I – Introduction
Author: Kenneth C. Shannon, III
Illustrations: Lindsay Archer, Brigette Indelicato
Year published: 2018
Player count: 1 – 2 players
Recommended player count: 1 player
Length: 20 – 90 minutes
Set-up and teardown time: Relatively fast, 10 minutes to prepare a new deck, 2 to play it again.
Mechanisms: push your luck, hand management
Card size: 51X89mm (Swan Panasia is the only brand that seems to manufacture these sleeves for the time being)
Maiden’s Quest is a mainly solitaire game that can be played in the palm of one hand, and stopped and resumed to be played on the go, in a waiting line, etc. The player takes the role of an abducted maiden trying to escape or defeat her captor. The player will attempt to gather the right icon types in order to defeat a succession of obstacles of increasing difficulty as they cycle through their deck, until they either run out of health, or fulfill one of the win conditions: escaping through an exit, or defeating their captor.
This review was written after 30 plays, all solo.
You’ve been held captive for too long. No way you’ll be waiting for a muscular specimen of the male genus to rescue you. ‘Tis time you took the matter — and your freedom — into your own (perfectly manicured) hands. You’re not going to be stopped or held by skeletons, zombies, vampires, or rival royalties. So pick your favorite dress and sharpen those crystal high heels, today, you’re getting out. One way… Or another.
II – Flow of the game
To play a game of Maiden’s Quest, the player should choose a Maiden and a Captor, then follow the set-up instructions on the back of their respective cards to determine how many items, dresses, health, savior, treasure and obstacle cards they will need to include in the deck. They then thoroughly shuffle the deck, place the Rest cards at the bottom with number 1-Halt! showing up, and are ready to start playing.
The player discards cards to the bottom of the deck — something the game calls cellaring — until they encounter an obstacle of value equal to or lower than their current level, indicated by the Rest card. They then must decide whether they want to challenge the obstacle, or run away from it.
If they want to challenge it, they must fan the next 5 cards, showing their upper right icons, and see whether they match those of the obstacles, both in types and quantity. If they match, the obstacle is defeated and flipped it on its back side, granting the player the rewards depicted in the middle of the card — usually, upgrading a card to have better or more icons. If there are enough icons of the matching type in the fun, the player must apply the consequences depicted on the lower part of the obstacle card, plus those of the left side of any other obstacle card — then called Adds — remaining in their fan. These are usually hits and/or downgrades.
If they run, they must fan the next 5 cards and downgrade one of them, then cellar them along with the obstacle.
When a card is hit or downgraded, it is rotated 180° degrees or flipped to a lesser side — from gold to blue to bright red to deep red, black or grey. When a card is upgraded, it is rotated or flipped to a higher side.
The player continues doing so until they reach the Rest card, which is advanced to its next state — from 1 to 2A to 2B to 3A… to 4 — at which point the deck is shuffled and another level begins, escalating the game’s difficulty.
If the player should suffer a hit but have no heart left in their deck, they are defeated.
If the player successfully challenges an Exit card, they flee and win the game.
If the player successfully challenges their Captor, they win the game.
III – Weighing Maiden’s Quest‘s pros and cons
– Maiden’s Quest is replayable! With several different cards of each type, some really changing the strategy — Captors, for the most part, but Maidens and Items too, especially those granting card manipulation — there are a many plays out of the box.
– Maiden’s Quest is portable! Card size and the icon disposition make the game easy to play in the palm of one’s hand without spreading outward. It can easily be paused and resumed too.
– Maiden’s Quest can be thinky! There is a lot of room for abusing effects, and when one masters timings, Foresight, Distraction and cellaring, as well as which cards to upgrade or downgrade, one feels empowered and in control of what may at first seem like a very random game.
– Maiden’s Quest is random! A bad shuffle can ruin a run, be it on level 1 or level 4, leaving the player with no chance to achieve much for the level if their good cards all get cellared before they encounter a single obstacle, or if the obstacles clog together in their fan, leaving little control over the outcome.
– Maiden’s Quest is difficult to grasp! Even with the second edition, the rules aren’t clear on the first read and some effects will remain unclear after several playthroughs.
– Maiden’s Quest can overstay its welcome! There are runs that just can’t seem to end, with some cards absorbing damage while the Captor’s icons aren’t met, one shuffle after another. I have had games last upward of 90 minutes, which is too long for a game this light.
IV – The wall of text (a.k.a. the Comboteur Fou’s opinion)
In a previous “play in your hand” game review, I stressed that standard cards are too large to be easily manipulated and stored sideways in someone’s hand, and that they defeat the purpose of a game that is supposed to be played in the palm of a hand, despite the fact that 18 cards seemed to be an appropriate format. I also showed that 18 cards didn’t allow for much replay-value, and alluded to the game I am about to review as, maybe, a more appropriate alternative.
So, having now played it, how does Maiden’s Quest meet my expectations ?
For the most part, very favorably.
Maiden’s Quest comes with 160 cards divided into 8 card types, each with many variations, from 8 different Maidens to 44 different item cards, offering enough variability to warrant a high number of plays before becoming stale, provided the player enjoys what’s on offer there. Each Maiden and each Captor comes with its own decklist, indicating which quantity of each card type to randomly use to build their deck, with the exception of health and item cards, a couple of which are mandatory for each Maiden, defining their traits and heirlooms. The other items, health cards, saviors, treasures and obstacles have to be randomly picked, while the player can choose — or randomly select — one or two dresses to wear for the run.
This random selection allows the game to feel different each run, as each item and health card will offer a different array of icons not only on their starting side, but also on their upgraded, downgraded, and Gone sides, requiring the player to select different paths each time in terms of what to upgrade/downgrade into. A decision that will have to take into account not only the number of icons, but also the obstacles’ and Captor’s requirements. Queen Narsista, for instance, will punish the player for having Charisma icons, meaning that the player, at one point, will want to actively remove said icons, possibly by downgrading the cards bearing them, forcing the player to take bigger risks during encounters, in the hopes that they fail said encounter and are allowed to downgrade the Charisma cards down to sides offering different icons, or into a Gone side altogether; or possibly to upgrade them into a card manipulation icon which would allow them to cellar most of their remaining other Charisma icons.
Obstacle cards will also greatly influence the way the run plays. Selected from a pool containing a good number of different cards, these not only have a wide array of requirements and effects in case the encounter fails, but will also reward the player with different boons, from icons to be added to their fan in future levels, to different instant effects. The most common reward being an upgrade to a card in the fan, with the occasional Foresight and Treasure reward.
This random selection makes it so that it is entirely possible for a deck to have no way, other than having it in the fan at the right time, to discover a treasure card, or no card that will increase the fan’s size. A situation I have recently encountered against King Shawl, a Captor that comes with more obstacles than usual, turning the situation into a highly perilous one. Yet I won with this deck on my first try.
This play, along with many other different decks I’ve played, leads me to believe that, although items and health cards are randomly generated, the game doesn’t offer any configuration that cannot be overcome, either by defeating the Captor, or by escaping the tower. Possibly not on the first attempt, but Maiden’s Quest is not a game for which I would go through the steps of creating a new deck just to give it only one run.
Thanks to its deck creation system, the game manages to feel like playing a Rogue video game — those games in which everything is randomized but lets the player evolve in environments adapted to their supposed strength level at the time they reach them, and in which death is permanent and all character progress lost — but with the benefit that the player is able to replay the exact same tower over and over again until they reach a satisfying outcome. The order they meet the cards in will of course be randomized, but the monsters, items and boss will not, something which the video games don’t usually offer.
Maiden’s Quest’s encounter system competently emulates the tower’s escalation by having the player cellar all Adds that are of a higher level than the tower’s current, be it when encountered or when appearing in the fan. And while doing so may be cumbersome, forcing unnecessary card manipulation in the form of draws that are immediately discarded, these higher level cards do play a role in the game, in that they hide valuable information during earlier levels, preventing the player from using Foresight to its fullest for instance, as if level 2-4 obstacles appear in the foresighted cards on level 1, the player won’t be able to prepare the next encounter to their full advantage, perhaps representing the looming evil threats at work dimming the Maiden’s chance to escape their clutches.
While their inclusion from the start could seem counterintuitive at first, it is entirely justified by the fact that Maiden’s Quest aims at being portable. It therefore would defeat the game’s purpose to ask the player to incorporate higher level obstacles only when they reach the Rest card a given number of time, setting the cards aside in the meantime. Where, then, would they be put aside or carried?
A question which will in turn inevitably rise when the player is forced to shuffle the deck when reaching said Rest cards. As the approximately forty cards-thick deck will need a thorough shuffle each time, or each time the player discovers a treasure as a reward for defeating an obstacle, they will have to set aside the two Rest cards. It is unfortunately not possible to shuffle these cards in the deck before searching for them and bottom-decking them, as that would then give the player valuable information that would offset the game’s reliance on push-your-luck.
Due to these two factors (frequent shuffles, and it being centered around pushing your luck), Maiden’s Quest heavily relies on luck and randomness. Or at least that is how the first plays feel like. A couple of failed encounters in the first levels can quickly snowball into the inability to hope to tackle most obstacles during the following levels, as the player will not only become unable to upgrade their cards, but will have to suffer the consequences of their failure to defeat previous obstacles, thus downgrading some of their cards, which, most of the time, results in losing some icons.
Where Maiden’s Quest really shines is in that downgrading is more complex than just losing icons. While most cards become weaker as they are downgraded, some even losing all of their icons while others start becoming dangerous by adding hits to the fan, some cards simply become more powerful as they are downgraded into more desperate versions of themselves, either offering more icons, or different ones which may be more suited to the tower’s needs than their original ones. Interestingly, a card downgraded to its Gone, grey side becomes a card that can immediately be cellared when in a fan, therefore effectively reducing the size of the deck, while still hindering Foresight, and potentially allowing the player to reach another card they actually need more easily… Or to hasten their doom in the form of yet another Add to add dreadful consequences to a failed encounter.
Because they can be used to soak hits or downgrades, whichever state they currently are in, Saviors are a great way to mitigate the risk of failed encounters. But, because they all come with a downside when on their Saved side, forcing the player to immediately downgrade a card with a matching icon, they also represent a risk in exchange for their raw power. The immediacy of these downgrade effects means that the player cannot rely on card manipulation to put their most powerful or vulnerable cards to safety before they are potentially downgraded, which can easily lead to a failed encounter and the loss of a valuable set of icons.
When to run away, and what to run away from, thus becomes an important part of the strategy, a decision lying around every corner of the trapped tower the Maiden evolves in, culminating in the Treasure reward, which, when all treasure cards have already been revealed, allows the player to upgrade any card in their deck to its Enhanced side, regardless of whether the card was Gone — a state in which the card usually cannot be upgraded anymore — or not. This lets the player handpick the card that really suits their need.
Foresight, Haste and Distraction are the three icons that make the game really fun to play, as they allow the player to set their deck up. Stacking — or cellaring some of — the next five cards thanks to a Foresight, then distracting the Foresight card to draw into the next one, possibly increasing the fan size and drawing the next one doing so, is a very enjoyable way to overcome obstacles, and in the late game, when most of the obstacles have been defeated, the player is often able to rely on deck manipulation to try and meet harsher icon requirements. Haste will be the player’s trump card, allowing them to run from an obstacle without suffering any penalty, but also, if present in the fan, letting the player swap an Add for the encountered obstacle, allowing them to get rid of an obstacle that they cannot manage yet and to face one they know they can defeat, gaining them an important tempo swing as they avoid downgrading cards, defeat an obstacle they would otherwise have had to wait another shuffle to hypothetically encounter, reap its reward, and have it become a potential item or cellar-able card in the future. Should they not be able to defeat the swapped obstacle either, they still can minimize their losses by having an obstacle with lesser penalties inflict them instead of the previous one, granting them control over what’s happening during the encounter.
Maiden’s Quest is a well-balanced game, with the exception, maybe, of the unlockable treasures. For the purpose of this review, I automatically unlocked and included all unlockable treasures without meeting the requirements, after maybe fifteen plays. While these treasures will, for the Gifts ones, be close to impossible to unlock for most solo gamers, especially outside of the USA, they are also difficult to implement if included without meeting the requirements, as they require a number of signatures, which is factored in to determine the number of wild icons they contribute to the fan they’re in.
Some of the obstacles are more difficult to defeat than others, which can result in devastating turns if the fan is stacked with Adds that pile up on damage. A damaging obstacle can therefore see its damage really pushed by an unlucky fan, resulting in either a direct loss, or a very damaging hit, not just because the player will have to downgrade several cards, but also because, to do so, they will have to cellar cards until they find the right number of health cards to downgrade, wasting a lot of time in the process as they get closer to the Rest card and a shuffle that will lead them to a higher level, increasing the difficulty without netting them any reward. It will not be seldom for a failed Ettin encounter to punish the player with 6 hits: 3 from the Ettin itself and 3 from Adds or downgraded items.
While most level 4 obstacles have demands that should be met without too much difficulty on level 4 if things went well for the player, some level 2 and level 3 obstacles can potentially put a stop to a run. Level 2s which require 4 combat icons, or 3 charisma icons, for instance, are a lot tougher than they would seem at first, due to the lack of versatility in their demands. It is a lot easier to gather any 10 icons — especially considering that non-basic icons such as Foresight or Haste will contribute — than 3 or 4 very specific icons, at least until the player has found some wilds.
The Maidens have potent effects when part of a fan, for the most part, with Acolyte Dawn probably being the strongest of them all, by both being able to Foresight by default, but also by expanding said Foresight as it reveals obstacles or Gone cards, allowing the player to set up for big turns by providing the most valuable resource in the game: knowledge of what is to come. Revealing up to 14 cards sometimes, Acolyte Dawn is a monster killer that, by herself, can change the tide by guaranteeing the player can defeat the next one, two or three obstacles, or cellar them without needing to run. As she increases her range with Gone cards too, she also makes level 4 easier to overcome if the player suffered a lot of losses during levels 1 to 3, especially considering this last level can sometimes consist of trying to encounter the Captor at all.
While they themselves are but a single card in the deck, the different Captors manage to make each game feel different thanks to their specific cardlist. Some will feature no level 4 obstacle and a single Savior when others will come with several of each card type. The harder Captors, Firemouth and Death, also bring more obstacles in their deck than the easier foes, going from 12 up to 19, ensuring a higher amount of randomness and failed encounters since more Adds will show up in fans, making the game more difficult before the player even faces their Captor. The presence of more Saviors also tends to make the game more difficult as they will be downgrading more cards when on their Saved side.
The Captor themselves will require the player to adapt their strategy to beat them as well. While some will restrict the icon type needed to defeat them, some will have damaging effects taking place at the start of the encounter. Effects that can easily be devastating as, similar to Saviors, they take place before the player can manipulate cards in their fans. Hal downgrading a card to its Gone side, for instance, can easily ruin an encounter. Fortunately, these effects only occur if the player chooses to challenge the captor, and should they run, they will only suffer a downgrade penalty, with the exception of Death, who cannot be challenged and will apply its penalty when encountered.
Strategies to defeat Captors will range from trying to get rid of dresses against Jeliasta Jones, to defeating all the obstacles in the game against Turda Weddleson, trying to negate special “automatic failure” abilities. The aforementioned Death can only be defeated by escaping through an Exit. Given that none of the Maiden’s Heirlooms actually downgrades into an Exit, and that they only bring 14 other Item cards with them, it is reasonable to assume that there will be decks that cannot win against Death. But it is easy enough to seed an Exit-able card when facing this Captor.
While the overall randomness and snowballing could easily lead to frustration, Maiden’s Quest circumvents this potential issue by providing the player with the second win condition mentioned above: escaping the tower. The Exit cards are a valuable addition to the game that can favorably allow a win even when everything went poorly, although with 9 of them, there is no guarantee that a deck will have one. By being present on the Gone side of item cards, they contribute to making a terrible situation — one of repeatingly downgrading a card, most probably due to repeated failed encounters — become a potential win. While they require the player to survive through to level 4, and then meet their requirements, they constitute one of the very seldom, if not unique, ways to turn a desperate, seemingly lost run into a won run, even after everything repeatedly went wrong, encouraging the player never to give up.
The ability to escape is particularly welcome considering that the game can stall once the player reaches level 4, but can neither defeat the Captor or run out of health, a situation more likely to happen when playing Mariana, who can upgrade Gone health cards twice, facing Mr. Marrow, who flips defeated obstacles back to life, leading to going through the motions for longer than expected, given the player is likely able to defeat the obstacles again when they’re brought back to life, earn back the rewards, and upgrade their downgraded cards again, even if they cannot defeat the Captor yet.
My main source of frustration, though, is when a large part of the most powerful cards (like the ones that expand the fan’s size) repeatedly appear before any obstacle shows up, after a new shuffle, resulting in them being cellared before being used, which in turn results in undefeated obstacles clogging together in the lower part of the deck, and more likely in the fan when encountering one, accumulating penalties while being more difficult to defeat. This is easily remedied by forcing a reshuffle if too many of those cards are cellared before any obstacle is encountered. It can also help alleviate the previous issue of a run overstaying its welcome upon reaching level 4, which more often than not is due to this very situation, as the cards needed to gather the wanted icons in the fan have already been found, to no effect. I have taken to applying this house rule in some of my most recent plays, and have found that it increased my enjoyement of the game by preventing some needless stalls.
Although I have not used them, it is worth noting that the Easy and Difficult rules prevent this from happening, by respectively making the player win, or lose, after they reach the Rest cards, if they are already on level 4.
Components, theme and artwork
The card size for Maiden’s Quest is resolutely peculiar. While it makes sleeving more difficult than it has to be, it also allows the game to feel very portable, as the cards are narrower than standard cards on their horizontal side, thus able to fit easily in a coat pocket, and in one hand, even when 6 — the obstacle and the 5 cards underneath — are fanned. Although, since the game will sometimes allow a fan of 12 cards, plus Foresight, even players gifted with large hands will find holding their deck without the help of a table or other surface a hard thing to do.
Because the game will often require a thorough shuffle when creating a new deck, reaching a new level, or applying the Treasure reward, it is strongly advised to sleeve it, especially given that the card stock, while decent, is also prone to show wear. It is worth noting that the — to my knowledge — only available sleeves aren’t slippery and will greatly ease the shuffling, helping in achieving proper card type distribution throughout the deck, especially after creating a new one, when obstacles tend to stick together.
Due to the nature of the game and its reliance on cards being on their correct side, Maiden’s Quest can quickly become unplayable if, during one of the many required shuffles — especially in the late game as levels get shorter due to the diminishing number of undefeated obstacles — the player inadvertently drops some cards, thus losing track of the state they were in.
The box is of high quality and pretty sturdy. It contains a insert made of folded cardboard that will still house the cards sleeved without any lid elevation, although getting them out will be a little tricky as the indentation doesn’t go all the way through, meaning that cards at the bottom of the insert tend to remain there and can be tricky to get out.
The rulebook is made of thick paperstock and enjoyable to browse through, with high definition pictures of the cards and icons and lots of illustrated examples. The chart showing how to upgrade or downgrade a card is especially useful.
The various card layouts and patterns are beautiful and colorful, with background colors making it very clear what state a card is in, from Enhanced to Gone. The ribbon depicting the icons will also help identifying the card’s state, going from flamboyant to torn to shredded. The information is for the most port self-explicit, and the icons clear and easy to tell apart.
The artwork is less successful and of varying quality. Some pieces feel very amateurish, like Dim Da Troll’s, while others have received more attention. In general, obstacles are lower quality, treasures are a mixed bag, and Maidens and Saviors are higher quality. Dresses are a nice touch and overall, pretty. Backgrounds are of the lowest quality. Although the characters have unique, detailed drawings, the background are generic, look pixelated, and are even reused from card to card, such as Queen Narsista’s arched background being the exact same as King Shawl’s and Acolyte Dawn’s.
Surprisingly for a game which, in the end, feels rather abstract, the theme comes out really well, with each Maiden having her own particular traits in the form of health cards and heirloom item card, while also having her own icon, ability, and upgrade ability. The Captors also have their own themes, especially the harder ones, with Mr. Marrow bringing obstacles back from the dead, King Shawl being despised by minions who turn against him to help the player, Queen Narsista who shuns charisma and is harder to beat if the Maiden shows it, Death which cannot be beaten, but only escaped… The overall icon distribution over the obstacles is also quite thematic, with doors needing a key to be opened and magic ones needing magic on top, mercenaries who can only be vainquished by brute force, when vampires require piety and magic.
The Saviors being both a blessing and a nuisance is extremely thematic to the game’s “take matters into your own hands” motto. While they will not hesitate to take damage for the player and will always lend a hand when encountered, on their Saved side they can and will pose problems by getting in the way of the player, sometimes resulting in failed encounters that would otherwise have been succesfully defeated.
Items and health cards’ names and flavor texts are truly delightful and witty. Some items are particularly tasty, such as the Hand Mirror turning into a Skeletal Platypus, or Flats slowly becoming uncomfortable to someone so used to wearing high heels, going from “Sensible. Comfortable. Easy.” to “So easy.” to “Still comfortable!” as they wear down while the card depicting them gets downgreaded. From Swiss Army Halberd to Platform Spring Heels to Parrot of Power, there are lot things to love in Maiden’s Quest‘s silly approach to fairy tales.
The counterpart to it is that, while the theme would make one think that the game is destined to younger girls, Maiden’s Quest is a rather complex game in a light package, as proven by its 32-pages rulebook. Endgame encounters will require keeping track of a lot of moving parts, especially when Distract, Foresight and increased fan size are involved. While younger people can definitely enjoy the game to some extent, both its somewhat complex mechanisms and its crispy humor are more tailored to adults.
While the first edition rulebook is notorious for being extremely bad, the copy I used for this review is second edition. The rulebook still is difficult to browse through and will require multiple readings and playthroughs to be fully apprehended, as they are not necessarily presented in a way that makes sense in regard to the flow of the game. The glossary, for instance, appears between the Set-up and How to play sections (the latter starting no sooner than p. 10!), overwhelming the reader with information they are not yet ready to understand.
It will, however, answer most of the player’s questions after a couple of plays and rereads, and can fairly easily be browsed through to find the right answer once the player has familiriazed with the rules enough to appreciate the finer points of play.
Only Maidens, Captors, Treasures and level 4 obstacles have rules text other than the word “Any”. A Flip icon will denote its presence on the backside of the card. Most of it is self-explicit but relies on the game’s specific vocabulary, with terms such as Cellar, Fan, Adds which will make the first plays a little hard to grasp.
Some rules questions are unfortunately not addressed in the rulebook, however, such as, but not limited to:
– What happens when you look through your deck for a Savior with the Everflowing Wineskin treasure? Which part of your deck, if any, do you reshuffle, and when?
– If no card can be downgraded in your fan when a Savior card enters it, but you cellar cards and new cards that can be downgraded by it enter the fan, do you downgrade them immediately, or does “immediately downgrade a card” only apply to the original 5 cards?
– If an opened door rewards with a treasure followed by an upgrade, do you have to resolve the reward in the presented order, therefore opting to search your deck for a treasure card, even if one is in your fan, then choose to upgrade the treasure in your fan with the upgrade reward, or must you upgrade the treasure in your fan as the treasure part of the reward, then upgrade a second card? For that matter, since the rulebook says to search the deck for a treasure, are you allowed, or is it mandatory, to upgrade one that would be in your fan instead?
– If King Shawl is an Add, and swapped as the encounter thanks to a Haste icon, does he immediately flip all Adds in the fan to their grey side as if the encounter had just started?
Maiden’s Quest offers a stop-and-go, highly portable and enjoyable experience with enough variability to warrant a more than decent replay-value, and enough meaningful decisions to keep the player engaged and potentially addicted, with an interesting learning curve that will yield many plays before it gets stale. While it does suffer from overstaying its welcome during level 4, while the player is fishing for the right cards combination, it is easy enough to circumvent this issue with a house rule, or to reboot the tower altogether.
Good, light, thinky fun to play on the go with the occasional highly frustrating run.
Maiden's Quest belongs to Wizkids. Header image from Boardgamegeek.com