The Dirtbags of Holding: Seafall - A Spoiler Filled Roller Coaster of Emotions
Oh Seafall. I picked you up on discount, not really expecting a lot. Everyone else had already downplayed this game, but I figured for $20-30, how bad could it be? For those of you who aren't aware, Seafall was a 2016 Age of sail/Nautical themed Legacy game (a type of game where one game can drastically change the next time you play the game) released by Plaid Hat Games. It was highly anticipated at the time as it was the first legacy game that wasn't based on another game like Risk Legacy or Pandemic Legacy, however that anticipation didn't last very long. For me, I did get my money's worth out of this game, but I might need therapy after playing this game. It made me experience just about every emotion out there, to the point where I can't continue this conversation without throwing up a huge SPOILER WARNING!
Commense With The Spoilers!
Before you really get into the campaign of Seafall, you have to play through a prologue game. This game teaches you the fundamentals of how the game plays, in that you take your ships and explore islands and read scenarios out of the "Captains Booke". This will transform the board so that areas will start producing goods that you can buy and sell in a "pickup and deliver" game fashion.
Each player acts as a separate province in the game. Now, the best part of any legacy game is naming things. I decided to name my province "Starboardlandia", a nautical parody of the "Portlandia" tv show. Everyone picks a person that will act as the "leader" of their individual province. Mine looked like a "Charles", so that's what I named him. I decided to make "famous people named Charles" my naming scheme, so my two ships were named "Charge" and "The Mutants" (because when my leader is in the first ship, Charles is in Charge, and of course, Charles Xavier for the Mutants). I was having fun settling in to this story.....until the end of the prologue where the game told me to kill my leader and rip up his card.
In the first of many times that Seafall screws with your mind, the character that you spend the prologue building up their story in your head about dies after that prologue. So the first "official" game begins with the next generation of leaders. This time, Charles' daughter, Charlie, took up the reins as we set out to explore the first 4 islands available to us. Over the next couple of games, we unlock stuff that was to be expected: ship to ship combat, new islands past the first four yada yada yada.
At this point, while the game itself is pretty bland, I'm having fun with it and my friends. Between naming all the different advisers and naming islands, we are making the game enjoyable. So why wouldn't we keep playing? Plus, we unlocked Colonies, so having some outposts where we didn't have to run back to shore any time we needed to do anything made the game more bearable. One player started to shoot ahead in points because he was always exploring, but two of us were focusing on our ships and getting colonies, which offer a lot of victory points. Pretty soon we grab some milestones from that, which allow us to grab some small victories.
The Tide Begins to Turn
Sigh. Then Seafall shows us its true colors again when we open the box containing the colony of Ker. While it made sense in the story to have the natives get pissed that we are settling their lands, gameplay wise it SUCKED! Now, the 2 of us with colonies get heavy penalties laid on us for having them, and restrict us being able to do just about anything else. But wait, why did you make getting colonies such a big thing if it's now detrimental to us. Meanwhile, the person who is only exploring is continuing to shoot up the ranks, winning game after game and getting more and more benefits.
Ok, this was getting less fun at this point, but there were still a couple of milestones I could work towards. The very next game, due to the implications of the Ker colony, I had to spend the entire game working to get five structures built in my province. I almost got it done....except the Captain Booke, which will now be effectively known as the "Random Victory Point Generator" strikes again, giving the guy exploring over 5-8 points causing him to end the game 1 TURN away from me getting that milestone, which would have given me much needed campaign victory points and a bonus or two that would help out. Nope, all my work had been for nothing as structures aren't held over between games.
This was my breaking point. I seriously almost flipped the table at this point, because it felt like the game was punishing ME for not playing the game the way it wanted me to. This was supposed to be a 4X game (exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination), for pete's sake! In reality, Seafall is like a 1.5X game. It was like a DM in Dungeons and Dragons who assures you his game isn't a railroaded campaign, but punishes you when you don't make the choices that he expected you to make.
Just When I Think I’m Out…
With one player at 20+ points ahead of us, while the rest of us were within 2-3 points of each other, we decided to declare that person the victor and play 1 last game before we opened up all the boxes and just read through the story. I'm so glad the other players went along with this, because after opening up everything, I just don't think I would have had the ability to play the 15+ games remaining that it would have taken us to get through everything.
In the last 2/3rds of the game, Seafall changes again, introducing a secret society of advisors that are guarding a secret in regards to the location of the last island on the map. Then, you have to use a UV light (seriously) to find these secret members and eventually you find out certain members give you a big discount on the roll to find the last island, which has a huge difficulty roll. But then, Seafall pulls one more "Screw you" and....wait.
Seriously, if you ever wanted to play this game, turn back now, as this is a HUGE spoiler. Like really big.
The Rug Gets Completely Pulled Out From Under Us
So the world is flat. Seriously. The game's name is literal as the sea falls off the earth and the players end up in Hell. This causes the apocalypse to happen as Hell bursts forth and starts burning away the islands as you play 1 last game to attempt to seal Hell away. It's only at this point you realize the game has been dropping extremely subtle hints about this along the way. I feel like I've been the subject of a really long prank.
If you haven't opened this game yet and it sits on your shelf, I think you should open it and play a game or two. Then, skip the frustration of the rest of the game and just open up all the boxes and story bits so you can experience it without the multi-hour struggle of playing to get to those points. There's a lot of stuff in this game, which is what probably causes it to ultimately fail. However, if you have ever thought about designing a game, I feel like going through this game and seeing what the game *could* have been is an interesting thought experience.
I think the best way to end this post is to showcase what the game *really* should have been called: