Tabletop Review – Ravine
Ravine is a game that drops its willing participants into the middle of a ravine after their plane crashes into the middle of the wilderness. Survivors of the crash must work together to survive the dangers of the night as they wait for rescue. They’ll have to forage for resources daily at the expense of precious energy. But their unfamiliarity with the island makes every excursion a gamble and may dash their hopes of returning home with a feast and firewood for their compatriots. As starvation looms ever nearer so too does a mad desperation for survival that can lead people to do strange things. Does the group have what it takes to hold out for the rescue team?
Perhaps I’ve become too spoiled by the size of Kickstarter boxes and the plastic goodies that come with stretch goals to assume much of such a tiny box. As small and unassuming as Ravine’s box is, the contents are clearly a well thought out labor of love. There’s a small woven bag meant to hold two handfuls of double-sided wooden tokens that represent constructed campfires and survivor health and a stack of beautifully illustrated cards.
There are four decks of cards, each one with its their own intuitively illustrated card backs to help distinguish from one another. Character cards are all illustrated to look like boarding passes complete with passenger name, destination, gate, airline, seat number, and QR code for boarding. But the relevant information on these cards are each character’s starting item that they found among the wreckage, what the effect is, and how many times it can be used.
The foraging deck is marked by a compass in the center of the card back surrounded by topographical lines on a light green background that’s perfectly appropriate for an extended stay in the woods. Similarly, the madness card backs are a burned orange and amber color that spiral inward to the center of the card. Lastly, the night card deck that contains all of the horrible events that players will have to endure in the evening. White dots scattered across a black background with thin connecting lines in between form non-descript constellations, somewhat compensating for the horrible things on the reverse side of the cards.
I don’t recall the last game I played a game that was this easy to set up or to teach to a full table of new players.
To begin the game, all decks are shuffled, and players randomly select their character. Once everyone knows who they are, their plane goes down in a fiery crash and they take a moment to examine their condition. Each player will receive six wooden heart tokens. On one side of the token is a filled in heart and on the reverse side is a hollow outline with an “x” in it. All players begin with three of their health tokens filled in. The other three are rolled like a dice to determine what condition players walked out of the wreckage in.
Ravine is played in two phases: day and night. During the day, players will choose to expend their health in order to forage out in the wilderness. For each heart token they flip to empty, each player will simultaneously take a forage card in hopes of obtaining resources for the camp.
Food, in the form of flora and fauna, can be consumed to restore player health, allowing them to go out and gather again later. Wood and fiber can be used to build a shelter for the survivor camp or fire to protect the camp from inclement weather.
Once these resources have been allocated, the leftovers go into storage for survivors to hold onto for later use and the survivors hunker down for the night. At this stage, the top card of the night deck is drawn to discover whether the survivors will have to endure either a severe storm or an animal attack. Depending on how resources we spent during the previous phase, it’s possible that the effects of the card may be nullified. If not, heavy rain could cost unsheltered players two health points or hungry animals could come by and steal any food that was set aside for later.
Should any players be left with only one remaining heart, they must draw a madness card and perform the effects described. Some of the madness cards, such as Night Terrors, can be more playful. Night Terrors instructs the player in possession of the card to repeatedly shout out one of their fears until another player is able to wake them up by calling out to them using their full name. Other madness cards, such as Pyromania, can throw a wrench into even the best laid plans. The Pyromaniac is instructed to steal all of the wood and fiber from the group and build a massive fire. While it will keep the group safe from weather the next night, the fire will grow out of control and burn down any constructed shelters.
Worse, players with only one health point left are unable to forage for themselves so the rest of the group will have to gamble with their own health to find restorative food for those who are on the brink of death or else risk another devastating outburst of madness from survivors on the brink of death.
Somewhere in the stack of Night cards is a “You’ve been rescued!” card buried deeper into the deck depending on the selected difficulty and number of players. If players can last long enough to find it, all living players have survived the ordeal and are flown back home to safety.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with Ravine but it is a very random experience that is not everyone. Arguably, the most important moment that will define your Ravine experience is the initial health role.
In some playthroughs our survivors had varied results when we rolled for health. This allowed players with greater health to be more aggressive in their foraging approach and hopefully gather enough food for their injured allies to even out the team, creating a more balanced experience and a more enjoyable game.
However, if players all roll on the lower end of health the game starts at a severe disadvantage. With only three guaranteed health points to spend on foraging, searching for food becomes a real gamble. In one such game, we had just such a situation where I had three health, two players had four, and our last had six. I gambled and spent two points on foraging and came up with nothing. For our first day out, we retrieved little more than sticks, fiber, and a couple of rocks. Not a single piece of food.
As a result, I had to draw a madness card on the first round, drew the Pyromania example from earlier, and burned all of the resources we chad gathered for a shelter. Very soon after, a rain storm that shelter would have saved us from killed me and another one of our survivors. Just three days in and half our party was dead, and the other two were too weak and scared to forage and died of starvation soon after.
It’s not an easy game to come back from when you’re losing. In fact, I haven’t seen it happen yet. Ravine is a very random game so it’s difficult to execute a plan before an unexpected event trashes your dreams. But what keeps me coming back to Ravine is that losing doesn’t feel bad. It’s a quick game that usually takes twenty minutes at most. With such a short play time, it’s easy to fill the evening with three games in a night.
I’m a big fan of the minimalist approach. Ravine is incredibly easy to teach, cards are intuitive, and it’s a good game to travel with. Ironically, I took it on my last flight to play with wife and bar patrons at the airport. There were some odd looks and hesitation at first from the other passengers as we waited to board, but they quickly came to enjoy themselves and began drinking more as they realized that my survival incapable abilities were on their plan. As a side note, I’m currently writing this on a turbulent plane and deeply contemplating the irony and possible self-fulfilling prophesy. I can promise you that my fellow travelers are somewhere on this plane hoping that I don’t make it through a crash, because I will be no help to them at all.
Speaking of player elimination, it’s quite possible that a player will be killed within the first round or two, preventing them from surviving and winning the game. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing. There’s a way that players can use bone piles they find to resurrect a dead player. Or, if survivors are unable to do that, there are madness cards that would allow a dead player to control the actions of someone who is still in the game. Ravine is an odd game that takes a bleak situation and makes it quirky party fun.
As grim as Ravine’s premise is it fits neatly under the category of “fun party game” that I typically try to avoid. But Ravine is an exception and will be staying in my library. Its balance of survival drama and playful oddities like mid-game thumb wars remind me of what my friends and I would do to keep our minds occupied whenever we wandered too far off the hiking trail and were nervous about getting home. There are distractions scattered throughout that can help keep spirits high. While Ravine will only hit the table in certain instances, I don’t see myself getting bored with another near death experience.
3-6 players, increases to 5-9 with Ravine: The Spirits expansion
Quick and easy to teach and accessible to all ages.
Attractive minimalist artwork and screen printed wooden tokens.
I can see Ravine eventually growing old with the same set of people but much of the joy comes from new player’s discovery of the game.