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Subject: [Top of the Table] I Hoped All the Critics Were Wrong (Spoiler-Free Version) rss

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Drew Hauge
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A couple of weeks ago, I finished my campaign of Seafall, an epic game of exploration on the high seas for 3-5 players. If you’re not familiar with Seafall or the concept of campaign (or ‘Legacy’) games, it is played over a number of sessions, as players make permanent changes to the game and the story hurtles towards a permanent and unique ending. This genre is relatively new in the sector of mass produced board games (though RPGs have been using many of these concepts for decades), and Seafall was met with great anticipation leading up to its 2016 release.

It had been 3+ years in the making for Rob Daviau, the creator of the Legacy board game concept and co-designer of BGG #1 mega-hit Pandemic Legacy. Seafall was more ambitious in scope than either of Daviau’s first two Legacy titles (Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy), and it was built from scratch rather than giving the Legacy treatment to an existing game. The first few commercial copies were snatched up so quickly at GenCon 2016 that anyone without a press pass had little hope of acquiring one.



But as the initial reviews came trickling in, excitement was replaced with worry and disappointment. The general consensus was that while Seafall was an ambitious and groundbreaking design, it was also deeply flawed and just not that much fun. As someone who had pre-ordered a copy of Seafall and talked a group of four friends into playing it, I was torn over whether to just eat the $80 and play something else. After much deliberation, I talked myself into going forward with the campaign, wondering if the early reviewers’ opinions were affected by the breakneck pace at which they rushed through a game that was meant to be savored.

Since October 2016, four friends and I have gotten together about once a month to play Seafall. Through the prologue and our first seven games, we wrote names on islands and advisors, opened 5 boxes of new content, placed stickers, and permanently destroyed cards by ripping them into pieces. By the eighth game, momentum was fading and one member of our group was preparing to move to Nashville. Rather than play on without him, we decided to stage an epic finale, ignoring the score and just playing until the sixth and final box could be opened.



Upon opening that final box, the unanimous feeling was one of being underwhelmed, and relieved to be done. Personally, I felt embarrassed for coaxing my friends into devoting 40+ hours of time to a game that was clearly not sufficiently playtested. Sure, there were some very exciting moments scattered in, especially in our first 3-4 games. But I would have much rather spent that time playing a better campaign game like Gloomhaven or Mechs vs Minions, or just trying a different new game each month. If you have unlimited free time, or you want to open all the boxes and study some inventive game design elements that may serve as building blocks for a fantastic game in the future – then by all means, go for it. Otherwise, this game should be a hard pass.

The extended, spoiler-filled version of this review that includes my thoughts on how this game could have been improved can be found here:
[The Top of the Table] I Hoped All the Critics Were Wrong or on my blog: https://thetopofthetable.com/2017/07/02/review-seafall/. Thanks for reading my post, and for any thumbs/comments!
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David Fox
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Your review mirrors the thoughts of our group pretty much, though maybe we're not so down on the game overall. We feel there are some good underlying mechanics, but that the Legacy aspect doesn't give them time to shine: when you can't keep your buildings from one game to the next, and the current game is over in a flash, they just become glory points.

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Upon opening that final box, the unanimous feeling was one of being underwhelmed, and relieved to be done.


We're taking a session off from the rush for glory to try and find all the things we need to crown an Emperor; after that, we're hoping it'll be just a couple more games. I think there'll be a similar sense of relief.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The glory awards are totally off the wall: Tombs particularly, especially when they can give you a semi-permanent bonus, too. We've long since halved the massive glory awards and are ignoring the Interrogation glory, too: it'll just make the game even shorter, when what we want is more substance to each play.


I'm not sure I'll play another competitive Legacy game, after this and Risk.
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Drew Hauge
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I totally agree with you regarding the buildings, David. I think they could have avoided a lot of problems by having the buildings and ship upgrades be retained by players from game to game, and just provide glory when built (and lose glory if destroyed/lost).

While I also agree that the
Spoiler (click to reveal)
tombs (particularly the glory given for tablets and relics)
were problematic, I think the main problem was that there were just too many of them. Same goes for the number of islands and advisors. It feels like they brainstormed a bunch of ideas and then kept all of them. Less is sometimes more.

Regarding competitive Legacy games, I too am a bit shy to try another one after Seafall. I'm cautiously optimistic about Charterstone, but will probably wait to see what kind of reception it gets before giving it a try myself. Unless I manage to get my hands on a review copy!
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al cann
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Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
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Dean L
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Quayde wrote:

I'm not sure I'll play another competitive Legacy game, after this and Risk.


I enjoyed Risk, but part of what made that work was that it was very stingy with permanent rewards (just missiles and naming cities & continents).

Seafall essentially has a runaway leader problem, because there are too many permanent and semi-permanent rewards.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Tablets and relics are technically not permanent, but raiding is tough to do more than once per game unless that player raids you back - often annulling the advantage, stealing something back. In a five player game there can be four raids on the leader which helps, but in a three player game there can only be half as many.
In our game, the runaway leader wasn't put in check early enough, and by the time the lead was becoming unassailable, they had so much stuff they were hard to stop.


The catch-up mechanic that seems really strong early on falls off a cliff once you have more money than you really know what to do with. Once a player has enough money to buy a ship upgrade and building in the first turn, extra cash has limited use as you'd be taking a two-turn tempo hit to float around building stuff while the leaders went off and started playing the game.

I do wonder if a small tweak to the catch-up mechanism to allow you to take a building and/or upgrade of the value of the gold you've had would work out more fairly in the long run. (It'd be over-powered early, but that's fine as that means less chance of a runaway leader anyway).
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Drew Hauge
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albcann wrote:
Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
Hey Al- I really think the best improvement would be to keep buildings and upgrades from one game to the next. You'd incur glory for the building or upgrade when it is built (not at the start of each game) and could lose a glory if the building or upgrade is lost. I think this would help speed things along in a balanced way, and also avoid the frustration of games where some players fail to accomplish anything significant. I can't really explain my thinking much beyond that without giving spoilers.

That suggestion hasn't been playtested, but hey, it doesn't seem like the published version was either!

My one other suggestion would be to communicate as a group regarding how the game is going. If you get 3-4 games in and the group isn't liking it, it's almost certainly not going to get better. Don't be afraid to cut your losses! I do hope you enjoy it though!
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Darren Nakamura
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drewhauge wrote:
Upon opening that final box, the unanimous feeling was one of being underwhelmed, and relieved to be done.


Same. We didn't even play the last game.

Quayde wrote:
I'm not sure I'll play another competitive Legacy game, after this and Risk.


See, I thought Risk Legacy actually accomplished what it wanted to successfully. The fact that scoring was simply based on wins rather than on points meant nobody ever got too far behind even after a very poor performance or two, and the inherently adversarial nature of it acts as its own balancing mechanism to keep the leader from dominating.

In SeaFall, raids are too high consequence with too low reward, so even if every player raids the leader, that person still won't be too far behind that game, and everybody will have probably wasted some time anyway.
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David Fox
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Deano2099 wrote:
The catch-up mechanic that seems really strong early on falls off a cliff once you have more money ... extra cash has limited use as you'd be taking a two-turn tempo hit to float around building stuff while the leaders went off and started playing the game.

I do wonder if a small tweak to the catch-up mechanism to allow you to take a building and/or upgrade of the value of the gold you've had would work out more fairly in the long run. (It'd be over-powered early, but that's fine as that means less chance of a runaway leader anyway).


That tempo comment is spot on: by the time our trader/coloniser had got going in the last game, it was ended by the Milestone/explorer and a --redacted-- explorer in 6 turns.

I like the idea of keeping a building/upgrade, especially with only gaining the Glory the first time it is built, but retaining the power. I happen to be the 'runaway' leader in our game, but...

drewhauge wrote:
My one other suggestion would be to communicate as a group regarding how the game is going. If you get 3-4 games in and the group isn't liking it, it's almost certainly not going to get better. Don't be afraid to cut your losses!


...one thing we have done all the way through the game is talk about everyone's enjoyment levels. Oddly the player in last is more phlegmatic about it than the player ahead of him. After early reviews were mixed, we've kept true to the basic mechanics (which we enjoy) but felt free to tinker with the Glory awards and tried to make the swingy point grabs more evenly distributed.

However, it's currently 163-133-120 after 10 games, so maybe it hasn't helped as much as we'd hoped.

Dexter345 wrote:
See, I thought Risk Legacy actually accomplished what it wanted to successfully.


Agreed. To be honest, it was one player who killed our Risk Legacy game: he got 'peeved' that he hadn't won a game (four players, six games in) and just spent the following game futilely attacking the leader until he was picked off by another player. It soured us all on the game, unfortunately. Until then - yes - good fun.
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al cann
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Thanks, Drew. May try that. Want to maximize the positive experience on this game ... it looks good!

 
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Dean L
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drewhauge wrote:
albcann wrote:
Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
Hey Al- I really think the best improvement would be to keep buildings and upgrades from one game to the next. You'd incur glory for the building or upgrade when it is built (not at the start of each game) and could lose a glory if the building or upgrade is lost. I think this would help speed things along in a balanced way, and also avoid the frustration of games where some players fail to accomplish anything significant. I can't really explain my thinking much beyond that without giving spoilers.

That suggestion hasn't been playtested, but hey, it doesn't seem like the published version was either!


I think this would be far too strong without scaling up the difficulty of many endeavours or upping the glory target each game significantly.
 
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Drew Hauge
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Deano2099 wrote:
drewhauge wrote:
albcann wrote:
Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
Hey Al- I really think the best improvement would be to keep buildings and upgrades from one game to the next. You'd incur glory for the building or upgrade when it is built (not at the start of each game) and could lose a glory if the building or upgrade is lost. I think this would help speed things along in a balanced way, and also avoid the frustration of games where some players fail to accomplish anything significant. I can't really explain my thinking much beyond that without giving spoilers.

That suggestion hasn't been playtested, but hey, it doesn't seem like the published version was either!


I think this would be far too strong without scaling up the difficulty of many endeavours or upping the glory target each game significantly.
Keep in mind that the glory earned for the building or upgrade would only be earned once, in the game when it is built. I do think though that if the glory target scaled up by 5 per game until it got to 30, that might be a good adjustment as well. The games always felt like they ended too fast.
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Dean L
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drewhauge wrote:
Deano2099 wrote:
drewhauge wrote:
albcann wrote:
Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
Hey Al- I really think the best improvement would be to keep buildings and upgrades from one game to the next. You'd incur glory for the building or upgrade when it is built (not at the start of each game) and could lose a glory if the building or upgrade is lost. I think this would help speed things along in a balanced way, and also avoid the frustration of games where some players fail to accomplish anything significant. I can't really explain my thinking much beyond that without giving spoilers.

That suggestion hasn't been playtested, but hey, it doesn't seem like the published version was either!


I think this would be far too strong without scaling up the difficulty of many endeavours or upping the glory target each game significantly.
Keep in mind that the glory earned for the building or upgrade would only be earned once, in the game when it is built. I do think though that if the glory target scaled up by 5 per game until it got to 30, that might be a good adjustment as well. The games always felt like they ended too fast.


The way most of our games went was people trading or hitting low value explore sites for a few turns, to improve their ships and build buildings, so they were at the point they could feasibly hit a milestone or high value explore.

If we could start with a full set of buildings and ship upgrades we would have just gone straight into the late game and be done by turn four or five. Even at thirty glory you might be seeing very fast games, at least until the big points ran out, at which point things would slow a lot.
 
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Drew Hauge
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Deano2099 wrote:
drewhauge wrote:
Deano2099 wrote:
drewhauge wrote:
albcann wrote:
Drew -- I am asking a question that I'm sure I know the answer to already, but can any of your suggestions of how Seafall can be improved be listed without spoilers?

I am about start a Seafall campaign with my group that just finished Risk Legacy. I've read or watched just about every possible review of this game and, I think it is safe to say, the reviews are mixed.

Bummer ...
Hey Al- I really think the best improvement would be to keep buildings and upgrades from one game to the next. You'd incur glory for the building or upgrade when it is built (not at the start of each game) and could lose a glory if the building or upgrade is lost. I think this would help speed things along in a balanced way, and also avoid the frustration of games where some players fail to accomplish anything significant. I can't really explain my thinking much beyond that without giving spoilers.

That suggestion hasn't been playtested, but hey, it doesn't seem like the published version was either!


I think this would be far too strong without scaling up the difficulty of many endeavours or upping the glory target each game significantly.
Keep in mind that the glory earned for the building or upgrade would only be earned once, in the game when it is built. I do think though that if the glory target scaled up by 5 per game until it got to 30, that might be a good adjustment as well. The games always felt like they ended too fast.


The way most of our games went was people trading or hitting low value explore sites for a few turns, to improve their ships and build buildings, so they were at the point they could feasibly hit a milestone or high value explore.

If we could start with a full set of buildings and ship upgrades we would have just gone straight into the late game and be done by turn four or five. Even at thirty glory you might be seeing very fast games, at least until the big points ran out, at which point things would slow a lot.
Consider the fact that there are limited explore upgrades though. And someone would probably have a beefed up raiding ship that could keep the best exploring ships in check. Also, certain buildings and upgrades, if kept, could really open up the merchant/colonizer strategies as viable. Our games routinely ended in 5-7 turns without any house rules (always through exploring), so I think that if anything the combination of permanent buildings / upgrades and increased glory limits would make an individual game longer. Furthermore, the overall campaign would end faster with higher glory limits per game, which I see as a plus.

I do think that in an ideal world there would be some additional tweaks to the prices if buildings and upgrades were permanent. The fact that almost all of them are $10 or $18 is an indication that they're not very carefully balanced. If a certain building/upgrade never gets bought (or conversely always gets bought), the price should be adjusted or it should be scrapped.
 
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