This week I’ve been playing Forgotten Waters. Some of you may remember that Forgotten Waters was on my Campaign Games I Don’t Own but am Dying to Play list from a couple of months back. Initially I was picking the game up for an idealised future time when lockdown is gone and social distancing is a thing of the past, but when the game arrived I figured, I at least need to learn how to play…
Five games later and I can safely say I’ve got a good grasp on the mechanics now! A high level overview of the game, Forgotten Waters is a pirate themed storybook game. Players will make choices and move their pirate ship around attempting to fulfill objectives, while also gaining skills and improving themselves in the hopes of achieving a personal victory.
Forgotten Waters though is a game that is impossible to really understand without playing it. Each individual round sees players choosing between 7 different actions and then potentially moving to a new space on the board and choosing between seven new actions or possibly the same ones again. And yet, the game rarely feels repetitive.
The sailing and ship management phases feel reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica as you try to maintain a balance between making progress and conserving resources. While the exploration phases, such as when you discover islands or other places of interest feel more like 7th Continent. Meanwhile the entire game is infused with a Monkey Island style of humour.
Every part of the game has this tongue in cheek feeling. The game starts you off with some mad libs style character creation. Players are asked 5 simple questions which will later form their backstory as well informing the unfolding narrative of their piratey tale. But beyond this, every card has flavour text designed to make you chuckle and then there's the story itself.
Forgotten Waters is an app driven game, although it is actually not strictly an app, with full voice acting. It is also a Crossroads game. The Crossroads system originally appeared in Dead of Winter and it was an innovation in board gaming that had not really been seen before. On your turn another player would draw an event card and if you performed the actions on that card it would trigger, generating new twists and opportunities for immersive storytelling.
There are many benefits of converting the crossroads cards to a digital platform. For a start, the app never says “Oh wait, did you search this turn, sorry, yeah, when you did that this zombie ate your face”. The app knows what action you are taking and it responds (for the most part) with a thematically appropriate event. This is all done through inputting numbers.
For example, you meet some stranded castaways and the game gives you a number to type into the app. The app can then give you a story moment about meeting those castaways, but the beauty of the app is that it can generate that response from a random pool. You could do the same thing with cards, but then you end up having to sort through hundreds of cards and then shuffle all the cards and then deal it out and read it. The app does all that, instantaneously and it has sound effects and voice acting to boot. Best of all, because the app is digital Plaid Hat can add new responses to events to further enhance replayability.
And while a deck of cards would remain static, the app can adjust based on the scenario you are playing. For example, reading entry 800 in Beyond the Ocean’s Edge and reading entry 800 in the Witch’s Heart could produce vastly different results. All of which means that the game can reuse the book pages over and over again without them feeling the same, reducing the number of physical components required and allowing for digital expansions to the game.
The other benefit of this system is that it knows which events have preceded it, so now you can have thematic events triggered by actions you took earlier. However, it’s not always quite perfect...
In my first game, I was a confident pirate with plenty of Swagger. We had just used our cannons to destroy the sails and boarded a merchant ship. I strode on to the deck and knowing I had the gift of the gab I set about parlaying with the merchants, successfully convincing them to stand down and hand over their gold.
However my end of round event saw me slaying Lil’ Gertie… Lil’ Gertie is a well respected pirate maiden and her death would come back to haunt my dreams and several of my future events. In fact, the very next turn I ran into another ship and killed a pirate that had sworn vengeance on me for killing Lil’ Gertie.
That was cool, the consequences of my actions rearing their ugly heads, but the very next turn seemed a little far fetched. Little did I know that my next turn I would face yet another ship and once again face the wrath of those who loved Lil’ Gertie. I was beginning to wonder if there were in fact any pirates on the seven seas that had not been affected by my murderous ways.
However I need not have concerned myself as a few turns later I discovered that Lil’ Gertie is actually the highlander as, in yet another raid, I ran her through once more. I’m not sure this should have been possible, the game is pretty careful about removing tiles and events from the game to stop such narrative loops but obviously it can happen which is a shame. However, in both subsequent campaigns I've played through I have not seen duplicate events.
Still I’ve really enjoyed my plays so far. The game does reward exploration to a certain degree by tying the individual player victories to their constellation events (a chart on your player board you will fill in as you gain skills) however it also punishes you for taking too long meaning you need to walk a fine line between exploration and completing your mission.
Forgotten Waters is a brilliant hybrid between board games and point and click adventures and it’s a system I would love to see adapted to other settings. I know it won’t happen but I think a Dead of Winter version of this in a style similar to Telltales Walking Dead games would have been excellent. As it is, I look forward to what Plaid Hat does next and to finally getting to set sail with my friends once this Pandemic is over!