Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Neverland rescue was provided by Letiman Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
You know, if you had asked me to review a Peter Pan game, it’s really not the first thing I’d go for, thematically speaking. Not a hundred percent sure why, but it definitely doesn’t move me the way that say, penguins or an aggressive CCG simulator does. Really don’t know; I was talking about this with a friend and he felt similarly. Maybe it’s a thing? Dunno.
Anyways, in The Neverland Rescue, you play as Peter Pan trying to rescue his friends from the villainous Captain Hook! Or, at least, one of you does. The other gets to flip the script and try to capture Peter Pan and the Darling children as Hook and his crew of pirates in an asymmetrical game of set-collection or deduction, depending on who you are! Will you save Neverland, or accomplish your goal and capture Peter Pan and his friends? What is Hook’s goal, anyways? I mean, not in the game. Like, he captures Peter Pan and then what?
I’ll think on that later. Let’s get to the review.
So, you’re playing an asymmetrical game. First, decide who will be Peter and who will be Hook. If you have a third player, well, it’s a two-player only game, but let them be Rufio and just kind of chant their name every now and then.
Orient the Belief board such that the hook is pointing towards Hook and the fairy is pointing towards Peter, and place the Belief Token on the center:
That tracker represents how much kids believe in fairies. If it gets to one side or the other, that player instantly wins. More on that later.
Give Peter the Peter token, along with his Companions:
Also give Peter the three Location cards:
And have Peter shuffle the Hideout Tiles and take 5:
The Hideout Tiles should be placed facing Peter, so that Hook can’t tell what they are. Assign Peter a victory condition with one of the friend cards:
They tell Peter who he needs to rescue. Finally, give Peter all the Clue Tokens:
Now, give Hook the Hook token, along with his Pirates:
Hook will only be able to use three, so take Hook and pick two at random. I generally like Smee and the Pirate That’s Dressed Like Hook For Some Reason, but, random.
Shuffle the Neverland cards into one deck:
And give each player a reference sheet (they’re double-sided, so you know what your opponent can do). Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to go!
So, uh, like I said, this is a two-player asymmetrical game. Similar to Vast, the two players have vastly (pun intended, yes) different abilities, turns, and victory conditions. Thankfully, it’s a shorter game, so it’s not that hard to get to the table (though I would recommend Vast; it’s a lot of fun).
Generally speaking, Peter wins when he rescues 5 of his friends and Hook wins if he correctly raids 5 of Peter’s hideouts. Peter’s Companions can help him once each before they become Exhausted (more on that later) with their abilities:
- Peter Pan: Take another Rescue card from a Location after Locations are resolved.
- Wendy: Hook raids one fewer Hideout this round. (Minimum 0)
- John: You may search a different Location than the one you chose if Hook guarded the same Location you searched.
- Michael: You may discard an Action card from a Location before Locations are resolved.
- Tinkerbell: You may discard one Rescue card to gain 1 Belief.
Hook also has his Pirates, who have abilities they can use should they successfully catch a Companion:
- Hook: You may raid an additional Hideout this turn (more on that later).
- Smee: If you and Peter end up at the same Location, you get to choose the card first.
- Pirate 1: Neverland loses one Belief (advance the Belief marker towards your side).
- Pirate 2: Take another Rescue card from a Location after Locations are resolved.
- Pirate 3: Neverland only gains 1 Belief (instead of 2) if you raid the wrong Hideout this round.
The Belief Track tilts in one player or another’s direction and should a player get the Belief token all the way to their side, they instantly win, as well.
Until then, the game’s played over a series of rounds, interweaving between Hook and Peter taking actions to try and advance towards their victory condition.
- Start with Hook — he’ll draw 6 cards from the Neverland Deck and place them in three columns of 2 cards each below the three Location Icons on the Game Board.
- Peter will now have time to deliberate which Location he’d like to search for his missing allies. When he’s decided, he should advance one Companion whose ability he might want to use and play the chosen Location’s card face-down.
- Hook now chooses a Pirate and places them on the Location he’d like to guard.
- Resolve locations and potentially abilities:
- If Peter and Hook chose different locations, then Peter takes his cards and resolves them first. Any Rescue cards are added to his Rescue Pile, any Action cards with a Yield Sign icon are resolved immediately, and any Action cards with a hand symbol are added to his hand for later use. Rescue cards matching his victory condition push Peter closer to winning, but every pair of the same Rescue cards that don’t match count as one of the matching cards. He may also resolve any action cards in his hand, if he wants, at this time, as well as Companion Abilities. Now, Hook does the same thing, taking Rescue cards and Action cards. Hook will resolve Rescue cards in the next step.
- If Peter and Hook chose the same location, then Peter’s Companion is captured! That’s probably bad. Hook may also activate the Pirate guarding that location’s ability, which may be worse. The Companion becomes Exhausted as a result of this. Peter takes one of the Location’s cards, and Hook gets the other one, unless Smee was the Pirate investigating that Location, in which case he goes first.
- If a Companion was Captured or you chose to use their ability, they become Exhausted:
- Remove the Companion from the game.
- Place a Hideout Clue in front of the Hideout that they were in front of (a Hideout Clue is a token with one of the two symbols that are on the Hideout Tile).
- Hook resolves Rescue cards. There are three types of Rescue cards for Hook: Single symbol, Double symbol, and Hideout Name. For each one, Peter must place a number of Generic Clue tokens that is equal to the number of Hideouts he has with that symbol, any of the two symbols, or that name. Note that for double-symbol cards, it’s any or both, and Peter doesn’t have to indicate how many of each type. Just a single number.
- Hook now may Raid a Hideout. If Hook chooses not to Raid a Hideout, the next round starts immediately. If he does, he guesses the name of a Hideout. If he is correct, Peter reveals that Hideout and the Companion in front of that Hideout is removed from the game. If he’s incorrect, Peter gains 2 Belief. Now, the next round starts with Step 1.
The game continues until either Peter Pan or Captain Hook wins!
Player Count Differences
Two-player only. I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of these, lately. Maybe it’s all The Lady and the Tiger reviews, but, I mean, it’s a good niche. Lots of fantastic two-player games.
Since it’s purely asymmetrical, the advice won’t generally apply for both players; I’ll indicate which character I’m talking about.
- (Peter) My best advice is usually try to win on Belief. It’s been, in the games I’ve played, the thing that Hook has tracked the least carefully, which means it’s usually worth targeting. It’s also difficult for Hook to reclaim Belief at the same rate as you without wasting turns getting Action cards to do so (since you can get a lot of Belief from a bad Hideout guess). It may force him to make an error that you can benefit from.
- (Peter) I usually lead with John, first. Being able to dodge Hook the first time is kind of helpful, in my opinion, since you can use that to potentially get extra Action cards that can be used down the line to prevent worse mistakes. His sacrifice won’t be in vain, and if you’re lucky, he may not actually have to be Exhausted at all, which is the best.
- (Peter) Hook is never going to let you get the Wild Rescue cards. I mean, pretty much never. I guess it’s possible that he’ll try to double-bluff you on that, but honestly he’s pretty heavily incentivized to prevent you taking those, so I’d be surprised if you managed to get one.
- (Peter) Don’t forget that two Rescue cards of the same type can still count towards your goal. It also throws Hook off your trail, a bit, because he might suspect that you want the other cards and, in trying to prevent you having those, gives you the cards you actually need. That’s always nice if that works out for you.
- (Peter) Try to leak as little information as possible. If you have to Exhaust a Companion, it may be worth giving information that Hook already knows. Did you tell him how many Ocean Symbol Hideouts you have? Well, in that case, he won’t mind if you indicate that the Hideout that Companion was in was an Ocean Symbol Hideout, right? It tells him nothing useful, which is nice. I mean, the goal is to give him no useful information.
- (Peter) Try to prevent Hook getting cards that will give him a lot of information. If you’re going to have to tell him that you have all three of the Hideouts on the Rescue card, it may be worth sacrificing a Companion to get that card before Hook does, especially if he’s going for it. It also might give you the benefit of confusing Hook as to which allies you’re trying to Rescue, which is a bonus.
- (Hook) Don’t guess unless you’re sure. That penalty for getting it wrong is massive, and you’ll likely lose the game with even one incorrect guess. Be cautious.
- (Hook) Don’t be overcautious. You can only guess so many Hideouts per turn, so you need to make sure you’ve got the ability to get all the Hideouts before Peter wins the game. Don’t forget that getting the Hideouts also means that you might knock out a Companion that Peter might be able to use to either collect a new card or gain an extra Belief that might edge you out of the victory. What I’m saying is, really, try to be as sure as possible before you guess, but make sure that you’re not staying your hand too long.
- (Hook) I generally lead with The Pirate Dressed Like Hook For Some Reason. His ability to reclaim Belief is generally pretty handy in the early game, as if the Belief track is tilted enough towards your side Peter is going to have to spend some turns trying to block you from winning that way, which means you’ll generally know where he’s going. Knowing where he’s going is great because you can then use that to keep activating Pirate Abilities and capturing his Companions, you dastard.
- (Hook) Be mindful of where and how you place the cards. There are certain cards you cannot afford to give Peter, so, for instance, pretty much never put two Rescue cards of the same type together. That’s 40% of the game in one turn if you’re wrong about what Peter’s victory condition is! You can’t afford to be that reckless. You want to use those cards to bait Peter into either A) going for a thing that won’t hurt you too badly, or B) going to a place you can predict so you can place your Pirate there and catch him.
- (Hook) Don’t only focus on guessing the Hideouts. If you do, the Belief track will get away from you (as it has for me, before) and you might not notice that Peter is accumulating a lot of Action cards and Rescue cards. Those can turn the game around, if you’re not careful.
- (Hook) Sometimes baiting Peter is useful. Sometimes it’s not. It pays to know the difference. If you want certain cards and you want him to take less-useful cards, you can put all the Good Cards in one column and dare him to go for them. That’s generally an interesting play, because he might not (and there’s no real penalty for you if he takes Worse Cards). If he goes for it, then sure, you catch him, which is great. Sometimes the outcome doesn’t totally matter, and you can set the cards up so that you can either A) get information about what Peter wants or has, or B) essentially just play the odds.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I mean, I like the Peter Pan theme well enough (though, all things being equal, I probably like the movie Hook the best, out of all the properties, for several reasons that will not be included in this review), but I really can’t say I knew what to expect from the description of the game. But, you know, it’s got a lot of good things going on.
- The asymmetry means the two games have both very different playstyles and, surprisingly, different intensities? I find Hook to be a more mentally intense game than Peter, given the deduction element, which is interesting. It means you may have trouble at times finding the exact pairing that works for this game, but you’ll certainly be able to make a deduction or a set-collection fan really happy if you’re willing to play the other role.
- The low player count means that the asymmetry doesn’t make the rule set overwhelming. That remains the one barrier to getting Vast (which I really enjoy) to the table as much as I feel like it deserves — reading and explaining the rules is a huge pain. This one, not so much. The problem with asymmetrical games is that each new player you add just sorta massively increases the rules space, but locking it at two keeps it well-bounded and lets you make some interesting game design decisions, like the ones you see here.
- I think there are a lot of interesting ways to modify this game to add additional gameplay scenarios. Both Hook and Peter seem soloable if you add randomization options to their AI-equivalents. Could be an interesting way to shake up the game if you’re just practicing it or if you’re looking for a neat solo. I also feel like if you streamlined some parts of Peter’s game, you could probably play it with a younger kid controlling Peter? His goal is pretty straightforward set collection, so I wouldn’t be totally surprised if it was doable.
- Great and inclusive art. Really nice work, here. The hideouts are nice and colorful, the boards and characters are diverse and vibrant, the whole thing is just a really nicely done game from a visual standpoint. Looking at the artist, there’s no surprise: Jacqui Davis has done artwork for many beautiful games (including some I’ve reviewed, like Purrrlock Holmes), so, I mean, another excellent job, here. The whole thing’s just very nice. It’s clear that this is something that Letiman Games prioritizes, as well, given their recent (and thoughtful) writeup on representation in The Neverland Rescue. Definitely worth checking out.
- Sometimes unclear when Action cards may be played. This is a general problem I have with games with reaction-style cards — it can be difficult to tell when, say, a card letting you take a card may be played. Is that played before Hook gets to go? Before any player gets to go? The timing of a few effects isn’t clear, and you may need to just house rule it. Generally, I’ve said that Pan takes his cards, uses any Action cards he wants to use, and then Hook goes and does the same. There are some Action cards that can only be used during a specific phase, so, of course, you can use them then.
- It would be nice for Hook to have some sort of dry-erase board for indicating which Hideouts he suspects are in the game. Fugitive has those for the Marshall, and that’s a really useful way to keep information organized for Hook, who can often get overwhelmed.
- There’s a card that lets Peter discard one of Hook’s Rescue cards, and I find it somewhat frustrating. So, for instance, is Hook allowed to take notes or use pieces to code information? If so, that card loses a lot of its inherent value; it just means that Peter is removing an easy reference to information and now it’s just a memory game for Hook. If not, well, it still makes it a memory game for Hook if Pan discards a card, which kind of offloads some of the interesting parts of the gameplay from “information distillation” to “is Hook good at remembering things”, which isn’t my favorite thing.
- In the same vein, occasionally Hook has a bit too much information to meaningfully (and quickly) parse. I’ve been blessed to play this with people who played very quickly (as we generally optimize for playing as many games as possible), but I could see Hook’s turns getting longer as the game progressed and they accrued more information. The same thing happened when I was Hook — I needed to figure out all the different signals that were coming in and distill them to a Logical Conclusion, and that wasn’t always easy. I think the larger iconography will help (coming in the Kickstarter), but I think you need to be careful about who plays Hook if you’re not looking for the game to start trending towards the 45-minute zone.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, The Neverland Rescue is a lot of fun! I feel like it’s the right kind of game to give to my deduction-game-loving friends while still having a non-deduction element that’s not particularly as heady as Fugitive. Sure, the information overload is real for Hook and I wish there were ways to filter it out a bit better, but I have some friends that really like processing complex information, and I’m a sucker for a set-collection game, so it’s a doubly appealing title. There’s a fair bit going on, but it’s well-contained enough that it’s not too difficult to digest, either, so this is a nice, light asymmetric game that I think does a good job of showing how much fun asymmetric gameplay can be. Also, I can’t not recommend it artistically, as Jacqui Davis’s art once again is absolutely stellar. If you’re looking for a bright, fun, and not too difficult two-player asymmetric game, The Neverland Rescue is a pretty solid pick!