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Adam Ruzzo
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Note: Look for the Blue Text if you just want to skip to my direct analysis of "will like this game?"


What is a Core Loop?

This review will describe and discuss the Core Loop of Seafall. Core Loops describe the simplified, repeated action by the player throughout the game. For example: In Settlers of Catan the core loop is:

Quote:
• Roll a die to collect resources based on previous improvements
• Negotiate to trade resources with other players
• Spend your resources to acquire improvements which provide resources and/or victory points.
• Repeat


This core loop is a very simplified version of the game, but boiling it down this way can help determine what genre the game belongs in, and if you will enjoy the game.

What is Seafall's Core Loop?

Obviously you could not describe the gameplay of Game 15 of the Seafall campaign without spoiling things, but the Core Loop is not something that it is going to change significantly. This means you can use the Core Loop to examine the gameplay without spoilers.

Seafall's Core Loop:
Quote:
• Analyze the Milestones available and cross-reference them with the currently available advisers, buildings, treasures, upgrades, and exploration/raid opportunities.
• If no milestone is within reach before game end, analyze the above to determine which set of actions will provide the most glory prior to game end.
• Pick the shortest path to achieving the objective chosen above and execute your turn along that path.


Now as mentioned, this is very simplified, so let's unpack it a bit.

Milestones are one-time objectives worth victory points (such as "Explore the most dangerous site on an island - gain 3 VP"). Generally, on your way to achieving the milestone, you will be gaining VPs in other ways *plus* the bonus VP that the milestone provides. This ensures that the best path to winning a given game of Seafall usually revolves around achieving as many Milestones as possible (1 or sometimes 2).

Sometimes, however, it is simply not possible to achieve any of the available milestones by the end of the game. Once this point arrives, you must shift gears into "gain as many VPs as possible before the end of the game" mode. This is a Campaign Game, however, and thought must be given to things that carry over from game to game.

For example: I spent a lot of my gold grabbing an adviser that I knew I could carry over into the next game. This adviser in particular was much more valuable than any of my other advisers, given the context of the current campaign. I had forsaken 1 VP in the current game to get a great running start towards a milestone (worth 4VP) in the next game.

Now the other part of the first section of the Core Game loop involves the analysis. After you take a look at the milestones, you need to figure out how to get there. Some milestones are flat out impossible for you to achieve without specific combinations of advisers, buildings, and upgrades. If the milestone you were working toward requires a specific upgrade, but both copies have been snatched up by other players, you'll need to re-evaluate your current objective.

The advisers in particular provide a lot of flexibility and power to your actions. If your ship with upgrades can raid with 5 dice, and you add in an adviser that adds +2 dice, that's a 30% boost to the power of your current action, and significantly increases both the likelihood of success and the number of possible targets.



There are always 5 advisers available, and they are instantly refilled from the deck as soon as one is purchased. In addition, at the end of each year (1 year = full plays around the table; i.e after each player has played 6 turns), all 5 current advisers are removed and 5 new ones are added. This ensures that players will constantly be churning through the advisers and new options will be presented to you as you play.

The last piece to this is that each adviser can only be used for a single turn each year, and you'll only ever start the game with one adviser from the previous game. So while you can use 6 advisers each year (one per turn), you'll likely not be able to afford that many until at least the second year.

Likewise, the available buildings and upgrades also grant extra power to specific types of actions (though they cost more and apply to all turns instead of just one turn each year).

Bringing Everything Together.

So at the start of the game you'll examine the board, examine the milestones, examine the advisers, upgrades, and buildings, and you'll formulate a short term strategy. As the game unfolds, advisers will change, buildings and upgrades will be purchased, and these can affect your play. Did an adviser just appear that would allow you to change course to an even shorter path to a different milestone? Did you get raided and therefore lose the money you were planning to spend on that upgrade before you attempted the explore that would provide you with the milestone? Did one of the other players buy the goods you were planning to grab?

This creates an environment that requires a lot of dynamic thinking, and can therefore cause analysis paralysis in certain people. This is one of the contributing factors that some groups reported "lots of downtime." On the upside, it does mean you'll have a lot of thinking to do during that downtime, as you consider changes to your strategy based upon recent changes to the game state. For groups that are not prone to AP, turns can be as fast as 10 seconds or less if you know what you want and it doesn't require rolling dice.

The other piece that can slow down the game includes the exploration aspect, which I will address below.

This constantly changing puzzle is the main "meat" of Seafall's Core Loop. If you don't enjoy games with dynamic puzzles that change throughout play based partly on other player's actions, you will likely not enjoy Seafall. If you do, read on!


OK, But How Well Is It Executed?

The actual "things you can do on your turn" boils down to:

• Hire Adviser
• Pick a Guild
• Perform Two of the Guild's Actions

The actual "perform 2 actions" essentially breaks down into turns where you "move and perform one non-move action" or "don't move and perform 2 non-move actions." The additional actions are things like exploring, raiding, taxing, buying, selling, repairing, building, and upgrading.

So here is how the full game loop might look if you played it out over several turns:

Quote:
Start of the game: You find a milestone that will reward you for exploring the highest numbered site on an island. Each of the 4 starting islands have a "6" as the highest site. This will require you to have 6 or more "explore" power and a few ship upgrades to have a decent chance of success. Studying the available advisers reveals that there is an adviser who can provide +2 to explore, and another that can give a discount on upgrades. Since my starting ships only have 2 explore, we're going to need a lot more than just the +2 from the adviser, so I grab the adviser who provides a discount to ship upgrades.

Turn 1: Move to Island and buy two spice goods. Since we didn't start with a lot of money, we'll need to go out and grab some goods off the island. This will allow us to afford the upgrade that gives +2 to explore.

Turn 2: Move home and sell 1 good. Since goods sell for 6 but provide a discount of 8 when used to buy ship upgrades, we're going to save one of our goods to use when we buy the upgrade.

Turn 3: Buy Ship Upgrade which provides +2 explore, using good for discount; no extra action. We're now almost ready to make an attempt on that milestone! We didn't have enough money to use the other action on the builder's guild (build a building), and sailing isn't necessary right now, so we wasted an action this turn.

Turn 4: Buy the +2 Explore adviser and Activate him. Then move both ships to the island and perform an explore action. It's risky trying to explore a 6 site with only 7 dice (base 2, +1 for support ship, +2 for previously purchased upgrade, +2 for the active adviser), but this is a race! If we waited to get more money and buy more upgrades for our ships, someone else might get to the milestone before us.

If we succeed, then we take the milestone and start the core loop over again, looking for either another milestone or the most VPs we can earn before someone triggers game end.

If we fail, it means our ship sunk and we'll need to rebuild it and re-evaluate our strategy, as someone else might have gotten to the milestone by the time we get back to the island with enough upgrades and advisers to try again.


Now this last part causes an issue for most people. There are many things in the game that come down to dice rolls where succeeding puts you way ahead, and failing puts you into a worse position than you started the game with. There are ways to mitigate these odds, of course (spend more time and money getting more dice or other advantages). There are also ways of gaining VPs that don't include chance (buy some goods, sell some goods, buy a treasure with the profit), but you're risking a more adventurous player jumping ahead.

All this means that the game can be pretty "swingy." You can play the perfect game of Seafall and weigh all the odds right, but if you get bad luck (or someone else gets exceptionally good luck), you will still lose. This issue is only within a single game, however. I do believe that the winner of the campaign will be someone who was playing well. I do not think it likely that someone playing sub-optimally is going to trip into victory through good luck (or their opponent's bad luck) so many times that they win the campaign.



Addressing The "Legacy" Aspect

So if you're on board with the previous potential issues, let's talk about the execution of the them and the Legacy additions (no spoilers!). One of the other criticisms of the game involved the game feeling slow not because of Analysis Paralysis, but because the reading of the captain's booke entries stopped gameplay and were themselves, kind of bland and boring.

In general I agree with this sentiment. The Captain's Booke entries in the first few games can be summed up by "found a place that produces a thing, do you want to take it by force or negotiate?" and the choice you make doesn't always seem to have a huge difference. While it can still be fun for the person making the decision, the other three players are stuck listening to something that just isn't very interesting with an outcome that doesn't really affect them.

This can change turns from flying around the table at 20-30 seconds each up to 2-4 minute turn times for explore endeavors which require you to calculate your dice pool from multiple sources, decide to use specific powers or not, then roll the dice, figure out if the additional bonuses/penalties apply, then, if successful, choose an entry and read it. Then the entry has you make a choice and go to yet another entry.

This time spent wouldn't be so bad if not contrasted against the very fast turn times when not using explore or raid endeavors. It would also be less painful if the entries were more well flavored.

Now the real question: Is the game worth playing despite it's flaws? I believe so, and have been enjoying it a lot. Each of the new unlock boxes have provided us with new and interesting things to consider and play with. While the Core Game Loop listed above may be the "meat" of the game, the extra considerations provided by the "Legacy" aspect is the potatoes. If you had only the core game loop without the campaign/legacy aspect, I would not enjoy playing it due to the swingy nature of play and the slowdowns caused by explore actions. However, as the game currently stands, I am enjoying it and looking forward to each game.

I will update this review with my thoughts deeper into the campaign.
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Ryan Feathers
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Looks like lots of good things in here but keep in mind that knowing how many boxes may be unlocked in the first few games absolutely can be a spoiler for some.
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j n
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Ranior wrote:
Looks like lots of good things in here but keep in mind that knowing how many boxes may be unlocked in the first few games absolutely can be a spoiler for some.


I wouldn't generally think of this as a spoiler (I would expect it to be theoretically possible to open about one box per game, based on the unlock mechanism presented at the start, but also possible for games to end without an unlock by hitting target glory).

But it's possible that people might want to be shielded from that kind of thing, sure.
 
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Adam Ruzzo
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lactamaeon wrote:


I wouldn't generally think of this as a spoiler (I would expect it to be theoretically possible to open about one box per game, based on the unlock mechanism presented at the start, but also possible for games to end without an unlock by hitting target glory).


That, in fact, happened in our game. Game 1 had 0 unlocks, game 2 had a single unlock, and game 3 had 2 unlocks.
 
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Benjamin Rod
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Adam, thank you for this thoughtful review. I have been intrigued about SeaFall since GenCon and recently got it for a great price. However, I then became a touch disheartened as I took in SU&SD's and Dice Tower's critical reviews and found myself wondering "how can I ensure that I get the most out of this game". Your review here went a long way towards answering that for me, particularly re: the dynamic puzzle aspect as well as realizing that there'll be some punishing or rewarding luck. (I'm sure many IRL captains in the Age of Sail had their share of undeserved good fortune or complete bullsh*t luck in their day.)

I'd love to hear any non-spoiler updates that you have as your campaign progresses. Cheers!
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