15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
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