Once in a while, a game is released with so much hype and fanfare that you can’t quite tell if the hype is real! For example, in 2015 the gaming world was introduced to Pandemic Legacy by Z-Man Games to great fanfare and praise. In fact, Pandemic Legacy was atop the Board Game Geek list for a long time. Everyone wanted to play it and everyone who had played it swore it was amazing! It was as if this game was the best game of all time and would rewrite the Board Gaming Rulebook and usher in a new era of promise, a Golden Age of Gaming! Now that the furor has worn off and the game is not as shiny and new as it once was, it has actually been proven to be a really solid, fun and revolutionary game. I use this example to point out a couple of differences but also similarities in this years new obsession in Seafall by Plaid Hat Games.
Pandemic is a long standing and time tested game that almost every gamer has played at least once. In fact the game has been around since 2008 and has had 3 major expansions with several smaller ones as well. This means this game is proven. Add to the proven game the Legacy tag and you most likely will be successful. In fact, don’t they say past success is the best indicator of future success?
With that in mind, here comes a new game on the scene, with an unproven track record, lack of long standing success with numerous expansions and you throw the Legacy tag out again and BOOM, everyone is saying you have a game that is the Mona Lisa and sure to be remembered for centuries! I was skeptical! So, with my guard up and on highest alert, I added Seafall to my Top 10 Games I’m Interested in Trying Out at Gen Con 2016. It came in on my list at #10 and I believe now that was too low.
What is Seafall all about. SeaFall is a ‘Legacy’ board game designed by board game industry veteran Rob Daviau. Like the players who play them, Legacy games ‘remember’ what happens from game to game. Player choices have irreversible impact on the game world as the game board changes (literally with the addition of stickers), cards are modified and sealed packs are opened revealing twists and turns in an epic storyline. The setting for the game from the Plaid Hat Games site says the following: The world is emerging from a dark age where history and knowledge were lost. The great provinces have just begun re-establishing seafaring technology. Wealth and fame await leaders who are cunning and brave. Explore the coastal islands. Discover lost civilizations. Sail the open sea in search of new lands. Uncover long buried secrets. Sail until the sea falls off the edge of the world!
I want to point out that this is not a full and in-depth review as I was only able to play for about 30 minutes in a demo at Gen Con. We were in a three player game and only were able to go through 3 full rounds and didn’t experience every element of the game.
We first were able to get into character and add some customization to the game. I really like the element of being able to name the characters, ships, islands and even your nation. I named my character Jean Baptiste and my country Aquilonia. I was also able to name my two ships, one being The Black Swan and the other The Crescent Moon. This level of customization is very attractive to me when I play these Legacy style games because it adds to the narrative of the game which I enjoy significantly. Each player received a paper player board that can be modified by naming the ships or obtaining upgrades, taking damage or constructing buildings that provide advantages.
You will also notice on the board the words “Home Enmity” and “At War With”. SeaFall introduces a “grudge” system to the game which has you hand any player you attack an “emnity” card which gives that player a bonus when battling against you in future battles. This “motivation” creates the need for interesting tactical decisions during game play. I could see this leading to a fair amount of revenge or spiteful choices as the emnity cards provide greater reason and incentive to attack your opponents.
Overall the gameplay seemed to be very similar to any number of exploration games that I have played in the past. The goal is to explore islands, obtain trade goods to gain currency to then spend on upgrades for your ships or to hire advisors to assist you. There is a very nice storytelling element though as when you choose to explore or raid certain areas, you then refer to a specific written narrative in the book to explain to you what happens. At the end of this narrative, you will be faced with a few choices from which you will encounter different outcomes. For example, I explored an island and had an encounter with a tribe of natives that said they were looking for the “Golden Man”. I thought this was interesting and I had the choice to attack them or to provide them with a few gold coins as an offering to their deity. I gave the gold and was surprised when they provided me with an upgraded sail handmade from native fibers that increased my movement for the paltry sum of 3 coins. This was a great part of the game and allows for an unlimited amount of options as there can be future text expansions that will add to the available text.
I also was blown away by the open space that was found on the board. As you can see from the picture above there are several sizes of islands located on the front part of the board. This is where we spent our time going to and from our home ports to various islands. But as you can see from the next picture, there is about 60% of the board that is open.
This provides lots of space for further discoveries of islands, ports and continents. I would imagine that as the story progresses the players will be directed to open packages of new information which will include island stickers to permanently place on the board opening new territory to explore and expanding your options. I love this aspect of the game and cannot wait to see what interesting stories are opened to our enjoyment.
Another part that we didn’t experience in the demo but I want to point out was the winner bonus. The winner of a game gets a chance to improve their province or leader, which will last for the rest of the campaign. Any one of these improvements doesn’t help the very next game but a series of them creates a better, more robust engine over time. The idea with a winner reward was to set the winner up for the campaign while not giving them an advantage for the next game. In fact, the system for keeping an advisor is a slight disadvantage for the winner going into the next game as it may limit your options somewhat.
This picture shows a part of the upgrade sheet for the game winner to choose from at the start of the campaign. Appellations, improved fields, and improved reputation/fortune/garrison are all available.
I could go on for a while enumerating the amazing aspects of this very deep and rich thematic “legacy” style game. I was skeptical about the hype surrounding Seafall but after only playing for 30 minutes we were hooked and are already tying to figure out how to get a copy! I definitely would recommend this game and look forward to hours of enjoyment with my gaming group.