'The Ovoids are planning to expand their evil empire... The King would like you to send the Egg Empire a message that he hopes will drive them back'.
Evil eggs!!! This alone should be sufficient proof that Dark Venture is a really cool game. It is as cool as it looks (I know it doesn't appeal to everyone). And as the word 'cool' can mean everything and nothing, I use it to say it is unique, colourful, enjoyable and immersive.
Still, the solo player may face a few hiccups, but we'll get to them later. The game takes place in a sci-fi fantasy world in the wake of a cataclysmic event. Those who survived are deformed and mutated. You play as one of the heroes, trying to complete quests some of which are assigned to you by the king. As you traverse the land and visit mysterious locations, you come across other characters of dubious intentions. Some may become loyal followers, others will immediately attack you. You only have one day to fulfill your missions, so if you don't collect 20 points by sunset, you lose (you may choose the alternative beat-your-own-score variant, if you prefer).
Everything looks and feels very strange but not unpleasantly so. The map becomes gradually populated with characters. Combat takes place frequently (dice roll-based) but heroes never die, they only fall unconscious (followers are mortal though). Every time you place a new location, you have to leaf through a booklet that tells you what you find there. A second booklet informs you of the possible actions you can take in that location. After a few plays, you will become familiar with what happens where, so the designer has included two different locations and actions books to add variety.
If you play solo following the standard rules, chances are you will stumble on the same problem as I did. You begin with a hand of four cards (a location, a character, and two items), and draw a new card on each subsequent turn. Some Heroic Quests require that you meet and defeat a specific character. By drawing just a single card each turn, it is very difficult to find who you are looking for unless you are very lucky. Daniel Davis (the man behind The Dungeon Dive YouTube channel) has therefore suggested a few rules tweaks. I tried them and indeed, they make the game flow better. You can find them here, if you are interested (I employed all his changes except the third, as I feared it would make the game too easy).
Production quality is top notch and it is evident that the designer has lovingly created this weird universe. Things can get a little fiddly (searching to find the correct standee, leafing through booklets, giving stats to the enemies) but this doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment if you play solo (it will become a table hog with more players).
The Vile Invaders expansion adds more content (extra heroes, enemies and resource collecting), and the Ancients cards offer bonuses if you gain their favour. Both great additions to the game. If you like non-mainstream ameritrashy adventuring, this is one to look for.