Welcome To Seafall, Where You Destroy What You Love

Gamers are a funny bunch. Board gamers, doubly so. We treasure our board games. We put plastic sleeves on our cards to keep our games immaculate and pristine. We do not tolerate spilled drinks.

So writing on the board (in permanent marker!), placing stickers, and ripping up cards is both incredibly disturbing, and therapeutically cathartic. Welcome to Seafall.


A Lesson In Object Permanence

Yep. That's a ripped up card.

The first ever "legacy" game, Risk Legacy, had this sticker sealing the box: "what is done can never be undone". It is the most dramatic piece of board-game packaging I've encountered, and it proclaims boldly: here is something new. Risk Legacy is the greatest version of Risk you've never played, and a high watermark in Hasbro's extensive catalogue.

Designed by Rob Daviau, it is a fusion of avant-garde performance art masquerading as a respectable, mass-market board game (alongside Monopoly, Risk is one of most recognisable board game titles in the world). Nothing like this had ever been done before.

Most hardcore gamers would despise vanilla Risk (me included), but found the Legacy component unavoidably appealing.

The most dramatic piece of board-game packaging I've encountered

Normal board games are like The Simpsons. No matter what craziness ensues in an episode, the next episode starts the same way with the family on the TV couch, and there are never any lasting changes. Bart is trapped in pre-adolescent rebellion, and Homer will never age enough to lose another hair. The central conceit of legacy games is that the game doesn't reset. Not precisely. Now we're watching The Wire, or Arrested Development, or Archer, and changes stay changed. Games accumulate history. Games accumulate scars. Like the North, The Game remembers.

The reality is that Seafall, and legacy games in general, are the beautiful lovechild of board games and Dungeons and Dragons. Playing a board game is now a season-long campaign, and both board and players will have scars aplenty by the end. What is done can never be undone, and the "legacy format" genie can never be put back into the bottle. Pandemic Legacy followed, lodging itself firmly at the top of the BoardGameGeek charts. Seafall is the third legacy game, and the first wholly designed by Rob Daviau.


Sailing Towards The New World

Exploring the ocean blue.

Seafall's a 4X game, channeling the spirit of Civilization or, more appropriately, Sid Meier's Colonization. We set our soundtrack accordingly, and prepared ourselves to follow the footsteps of Messrs Columbus and Cook, de Gama and Cortez. For there is a sea to be sailed, islands to explore, goods to trade, and natives to mistreat.

Doing all of the above gains you glory, and glory wins you the game. Not unlike real life, glory is fickle and fleeting, because glory also resets each game. However in due course, the game will reveal how lasting glory can be gained and kept, and the most glorious player will be ultimately victorious at the end of the campaign.

Seafall itself is sumptuous. There are miniature ships (one powerful warship, one fast clipper), custom dice, the usual plethora of cardboard, and pre-assembled treasure chests. Each player gets a chest to store their loot, but there are other treasure chests. Sealed ones, and multiple warnings to not open them. Intriguing.

The mechanics are complex enough to present multiple strategies (should I play the short term game, raid the island villages, and build lasting enmity, or play a longer, gentler game of trading and building?). Future games promise possession of islands (there's a place to write my name, but no instruction to just yet), and growing warfare between players. But the first game starts as a gentle race to explore.

X marks the spot. Mark it in permanent marker, if you please.

Every time a new island was explored, we open the Captain's Booke. The permanent marker comes out to mark off the areas we've explored, and like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you are presented with an option: steal from the natives or spend time honouring their ways? Let your sailors rest, or encourage them to gather wood quickly? In so doing, we permanently unlock spaces on the board: spice farms, markets and harbours and other intriguing mysteries.

One person at the table has been playing Civ 6 hard — he told me he clocked up 22 hours over the weekend. By the end he proclaimed, satisfied: "this scratches my Civ urges."

Here's a game of spot-the-reference.

That's the game — the prologue game, at least. But the real game, the real joy is the name game. You get to name your leader, your port, your province, and your ships. When you hire advisors, they are yours to name. When you reach the target glory points, you get to name an island. Naming things in perpetuity is a daunting prospect. Should your names be whimsical or referential, geeky or mythical or serious? And the glory of our evolving game is that now it is ours.

Your copy of Seafall will be different to mine. Only here, with these cards, can Captain Fluffy hire Francis Drake the explorer. Only here can Lara (Croft) guide you to buried treasure, and Dupre (from Ultima) lead your military raids, or risk your lot with that madman, Ham Sandwich.

I own a lot of games — a lot of games — but this game is now truly mine.


How The Beginning Ends

Minor spoilers follow.

Farewell Athena. You will be remembered.

The great preacher, CH Spurgeon, was exceedingly fond of cigars. One vigilant congregation member accused him of turning his cigars into an idol, a false god. The quick-witted Spurgeon replied, "Madam, I burn my idols every day."

The end of the first game ends up by directing you to rip up cards. Not just any old card, but your character card. My character card, which I'd painstakingly named Athena. But as it turns out, gods can die after all. Other cards had been ripped up in the course if this game, but this one was the hardest. One player flat-out refused to destroy his card, and left it at the bottom of his chest for next week. As you can see, when I tried to tear up the card, I could only get halfway. Actually burning the card was excruciating.

Turns out, destroying what you love is hard. I love this game already.


Comments

    Been waiting for Seafall to come out since I heard it was going to be wholly designed by Rob Daviau a couple years ago.

    Glad it's finally out, look forward to giving it a go!

    I love the concept of these games but there is a thing that rubs me the wrong way: this pieces of cardboard are /costly/. Significantly so. To destroy its pieces does not only challenge your in-game feelings of attachment. It also irreparably destroys a hefty investment, quickly rendering into useless rubbish. Literal rubbish.

    I cannot help but feel cynical about the whole operation. If the challenge is supposed to be risky and mortifying decision making during the game, why not release the destructible components as free downloads? That way, experiencing the game a second or third or further times wouldn't cost you $70+ a pop. As it is, I'd grade it only a notch under using $100 notes to lit up a cigar in a scale of wastefulness.

    Last edited 31/10/16 11:53 am

      Fair comment, but think about it this way.

      Seafall is designed to be played in the course of a 15-game campaign.

      In this hobby, I've bought a LOT of games. I'm not atypical here. Of my game collection, there are maybe a handful of big-box games I've played 15+ times. Even games I really really like might only get 5-10 plays. For example, I've only played Istanbul, a Spiel des Jahr winner, and my favourite game from last year, I've only played 6 times. So if I get my average $/play down to, say, $10-15 per play session, I'm pretty happy. It's cheaper than a night at the movies.

      Also, knowing which components are supposed to be destructible is going to be a spoiler, and part of the joy here is that there are secrets. You don't know what's going to change, and how. You don't know what new cards you get to open and what new pieces will appear.

        A fair assessment, thanks for your reply. (same for the poster below)

        So if I get my average $/play down to, say, $10-15 per play session, I'm pretty happy. It's cheaper than a night at the movies.

        This. A million times this. Pandemic Legacy cost us $120 but my wife and I played it with another couple for about 16 or 17 sessions at about an hour each, probably more but I'll run with that. $120 over 16 sessions is $7.50 per hour. But that is over 4 people so for less than $2 per hour we had an awesome time that played with us so much that most of us have PTSD-like reactions when talking about it. No other game I've played can conjure emotion like that.

        We're looking forward to season 2 but in the mean time Seafall will most likely be our Christmas present to them.

      If you split the cost amongst you and your coplayers, it's pretty damn cheap. Pandemic Legacy cost me $119. with three friends, that's $30 each, and then split across the hours it takes, that's a pretty good value proposition.

    This game, whilst it sounds fantastic is defiantly not for my gaming group.

    We started our Seafall prologue on the weekend, our half year of Pandemic Legacy sat aside to begin a new legacy game so we can alternate on our game nights. Everything that could be named was named, much like above, sometimes as a cheeky reference to something else (Our first island was lovingly called Monkey Island by me, much to the delight of one of my co-players, and the head shaking oh dearness of another), other times with some serious thought given (My prologue leader was Lilly).

    When we reached the end of the prologue, and was instructed to destroy our current leader cards, there was sudden chill and gloom that filled the table. We had all grown quite attached to our leaders, giving them backstories, and personalities, and motivations. Some of the leaders were struck down as instructed. But not Lilly. She now adorns the top of my provinces chest, an artistic memorial to a great leader, and inspiration to whomever shall follow in her footsteps. Rest well, Baroness Lilly, for your bravery shall be a light that leads us to victory. For the glory of Flamesr├┐che!

    I too like the premise of the game but am not keen on the destroying pieces part of the equation.

    Not saying the game is wrong for having this as a mechanic but just not something I personally like the idea of doing.

    Think for now I will stick with Friday, hostage negotiator, mansions of madness and scythe :)

    Hope some people do some videos on this game being played as I am interested in seeing it in action :)

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