Pocket Book Adventures is a solo-only dungeon crawler, designed by David David and published by Grumpy Spider Games (known for 2021’s Rucksack). It packs classic dungeon elements (monsters, potions, traps, and treasures) into a small form factor designed to be played on the go.
Note: I played a prototype version of the game for this preview. The final game will include thicker pages, slightly larger graphics, and some updated artwork.
There are exactly two game components: The adventure notebook and a pencil (not included). The book itself is truly pocket-sized, and it fits in a purse, pouch, or bag of holding for travel.
The Hook: Aiming
I am a fan of clever designs with minimal components (see my Button Shy Games reviews here, here, and here). What makes Pocket Book Adventures different than other games I’ve played is the aiming mechanism. Several times during a game I was asked to put my pencil on a starting point, then close my eyes or look away, then try to place my pencil in the center of the target.
Aiming is used to determine the amount of treasure in a chest, in training exercises to earn bonuses, and to resolve monster encounters. The monster battles include not only a “closer to the center = less damage” element, but also status triggers. For example, the Slime monster can add Sludge to my character, reducing my maximum movement distance.
Accuracy During Real-world Travel. While the game is designed for travel, I found my aim sometimes thrown off. I ride a small ferry for my work commute, and I noticed my aim was seemingly* affected by the boat. I decided to just go with it, incorporating the jostles into my own head canon: Pocket Book Adventures at Sea.
(*It’s also possible I’m just bad at aiming.)
Available actions and general gameplay will be familiar to most dungeon-crawling gamers: move, fight, pick up loot, grab a key, unlock a chest, escape through the exit.
Campaign Area. Each pair of pages in the book is a new campaign area that lists the monsters to fight and describes new items or traps. It includes three ways to earn “stars” on each map: defeat monsters, limit damage taken, and move efficiently.
At the completion of each map, the player’s health, gold, status effects, items, and weapons carry over to the next page, introducing some interesting choices: Should I risk one more enemy battle to access the treasure chest behind it, or protect my HP for the next campaign?
Play Time and Save States. I like being able to “complete a thing” in a short amount of time, so I enjoyed the 5-10 minute campaigns in Pocket Book Adventures. And since every move essentially creates a save state, I can stop anytime to put the game away, and then pick it up later, making Pocket Book Adventures commute-friendly.
Color Vision Accessibility. Pocket Book Adventures meets the highest level of color vision accessibility – it is entirely playable in greyscale. It was designed as a black-and-white production, using two levels of grey (light, dark) along with clear black iconography and plenty of white space. I think the art style is charming, and it is 100% colorblind accessible.
Low Vision Accessibility. I found some of the font sizes to be a little small, but the typeface used and high-contrast resulted in clear visuals. I suggest the publisher consider slightly higher contrast: black numbers inside the star icons and black for all small text (like descriptions of the status effects).
Accessibility Limitations: Dexterity. Pocket Book Adventures will not be accessible for everyone. The aiming mechanism requires a level of physical dexterity that some gamers cannot attain due to their disabilities. While aiming is a core element that makes this game interesting, a player who’s unable to complete this task could still enjoy the puzzle. There could be some clever work-arounds to develop new randomness mechanisms that replicate aiming.
I asked David about this limitation, and he shared their discussions on the topic during design and development:
I spent a good bit of time trying to come up with another way to play that would be reasonably similar, but never came up with anything that was very satisfying.
I want to include everyone I can, as seamlessly as I can, but sometimes that’s not really possible, like when the entire game is designed around a mechanic that’s difficult for some people, which Pocket Book Adventures is.
Pocket Book Adventures provides a solid dungeon crawl experience in a small package. Visual accessibility is excellent, including 100% color vision accessibility. Those with limited motor skills or dexterity may want to learn more before backing or purchasing.
If the aiming mechanism, form factor, and style of the game intrigue you, I recommend checking it out! You can find the campaign on Kickstarter and learn more from Grumpy Spider Games.
Photo Credits: Grumpy Spider Games
Disclaimer: Colorblind Games received a prototype copy of Pocket Book Adventures from Grumpy Spider Games for this preview.