8 Bit Tabletop Battles: a Review of IDW’s Random Encounter

Random Encounter has a good pedigree, coming from both Jamie Keddie, one of the designers of Minecraft Console Edition, and IDW Games, which has had more hits than misses over its first few years. Previously a Kickstarter that did not meet its funding goal in 2015, Random Encounter was acquired by IDW Games, who announced in January that it would be available in April.

Random Encounter is now running late, but IDW Games has promised through their social media pages that you’ll be able to play this tabletop game very soon. As IDW was kind enough to send me a review copy of Random Encounter: Plains of the Troll King, the first in a series of Random Encounter games, I can confirm that the game has made its way through production, and if you are one of the ones that has been waiting for this since the Kickstarter, your princess is not in another castle, she’s just waiting on the distributor.

Random Encounter is materially very striking, with unique dimensions that will stand out on your shelf and box art that will appeal to fans of Minecraft, as it displays some of Random Encounter’s denizens, The Troll King, The Book Wizard, and a mushroom warrior, in an 8 bit pixellated style. Keddie, the game designer, and known for his work on Minecraft Console Edition, also drew the box art, and he navigates well the fine line between seeming derivative and creating an homage to a great work of video game art that has charmed the head space of game players of all ages. These players already enamored of Minecraft will feel right at home in Random Encounter. Yes, the aesthetic for Random Encounter might be “ready made,” but it will feel less like a cash grab and more like a rolled out welcome mat.


Inside the box you’ll find 45 Random Encounter cards, 4 Boss cards, and 4 Key cards with the same visual design sense, as well as 5 mottled green Loot dice, the rulebook, and a reference card. The rules detail how to play Random Encounter both as a two to five multiplayer game and as a solo adventure.

In standard multiplayer Random Encounter, the Boss and Key cards are not used. To start, each player places their Loot die so that the one pip faces up, and then the 45 Random Encounter cards are shuffled and dealt out until each player has nine cards, which they must then build into five different face down encounters. Additionally, the players must decide which random encounter protects his or her Loot die.

The first player selects one of their random encounters to fight another player’s. To resolve a battle, first you consult the monster’s Level Star: encounters with a Green Level Star are swapped for the opposing random encounter, which gives sneaky players a chance to take a much stronger force with some weak cards; Blue Level Stars always win, and Red Level Stars always lose, unless it is a Blue Level Star facing a Red Level Star, in which case the Red card wins. The majority of the deck is comprised of Yellow Level Stars, which add no additional effect to a battle. In a case of Yellow Level Stars vs. Yellow Level Stars, the most common kind of battle, you simply add the levels on the cards to determine, by the highest level count, which side wins. If both players tie, all cards in that play are discarded from the game.

If you have a Loot die at stake in any battle, and lose, your opponent gains one pip on his Loot die and you lose one, with a minimum of one. Additionally, after all five hands are played, the player with the most victories adds two to their Loot die. As soon as someone has a Loot of six, the game ends with that player being the winner. In a four or five handed game, this could happen in the first round, while in a two or three player game it takes at least two rounds to win.

Strategy in Random Encounter is entirely contingent on how well you plan your encounters, as well as whether you can play an occasional artful subterfuge and whether you can see through your opponents’ tricks. For instance, you might think that the two cards in front of my Loot die are powerful monsters, and bring your Blue Level Star Lord of Toads against it, only to discover that I put a Green Level Star Book Wizard and a level 1 Chicken there, and, as Green Level Stars swap cards, that would give me the victory.

If only the game didn’t hinge on that single strategic moment and maybe one more. You see, as one or two round games are the norm for Random Encounter, this means that you only have one or two chances to plan your encounters, and a few different variations on how to play them once the game begins.

Therefore, while I found the design and the game set-up appealing and with a touch of 8-bit grandeur, because there are only one or two strategic moments in a game of Random Encounter, and the game is too short to enjoy the strategic element, I’m not left with an appetite for more. As a card war game, Random Encounter is very far away from games like Dominion, Munchkin, and Dragonwood, but as an easy to learn quick game with an enjoyable and familiar artistic motif, it may be fun for the right group of players that want a game that they don’t have to take that seriously between the torture of Catan and the rest of their game night. It may also be appreciated by children that are lost in the world of Minecraft…as long as they don’t make the mistake of playing Solo Adventure mode.

I’m old enough that when I hear the words solo adventure, I’m reminded of Choose Your Own Adventure books, Steve Jackson’s Sorcery, and Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest books, and while I found the set-up of Random Encounter‘s Solo Adventure Mode to be exciting, the game play was more Mundane Solitaire than Solo Adventure. After mixing in the Keys and the Bosses and laying out the game board in seventeen piles of cards, I found the game play to be pretty anticlimactic, as all I had to do to win was go slowly and fight every card. The ten to eleven year old crowd that has the vast digital sandbox of Minecraft to play in will probably be even more disappointed in Solo Adventure Random Encounter than I was.

And the really clever ones will say, “really Dad!?! Solitaire?”

Here are my reviews of Dragonwood, Splendor, Batman Fluxx, and Broom Service.

Random Encounter Plains of The Troll King

Or you might prefer to play this game that you might have heard of…

Here’s a friendly link to Endless Quest books.

Hey, did you know there’s an app for Steve Jackson’s Sorcery?

Cross posted on NerdSpan.com. IDW Games provided the review copy.  Board of Life uses affiliate links.


2 thoughts on “8 Bit Tabletop Battles: a Review of IDW’s Random Encounter

  1. Wow, bought this, epically disappointing. It’s a chance you take when you buy a game sight unseen (I did have a noble reason for doing so though…) and this time it didn’t pay off. First off the game is far too expensive – I paid £18, it’s worth £12 maximum. Yes I get the £ has dipped against the $ but still. The art is amazing, but there’s not actually that much of it. The gameplay however, is so basic as to render the whole thing a total waste of time for anyone (maybe) 10+. I should have known, the author’s previous game “Jackpot” is equally style over substance. How this one got picked up for a commercial release by an actual company (Jackpot was a bit of a failure as a self published game) is really beyond me. All that glitters is not gold (or loot) indeed.


  2. Pingback: Random Encounter: Seas of the Sea Chicken Announced by IDW for May – Board of Life

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