Seafall First Impressions – Ships, Sailors, and Sinking
Legacy games have grown in popularity over the past few years. First there was Risk Legacy, which gave way to a wider genre of game. Pandemic Legacy soon followed, and now games like Gloomhaven, Charterstone, and Betrayal Legacy are all taking the spotlight. Somewhere on route, however, is a lesser known game also hit the shelves. That game was a sea exploration game called Seafall and a game we managed to play for the first time recently. Since we can’t really review a legacy game until we have either played the whole campaign or given up, I thought we would look closer at our first impressions of Seafall after having played the very first prologue mission.
First thing to cover is what Seafall is. Unlike with Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, or Betrayal Legacy, Seafall is not based on a pre-existing property. It is, like Charterstone, a completely new and original game. The theme is nautical exploration, with the players playing as different factions who are all looking to rule the seven seas. Like with Charterstone, you name your characters and factions; however, in Seafall you also get to name your ships and every island you come across as well.
The game is split into years, with each year lasting a set number of turns. Each Winter the game is more or less reset; however, before then you get to have around seven turns. Each player takes their turn in order, completing all actions. These begin with hiring experts, choosing your active expert, choosing a guild to complete two actions off, and then reaping the effects of that choice.
Each turn you can take two actions from your guild. Every guild gives you the option to sail, and then you also have the choice of doing either one or two additional actions (based on whether you sail) ranging from exploring, raiding, trading, repairing your ship, or any number of other things.
Seafall is scored, again like Charterstone, on a series of points across various games. At the end of each game you get to upgrade your ship, and carry some of your resources on to the next game.
So, what were the first impressions of Seafall? Well, before we go any further I just need to reiterate again that we only played the prologue due to time constraints. This was enough to get a flavour of the game; however, it was not enough to fully sink our teeth into. As such, take the words here with a pinch of salt.
First thing first, Seafall is, like with most legacy games, a good looking game. It feels epic, with a board that is split into hexagonal spaces designed to make nautical exploration as accessible as possible. All players get a box, and in that box is everything they need to start the game (bar the leader of their faction, which the players choose). They get a series of tokens, along with two plastic ships. One of these is bigger, and one faster. This gives an additional level of strategy to the game, as ships can support each other as well as go out on their own. Both ships play an integral part to deciding what to do each turn.
The question is: how does this translate into the game?
Well, I have to admit – Seafall kind of surprised me, in a good way. It is quite a cheap legacy game, in the UK at least, and is certainly one of the easiest to get your hands on. It has a high level of customisation for any kind of game, and it feels like you are on the edge of building a great fleet.
So, what works well?
Seafall is a well thought through and has a few really strong points. The exploration is great, with each island having a series of places to explore, with each place having its own text and effect based on a book of possible results reminiscent of Tales of Arabian Nights or This War of Mine. This adds a lot of flavour to the game, and often you will find that there are extra actions available off the back of your initial choice.
What this means is that you get a chance to really sculpt the kind of captain or leader you want to be. It adds a sense of roleplaying that goes beyond simple text. It adds meaning to each choice.
What this means is you can act like a royal admiral – however, realistically, it really means that at least 50% of the players will act like pirates.
The exploration option within Seafall is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the game. How exploration occurs is also interesting; however, within the core book, and within those additional options, lies the real impact of the game. It is there that Seafall really seems to shine.
Another place the game shines is with the additional experts within the game. Each turn you can hire an additional advisor who grants you special abilities. Together the advisors form a deck for you to choose between. As you use an advisor you exhaust them until the next round. Each advisor can have their own name, and can massively swing the course of the game.
There are, of course, aspects of the game that don’t necessarily click as well as others. Where exploration is incredibly strong, raiding islands, at this moment in time, feels a bit weak. It comes without the flavour of the exploration, and just results in resources. This can be a bit of an anti-climax – especially when most exploration seems to result in resources anyway.
That being said, in the later game, post the prologue, it is possible to raid other ships, which could be quite fun. It’s just not included in the example mission.
Another aspect that doesn’t work quite as well as it could do is the ships at the beginning of the game. Upon playing it the first time, a friend of mine (whose copy we are playing) warned that it can be slow for the first few games. He noted that it was one of the biggest criticisms that Seafall gets, that it is a bit slow. This was a little bit noteworthy in the first game, as the ships aren’t hugely manoeuvrable. Where this is understandable, as they want to give room for the ships to grow over the course of the campaign, it also means they are somewhat slow to begin with.
All in all though, Seafall is an interesting game. It is rich in its own mythology that acts as a structure between the different missions. We are all looking forward to playing the next mission over the next few weeks. Obviously, we only played the prologue, but it will be interesting to see how it progresses as a game. The basics are interesting enough to make us want to play on and, although not a perfect game, each playthrough should be a couple of hours of great entertainment.
So – yeah – those are our first impressions.
Now over to you – have you played Seafall? If so, what do you think? Is it worth continuing with? Let me know in the comments below.
I have an unopened copy of Seafall but we really need to finish our Gloomhaven campaign before starting another legacy game. I’m interested to see how your game plays out. There is some talk on Board Game Geek about “fixes” to Seafall, btw, to make it more balanced.
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Interesting. I understand the want to finish Gloomhaven first – that game is absolutely huge. How far through have you got?
Thanks for the heads up about the “fixes”.
I think we’re about 2/3rds through Gloomhaven but without spoliing by looking ahead, it’s hard to say. Since our previous actions have closed some scenarios to us, we can’t just look at the map and see what’s still out there.
It’s a great game but takes many hours. It’s hard to find time to play.
SeaFall. Ahh. A most interesting experience masquerading as a game that needed one more round of beta testing and a little more polish. Don’t let me scare you off please! It’s worth finishing the campaign. The final reveal was excellent. My brief take on SeaFall (as we’re finishing our second campaign):
1) You play it for the Age of Sail feeling, the reveals that have you gasping, and opening the last chest.
2) Along the way, there’s a lot of cool stuff and you build this unique sea with its islands all unto its own. It starts to build, but slowly.
3) The forums at BoardGameGeek.com will be your friends for rules questions. There are numerous little things in the rules that aren’t quite answered right. As a professional editor, my opinion is that they tried to fit the rules into the exact page count when they needed more pages. And more editing.
4) The art is uniformly good. It’s a beautiful game.
5) Naming people, places and things permanently is a great thing.
6) Play it to finish it. If you can find another player along the way great! But finish it with the same group who started it.
7) You will find moments of exquisite anguish and of success when the dice betray you with horrible results or uphold you with unexpectedly grand success.
SeaFall has its detractors. Many of them who are impatient and who don’t appreciate the experience of exploring a world to see what’s there. I love the flavor of the story as it unfolds. Especially as it unfolds for the first time.
Couple suggestions and tips if you don’t mind my offering:
1) When you explore a site, circle the symbol and number on the map, and put the initials of the player doing the explore. Have another player verify the number. Then read the entry. This will minimize later grief or missing something by double exploring the same site. Along with this, when you read an entry in the Captain’s Book, circle it, and put the game number on it. Including any subsequent choices.
2) Follow the flow charts carefully, especially as new rules unlock. Go through the game setup and through winter slowly, step by step, each game. You might still miss something but you’ll miss less of it.
3) After you start the first game, don’t tear up the cards as indicated. Instead, when you’re supposed to “destroy” something, strike it out, write the game number on it and the initials of the player who triggered the card, and put it all in order in an empty box. It was only important a couple times, but this step helped my group reconstruct and decide how to deal with something done inadvertently with tired players.
4) Acquire a couple Ultrafine Sharpies for writing on everything. These beat ballpoint pens, which don’t write well on the coated cardstock, or pens that smear.
5) There is no compass rose on the map. Although not required, it is a chance to have made it a better product. Your provinces are the East and the islands are West!
6) Please keep writing about the experience. There are other suggestions that can help however I don’t want to spoil the reveals.
7) When playing strictly by the rules as written, learn to expect a game ending suddenly before plans come to fruition. And losing resources when that happens. This is a little vague but it shall make sense in time.
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This is awesome. Thanks for all the advice and for the detailed comment!
I’m curious – are you getting as much out of it a second time around?
Oops I think I tried to respond in April and it wouldn’t post. I have no idea what I said back then so to answer the question we got even more out of the second game. More in the sense that we were better prepared for rules, and we knew more about what strategies would work, and we had been through one full campaign so we had the major errata and issues under our belt. The map was different. Certain spoilers things took on new meaning. And we enjoyed ourselves. I think we did have a little less excitement to be fair, but we also forgot many details. I would love to return in a few years with five not four.
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That’s really interesting that you could keep playing it – that has to be a good sign right?
I hope so! It’s all about the final unlock for the first campaign. The second time? It’s for glorious old war gaming masochists who grew up with Avalon Hill chit games like Starship Troopers, Civilization and Source of the Nile. We agreed after two times through that the post campaign game was not very good. We all wanted to win though and we had one person win the campaign twice. I guess it got under our skin somehow. I happen to have two extra unopened copies. In my “win the lottery for billions” fantasy, after I fund a few real causes, I’d hunt down Mr. Daviau to offer him $200,000 or so just to play it through with my buddies and finish the beta.
What do you think about your map so far? Ours was different both times. I feel like basing a D&D game off it…
I really enjoyed playing Seafall but our group just stopped playing for some reason. I’m not sure why. I like the lore and fantasy of it.
It has a few kinks, but overall I liked it. I think we had around 4 sessions.
I just like opening secret boxes.
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Interesting. How many games are there in the campaign? How far through were you?
I’m not sure how many there are. 15 maybe? We got to 4 or 5. I think we just started playing other things though, plus gloomhaven came along.
But it was enjoyable if a little flawed
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Ahh Gloomhaven. Great game!
I’m looking forward to seeing how you find it after a few games as it sounded interesting.