Archive for May, 2017

Thoughts on SeaFall, Day 1

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment


[Some spoiler-free musings about SeaFall after the first session]

As owner/organizer of the SeaFall game for our group, I felt responsible for going into the game with as good a handle on the rules as possible, so I took some time to read through the rulebook a couple times before we gathered to make sure I understood the intricacies of the system that Rob Daviau of (Risk: Legacy and Pandemic: Legacy fame) had built for us.   It’s a pretty beefy rulebook even before you start to unlock the unfolding “legacy” portion of the game — Daviau himself calls it a “medium-to-heavy” game system.  One side effect of investing in the rules early on was that the tease of narrative and future revelations left me with a deep curiosity and enthusiasm to get the group together and kick off the game, if for no other reason than to begin unlocking the mysteries behind it.

As a legacy game, part of the fun of the core mechanics is knowing that you don’t know all the rules at the beginning of the campaign; you expect things to go sideways halfway through. (In fact, having come to this game from midway through a Pandemic: Legacy campaign, I’m starting to learn just how much things can go sideways, but that’s another post.)  What’s different about SeaFall is that this is the first legacy game that is built off of a fundamentally original core game system, rather than taking an existing game and layering a legacy campaign on top of it.


Board setup – the main board, side board, and province boards for four players.

Taking the time to read through the rules a couple times and watch a tutorial video was well worth it, otherwise we probably would have been pretty lost when we first sat down to play.  Since we came to the table forearmed, however, setup went fairly smoothly, especially considering all the components to prepare.  The boards themselves provided good guidance on where the pieces needed to be placed.  Little boxes called “province chests” used to store individual players’ chits that carry over from game to game are genius. All in all, there were only two elements that could have been improved in my opinion: the way the “milestones” (a mechanic for progressing the game narrative) are provided to the players to set up for the first two game sessions, and the placement of the event cards that describes the state of the world for a portion of the year–unlike most other cards, this deck doesn’t have a dedicated place on the main or side board, leading to confusion about where it should be set up. The choice to use an enmity sticker from your side, typically reserved to track when you’ve wronged another player or island, to tag your portrait for your side is also a little weird.  A dedicated sticker for this would have been a less incongruous choice.


Preparing to set sail

After setup came the actual gameplay.  And here is where I am starting to grow concerned. The primary issue I’m facing is that the core mechanic of a game turn is…well…cumbersome to put politely.  The game design forces the players to choose one of four “guilds” to employ each round, which enables them to buy/sell goods, build enhancements to their province or ships, explore a site on an island, or conduct a violent raid.  On its face, this seems reasonable, but the mechanic results in all players struggling to get ships where the they need to be to execute their plan leading to a very choppy and sluggish feeling experience. Forward momentum is hard to come by.

One thing that is clear is that each game is going to be very different.  The first two games we’ve played unlocked enough of the board that we won’t be able to do much more unlocking for a while — the low hanging fruit is taken on our board — and instead we’ll need to change our strategy to leverage the fruits of our exploration from previous games.  While on one level that’s fine, and in fact part of the point of a legacy game, the flip side of this particular coin means that  I’m concerned that we may never get to the point that the rounds in the game can proceed smoothly, because we will forever be trying to evaluate how to try to get our guilds to do what we want in an ever-changing environment.

Finally, for me personally, coming from a cooperative game like Pandemic: Legacy where the deck drove the uncertainty mechanic with some constraints, moving to a competitive game where there is unbounded uncertainty based on dice is fundamentally a less fun game to play.  Also, dice hate me.  These two statements may be related.

I’m still curious to see how the game evolves as we “reset the board” each session in a semi-dynamic world, and of course there are strong hints that the whole game is going to go sideways sometime in the future. Fundamentally, though, I must admit I’m a lot less excited about the whole experience than I was before we had started play. Hopefully as we get more practiced in the game the rounds will smooth out, but I’m not optimistic. We will see how things unfold.  My people will struggle through.  It is my destiny to become Emperor of the sea, after all.

Categories: Analysis, Games, Miscellany Tags: ,