What Did We Play? Near and Far

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 Basics

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.

Gameplay

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.

The Verdict

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.

Scythe—The Rise of Fenris: Episode 2A War

At the end of Episode 1, we voted for War and not Peace. We had no idea how that was going to change the next game, but by the start of set up we found out.

— Spoiler Alert: I am not even going to try to hide anything revealed by the rules for this episode. If you haven’t played Episode 2A yet, I advise you to stop now…unless you like knowing the twists and turns ahead of time, so if you do, read on!

Episode 2A War

Set Up

Basically the nations of Europa have readied for war. Each player starts with 3 upgrades, 1 additional worker in play, 1 structure in play, +4 Popularity, and can purchase a perk for $15. Thus, each side can effectively upgrade their randomized player mat to make production easier. Like maybe a good idea might be to make Deploying a Mech require only 1 resource.

Also, each player could place up to 4 of their stars on other players’ starting points to declare them a “rival”. If you defeat a rival in combat you remove the star and place it on the achievement track and get a bonus of $5.

But the biggest change was yet to come! Packaged in the RoF box was a new double-sided achievement board that you overlay atop the regular achievement list on the map board. The “war” side changes the available achievements to emphasize winning battles and collecting 8+ combat cards.

— The War Achievement Board overlay. Note how some achievements are missing, replaced by more spots for winning battles.

Game Playthrough

Stew drew the number 1 player mat and had to go first. The turn order would be:

Stew-Rusviet Union

Lee-Togawa Shogunate

Neal-Saxony

Bob-Clan Albion

— The start of the game. You can see that my (I am Saxony) two neighbors have put rival stars on my start point.

Rusviet got off to a great start. He built a mech on the first turn and increased his speed. Using his faction power to select the same action on successive turns, he quickly moved his character toward the Factory…but then veered away to reveal his Divide and Conquer objective.

— Rusviet completing an Objective by the third turn

But Stew wasn’t the only player to quickly finish an objective. Lee skillfully manipulated his units to complete his objective a couple of turns thereafter.

— Togawa Shogunate finish their objective early

As each side quickly deployed all their mechs, both the Rusviet and Saxony were able to find a quick victory in combat against a rival. Exploiting their speed, the Rusviet isolated a single Clan Albion mech guarding workers and defeated it. Saxony jumped across the board via a tunnel to defeat a Saxony mech.

–The board after the Rusviet and Saxony victories against rivals

From there the game turned into a real boring affair. Each player had generated 8+ combat cards (one of the new “war” achievements) and had deployed all 4 mechs. Saxony had the most Power, but each faction quickly Bolstered until they too were above 7 Power.

This led to each player concentrating at least 2 mechs and their character (The most units that could move together on a single action) onto a single hex with some human shields, ie workers. Nobody could get their sixth achievement without winning a combat…but nobody could attack without running into 3 units, at least an equal number of cards, and a hex full of workers that would ruin the attacker’s popularity if the attacker won.

— all 4 factions turtled up! The poor Togawa and Clan Albion couldn’t find any way to attack, and the other factions were afraid of ruining their popularity by attacking or losing the attack and giving the game away. Saxony had the best chance to attack, but would have to vacate the 3-hex Factory to do it.

The calculus was simple: if I attack but the defender’s cards are better, I not only lose the game, but I just threw the victory to the player that I attacked. This kind of “kingmaker” situation is ubiquitous in multi-player games and can portend a bad ending: the eventual reckless attack by a player that gets bored.

The Sad Ending

After a few turns of staring at each other with nobody willing to gamble on an attack, we decided to just quit rather than continue. I am pretty sure this ending is not what the game designers envisioned, but it seemed preferable to us rather than just “grinding” more turns of a senseless buildup of resources, Popularity, Power, etc. as nobody wanted to launch a reckless attack that in essence was a coin flip to determine the winner.

We all thought the problem was the rival stars. If each player had been able to take back at least one rival star still uselessly sitting on an opponent’s starting point, the game would’ve ended quickly. Instead those rival stars were “stuck” on the map board preventing a resolution. Another problem was the ability to use those first 3 upgrades to deploy mechs early meant that each side had all their mechs deployed pretty much before anybody could attack anybody else. This was particularly true for Togawa and Clan Albion. Neither has Speed so they couldn’t actually attack because their opponents could see easily avoid unfavorable confrontations.

After calculating ending coin totals, Rusviet won the episode, with Saxony in second. So, the two factions that won a combat did indeed finish higher, but there wasn’t any decisive victory.

Also poor was that the War Achievement board effectively negated the Saxony faction power. Because every faction could get 4 combat achievements, Saxony didn’t have any true advantage from its power to get any number of combat achievements.

The Verdict

In the end, this episode was quite disappointing. The set-up changes didn’t encourage combat, they instead made combat impossible. We all hope that the next episode would be better.

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris — Episode One

— the new expansion/campaign for Scythe is out. Let’s get ready to rumble!

I picked up my order of Scythe: Rise of Fenris from Meeplesource at Gen Con 2018. My gang of friends was ready to get started right away, so we got a game in yesterday. I might give away a few spoilers, so you are forewarned! And remember to be forewarned is to have four arms! Wait…that’s not right. Oh well, you understand what I am trying to say.

The Premise: The Search for Tesla

The basic idea of the campaign is that the disastrous and inconclusive Great War is over. The city-sized Factory run by Nikola Tesla that supplied all the designs for the Mechs has gone silent. It’s 1921 and the Europa powers are back on their feet. They also are trying to get into Tesla’s Factory to see what is in the sealed inner vault. (As an aside, I hope Gerardo Rivera is not involved and that there is going to be more in Tesla’s vault than Al Capone’s Vault.)

Anyway, the set up for the first game is pretty much like a normal game of Scythe, except for three differences. First, an extra Objective Card is flipped over and placed near the objective track. Each player can try to complete this Objective in addition to their normal Objective requirements. Second, each player can pick a “perk” and add its bonus to their starting position. For example, there are +2 resources, +1 starting worker, +3 Power, etc. Third, an Influence Marker is placed on each of the 10 possible Achievements plus one marker on the revealed common Objective Card.

— a couple of the Influence markers

It wasn’t explained in the rules what the Influence tokens would be used for, but whomever was first to the achievement could grab the token.

The Game

There were four of us. Stew played the Rusviet Union and got to go first. Lee was next with the Togawa Shogunate, I was third with Saxony, and Bob last with Clan Albion. Lee got off to a quick start by upgrading his board to reduce the cost of more upgrades to a single resource. Stew was first to the Factory and looked to be catching up. I developed my mechs quicker than the others, allowing my Character to move quickly around the map looking for Exploration card bonuses. Bob focused on slow expansion and placing his flags.

As the game moved along, I slowly gained the most Influence tokens, mainly from being the first to complete an Objective, Build all my mechs, and place all my workers. I got to the Factory second but the cards there were not all that good. I retreated in the face of Lee and his Shogunate mechs, and he eventually got into the Factory.

As the end game approached, Stew, Lee and myself were getting close to the sixth Achievement, but each didn’t want to end the game from a losing position. Lee had a lot of hexes controlled, Stew had a lot of coins, Bob had top tier Popularity, and I was arguably in last. When it looked like my situation couldn’t get better, I stormed the Factory with two Mechs and knocked Lee’s Character out of it–but at a high cost! The Shogunate Trap was a -2 Popularity which sunk me down out of the second-tier and back to the first-tier, costing me roughly 15 coins!

Lee and his Shogunate ended up victorious with 81 coins, Stew’s Rusviet were second with 73, while Bob’s Clan Albion and my Saxons we’re tied at 53.

Each player now could mark on their Campaign Log the Achievements that they completed. For each Achievement, a player marks a spot on their Triumph Log. At the end of the campaign, completed rows and columns will give a coin bonus.

— Lee’s Campaign Log. Note that he got to mark his Episode One victory.

The Influence Vote: Peace or War?

After calculating victory, we learned what those Influence tokens were for. Each player was given 1 extra Influence token on top of what they earned. Each player then secretly allocated their Influence tokens into two hidden piles: any in the closed left hand was a vote for war, and any in the closed right hand was a vote for peace. We made our choices and then revealed simultaneously. Saxony and Rusviet had 7 votes for war and zero for peace, while Clan Albion and Togawa had 0 votes for war and 5 for peace. 7 to 5 for War!!!

The campaign has two separate sets of rules for the second episode: one for peace and one for war. This is pretty cool as different groups and/or second attempts at the campaign can have different episodes. Sweet!

Anyway, the first episode didn’t differ much from the base game, but given this war vs peace vote, we are expecting it to lead to some sort of big changes in the next episode. See you there!

My Haul at Gen Con

Gen Con was fun again this year! My bro and I walked for miles searching for both new and classic games. What did we find….inquiring minds want to know! Well my faithful friends, read on, read on for the answer!

— day one loot!

In the photo above you can see what I found on day one!

Smash Up! Oops, You Did It Again — I found this new expansion that I was looking for. Can’t wait to get in some Smash Up Games with these four new factions.

Scythe: Rise of Fenris — Is this expansion a set of alternate game rules (i.e. modules), a legacy campaign, or both!

Too Many Bones: Undertow — I kickstarted this game. It looks like a really fun dice builder. The components inside are top-quality. And many thanks to the guys at the booth who switched out the duplicate dice for the omitted dice that were missing from my box.

Horizons — A 4x space game. I love these sort of games (e.g. Eclipse, Ascending Empires, Eminent Domain)!

Unlock! — My wife loves these puzzle/escape room games, so I was happy to pick up a few more adventures.

Call of Cthulhu: Nameless Horrors — Six new adventures for CoC RPG, and it was only $15! Let the sanity checks begin!

Eminent Domain: Oblivion — Yes, yes, and more yes! Finally that Politics card gets to be a role! I am super-pumped to integrate this expansion into one of my favorite games.

King of New York: Anubis Monster Pack — A new monster and it even has a Pyramid die!

Day Two was more about taking in the convention than grabbing Games, but still we found a couple things.

— day two loot

Near and Far — This game looks cool…and I got the next to last copy at the booth too! Is it a legacy game, a worker placement game in the vein of Raiders of the North Sea, or an RPG disguised as a board game? Is it all three? Did I mention that the maps are in a spiral-ring notebook? The art is great too!

Cat Lady — Saw this at the AEG booth and I had to buy it for my wife. She loves cats.

Star Realms Promos — Yep, picked up some free promos. You want to know why? Well I’m not telling you…at least not tell my next post!

4 Things I Learned from 3 Games of Scythe

You would have to been living under a rock the last couple of years to somehow not have heard of Scythe. It has been getting rave reviews, the art is spectacular, and it seems like everyone has played it at least once. Yet, the high cost of the game ($90+) might have deterred you from buying it. I put it on my Amazon wishlist and it cycled thru my birthday and Christmas before my brother bought it for me (Thank you Stew!).

Having now played Scythe 3 times (all 4-player games), I certainly agree that it’s a great game. One of the aspects that makes it so good, is that it is a “deep” game: there are multiple layers of strategy that are not so obvious initially.

Thus without any further ado, here are the 4 things that I learned from playing 3 games. For the sake of disclosure, I won the 1st game with Saxony, was 2nd with Togawa (from the Invaders from Afar expansion) in the 2nd game, and a distant 3rd with Nordic in the last game.

1–Getting All the Stars is Not How You Win

Getting all your stars (i.e. achievements) down ends the game, but this should not be confused with how you win the game. A player wins by having the most coins, not by having the most stars. In fact, in the 2nd game I got the dubious distinction of placing my 6th star on the Triumph Track, but still I lost the game. At the end of the game coins are counted as 1) coins in hand, 2) stars placed, 3) territories controlled, 4) resources controlled, and 5) structure bonuses. So always pay attention to your opponents’ popularity and how many coins they will get in each of these categories.

2–Some Strategies Seem Good but Fail by the End of the Game

Oh man, nothing worse than thinking you are doing something right and finding out by the end of the game that you were wrong. For instance, in the third game I decided early to rush to the Factory, grab a good card, and then try to generate resources, place mechs to defend workers, and rush to the end of the game. I thought I did not have the ability to attack opponents, so I chose peace as the best way to pursue this strategy. This seemed good early…but failed in the long run. Other players gained more territory than I did, occupied the Factory at the end, beat me to encounters, and piggy-backed off my turns through Recruit Ongoing Bonuses. My initial advantage evaporated.

3–You Need to Fight like You are Voting in Chicago: Early and Often

I won with Saxony by beating up one of my weak neighbors and launching a couple of assaults on my stronger neighbor. Similar to games like Eclipse, if you attack early you can really set back your opponents…even if you lose the battle. Of note is that losing a battle provides for a free relocation of Character or Mech(s) back to your home space. All those Power points are not worth anything if you don’t use them…so get out there and smack around your opponents.

4–I Am Only Beginning to See How Many Different Ways There are to Win

After 3 games, we have had 3 different players win, three different factions win, and 3 different ways the game was won (Saxony violence, more popularity than other players, and more territorial control). I think we are only scratching the surface of the possible ways to reach victory. Much like our early assumption that Riverwalk is mandatory to get early (it’s not, but that could be another blog post), I am going to bet that there are many more lessons still to be learned.—————————-Scythe is an excellent, and fun, game. I look forward to discovering many more aspects of the game as I get a chance to play it more.