Seafall Impressions – 5 Positives and 5 Negatives
Over the past month and a bit, four of us have been getting together every Tuesday evening to play Seafall through, from the first scenario to wherever it takes us. When we first started that journey, I wrote an article on this here blog talking about the first impressions of the game. Now we are five games in, I feel like we have more of a grasp on the rules. So, with that in mind, today we are going to revisit it with a slight tweak on the first impressions formula. Today, dear reader, we are going to look at five positives and five negatives about the game so far.
Now, be warned. THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. We can’t avoid it, looking at the game five sessions in. Once again THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. If you want to avoid mid-game spoilers then I suggest you go elsewhere now (may I suggest this article giving first impressions?) – if, however, you don’t mind spoilers then here we go. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Positive #1: The Advisor deck is a really neat idea, growing your crew as you sail the seas.
Advisors play a large role in Seafall and they are, without a doubt, my highlight of the game so far. Each and every round you can hire an advisor who will help you do extra things during your turn. Each year (6 in-game rounds) you can usually use each advisor once, and then they are exhausted until the next Winter phase (which happens at the start of each year). Once you choose an advisor, if you are the first person to have chosen them, you get to name them, and this personalisation is where Seafall does well as a game. We’ll come onto this more over the rest of this article, but there is a lot to personalise in Seafall.
The advisor abilities can really help swing the game, and it is possible to build advisor based engines. They help add personality to the game, and they can be upgraded (more on this later as well).
Negative #1: Being the Prince/Princess sucks and there are literally no short term benefits to being first.
Seafall, being a legacy game, gets played over a certain number of games. As such, for each game, the score track gets updated twice – once with the scores for that specific game and once with a running score for the campaign. Whoever is highest with the running score, has the title of Prince or Princess.
Being a Prince/Princess sounds like a good thing, and in one way it is – however, as of the second game, it comes with a lot of caveats. The catch up mechanic works well in Seafall giving benefits to all the other players for each 5 points they are in the campaign running behind the Prince/Princess – however, it also works on fractions of five points. This means that if I have 30 points, and you have 25, then you will get a bonus at the start of the next game. If, however, I am on 30 points and you are on 29, then you get that same bonus even though there is only 1pt difference. This runs on a campaign level, meaning it is possible for the Prince/Princess to lose several games in a row, still be first over all, and still have a bad time with the benefits.
What is more, being the Prince/Princess means starting the game with a enmity handicap and it breaks ties. This means that whenever there is a negative that can be attributed to two or more players, the Prince/Princess gets it instead.
Finally, you go last.
In essence, there is absolutely no benefit to being Prince/Princess and there are a lot of detriments. This, weirdly, makes Seafall a game that is more fun the worse you do.
Positive #2: The Retired Advisors are a cool concept that give the idea of your advisors are growing with you.
Continuing on the advisor theme, there are retired advisors at the end of each gameof Seafall who can be used to improve a current advisor in your hand. They get a sticker added to their card, with a new bonus, benefit, or ability printed on it.
What this gives is a really good sense of progression throughout the game of not only the players (as you get better and better advisors) but of the advisors themselves. It also adds a bit of theme – your raider may get better at raiding and your merchant may get better at buying and selling goods (etc.).
At the end of each game, everyone gets to keep one advisor (bar the person who won that game who gets to keep one if they have a lower coin value then all the other advisors chosen by other players), and so it is possible to keep one advisor and for them to grow with you as you play the game.
Negative #2: There is fair amount of randomness, meaning a lot can happen to you without you having much control.
Within Seafall there is a lot of randomness. In fact, it contains so much randomness that sometimes it can feel like the game is just sort of happening without you controlling it. There are dice, decks, and choose your own adventure style story telling. This means that on a turn, you could, for instance –
- Turn over a random event card that may or may not need resolving at the end of the round.
- Conduct an Explore endeavour by rolling dice.
- If you are successful you pick a random number in the Captain’s Booke (associated with the icon you conducted the endeavour on) for you to explore.
- You get presented with two options with potentially unclear outcomes.
- You may need to roll dice for an outcome.
- You then sail into Uncharted waters and draw a card to find a random aspect of the uncharted waters.
- You may find a location that requires a dice roll to continue.
- Or, you may need to choose between two options with potentially unclear outcomes again.
- You may get damage drawn from a damage deck, with a random effect.
- You end your turn and, and the end of the round, you may need to roll dice to resolve the event card drawn at the start of the round.
Those are officially two player actions within a round, but within those two player actions there could be potentially up to 8 or 9 random (or near random) things happening. You can augment your odds with more dice or fortune tokens (etc.) but that doesn’t detract from the fact that sometimes the game can feel out of your control.
Positive #3: There is a lot to customise so the game evolves to feel like it is truly yours.
In Seafall there are a lot of things you can customise in order to make the game feel like it is well and truly yours. Right at the start of the game you get two ships, each needing a name, a leader of your choice, and you get to name the land you are from. Moving through the game you then get advisors and colonies that need naming. As you explore and discover new islands, they need naming, and you also get to choose the location of the islands you explore within the confines of the map.
What this means is that we are 5 games in and we already feel like we are making a board that is ours. The islands are named things that we wanted them to be named. We have Endor and Lothlorien, and a string of islands all with vaguely humourous adaptations on one another – Atlantis?, Atlanta? Atlantean?, and Alantern?.
This means that the board and the game are ours. They are a history of our games so far, and this is one of the most enjoyable aspects about a legacy game such as Seafall.
Negative #3: The pacing of objectives can be inconsistent.
One of the big criticisms that Seafall gets as a game is that it can be slow when starting off. I would argue against that, to some degree, as we all really enjoyed the first few games. That being said, it is fair to say that the pacing is inconsistent. One minute you have a series of goals that can be completed relatively quickly. The next you pull a series of objective cards that are going to take two or three games to complete.
This is a weird quirk in the pacing of the game, and it can sometimes feel like you are just playing the game to get the right advisor and objective for the next time you play. It isn’t ideal.
Positive #4: Exploration adds flavour to the game.
As much as I mentioned the Exploration being random earlier, it really does add flavour to the game. There are some really cool and awesome points about the story telling aspect of Seafall that deserve recognition.
Storytelling comes into Seafall in two distinct forms. The first is via exploration, where you get to choose the location you want to explore in order to have something happen to you. The second is when a card tells you to – this could be via uncharted water, it could be via a chest, or it could be via completing an objective.
What they all do, however, is help produce a narrative structure around the game. They help frame the events and the unlockables with a bit of flavour designed to help explain the story. This makes opening the exploration book (or Captain’s Booke) something to look forward to as you never quite know what you will be up against. You will get something good (in most cases), but you may get something bad as well. Who knows?
There are a few exploration events that require a dice roll, and those are less enjoyable (in my opinion), as they add more randomness in an already fairly random situation. That being said, exploration, as a whole, is a welcome addition to the game.
Negative #4: The rules can be unclear about certain aspects where you really need clarity.
In order to avoid giving spoilers in the game, there are certain rules that remain ambiguous within the rules of Seafall where we have had to look up on BGG or within online forums to try and understand what is meant to happen. This usually happens around once a game.
Where it is understandable to keep certain aspects vague early on in a legacy game, it is definitely the case that when stickers with more rules get added to the rule book, they should provide more information rather than cause more confusion.
Looking at the forums, this appears to be a fairly widely spread criticism of the game and, in a way, thankfully so. It means we can find opinions on the rules easier whenever we need to search for solutions. Someone, somewhere, has had the same thought and written an answer for us.
Positive #5: The Ship Raiding mechanics work well.
I have to admit that, even though I have only ever fallen victim to raids (always the raided, never the raidee – amIright?) I really like the mechanic for raiding ships. When raiding a ship, you essentially place your skill as a raider (your raid stat) against the hold of your opponent. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. You don’t raid ships to watch them sink (well, some people might – but it shouldn’t be the primary objective). You raid ships so you can gain loot, and you gain that loot from the cargo hold.
What is also nice is that raids have different variations of success. Generally speaking, they can be devastating; however, they are just as likely to leave you slightly damaged or fail all together as they are to leave you capsized. This depends on the raid skill of your opponent, and the more you invest in being a pirate, the more likely you are to take a ship down; however, as the game progresses it seems more complex. This is partially because, as soon as colonies get introduced, everyone upgrades their holds.
Thus, the whole raiding mechanic kind of balances out – and that is pretty neat.
Negative #5: There is a lot of downtime between turns.
Blumming ‘eck, there is a lot of down time in this game. A game in Seafall seems to last, for us, almost exactly 10 turns. That gives two winters to the game.
The average game of Seafall lasts around 2 hours 45 minutes. That is approximately 16 minutes 30 second per turn. In my last game I didn’t explore at all, and I only raided once, and this meant the majority of my turns took around 2 minutes a piece. That meant I was only actually playing for 20 minutes out of a 165 minute game.
Seafall is one of those games I think that is best enjoyed sitting back and letting your mind wander. If you can keep yourself mentally occupied then great, but there is a lot of twiddling your thumbs involved.
So, there we have it – 5 positives and 5 negatives that I (personally) have found when playing the game.
At the moment, the experience of playing Seafall is a bit of a mixed one for me – however, this is just my opinion, so I fully respect that not everyone will feel the same. Please feel free to disagree.
It would be interested to hear your thoughts. What is your take? Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below.