. This time, she’s not waiting around. This time she’s coming for her captor. This time she’s ready to fight!
In Maiden’s Quest, designed by Kenneth Coleman Shannon III, and published by WizKids, you take on the role of a fair maiden who is done waiting to be saved. She’s taking matters, and weaponry into her own hands, deciding her own fate, and taking out some bad guys along the way. The game is comprised of a deck of cards and play entirely out of your hand, making this the perfect on the go game. The deck is built based on your choice of a maiden (there are eight to chose from) and her captor (10 of these to choose from). The maiden and captor each contain instructions on which cards to include in your deck for this particular encounter. The maiden card will offer starting health cards, random items that she found laying around her tower, an heirloom, and of course, her dress. This is no ordinary dress, nope, this is a dress that will help get you out of some sticky situations. The captor card will include the obstacles the maiden will face, mostly minions, treasure she may unlock, and even a savior or two to help out here and there. Once all of the cards have been assembled they are shuffled together to form one large deck, two rest cards will be added to the back of the deck to signal the end of the round, as well as your current level. That’s the entire setup, you are now ready to play!
Before we get into gameplay, let’s look a bit closer at the cards themselves. There are several types of the cards in the game, health, equipment, obstacles, the maiden, the captor, treasures, and saviors. Health cards are denoted with a light blue side. These cards offer the health of the maiden in the form of heart symbols. If your maiden ever receives damage and no longer has a heart to pay for it, the game ends. Health cards can also have symbols on them as well, this will assist in combat. Equipment cards act the same, without the inclusion of hearts, offering just symbols. These cards are denoted with a dark blue side. Each of the cards can be upgraded by turning them 180 degrees, offering more symbols to add to combat, as well as abilities, such as adding another card to the fan, or running away without penalty. Captor and obstacle cards will list what combination and quantity of symbols will be required to defeat them. These symbols will need to be present in your fan to be successful in the combat. The maiden card will offer a special upgrade to one of your cards, treasure can be unlocked with the presence of a key, and saviors provide a little combat boost as well.
The gameplay is just as simple as the setup. Players will cycle through their cards, placing them onto the back of the deck stopping when they reach a obstacle, the captor, or your maiden. The obstacles and/or captor can be fled from, this can be free if they are a higher level than you currently are, or can cost a piece of equipment to be downgraded if they are the same level or lower. If you choose to encounter the obstacle simply fan out the next five cards in your deck applying any or all symbols to satisfy the requirements listed on the encounter. If you succeed the obstacle card is flipped over, rewards are gained, and often they now offer symbols of their own to use in future combat. Loss may result in downgrading a card, flipping an equipment or health card over the its backside, or back 180 degrees if it has been upgraded prior. Some cards offer downgrade options that are better than the original, so it is important to pay attention to the cards that you have already seen. If you are able to overtake your captor, or if you can find an exit you win. Otherwise, it’s back to the tower for you.
While it feels like the game is comprised of mostly luck, there is a bit of strategy involved. Deciding which cards to upgrade, and downgrade, based on what is in our deck will be the difference between escaping the tower and getting thrown back into your cell. In this way you can customize your deck to what you need to optimize your chances of success. Knowing when you flee rather than fight is another choice that can be made based on what you have already seen in your deck. Do you know what you only have a few dragon symbols and most of them have already cycled through, maybe it might be a good idea to flee the obstacle that requires three dragons rather than suffer the consequences of a loss. Maiden’s Quest offers a plethora of choices in this regard.
That’s the basic gameplay, but Maiden’s Quest offers much more than the basic solo experience, and this is where the game really starts to set itself apart from other games that I have played. The completely portable nature of the game is a great change. Since Maiden’s Quest has no table presence I have played the game while waiting at doctor’s office, waiting for a movie to start, and pretty much everywhere else. The game is perfect for conventions, which is where I happened to pick up my copy. However, the game also offers a serendipity mode that was perfect for walking around a con. See another person playing the game? You can drop in and out of other games offering your cards to help other players in combat, sharing in the spoils, or the damage. Several promo cards have been released that encourage seeking out other players. Getting these “gift” signed by other players levels them up adding powerful cards to your deck. Cooperative play is also offered, allowing players to take turn encountering obstacles and tackling them together.
The box offers enough cards for two players to build their own decks. This is great because once my daughter discovered the game it became hers. She plays when I am cooking dinner, or doing other grown up things that prevent me from playing with her. She loves the idea of the maiden saving herself, and it is something that she can play anywhere I am. The game is the prefect solo game, and can be played in short spurts when needed. Need to stop? Just put the deck down and pick it up later, continuing your journey right where you left off. I had a great time walking around Dice Tower Con playing Maiden’s Quest, and got to meet a bunch a new people through the gameplay alone. You can tell the designer, Kenneth Coleman Shannon III put his heart and soul into this game. It comes across in its presentation, his presence in the gaming community to support it, and his excitement over seeing it in the “wild”. I can see this game being a huge hit at cons, but it shouldn’t just end there. For me, this is a game that will stay in my bag, for on the go play. I highly recommend that it goes in your too!