This week we all got together to try out Near and Far from Red Raven Games. I picked up the game at Gen Con (actually, I got the next to last copy from the Red Raven Booth) this year. It is a sequel to Above and Below, a game that I have never played but have heard good things about. Fortunately, you do not need to own Above and Below to play Near and Far.
Near and Far advertises itself as a storytelling game, an atlas game, and a campaign game! That sounds like a lot…and it had me intrigued when I saw the game at the Red Raven booth. Then I noticed the artwork! I was hooked!
— Clockwise from top left: Storybook, Atlas, Town Board (dusk side shown)
The overall goal of Near and Far is to accumulate Journey Points. You do this by preparing your character in the town and then adventuring on one of the maps contained in the Atlas.
The game is essentially an action-taking game where each turn a player places their character standee on a town location and performs the action(s) listed there. Generally, you are trying to load up on food, coins, friendly adventures, etc so that you are ready to travel out of the town on the map.
On the map, you move around looking for quests and establish camps. The camps allow you to collect coins or gems, and also allow for less exhaustive movement across the map (ie it costs fewer “hearts” to move).
— The map for the first game, as contained in the Atlas.
The game ends once one player has placed all 14 of their camps (on the map, in the mines, and/or on Threat Cards). Journey points are awarded for camps played, trade routes covered, artifacts found, threats defeated, coins, gems, faction tokens, Chiefs obtained, Reputation, and any other card/board bonuses.
Everyone in my group expressed that the basic standee placement and action-taking mechanism closely resembled games like Raiders of the North Sea. Turns are completely fairly quickly and each player has a chance to get something accomplished on their turn.
Exploring on the map takes a bit longer. Once a player travels to the map, they move in a point-to-point system more similar to strategic war games than typical abstract board games. If a player stops on a quest, another player reads the corresponding lettered quest from the Storybook. Each quest has two alternative acts available for the player to choose from among (e.g. help the old lady or ignore her plight) similar to games like Scythe. Usually a skill or combat roll resolves the chosen action.
Players alternate their time from loading up in town and exploring on the map, much like a pen and pencil RPG. This adds a storytelling/role playing element that adds to the fun (it also allows even players falling behind in Journey points to have a good time questing).
— my player board early in the game. I had placed two camps, recruited two adventurers to my party (next to my faithful cat companion), and added a pack bird.
In the game that we played, it seemed like each player tried a different strategy. I was trying to collect as many artifacts as possible, Lee was placing camps on the map for resources, Stew was going after quests, and Bob was mining a lot.
— The game a few more turns after the last photo but still in the early part. Note that camps have started appearing on the map as we began exploring outside the town.
The game lasted about two hours. It was our first play and it took a while to figure out what the best options were each turn. Eventually my artifact grabbing rewarded me with a very narrow victory over Lee.
— My board close to the end of the game. I was well-prepared to explore and my loot of faction tokens and gems would allow me to buy plenty of artifacts from the Mystic.
From one play of the game, all of us agreed that Near and Far was quite fun. Everyone felt that they were “in” the game and that no one got left behind early. Also, the exploration on the map added a nice touch that broke up the monotony of standee placement in the town.
In short, we are looking forward to trying the Campaign game and adventuring on new maps. The gameplay is solid and fun, the rules clear, and the art gorgeous. If you haven’t tried Near and Far, I recommended that you give it a shot.