This is our first story telling game, so I approached it with a little trepidation. Would it be too demanding of my 9 year old son? Would it be too "out there" for my 77 year old mother? Would it fall flat as so many other marquee games have with my little gaming group? "At least there is the solo automata", I consoled myself, "if I'm forced to play it alone."
Wow! This game plays so simply that both my Mother and my son picked it up right away. You start in town where you recruit adventurers, purchase supplies, and gather equipment. Once prepared you head out into the wilds, battling threats and pursuing quests. Defeating foes, completing artifacts and building camps (represented by lovely wooden tents) score points; game ends when one player has placed 14 tents and highest score wins.
Having a high score at the end is really secondary. The whole point of this game is going on quests and experiencing the stories together. Each quest has a short story snippet that is read allowed, followed by 2 choices. Each choice usually has either a skill or combat check. You roll a single die, add your skill or combat points, and then spend hearts (think stamina or determination) until you succeed. A brief resolution is read and rewards are given in the form of reputation, gold and gems.
The quests are amazing. During the campaign, quests can join together to form story arcs. Resolutions in one quest can open up new options in future quests. My son really looked forward to the next quest in his arc, filling the time talking about what he hoped would happen and what he would then do next. Your choices can also feel meaningful in crafting your character's unique role in the world, whether you are virtuous or roguish. One minor point in the writing is that the possible choice outcomes are not always foreshadowed well enough for my 9 year old to accurately pick the outcome he wants. A couple of times he made a pick he thought was good, only to find that he helped an evil character and lost reputation.
In our play sessions the game is mostly a race to collect quests (as opposed to scoring the most points). Here the game supports many different styles of play. You can focus on speed so that each turn you can move further than your opponent; you can focus on combat strength so you are better prepared for dangerous shortcuts; or you can focus on skill so that when you do reach a quest you are more likely to achieve a most satisfactory outcome. Usually after competing a quest the player will return to the village, so no one player can take an early lead on the board, snatching quest after quest while other players are still preparing back in town.
I was a little concerned about the 2 hour play time. Playing a long game, especially with a child, can really drag on at times. Not Near and Far. The game kept our attention the whole way through and never once felt long. Many times we would finish and be surprised that so much time had passed. During one play session, towards the end, there was a beverage mishap. We had completed all the quests and were just playing the last of our tents. After mopping up the table, I was about to suggest we score the game when both my Mom and my son said at the same time "so can we keep playing?" This game absolutely captivates.
(The worst casualty of "the spill" )
Best game of the year so far for our little group. An absolute joy to play, providing memorable shared stories that we experience together.
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