The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance – Review

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is based on the wonderful Actual Play podcast of the same name. The podcast follows the McElroy family in a series of connected D&D adventures to collect The Grand Relics for the Bureau of Balance. The board game instead stars you, the Bureau’s “B” team, trying to muddle your way through a wild adventure.

Designed by Twogether Studios, the game creates a GM/DM free 60-90 minute, mini table top adventure for two to five players. Players chose a class and make a character by answering a few questions on a pre-made character sheet. The game board is set up by picking a villain, relic and a location and setting up the corresponding card decks for the things you chose. Each deck has 10 unique, double sided cards that you order according to the instructions of the relic/villain/location. You set you HP counter for your party, and introduce your characters before you start the game.

To start playing, you chose which player is going first, then they chose one of the three face up challenges on the board. Either villain, relic or location. The cards will have a challenge rating (difficulty score) that needs to be matched or beaten to pass the challenge. Players will have a set strength modifier to contribute to this, and then roll the Adventure Zone dice adding their strength to the result of the die to determine whether they pass the challenge. They may add to their die rolls with Fantasy Costco cards that describe items with bonuses, and they can ask their fellow party members to help them out as well.

If you fail the challenge rating your party will take a hit to their collective HP, and the card will stay in your path, or perhaps even change to become more difficult. If you beat the challenge, the obstacle is defeated, you get some loot from the victory, and the card is discarded. Then you move onto the next player. Each player can only help out once per round of the table, unless their character sheet says otherwise.

However, each time you chose a challenge to face, you should describe your approach and intention for it. And once the dice is rolled, you tell then how you failed, or succeeded. When another party member helps out, they too have to voice their role in the little scenario you’ve made. This results in a very easy, and streamlined way to roleplay; it also provides a great setting and scenarios to facilitate some wild saves, and spectacular failures.

To win the game, you must make it to the bottom of the relic deck, and one of the other two decks while your party still has at least one HP left. If you run out of health before you reach the bottom, you’ve all died, and you lose the game. That said, we didn’t have much trouble making it to the end with hp to spare. The point of the game isn’t that it’s a hard slog to the finish line, its that you have a good time and tell a good story.

The art of this game is beautiful, it features many characters and items from the podcast, and they all pop off the cards with their eye-catching and colourful style. I got the deluxe edition, which features a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the void fish, and it is the prettiest box on my game shelf now. The comically large colour coded D20’s are shockingly satisfying to roll. They made our final role of the game, cast across the entirety of the table, and landing on a critical success, a legendary and unforgettable moment. The character classes each come with a little notepad of character sheets, and they’re beautiful, thematic, and the right size, not taking up huge portions of the table, but tucking in around the board nicely. It’s a well-constructed game, with great component and card art.

I loved this game. And not just because it’s based on one of my favourite pieces of media. Because it was a self-contained, easy to learn, fun to play, little RPG. I played with two friends who’ve both played TTRPG’s before, and were keen to collaborate on a wild and whacky story together. At the start of the game we drew the Temple as a location; if you fail a temple, the challenge card is discarded just as surely as if you’d won it. You still take the HP hit, but move further down in the deck towards victory. But our rag tag band of misfits weren’t feeling the temple challenges, and instead faced off against the lich’s minions. From a game play perspective, this was a terrible strategic decision. But it was the right one for us.

We allowed ourselves to lean into the RP part of the RPG and took damage from ourselves when the narrative had my 9 foot tall half goliath ex-pirate rogue, slap some sense into our bard to help out a roll. We didn’t have to stop gameplay for great periods and look up spell cards, or fine points of rule interactions. We just told a story. We described what we wanted to do, then rolled the dice, and if the numbers didn’t add up we told the tale of our failure just as spectacularly as if we’d succeeded. It was a care-free, wholesome little adventure, that didn’t require hours to learn, and was rewarding start to finish. I will definitely be pulling this one out again.

If you haven’t played a tabletop role-playing game before, this could be a great way to start. But you might want to recruit at least one friend who’s either played TTRPG’s before, or is a high energy drama enthusiast. The more over the top you go, the more fun you’ll have, and some game groups might need someone to set the energy bar high. That said, if you’re willing to dive headfirst into the adventure with your friends, you’ll have no problem. If you’re a tabletop veteran, this’ll be a great, stress free, planning free one shot you can play with your game group. It is guaranteed to create some laughs.

If you haven’t listened to The Adventure Zone, or read their graphic novel series based from it, don’t worry. You won’t get lost. This game is about the story you make with your friends. And while the setting might seem a little wild without the show to justify it, it really just facilitates your adventure and is largely insignificant to the game you’ll play. That said, it was great being able to throw down some thick TAZ references between us. And when the game box arrived in the mail, riffling through all the cards to see the art of the characters I know, and love was like opening a birthday present.

So if you don’t know what TAZ is, don’t worry. But if you do, hail and well met my dudes, because this game is a baller cookie.

If you think you might want to give The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance a go, check it out here

Liked it? Take a second to support ATGN on Patreon!

Add a Comment