The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance – When Stories Get Crazy
A decade ago, The Adventure Zone was conceived during an episode of the internet-famous podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me, starring the McElroy brothers. As brothers are wont to do, they filled this podcast with jokes and laughter. Indeed, The Adventure Zone itself started as a joke answer to a question about Dungeons and Dragons. This soon spawned a spinoff podcast where the hosts played a game of D&D with, adorably, their dad. They called it, of course, The Adventure Zone.
They called their first story arc Balance, and it had the players playing as part of the “Bureau of Balance”, trying to find and destroy seven Grand Relics. Often hilarious and never appropriate for children, this first adventure told this story over nearly 70 episodes.
Six years later, the team at Twogether Studios has released The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, a collaborative storytelling card game based on the property of the same name. Capturing the same silly feel as its namesake, Bureau of Balance is a light RPG driven far more by crazy stories than stat crunching. Two to five players can play a session of Bureau of Balance in about 60-90 minutes. Was the team at Twogether Studios able to bring The Adventure Zone to a family audience? Let’s look together.
Each player takes a character sheet from one of the class pads and takes the associated action token. You should only have one player of each class. Fill out the character sheet by completing the sentences and drawing a picture. There are ideas on the back – but they’re only suggestions.
Pick someone to be the “Team Leader” – This is kind of like a Dungeon Master, but they’re playing the game as well. The Team Leader just makes sure everything stays on track while you play. The Team Leader also gets to do the rest of the setup.
The game board has spots for a Villain, a Relic, and a Location. Pick the Mission Card for one of each from the game supplies and take their associated Challenge decks. The back of the Mission Cards describe how to set the decks up. Put a random Surprise card after the fourth card of each deck.
Shuffle the Fantasy Kostco deck and set it aside.
Put the Team Health token on the board on the appropriate number depending on the party size.
Finally, put the TAZ die and all of the tokens near the gameboard.
Share in the Story
The primary objective in The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is to collect the Relics. As such, to win the game, the players must make their way through the Relic deck. They also have to make their way through either the Villain or the Location deck to win. Some of the Challenge decks change the way these general requirements work, however.
Start by going around the table and having each player introduce their character, including reading off the completed sentences on their sheets. If you’re anything like us, these are pretty silly.
Once everyone has introduced themselves, the Team Leader explains what the players are up against. This sets the stage for the game. Of course, the narration can be as zany or as dry as you’d like.
The Team Leader takes the first turn, and play proceeds clockwise.
On their turn players must engage in a challenge, picking the top card of one of the three decks. Players determine their strength by looking at the numbers in the middle of their character sheet. Does one of the challenges have an icon that matches whatever they’re strongest against? That might be the best one to choose.
The active player then tells the story of how they’re going to accomplish the challenge. This can be as ridiculous as desired, but make it fun! Certain challenges have story bonuses – if the other players like the story, add +1 to the attack.
Players may ask one person for help. If they choose to help, they spend their Action Token and add their assist value. Some classes have a higher pre-roll assist value. But be careful! Some challenges restrict players’ ability to help. Plus, if a player has already spent their Action Token, they can’t help either.
Finally it’s time to roll the TAZ Die (with values 1-6). If the total of the die value, plus strength and assist values, is equal to or greater than the challenge, the player has defeated the challenge! Take the card and use it for loot later. If not, they can ask for final assistance. This is a different value on most character sheets. Players will know if it’s worth it to get assistance or not at this point, which is why the values are usually lower.
If the challenge is still too difficult, reduce the Team Health Track by the Damage value of the challenge. If the Team Health ever reaches zero, you’re forced to abandon the mission and go home.
Who doesn’t like shopping? At the end of a player’s turn, if they have enough loot, they can turn in some to draw a card from the Fantasy KostCo deck. These cards are always helpful. Players may only have two at a time, but they can give them to other players.
Play continues clockwise until the team wins or runs out of health. Players get their Action Token back every time the Team Leader takes a turn.
Defeat the Relic deck and one of the other two Challenge Decks to win!
In a lot of ways, Bureau of Balance is the kind of role playing game I want to play after a long day at work. When I’m tired or feeling a little goofy and not really wanting to calculate numbers, D&D or other crunchy role playing games are just too heavy to consider on a week night.
If there was one word I would use to describe what usually happens in a game of Bureau of Balance it’s “silly”. That’s who this game is for. Even if you’ve never heard the show, knowing it has its roots in family comedy should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. If going to Fantasy KostCo to purchase a Fannypack of Holding from Garfield the Deals Warlock isn’t your idea of a good time, this might not be the right game for you.
Bureau of Balance is a fun, farcical storytelling game designed to get everyone around the table laughing. It’s light on rules because it’s supposed to be. If you’re looking for a crunchy, min-maxing dungeon crawl adventure, pass on this one.
Fans of The Adventure Zone and My Brother, My Brother, and Me will notice a lot of familiar items (The Flaming Raging Poisoning Sword of Doom, anyone?) and references that add additional flavor to the game, but that knowledge is unneccessary to have a great time.
But what about Kids?
Especially given this game’s roots, can kids play, or will it leave some parents clutching their pearls?
The answer, unequivocally, is yes, kids can play, and they’ll love it. Apart from some implied glimpses of the arcane, which might leave some families uncomfortable, there is nothing questionable inside. You can even cram a sixth player if you have a big family and mom or dad is willing to be the Team Leader without being a playable character.
Obviously, Bureau of Balance requires reading. You won’t be able to play this with a pre-reader without a lot of help. That being said, the age rating of 13+ on the box is definitely too high. The team at Twogether Studios has done a great job distilling the mechanics to something incredibly simple – even easier than many other RPG style games that are designed specifically for children.
Kids will find some of the cards hilarious, whether it’s the Slippies of Haste (definitely what I need in the morning) or the incredibly helpful Steven the Goldfish. For us, the sillier the story the better. There is some guidance in the book for the Team Leader, but mechanically, the game is wide open for interpretation, the way it should be.
We love this game as a quick romp without too many mechanics bogging us down. The choices are simple, the stories are wild, and the table is full of laughter.
Pick up a copy of The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance on Amazon or at your Friendly Local Game Store today, and see if you can convince the Director you’re up for the next mission. After all, there’s a free round at the local Chug & Squeeze if you manage to secure that Relic.
Twogether Studios provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance
Age Range: 13+ (We say 8+)
Number of Players: 2-5
Playtime: 60-90 minutes