Background: So I’ve played quite a bit of Dead of Winter and a little bit of Stuffed Fables. I really wanted Gen7 to be good because I liked the idea of a legacy sci-fi kind of game, but it was way overpriced and apparently had lots of problems. So it’s safe to say I have way more experience with the “Crossroads” mechanic than the “Storybook” mechanic. FW uses both together.
Forgotten Waters is a cooperative pirate-themed game where the players take on the roles of crewmen on a ship. It isn’t a legacy game, but the narrative is connected over subsequent plays. The game uses a required app to play. I know this turns a lot of people off from games but I think it is absolutely essential for this one. More specifically, it uses an HTML5 website that you can save for offline use. I find this a better solution than dedicated apps like Mansions of Madness because they may lose compatibility with future mobile OS updates. Plus, Plaid Hat can (and has) update the app on the fly seamlessly for players. The app takes the place of Crossroads cards used in Dead of Winter and all narrative text in the game. It presents story related entries, prompts for player choices, and assists in setup of the game.
Components: The game comes with a spiral bound story book, a cardboard hex-map of the ocean (empty and you add tiles to it), terrain hexes for the map, random ‘navigation’ tokens for encounters as you sail, standees for pirates and the ship, plus cards and tokens. Each scenario has a set setup for the map. A pad is provided of characters (all unique) and a ship log pad as well. The game uses d12 dice, one for each player matching player colors.
Gameplay: On each turn, players assign their character standees in infamy order to different options on the current storybook page. This segment (planning phase) is timed. If the players don’t have all assignments done by the time runs out, discontent rises. The first scenario starts open to a Port page, meaning there are options to visit the tavern, talk to the captain, explore, and so on. Some pages have required actions (red) that one player must assign their character to. For example, while at sea you have to feed your crew each round. You don’t know what the outcomes will be before selecting your action and actions are resolved sequentially. After all players have made their selection, the book indicates what happens. Usually this involves gaining a skill point and then making a skill check (Swagger, aim, melee, navigation, hunting, exploration) using a D12 plus your current skill level plus any gear bonuses. The results may be something as simple as gaining a crew/supplies or be told to go to entry number XXX. (As an aside, i highly recommend covering the right hand side of the page so no one knows what possible outcomes are from action selection).
Entry numbers are entered into the app which then will provide narration, prompt choices, ask if certain conditions have been met, etc. When directed from an action, it will typically result in a scene acted out and then prompt for a choice or a check. As the ship moves, locations are entered into the app which sets up new situations (and a new page in the book). Some of these you will start to visit more than once (boarding a frigate, stormy seas), but others I have only seen once. The actions available are drastically different depending on the situation.
Each player gets a sheet for their character that you setup mad-libs style with a few questions about names, important objects, or maybe a type of animal. These help form your background (read aloud) but also feeds into the constellation track. The sheet tracks your current skill levels and also has a Skyrim-esque star constellation. As skills go up, some have a star in the background which means you have to fill in part of your constellation. When you hit certain points of the constellation track, you will resolve a story action specific for your character when prompted. These extra constellation story bits also use your mad-lib answers and often have you get specific treasures for the rest of the game. Ultimately, you are trying to experience all 5 constellation events by the end of the scenario. Every sheet is a unique type of pirate (things like “assassin pirate”, “the grifter”, etc) that has a narrative to go with it. The app also can print off extra sheets if you make your way through the pad.
As the game progresses, players will accumulate treasure cards. Most of these are equipment/gear that increase your skills. Some have discard effects such as getting some free supplies for your ship. You can also earn both re-roll and ‘misfortune’ tokens. Re-rolls are just like they sound- turn one in to re-roll a skill check. Misfortune tokens require you to use 2 dice and pick the smaller of the two (and then you discard a misfortune). It is also possible to earn story-related items through completion of constellation events.
Roles: There are 7 different roles to take on this pirate adventure. All 7 must be taken every game regardless of number of players. Officially the minimum number of players is 3, but the game includes a 2 player variant and I don’t see any reason you couldn’t play solo with multiple characters. These roles for the most part boil down to tracking ship stats, but also individual players/roles will be given a choice to make on their own. (e.g. “Gunner, pick one of the following choices”). The roles are:
- Ship scribe - Maintains a progress list of story events (progression of Bad Thing, how far you’ve interacted with captain’s assignments), writes story related notes, can ‘save’ the game to continue later by marking tiles removed from the game, sketching out things that have changed on the map, etc.
- Boatswain - Tracks hull damage
- Gunner - Keeps track of enemy damage (dials on board) plus status of 4 possible canons on the ship (loaded/unloaded, what level they are)
- First Mate - Tracks current crew level (1-10) and discontent level (1-10). If discontent ever reaches the current crew level the game ends.
- Cooper - Tracks ship supplies
- Quartermaster - Tracks pirate infamy and turn order
- Lookout - Tracks objective and threat progress
Overall thoughts: One of my biggest problems with Dead of Winter’s crossroads cards were the fact they were in fact cards. Players would always read ahead as to the consequences of a story action before making a choice. Forgotten Water’s app makes this impossible. After a voice acted audio clip, you will be presented with a story choice. Having no idea what the outcome will be is really fun as far as being immersed in the narrative. Furthermore, the voice acting and sound effects are really quite good and really makes for an enjoyable co-op experience. The narrative has both some PG-13/R violence described and has some genuinely funny moments as well.
Our first game we died due to not spending time to shore-up the hull of our ship. After a couple of encounters against the royal navy and some pirating, we ended up sinking. Everyone enjoyed the game so much, they all wanted to start over immediately. Our second play-through went much smoother. Balance wise, the game doesn’t seem overly challenging but being able to die (in a number of ways) on the first mission shows that some thought should be put into strategy. I also appreciate that the game seems to be alpha-player resistant. Eventually, people will start to learn what the best choices to do at common locations (boarding a ship, port), but when encountering scenario specific locations you can only plan in generalities. The spots on the page show icons for things that might be encountered there, but often the best ones just have a ? indicating there will be a Crossroads event most likely. I really enjoy the angle of “I guess I’ll go explore the cave” not knowing if it’s going to end up hurting me or having a benefit. During ship combat, there is some time for light strategy sending people who are better at aiming to fire the guns, others to load, others to repair the ship.
So, if you have felt the potential of Plaid Hat’s games but ultimately been disappointed, I would consider Forgotten Waters. I hope they have long term plans of additional scenarios (since it can be done with no physical production at all). Even so, I think this game will have a good amount of replayability in that the randomized tiles when moving around the ocean can bring up lots of various things.
I really enjoyed this game. We’re going to play the next scenario on Wednesday already.