Like many people, I spent the holiday weekend drinking with purpose. That’s why I deputized a collection of friends and family members to review Drinking Quest.
For the uninitiated (or the sober), Drinking Quest is a drinking RPG currently available in a Trilogy Edition that includes the original game and two expansions (Yeddy Vedder’s Yeti Adventure and Nectar of the Gods). Ontario-based designer Jason Anarchy recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for his follow-up game Haiku Warrior, making the long weekend an ideal time to revisit the original.
I’d been looking forward to the opportunity for obvious reasons (drinking, comedy, and drinking). However, Drinking Quest is not supposed to be played alone. That’s why it seemed important to review a group experience rather than a solitary one.
So I set up an away game. I was curious to know how non-RPG fans would respond to something marinated in tabletop fantasy tropes, and whether or not the rules would translate to a green audience. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons and I know my way around a character sheet. The rest of my party did not have that intuitive knowledge, and explaining concepts like hit points, armor, and saving throws made me realize how much I take for granted.
Ours was a group of RPG novices.
Would Drinking Quest prove to be an insurmountable a challenge? Or would our quartet persevere in search of drunkenness and adventure?
As it turns out, Drinking Quest is an exceptional introduction to the genre. The game is highly grokkable, and may in fact be the most immediately accessible way to teach standard RPG conventions to beginners. There were a few hiccups while I walked players through the first few turns, but once familiarity set in my expertise became unnecessary. The less we worried about the rules, the more we were able to focus on important things like drinking and dragons.
If nothing else, I can conclusively state that you do not need to be familiar with RPGs to enjoy a round of Drinking Quest. Alcohol has a way of lowering inhibitions.
It helps that the game is relatively straightforward. Each player gets a character and a character sheet, using predetermined stats to buy loot and battle monsters. A play session is divided into four separate mini-quests, at the end of which the player with the most XP wins. The whole process takes anywhere from one to three hours depending on your level of inebriation.
The primary selling points are humor and alcohol rather than complexity. The quests are lovingly written and illustrated on a deck of custom cards, each one telling players what they’ll be fighting against that turn. There’s not much room for improvisation, but the aesthetics and comedic world building are delightful.
The catch – and the closest the game gets to a difficulty curve – is that you’re expected to chug the rest of your drink should your character die, adding a sense of real-life danger to the proceedings. There is a one-chug maximum per quest – the rules are careful to stress responsibility, and it is possible to play alcohol free – but it’s still enough to render most players tipsy before the final monster falls.
The result is a well-paced game that keeps moving without any notable lulls in the action. The writing and comedy are exceptional, as is the sense of balance. All four characters have an equal chance of winning, and the dungeons scale smoothly throughout all four quests.
The only problem is that there’s not much in the way of skill or strategy. Once everyone’s stats are punched in, you’re basically rolling dice to find out who wins. Though every character has inherent weaknesses, they’re negated if you roll well or draw cards that play to your character’s respective strengths. Every character can win, but only one player is going to catch the breaks needed to do so.
That was borne out during our adventure. The winner turned out to be Bartlebut, a fighter who made nearly every saving throw despite having the weakest attributes at the table. Those odds would even out over several rounds of play, but they can swing the outcome over the course of one evening.
Yet the more we played, the more it became clear that those concerns simply do not matter. Drinking Quest is trying to create an experience rather than a puzzle, and in that regard it succeeds admirably. Despite the early skepticism, the mechanics gradually fell into place and every player was able to complete a full turn without any assistance. At that point, Drinking Quest becomes a vehicle for drunken interactions. It’s a facilitator, a reason to get together with friends while laughing with (and at) everyone at the table while consuming copious amounts of alcohol.
The fact that the game practically plays itself is therefore a perk rather than a drawback. Your ability to perform combat math goes down at roughly the same rate that your blood alcohol content goes up, which limits the amount of complexity the game can utilize. Something that shuttles players from start to finish without any major changes to the core gameplay goes over better with an impaired audience.
Our group was no exception. We dutifully tracked our chugs (most of us hit three or four), and the best moments took place around the game rather than within the game. That’s no accident. Drinking Quest fosters an atmosphere in which nonsense is expected, with naturally escalating game and substance progressions. I can’t repeat everything that happened, but it was perfectly wholesome in a tasteless, family-friendly kind of way.
Drinking Quest may be simple, but that makes it easier to jump back in whenever you get distracted and the digressions are sort of the point. We had a blast playing Drinking Quest. That consensus was hardly guaranteed when we started, but by the end our eventual winner was so enthusiastic that she eagerly wrote Haiku to gain an attack bonus against a monster:
I am really cool
This game is super awesome
I couldn’t have said it any better (and no, I did not win or write the Haiku). Drinking Quest brings people together around a shared love of alcohol and laughter, and you can’t ask for anything more from a night of revelry.