The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Near and Far
I don’t normally review games until I’ve played them a number of times, but with Near and Far being a campaign-style game with many modes of play, as well as the sequel to Ryan Laukat’s earlier game Above and Below, which I am well acquainted with, I thought it would be worth it to give some thoughts on Near and Far’s ‘First Adventure’ mode after one play.
Before I get into my experience playing the game, I have to note the sheer amount of content -- the box weighs almost ten pounds. While the metal coins were a Kickstarter exclusive, everything else will come with the base game. This includes a 24-page Atlas with eleven maps to explore, a 120-page storybook, over 100 cards, 32 explorers, a town board and four player boards, tons of tokens, gems, dice, and even a pencil for the campaign modes. The art throughout is, of course, stunning. Despite the volume of content and our lack of familiarity, the game didn’t take too long to set up and start playing. Also, a lot of it was left in the box, as not every mode uses all the components, and there were extra tokens that were made redundant by the Kickstarter coins and stretch goal gems.
We played with four players, and it was the first game for everyone at the table. We chose the ‘First Adventure’ mode, which the rulebook suggests starting out with. It uses the first map in the Atlas, Glogo Hills, which features the Town of Above and Below in it. Note that both Campaign mode and Story mode start with the second map in the Atlas, so this introductory campaign does not spoil anything for those modes.
The game starts with all players in the town. There is a town board with a number of spaces on it -- including spots to hire adventurers, pick up packbirds, and mine for coins and gems. The first few turns of the game consist of resource collection and party building, in an effort to ready your party to go adventuring on the map. These turns play out with a worker placement mechanism. Each player goes to a spot and gets to do the action there, but if someone is already on that space, they must duel them for the privilege of using it. Losing the duel means losing a turn though, so it is a risky proposition.
There is a constant pull to stop collecting things in town and start adventuring, as the spaces on the Atlas only provide their bonuses once. Some spaces will give resources for those that put down encampments, others will initiate passages from the storybook being read, with the chance for additional resource gains, as well as earning faction banners, and gaining or losing reputation.
The game continues on, with players leaving town to adventure and returning to recharge their health, until one player uses all fourteen of their encampment tokens. At the game end, players add up points for artifacts gained (which need to be paid for in resources), encampments made, reputation earned, and resources left over, and the highest score wins.
Our four-player learning game took about two hours, and I’d speculate future games would take closer to 90 minutes with even slightly experienced players.
The art and presentation is top notch, as I’ve found with all Red Raven games. The gameplay was interesting, mixing a lot of different mechanisms -- from the worker placement in town, to the storytelling aspects on the map, to the set collection/recipe fulfillment of resources for artifacts, to the encampment placement setting off the end game. They all worked smoothly together, and left me wanting to play again -- a definite positive for a campaign style game I hope sees the table a great deal.
One aspect that did trouble me a bit, however, was the flow of the game. A lot of turns were lightning quick -- “I go to this space and hire this adventurer” -- but others took significantly longer -- “I adventure, and move to this spot, now we have to read this passage. I choose an option and roll dice to see if I succeed, and then I am going to place an encampment and take these resources.” It’s not so much that these turns took too long, it’s more that it gave the game an odd flow of speeding up and then stalling out, and also created some occasional confusion as to whose turn it was.
Comparisons to Above and Below:
Due to Near and Far being the sequel of Above and Below, as well as both featuring the same storytelling mechanism, this comparison is inevitable. And while I do see how Near and Far was built on Above and Below, they do not seem that similar to me -- beyond the obvious storytelling aspect. Near and Far adds a space in the town where players can exchange one type of resource for another, which was a common problem in Above and Below, as resource acquisition is randomly distributed through the storytelling. Also, there are some significant differences -- there is no individual resting of adventurers in Near and Far, and Near and Far does not take place over a set number of rounds, like Above and Below. In fact, storytelling aside, Near and Far reminds me a bit more of Islebound, with the travelling around a map and acquiring crew and resources.
Truth is, Near and Far builds on both of Ryan Laukat’s previous games in different ways, and I am happy to have all three in my collection -- and can’t wait to dig into the campaign modes, especially the story mode.