The upcoming game SeaFall is the latest from Plaid Hat Games (Dead of Winter, Ashes, Tail Feathers) and also the latest from rockstar game designer Rob Daviau. You might have enjoyed Daviau’s previous games like the insanely successful Pandemic: Legacy. He also helped bring us Risk: Legacy and Betrayal at the House on the Hill. SeaFall is also a “legacy” game, meaning it grows and changes over repeated plays. Fans of Daviau’s previous works might find a lot of common ground here, in fact this game seems to be composed of all the best mechanics the previous games had to offer.
I’ve combed through the designer notes, as Plaid Hat has a wonderful policy of posting for all their soon to be released games. I also had a chance to speak with Daviau over the phone recently and got a little more detail on what we should expect. So, get ready to set sail because here’s our preview of the much anticipated SeaFall.
THE LEGACY OF LEGACY GAMES
SeaFall is a game for 3 to 5 players and will cost (at least on the Plaid Hat Website) about 80 bucks. As I mentioned above, this is going to be a Legacy game. Certain actions during gameplay will unlock new mechanics, change rules and permanently alter the board. In the minutiae of this game, players will reach or qualify for milestones which unlock treasure chests full of game altering goodness.
Legacy mechanics are, in Daviau’s words, “A whole new way to approach games.” All the players, while competing with each other, are also collectively telling or discovering the story of SeaFall. The world of the game will evolve as you play it, as will your player characters. Daviau’s inspiration comes from his first love as a gamer, Dungeons and Dragons. He started playing with 1st Edition D&D and, as he puts it, “When you sat down to play, you started where you left off.” That’s true of SeaFall as the progress you make will be reflected in each subsequent playthrough.
The result of this is that the game really only played out the story once (you can only alter the board and cards in one direction). That’s about 15 games until you finish the story and one player ultimately wins the whole thing.
EXPLORE, BUILD, RINSE, REPEAT
The key mechanic of SeaFall is glory. Each game has a set glory target and the first player to reach that number is the winner. As you might expect, it takes more glory to win every subsequent game and eventually, when it’s all said and done, the player with the most total glory wins overall. So how do you get glory?
At the start of the game you can gain glory in four ways: You gain glory for building upgrades to your city or ships, buying or acquiring treasures, or for completing endeavors. Finally, you gain glory for unlocking milestones. The first two are pretty cut and dry, but let’s look more closely at endeavors and milestones.
Endeavors are actions or missions performed by your ships. Initially these actions are limited to “raid” or “explore”. In either case, you roll some custom dice and measure your rolled successes against the difficulty rating. You don’t actually need to roll more successes than the difficulty, you just need to not sink. You take damage for every success less than the target number, and if you take too much it’s down to the briney deep. As you can see, endeavors come with a bit of risk, but they also promise big rewards. Most importantly the glory you win from an endeavor is yours to keep. Buildings and upgrades can be destroyed, treasures can be stolen, and you get to be a badass explorer who makes it back alive. They can’t take that away from you.
Milestones work a lot like the unlockable elements of the previous legacy games. They each have a set condition that unlocks them. For example “Have 3 Buildings”. If you’re the first player to build 3 buildings you get to take that milestone which gives you glory and unlocks more cool stuff for the game. Milestones also have cool names like “Clad in Marble” or “Darkness Awakens” which Daviau designed to feel like entries in a history book. In many ways your characters are creating this world’s history. No pressure, though.
HOW TO GROW A PROVINCE AND ITS SHIPS
You play as the same province each time you play. You name your province and your leader and both of your two ships. During the game, you can buy upgrades for your ships that win you some glory but are only good for that specific game. At the end of a game, you can “improve” one of your ships permanently for every game to you play afterwards. So over the course of several games you might have to rebuild some of your infrastructure, perhaps taking different tactics each time, but your ships (and some other aspects of your province and leader) will also gain permanent benefits as things go forward.
Daviau admits it can be hard for some players to cope with having to rebuild some buildings each time but this choice makes the gameplay more meaningful. His tactic for legacy games is for each subsequent playthrough to reset as much as possible from the start but give the players tools to grow further faster. He also points out that limiting the permanent changes you can make to your character and province prevents early choices from locking the game into a cycle. After all, it’s no fun if you can’t change tactics to adjust to the changing game.
FOR THE LOVE OF ENMITY
As you might expect from a game that’s designed to be the best possible experience for 15 playthroughs, there is way more here than I could unpack in a single article. There are lots more specifics in the designer notes on Plaid Hat Game’s website. Before I leave, however, I wanted to look at one last game mechanic which I think is pretty brilliant, enmity.
Enmity is the amount of malicious actions you can do in a turn. So, raiding neutral islands or each other’s treasuries costs an amount of enmity. This means you can only be so mean in a given game so you have to make each raid count. Enmity also stays where you spend it (in a given game) meaning that if you raid me, then I keep the enmity tokens you spend to do it (they are all color coded) and if you somehow attack me again I treat those like free troops on my side. Essentially it’s a mechanic of escalation. I can even take some of that enmity and bring it back with me to counter attack you. When I leave enmity behind after that attack, I leave yours first.
At the end of a game some of the enmity you left behind in your raid may become permanent. This means that the more you raid your friends, the more they build up garrisons and battlements in response. Eventually, they’re simply too ready for you.
This is all a balancing act to keep the game on theme. As Daviau says, this is a game about trade and exploration, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to send ships into the harbor to snatch a key treasure and a surprise victory. You just have to deal with the consequences.
This game rocketed to the top of my “must buy” list at cannonball speed. Daviau said of this game “I designed a game for my 12 year old self to love.” He also called it ‘D&D out on the sea”. To me this reads as the next step in the great new legacy game mechanic… and really the only question I have is “which friends do I invite to play through it with me?” Maybe I’ll have to buy a few copies.
Are you psyched for SeaFall? Where do you stand on legacy games? What are you going to name your two ships? Give up the gold of your comments in the appropriate section.
Image Credits: Plaid Hat Games