I’ve been excited to write this review for some time, since I’ve been a big fan of the Red Raven games that I’ve gotten around to reviewing already (Dingo’s Dreams being one of my preferred filler games, and Above and Below being such a different game than I’m used to playing). For some reason, I haven’t gotten around to playing Islebound in a while, but I’m hoping to rectify that soon.
Anyways, in Near and Far, you take on the role of a character on a journey to The Last Ruin, a fabled heart of a long-lost civilization. You may be a robot anxious to repair itself, a young person whose “shard” can see far more than is normally visible, or a variety of other characters with their own reasons for their journey. While you might start in familiar territory (the world of Above and Below, to be precise), you will journey across many new lands to make your way to your destination. Will you find what you’re looking for, or will your journey end in failure?
This game’s a bit of a bear to set up. What you should do is give everyone a player board, to start out:
Also set the town board on the lighter side (without turtles) for your first game:
Now, give everyone camps:
And give everyone a starting cat or dog (or platypus, if they lost the previous game hard):
Everyone should get to pick a character, now:
Put the little character chits on the “0” on the Reputation line on the Town Board. Put all the characters in town, as well. If you’re playing at two players, add a third character to the game and place them in the Town Hall. They’re the receptionist, now.
Now, take the Atlas:
And open to the Glogo Caverns map, if it’s your first game:
- Campaign Mode players: Start on the next map.
- Character Mode players: Use any map you want.
- Arcade Mode players: Use any map you want.
If it looks familiar to you, well, it’s the Above and Below world. Isn’t that fun?
Now, the hard part. You’ll have a bunch of quest tokens:
You’ll want to add a certain number to the board, randomly, depending on your player count:
- 2 players: 7 tokens
- 3 players: 10 tokens
- 4 players: 13 tokens
If you’re playing the Extra Stories Variant, just use 4 Quest Tokens per player. Please note that this will make the game take longer. If you’re playing Campaign Mode, you should skip two maps, and if you’re playing Character Mode, you’ll probably only really play two games, this way. If you’re playing Arcade Mode, well, this doesn’t really impact you.
Anyways, as far as placing Quest Tokens goes, there’s no good way to do this for any map, but here’s what I do. Get a randomly generated list of numbers from 0 – 14, and place quest tokens on the lowest number on the map + the numbers, in order, until you’re done. How do you get a randomly generated list of numbers from 0 to 14? You’re welcome. For the first map, it’s random letters, but … that’s hard. Just remember that O is the 15th letter of the alphabet and go with that. I believe in you. You’ll also want the Storybook:
Well, unless you’re playing Arcade Mode, in which you should use these Arcade Mode cards instead:
Once you’ve done that, set the other tokens nearby:
Give every player 3 coins and set them aside, preferably near the gems:
Note that people have been complaining at me that the gold coins are worth 1 and the silver coins are worth 5. In the Boy Scouts, the Silver awards are actually more valuable than the gold awards. But, either way, those coins are bronze / brass, so, uh, it still works out.
Add 3 pack birbs per player to the Stable:
Draw 5 Adventurers from the Adventurer Sack and place them in the top-left corner of the town board:
Put the Threat Cards in order and place them on the space on the map for them. One of my maps is missing a space for them, so if that’s the case just set them nearby or make it work:
You’ll find the Chiefs as well; set them aside, for now:
You might find some Boss cards. Don’t worry about them unless you’re playing on The Last Ruin in Campaign Mode:
If you are, then you know enough about this game that this is probably not the most helpful part of my review for you to read? But I’ll explain anyways. You’ll use different bosses at different player counts:
- 2 players: Remove “Captain Shreya” and “Zag the Treasure Hunter”
- 3 players: Remove “Zag the Treasure Hunter”
- 4 players: Use all bosses.
As for the World Cards, don’t shuffle them, just set them nearby:
Yeah I’m not going to show you what they are; even I’ve only seen like, one. Spoilers, my dudes. Shuffle the Treasure Cards and put them on the space on the Mystic’s Hut in town:
Those, you’re allowed to see. Knock yourself out. Finally, give every player five Artifact cards and two Advanced Artifact cards (the Advanced cards have the symbol on the back):
Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes to breathe, but you’ve done it! You’re ready to start:
Before you do anything else, you have to draft Basic Artifact Cards a la 7 Wonders. Leave your Advanced Artifact cards aside, then take a Basic Artifact and pass the rest to your left. Once you’ve taken 5, you’re done drafting. Now, you may discard as many Basic or Advanced Artifacts as you’d like. Be mindful that it is difficult to get rid of Artifacts later in the game, and unbought Artifacts are worth -1 point per Artifact. Careful, on that. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, you must discard one Advanced Artifact. Can’t have you running around with both. You can also discard both, if you’d prefer.
So, there are a variety of different ways to play, but they play somewhat similarly. Essentially, this is how they work (and bear with me; I’m condensing a 40-page rulebook):
- First play: You play on the Glogo Caverns. It’s a good, simple map that gives you a brief understanding of how the game works. It’s kind of like Above and Below 2 (or 2 Above 2 Below, if you prefer numbering sequels like that).
- Arcade Mode: In this mode, you can play on whatever map you want, but you use the Arcade Mode cards rather than specific quests. Adds a lot of variety / replayability.
- Character Mode: This mode lets you pick characters and play a few maps with them. You’ll ultimately finish at The Last Ruin, but you have to complete 8 quests with each character for that to happen. You’ll use the quest indicated on your Character Card to start.
- Campaign Mode: This mode takes you on a lengthy journey toward The Last Ruin. You’ll play every map, one after the other, and use the quests indicated on the board (unless you hit a sidequest, which I will talk about … later).
After the last two, you’ll gain experience after every quest. In Character Mode, just fill in the star after every quest you do. In Campaign Mode, you’ll need to fill in one of the boxes on your Character Card. Once you’ve filled in three, then you may fill in the star. Each star is worth one experience point.
At the start of a Campaign or Character Mode game, you can spend these experience points to acquire a variety of abilities, such as gaining extra food to start every game, having extra slots for certain items, or even being able to spend one item as though it were another item. They’ve got different costs ranging from 1 – 4 experience points. Spend wisely.
Either way, you’ve picked a player to go first, randomly, so there are two types of actions you can do:
- Spend time in town: Visit various buildings and acquire items / trade items / get money / gain birbs, etc. All players must spend their first round in town. And honestly, it makes sense to do so.
- Go adventuring: Exit town and go place camps throughout the land / acquire gems or coins / go on quests / fight threats.
I’ll explain each in detail.
You can, however, at any point on your turn, purchase Artifacts in your hand as a free action by paying the requisite cost (including faction tokens) to the supply. Purchased artifacts can give you extra abilities, hearts, swords, skill (hand) symbols, or a variety of other fun effects. They’re also worth points at the end of the game, which is nice.
You may also gain a Chief as a free action if you ever have four faction tokens of the same faction present in your player area (as tokens or on adventurers) and that Chief hasn’t already been gained. It’s worth 5 endgame points, which is nice.
You can always go to town! Town is fun. The best part about town is that you can go to town no matter where you are on the map. It’s just a “head back to town” sort of fast travel. Hooray!
So, while you’re in town, like I said, you can do a variety of things. You can remain in town as long as you want, but you must visit a different building every turn. Why? Well, if you want to go to a building currently occupied by another player, you must duel them. Before you break out the card games, it’s very easy to duel another player:
- Choose whether to duel honorably or dishonorably. You will either gain +1 reputation (honorably) or -1 reputation (dishonorably), regardless of the outcome of the duel. However, if you duel dishonorably, you do get +1 to your roll, so, maybe worth it?
- Roll a die. The attacker and defender both roll; higher roll wins. If you have any hearts remaining from questing, the attacker may spend them to boost their roll (honestly, it doesn’t benefit the defender at all to win, outside of blocking their opponent). If there’s a tie, the defender wins. If you lose as the attacker, you end up in jail for the round, and your turn ends, but on your next turn, you can go anywhere you want without dueling.
Just as a note, if you’re playing a two-player game, the Town Hall is always occupied. If your opponent’s character is there, you must duel them rather than the dummy player. Anyways. Let’s talk the various buildings in town:
- Town Hall: You may perform any and all of three actions, here, in any order, but you may only perform each action once.
- Trade: You may pay up to five goods to get one good, or pay one good to get up to five goods. There’s a conversion table, which, here you go:
- Food: 1
- Coins / Gems: 2
- Green Faction: 4
- Red Faction: 5
- Yellow Faction: 6
- Blue Faction: 7
If you were to spend one blue faction, then, you could take a green faction token, a coin, and a food. If you spent 3 food and a gem, you could gain a red faction token.
- Discard Artifact: You may discard one unpurchased artifact card from your hand.
- Buy Reputation: You may spend any number of coins or gems to move your reputation in either direction. Adjust your reputation on the tracker accordingly.
- Trade: You may pay up to five goods to get one good, or pay one good to get up to five goods. There’s a conversion table, which, here you go:
- Saloon: Here you can hire adventurers to join your merry band. You’ll note that each adventurer belongs to one of the four factions, and you can only have one adventurer per faction active in your party at a time.When you hire an adventurer, spend money equal to the number in the bottom right-corner of the card (you may only hire one adventurer per visit). If you have faction tokens / the Chief / other adventurers of that faction, decrease the cost you pay by 1 coin. That’s always nice. Add them to the available spot on your board. If that’s already occupied, you may decide whether or not you want to move the current adventurer or the newly-hired adventurer to the inactive party. You may only reorganize your party when leaving town.Nice thing about the Saloon is that it’s always easy to go there — you don’t have to duel at the Saloon unless you want to, at which point it’s only for bragging rights (and raising or lowering your reputation!).If you don’t like the look of the adventurers in the Saloon, you may spend one food to discard all of them (do not return them to the bag) and draw five new ones. You may do this before you buy or, if you’re feeling particularly spiteful, after. As you might guess, if you ever run out of adventurers in the bag, place all the discarded adventurers in the bag and then refill the row.
- Stable: You may hire a pack birb here. If you do, pay one food and add it to the birb space on your board. The pack birbs are great because they not only increase your movement by 1 per birb, but they can also hold treasure cards! If you gain a treasure card but have 0 birbs, you cannot draw the treasure card. Sad!You may, if you’re a monster, sacrifice one of your birbs to avoid a threat on the map (more on that later). If you do, return it to the stable, but you do still retain the movement bonus until the end of your turn. If it’s holding a treasure you have to get rid of that, though.
- General Store: This is definitely a place. Here, you can:
- Work: Gain 1 coin. Hooray.
- Gain Artifacts: You may draw any combination of 4 artifact cards from the basic / advanced decks. You do have to choose before you see the cards, though. Once you see them, you may choose to keep or discard the cards (keeping in mind that after you keep cards you may only discard them at the Town Hall).
- Farm: So you’ve got adventurers (or cats / dogs / platypuses [platypodes?]) in your party, some have hand icons. For every hand icon in your active party, gain one food. It’s a great way to get pack birbs.
- Mystic Hut: If you have at least one pack birb, take a treasure card. If you already have a treasure, you must choose to either get rid of that treasure or discard the treasure you’re about to take before you draw. Tough.
- Mine: This one is kind of neat. So you may dig in the mine as an action here, which requires placing a camp in either the top-left corner of the mine (if there are no camps), or adjacent to an existing camp. The catch? You can only place a camp on a number if your active party has at least that many hand symbols. Gotta be skillful to dig deep. After you do this, you gain the item at the top of the column and the left of the row that you placed your camp in.
Cool, once you’ve done all of those things, you’re ready for an adventure.
Alright, so the first thing you do is that you need to leave town. As you imagine, if you are not currently in town, you cannot leave town, since you’re not in it. When you leave town, you do the following things:
- Arrange your party. Each space on your player board may be occupied by one member of the corresponding faction or your dog / cat / platypus friend.
- Reset your hearts. Set your hearts to 0, and then add a heart for the hearts on your party, your purchased artifacts, treasures, World Cards, and etc. You may never go above 13 hearts, but any extra you don’t spend out adventuring you’ll have available to use when you’re next in town.
Now, if you’ve just left town or if you’re starting a turn outside of town, you move!
Every player starts with two base movement (+ any extra movement you gain from your party, your pack birbs, your purchased artifacts, treasures, World Cards, and etc.), so feel free to move to your hearts’ content.
If you ever cross over a space without a camp, you lose one heart. It’s tough to keep going without stopping.
If you end your movement (or choose to end your movement) on a quest space (has a book token), you may attempt a quest. Pass the storybook to the player on your left, and have them turn to one of three things:
- The Sidequest in the Sidequest bubble on your Character Card (Campaign Mode);
- The quest on your Character Card (Character Mode);
- The quest number or letter on the board (First Play / Campaign Mode)
If you’re playing Arcade Mode, just use an Arcade Card:
If you’re using the Storybook, you’ll see a quest like this:
You’re writing up a review of Near and Far, but you realize that in order to provide the best example of a quest, you’d have to make up a plausible-sounding quest on the spot. That said, the storybook is right next to you…
“BORROW” A STORY FROM THE STORYBOOK
You shamelessly steal a story from the storybook, and it doesn’t even match your writing style! While doing that, however, you notice something in the couch.
4: green faction, -1 reputation
IMPROVISE A STORY ON THE SPOT
You try writing your own story, but it gets hopelessly meta. You hope your readers will understand. While writing, you also get a snack.
7: blue faction, two food
Not my best work, but, here we are. The reader should read the first paragraph, and then the bolded text of the choices only. Don’t read the reaction paragraph or the rewards.
If you need to make a skill roll, roll, and then add all of your skill symbols (the hand symbols) in your active party to your roll. If you need to make a combat roll, roll, and then add all of the dagger symbols in your active party to your roll. If your roll is less than you’d like, you may spend hearts to add +1 to your roll per heart spent. If you beat the requirement by 2, you also get the bonus (below the reward). If you fail, well, you just fail and get no reward (or story text). Either way, remove the quest token from the game. Some quests will require you to pay a resource in order to choose an option (they’ll say -1 coin or something). You can get all sorts of stuff from quests! Even World Cards, which, again, I have only seen once. Note that if you gain or lose reputation, you must gain or lose reputation.
Anyways, quest or no quest, if you’d ever like to place a camp on a space, you spend three hearts and add one of your camps to that space. As with the mine, if you reveal an item when you place a camp, you gain that item immediately. Unlike the mine, you also gain a benefit based on the space. If it’s a coin or a gem space, you immediately gain a coin or gem (respectively) for every eye icon in your party. Placing a camp ends your turn.
There are a few types of spaces you should be cognizant of:
Like I said, coin spaces give you money when you place a camp on them.
Gem spaces do the same, but gems, rather than money.
Trade routes are a bit interesting. There are four types of trade routes: peppers, machine parts, ichor stones, and tea leaves, obviously. If you place a camp on one, it does nothing. If you place a camp on both matching spaces, however, you gain the full value of points on the top of the map near the trade route spaces. If you share it with someone else, you gain the smaller number. Alas.
So you can’t make camp here, but you will cross these as you progress on your adventure. When you do, you must fight the top threat of the threat deck by rolling for combat as you would for a quest’s Combat roll to try and beat the bottom number on the threat (between 4 and 15). You may spend hearts to boost your roll, and you also gain bonus swords from your party / purchased artifacts / etc. If you fail, you cannot pass the space. If you’d like to avoid the space, there are a few ways to do so:
- Have a party member with a shield (Caution) symbol. This allows you to ignore any and all threats on the board.
- Sacrifice a pack birb. You’re a bad person, but you can give up your pack birb in order to pass a threat without fighting it. RIP in peace you beautiful birb.
- Have a treasure card or purchased artifact that lets you ignore threats. There are a few of those. They’re neat.
If you successfully defeat (not avoid) the threat, you may take the threat card and put one of your camps on it. This will earn you endgame points.
If both sides of a threat space have a camp on them, the threat space is neutralized. It will not bother you again. For threat purposes, the town space is considered to have a camp on it.
Like the threat spaces, you don’t land on these as much as you do cross them. When you cross one, draw a treasure card like you would for the Mystic’s Hut, following all normal rules.
If both sides of a treasure space have a camp on them, the treasure space is also neutralized. For treasure purposes, the town space is considered to have a camp on it.
That’s about all there is to adventuring.
When one player has placed their 14th camp, the endgame is triggered. That player’s turn may continue (you can use your 14th camp on a threat and still have more to do on a turn) and then turns continue until every player has taken the same number of turns. After that, tally your points as follows:
- Placed camps: Gain one point for each camp you’ve placed on the board, a threat card, or in the mine.
- Trade routes: Gain points for each trade route you control / share control of. If the trade route isn’t complete, nobody gets points for it.
- Artifacts: Gain points for each of the artifacts you’ve purchased (including their effects). Their point value is in the top-left corner. If you have any unpurchased artifacts, they’re worth -1 point each.
- Threats: Add the point value (top of the card) from all the threats you’ve defeated over the course of the game.
- Other card bonuses: A bunch of cards (treasures, artifacts, World Cards, apparently) give bonus points at the end of the game. Add them to your score.
- Coins / Gems / Faction Tokens / Chiefs: Every two coins and gems (combined) earns you one point. Every unused faction token earns you one point. Chiefs are worth five points each. Adventurers and food are worth no points. Sad.
- Reputation: Certain spots on the reputation tracker offer points once you pass them. Only gain one point value, though — don’t add the points from lower levels.
- Player Board Bonuses: If you played all 14 of your camps, gain an extra two points. If you have three treasure cards, as well, gain an extra five points.
Player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major differences are that at two players you have that extra character consistently blocking the Town Hall, so it incentivizes you to return to town with a few extra hearts, just in case. Other than that, you’ll generally see the game spread a bit further since there are more players with more camps, but you can also go further since with more camps on the board you’ll spend fewer hearts. I think it’s an incredible two-player game but I don’t dislike it at any player count, honestly.
- Keep an eye on the quest prompts. Some are more likely to get you faction tokens of a certain type than others.
- Also watch trade routes. You do not want another player to get a complete trade route to themselves. That’s a lot of points.
- Don’t forget that faction tokens and adventurers of a certain faction reduce the cost of additional adventurers from that faction. They also push you closer to earning a Chief from a faction. All handy things to note.
- Generally, the bonus is worth it if you only need to add a heart. If you’re adding two or more hearts to get up to that +2 on the quest, think about it a bit more, first, just in case it might prevent you from placing a camp.
- You really want to leave town with 5 or more hearts, especially if you’re going to go on a quest. Doing a quest and then not having enough hearts left for a camp is a real bummer.
- Get pack birds. They add to your movement and you get 5 points if each holds a treasure. That’s pretty good!
- Honestly, you should always get the 5 points for having three treasures. It’s not that difficult to do and it’s usually worth it. Plus, some treasures are good! On that note, actually:
- Not all treasures are good. Some are just … not great. Some really are great, yes, but sometimes you realize that the real treasure was just the friends you made along the way.
- Don’t count too much on getting World Cards. I’ve played five times and seen a World Card obtained once. It’s pretty uncommon, at least in my experience.
- If you’re worried about points, spend time fighting threats. The early ones aren’t too hard to beat and you can use your hearts / sword icons to buff your rolls. It’s also an easy way to rush the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is incredible, as always. It feels like Ryan’s outdone himself, if such a thing were possible. Not only are the different maps beautiful and unique, but the characters are incredible and the pieces are so nice and the whole thing is perfect and wonderful. Big fan.
- The board-as-book concept really works for this game. It gives you a lot of playable boards inside the Atlas, but doesn’t take up 12 boards worth of space. It’s a very smart move.
- Starting in the Above and Below world is a nice touch. It’s a great nod to fans of the previous game and I really appreciate that it was included, especially as a starting map.
- All the modes are interesting. Arcade Mode is probably my least favorite, but that’s only because I enjoy the stories so much. I’ve been playing Campaign and Character Mode and they’re both fun but interesting in different ways. I find myself really playing for the story, rather than playing to win or lose the game.
- The quests feel a lot more immersive than Above and Below. They’ve really improved the writing and flow and added sidequests and keywords to help give them some sense of connectivity, which makes the game really work as a narrative experience. It feels almost like an RPG.
- A ton of different strategies. I find my strategies are mostly set up by the Artifacts I get at the start of the game, and it’s been really interesting building a bunch of different gameplay strategies from those starting cards. I haven’t played the same way twice, yet.
- The characters are really cool. I love the designs, the art, and their personal stories. I really want to play through Character Mode with each of them.
- The components are really nice. I got a bunch of extra-nice components via the Kickstarter campaign, and they’re incredible. The gems are super-high quality, the metal coins are cool (but not too heavy), and the whole thing is just really high quality.
- The hearts-as-luck-mitigation aspect of the game really works well. It lets you plan even though you’re rolling a die, which is going to win over some people who hate dice-rolling. For a lot of rolls, they’re effectively neutralized by the sheer number of hearts you have (since you can lose hearts to increase the value of a roll), which eliminates a lot of risk. At that point, the die roll can only help you, from a certain perspective.
- The Threat and Treasure spaces on the board make the game interesting, as well. There’s a nice tension between wanting to put up camps on those spaces (to eliminate threats or prevent opponents from getting treasures) and not doing that (so you can fight the threats for points or get the treasures), and I feel like that’s a nice bit in the game. Also, the Threat deck’s gradual increase in difficulty makes the game feel like it’s consistently difficult / scaling to meet you, and is a nice additional avenue for points. I like them a lot.
- The game is super brown. I just like blues and greens better. This is the nittiest of nitpicks, though.
- I haven’t used many of the World Cards. I have no idea when you get them, how you get them, or how you use them. I’m … kind of intrigued? But who knows. I finally got one during a game, but, honestly, I haven’t seen many.
- The Treasures can be frustratingly situational. I’m sort of grasping at Mehs, here, but this is kind of a bummer sometimes. That’s sort of the way things work, though, so I’m not terribly bothered by it.
- Setup takes a while. I mean, you have to get out the boards and shuffle the cards and set up the Atlas and set out the cards and give everyone their tents and separate tokens that got mixed and place all the quest tokens and draft the starting cards and there are so many pieces that it just takes a fairly long time to get the game set up. If there’s a silver lining to this, it generally means that from a sunk cost perspective, you’re more likely to play two games than one. Putting the game away is similarly painful.
- There’s not really an easy way to randomly assign quest tokens. The quest locations are kind-of-weirdly-numbered and it makes it hard to use a random number generator or something and that just ends up making the setup take longer.
Overall: 9.5 / 10
Overall, Near and Far is incredible, in my opinion. I think it managed to fix everything I didn’t like about Above and Below and synthesize in Islebound (which I will review eventually) into a near-perfect game for me. I worry somewhat that so many of my favorite games are starting to become longer titles (Millennium Blades sitting at the top is… concerning), but honestly, I think Near and Far is a great game. I would happily buy expansions that add extra maps or new character or new quests, and I hope that this format is extended (or maybe even improved!) in future iterations in the series. If you enjoy games with a bit of story and a sense of adventure, I’d highly recommend checking it out.