Full disclosure: A preview copy of Roam was provided by Red Raven 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.
Alright, we’re back on the Kickstarter train and here’s a first — a preview of an upcoming Red Raven game! I’m really excited to check this one out, especially since it takes place in the same world as Near and Far / Above and Below — the World of Arzium! I literally only learned about this while I was looking up information about the game, but, that’s a thing. Islebound and City of Iron live in this world, too, so that’s cool. Without further ado, though, let’s dive in.
So, good news and bad news. The bad news is that a sleeping sickness has infected the population, causing them to go wander in a daze, doing who knows what in their afflicted stupor. The good news is that you can wake them and then recruit them to help you find even more lost folks, which is great! Pay it forward or something. Either way, will you be able to wrestle the population from their rest?
Not a particularly aggressive setup. Give each player a set of starting characters:
Give them a matching set of cubes in that color:
As for the other cards, shuffle those up:
Make a 3×2 grid in the center. You want three facing one direction and three facing the opposite. Note that the Map Cards all have characters on the back, which is delightful:
Each player should sit facing one edge of the map and align their starting characters to be pointing towards the map. Perspective matters a lot in this game. If you’re playing the standard game, shuffle and reveal four Artifacts:
And set the Outpost Card nearby:
If you’re playing the basic game, don’t bother. There’s also an optional variant, called Gem Maps:
Give each player one and have them place it so that the orientation matches their characters. Set out the money:
Players 2 and 3 each get one coin; player 4 gets two coins. The start player gets none, which, sad. Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
Alright, so, Roam is a spatial control game that’s a bit between Tiny Towns and Tag City, with some almost-deckbuildly elements to it. That’s jargony as hell, so let me try and explain a bit less succinctly. Your goal is to recruit followers to help you recruit more followers by thoroughly exploring a location (on a Map Card). When you do, the newly-recruited character will help you recruit even more people. People and Artifacts will earn you points, and the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, you can do a few things. First, if all of your characters are face-down (exhausted), you may flip them all back face-up. You also flip up all face-down Artifacts along with the characters, when this happens. You may instead pay to flip your characters / Artifacts face-up if they’re currently face-down, but the cost is one coin per character currently face-up.
Now, you may exhaust one of them to place the cubes in the exact orientation pictured on the board. This is where perspective is important; you have to match the layout on your card relative to how you’re facing the board. If there are already cubes in one of the spaces, that’s fine; you can skip it. If you play any cubes on coin spaces, you collect the coins pictured from the supply. You cannot, however, place a shape that would run off the board. Like most good rules, there’s an exception to that, though.
Some characters have “blank” cubes (dotted line boxes) that aren’t exactly there. You may, on your turn, spend two coins to place a cube on one of the blank spots on your character’s card, adding it to the map with the rest of the shape. If you don’t want to do that (or can’t afford to), you just won’t place the cube. A blank cube is allowed to run off the map, though.
If you place the final cube on a Map Card, the character is found! Whichever player has the most cubes on that location takes the character. If there’s a tie, starting with the lead player, bid! You can bid 0, but you must bid higher than the last player if you want to try and claim the character. Each tied player gets one bid, and the highest bid takes the card. Add it character-side up to your tableau; you may now use that character’s ability on a subsequent turn. Players who had at least one cube on the claimed card (but didn’t claim the card) get one coin.
If you’re playing with Gem Maps, when you gain a character you may place that character’s cube configuration on your Gem Map following the same normal placement rules (and paying for blank cubes, where appropriate). Covering entire gems will earn you more points later in the game.
As you earn coins, if you’re playing the standard game, you also have the opportunity to purchase an Artifact, which may give you one of several abilities:
- Gain one coin.
- Place a blank cube for free. Note that the character you’re using this turn must have a blank cube on their card, as you might guess.
- When you place cubes, you may replace one of your opponent’s cubes. Great way to shift control of a Map Card. If you replace one of your opponent’s cubes on a coin space, you gain those coins from the supply. Don’t steal.
- You may flip one of your characters face-up or face-down. You can use this at the very beginning of your turn to flip a character face-down in order to flip all your characters and Artifacts face-up; it’s very handy.
Artifacts are flipped face-down when used; they only get flipped face-up when you refresh all your exhausted characters.
Play continues until any one player has 10 or more characters in their tableau (counting their starting characters). Finish the round, and then tally points from:
- The Outpost Card, if you have it. I haven’t seen anyone get it yet, but, maybe?
- Artifact Tiles.
- Covered Gems on your Gem Map.
The player with the most points wins!
If, uh, you want to play Hardcore Mode, you can do that; it disallows you playing a card if it would cover any cubes already on the map. It’s like Tetris, but you’re in hell. It will make the game much more challenging, so, play at your own risk, especially at higher player counts.
Player Count Differences
Whew, this game gets crowded with four players; you’re going to see a lot more bidding and contention at higher player counts. It’s not bad; just an interesting change of pace. Also, be careful if you’re using Gem Maps and two players; you may use too many cubes and not be able to fully place some of your characters’ cards if you’re not careful. Both versions are quite fun, though; I would happily play this at any player count. Just maybe not four-player Hardcore mode.
- Get cards. There are a lot of good cards, but, they’re all points and you need points to win. My mistake the first time I played was focusing a bit too much on coins, which, isn’t a bad strategy but it meant that I frequently didn’t have many options as far as what to play (since I hadn’t gotten a more diverse array of characters to use yet).
- Try not to get a card with your final character. If you do that, since you gain the next character face-up, you must use them; it limits your options, slightly. It’s a subtle thing, but it can be kind of annoying if you’re trying to plan ahead. Watch out for it.
- Big Money isn’t a terrible strategy. If you can set yourself up with a lot of money, you’ll win ties and be able to snatch up characters (and valuable Artifacts) quickly and efficiently. A lot of Artifacts can be a pretty good swing, points-wise, since they’re usually worth 1 – 4 points (at least in the preview). They’re not enough to justify getting them exclusively in lieu of characters, but they’re good enough that if you get them and characters you’re going to be pretty well set. Plus, they have useful abilities!
- Artifacts are pretty valuable. Like I said, they have pretty useful abilities, like letting you replace a cube and using that to get even more money, or placing a blank cube for free, or chaining flips to get all your characters back. They’re all solid ideas.
- It’s not worth giving cards to other players. They get points; you only get a coin. That’s usually not sufficient to justify not using your move for something a bit more optimal, unless you get at least one card as well. I suppose you may be able to swing using that extra coin to buy an Artifact, but, even then, you’re still giving up points, which is bad.
- Another player getting a card can benefit you. If you go right after them, you get first crack at the card (and its coins). You might be able to swing a big payday if you are lucky.
- Don’t get greedy with your Gem Map. If you can’t get the big one, don’t go for it. The worst thing you can do is get stuck with it not-quite-complete. You wasted a bunch of cubes and got no points for it; it’s the worst of both worlds. I filled out both blue cubes and a green last time I tried it, and it was a very successful way to get 9 points.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fantastic art. It’s, of course, a lot of the character art from Near and Far, but I liked it there, as well. Plus, seeing some of the Atlas locations broken up into these little boards is really nice. I definitely have favorite cards, and I love what they’ve done with this.
- Diverse cast of characters, too. I really appreciate that, but it is also thankfully common in Red Raven’s games.
- I really enjoy that the characters all have tiny microstories when you rescue them. Just knowing what they were up to adds a pleasant layer to the story, which is really nice.
- So many modular elements! There’s Artifacts, the Outpost, Gem Maps, Hardcore Mode; there are a lot of different ways to play this game. I’ll probably end up with it on my 10×10 this year, if I’m lucky. I’d like to try Hardcore Mode at least once, though, just to get my curiosity sated.
- The use of perspective is clever and interesting. I don’t think a lot of games I’ve played have made this matter all that much, and it’s nice to see this be an important part of the game. Naturally, it means that your seating location is important, but even worst case you can make it work.
- I really like the mechanic of using the characters you get. It’s almost like you’re drafting cards from your own hand or building a pool of characters or something. It’s not quite deckbuilding, but it’s within the same part of town (and probably why I like it).
- It’s always unsatisfying when a better Artifact flips over. The Artifacts vary in points and cost, and sometimes there are Artifacts that are explicitly better than others. Not a big deal, but will inevitably annoy some players. I hear they’re tweaking some of those numbers, though, so this may become less of a deal in the final release.
- Lots of analysis paralysis can slow the game down. There’s not much to do when it’s not your turn, so if you have player agonizing over placement, then you can see the game start crawling a bit.
- Ironically, your choices become more challenging as the game progresses. You have more characters and more of them can play in more places so the complexity of your decisions starts increasing, which further fuels the analysis paralysis. It’s not the worst thing, but it’s kind of an amusing problem to have.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I quite enjoy Roam! I’m thinking, from looking at it, that I might be able to fit it in a Quiver if I really put some effort into it, which is exciting! This is not only a great game to take with you on the go because it’s super fun, but, like Dingo’s Dreams (another Red Raven title I quite enjoy), it’s thematically appropriate to play this on a trip. Either way, I think the game is a solid entry in the genre of spatial games; like Realm of Sand, you’re required to place shapes in order to accomplish your goals, but you have to compete against other players on a central board (as opposed to your own personal board), making it more about area control than efficiency. I’m still a big fan, though; adding in Ryan’s art makes this game even more of a hit for me. It also seems like it’ll be interesting to see what happens next with this; will it have something like Home on Lagrange, where you unlock even more stories based on the collection of people you unlock? Or will it get a sequel with more lands, maps, and characters? I’m not sure, but I’m very enthusiastic about Roam, so, I’d recommend it. If you enjoy that kind of spatial area-control or you like deckbuilding-esque games, I’ve really enjoyed this one, so it might be worth checking out Roam!