Order of the Stick is probably one of my favourite web comics. It’s such a great mixture of storytelling and humour that checking for a new strip each morning is part of my routine. So I’m not an entirely impartial judge. The Order of the Stick Adventure Game is basically a card game where players take on the characters of the comic strip. Your goal is to make your way through the dungeon, killing monsters and collecting loot to eventually reach Xykon to kill him. At that point, you’ll need to escape the collapsing dungeon. Final victor is the player with the most bragging points which is calculated from a mixture of loot, shticks , who got out of the dungeon first and who killed Xykon. Overall while it’s a fun game, the general consensus of the group was that it just took too long to play.
Appearance: Very good. The artwork is drawn directly from the comic with a lot of personal touches such as different pictures on loot cards, and a variety of images from the strip or new strips for the various cards. While the artwork isn’t Boris Vallejov, it is entirely in keeping with the comic and that has it’s own charm. Definitely a major plus for me.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Okay, first off – the ‘quick start comic strip guide’ isn’t. It is really, really long to read (8 pages) and doesn’t cover all the necessary important aspects – such as NPCs aka ‘what if you don’t have 6 players?’. While it’s entirely humorous and all, the quick start guide just didn’t do it. The rulebook itself, for what is in fact a very simple game is entirely too large and unorganised. While I liked the various tips about how to play each PC to win, I feel the rules itself could have been streamlined and the rulebook clarified. It didn’t help that the game came with an entirely new sheet of Eratta.
Players choose (randomly by default) the characters they will be. Each of the PCs is very much a D&D clone (the warrior, mage, rogue, ranger, bard and cleric to be exact) which is of course the point. One thing that was done very well was the balancing of powers of each character with no one PC being overly powerful. They are all also very different, both because of their abilities and the respective characters personalities so their routes to winning are quite different. Very well done here.
Once chosen, players choose their starting shticks – the special abilities. As the game progresses and you earn experience (from killing monsters generally or trading in loot), you’ll gain more shticks, increasing your power and ability. You also gain loot cards at the beginning and loot is dropped every time monster are killed. Loot cards have ‘faces’ on them, indicating which character drools over them. Loot with your face on them are valuable to you, otherwise, you’ll need to trade them away for help.
Battling monsters in Order of the Stick is very simple – compare your attack or defense against their attack or defense and then roll a d12. If you beat their attack/defense number, you win. You can also get help at any time from anyone on the same level as you by giving them loot that they drool over ( i.e. have faces for).
The dungeon is created by placing new dungeon cards on the table as you explore, so better have a big and clear table free. You’ll need to search for stairs to go down a level, the number of levels dependent on the number of players and difficulty level chosen. And that really is the basis of the game – explore the dungeon by moving, enter the room, fight the monster (you’re always defending when entering a room), kill it and pick up loot. Rinse and repeat. You can always fight other PCs too. In that case, you get to steal their loot! And slow them down. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re Belkar.
Lastly, there are Screw This cards that basically allow you to break the rules of the game. Evil little cards generally that need to be played as fast as you can, because once you run out of monster cards, you discard your entire hand.
Actual Gameplay – Order of the Stick amuses me because of its wry humour. All the characters are really true to the comic and their interactions are geared to the way you’ll see in the comic. As noted above, the actual gameplay isn’t very complicated. There’s an interesting level of competitiveness and co-operation in the game, as players can play Screw This, monster cards and attack other players but also, quite often, need the help of other players to win battles. So you can’t push your luck too far or else you’ll never get any help and watch the other players pull far, far ahead of you.
The rules are messy, and in the interest of making monsters interesting, the monsters have special abilities. These can, unfortunately, take some time to learn so it does slow the game down somewhat. Also, as the game is based around collecting loot and shticks, players are continually exploring the dungeon searching for more monsters to kill. It does create quite a level of repetition, even if the monsters are amusing.
Probably the biggest problem in the entire game is its length. What is supposed to be a 2-3 hour game according to the rules takes nearly 4 hours in reality. While there’s always something to do, there just isn’t enough variety for a 4 hour game.
Conclusion: Order of the Stick is entirely fun and has a definite novelty factor for fans of the comic. It’s also got a level of strategic depth to it beyond ‘bash monster’. I like the balance of cooperative and competitive play and there’s definite tactical considerations (when to rest, when to fight, what monsters to play, etc.) but the length of the game is a major killer. I’m definitely going to have to adjust the base game since holding the interest of a gaming group for 4 hours at a time is not possible. I’m still happy I have the game, but I feel the need to adjust the base game to make it shorter.