One Board Family: Visitor in Blackwood Grove Review
Do you remember that one time when you were just minding your own business and then, all of a sudden, an alien came along and started stealing all of your Reese’s Pieces? Then, you became best friends and had to hop on your sweet BMX bike to ride him back to the woods to escape a bunch of government agencies before they took him away to perform medical experiments on him? Wait. Maybe that was a dream. Am I thinking this or did I actually just type that? Was that the alien typing through me? Can he taste what I am drinking right now too? Does he like cherry coke? Oh well, too late now.
So many questions and this game has all of those answers! For the last couple weeks or so, I have been toting around my copy of Visitor in Blackwood Grove and asking everyone and anyone to sit down and play. Everyone that I have encountered (pun intended) has been eager to play this game. It has a unique table presence with the force field board, copious amounts of random object cards, and government agency player cards depicting the insignia of the FBI, CIA, DOE, and NSA. The theme just screams out 1980’s alien encounter film. Designers Mary Flanagan and Max Seidman did a great job making players feel this theme.
The main mechanics of the game are pattern recognition and deduction, as the visitor will classify objects on cards given to them by the other players as objects that “pass through the force field” or are “repelled”. The deciding factor in what passes through or doesn’t is what’s called a pass rule–a rule that the visitor will come up with secretly at the beginning of the game. Examples of rules could be “things that contain the color red” or “things that are very heavy”.
Passing Through the Force Field
There are three types of roles in Visitor: the alien visitor, the kid, and the government agencies. The game will support up to six players but a minimum of three is necessary, with one person to play the visitor, one person to play the kid, and at least one person to play a government agency. As the visitor, the objective of the game is to work cooperatively with the kid to help the kid guess the pass rule. This is done by classifying cards as they are passed to the visitor by all players in turn. No words are ever exchanged as the visitor does not speak human languages.
Government agencies each work for themselves and are not cooperating with each other. Players attempt to guess the pass rule by passing the visitor facedown cards on their turns to have them classified. The classification gives clues to help prove the pass rule for each player’s agency. The more cards that successfully pass through the force field, the more clues players will gain.
A lot of this game can be left up to the visitor’s interpretation of their own rule. For example, if the visitor’s pass rule was “things that are made from cloth” and someone submitted a facedown card with an image of a bathtub and towel, how does the visitor classify that? Would that pass through your force field if you were an alien being sent to earth and only cloth things passed through? I find that makes the game more interesting though; knowing the person and their personality can help in any deduction game, like in Dixit or Mysterium.
A Kid and Their Alien
Visitor in Blackwood Grove forces the players to think outside the box. Now, the visitor doesn’t want to make their rule so hard and vague that no one can guess it or so easy that everyone will get it within a minute. Trust between the visitor and the kid is important in this game. Trust is obtained by the kid successfully predicting whether cards will pass through the force field or be repelled. When they do, special powers are unlocked, like making predictions with cards face down as opposed to face up. This way, the government agencies are not able to gain extra knowledge.
Personally, I felt that the game is generally geared toward helping the kid and the visitor, but thematically that makes sense. I have a couple of friends from other planets, and they definitely do not trust the government! Those playing roles as government agencies are going to need to work harder and think harder and faster to test the right objects and prove the pass rule first. Any time anyone on the table is ready to prove the pass rule, he/she may then take that action as their turn. Four random cards will then roll out of the deck of available object cards, and the person proving the rule must indicate whether they would pass through or be repelled. The visitor simultaneously classifies the cards behind a player screen in secret. Once everyone is ready, the visitor reveals. If the player currently trying to prove the pass rule guesses correctly, then he/she has successfully won the game!
One thing I found with this game is that it does seem possible for someone to win by trying to prove the pass rule on their turn without actually knowing what it is, but luckily guessing it correctly anyway. A few of the groups I had played with developed a house rule that if, on a player’s turn, they tried to prove the pass rule and succeeded, that player must then also state the pass rule aloud to win. Thematically, that doesn’t mesh with the “visitor doesn’t speak your language” take on things, as the visitor would have to clarify by saying yes or no. However, seeing as this is an artistically interpretive deduction game and thinking outside the box is encouraged, I believe house rules could also be encouraged. Either way, everyone who has played this with me has immediately asked to play it again.
All in all, I found Visitor in Blackwood Grove to be a great party game. It’s quick and easy to setup, so you can play multiple games with folks taking on different roles each time. It’s thematically unique, which I really appreciate in the world of board gaming. It’s very refreshing. This game will be released as a Target exclusive at the end of July where you will be able to pick it up off the shelves, as long as your hand makes it through the force field!
We’re giving away a copy of Visitor at Blackwood Grove before it hits stores. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make up an “alien encounter” story. It can be funny, thrilling or absurd. We’ll pick a winning entry on July 26, 2018 and ship the winner a copy of the game. We’ll read the winning entry on the One Board Podcast in a future episode. (This contest is only open to U.S. residents due to shipping costs)
- The theme works so well throughout the game
- Each of the 3 roles have a different feel
- Game supports up to 6 players
- The end game can feel anti-climactic without a “house rule”
- Objects can be open to interpretation