Full disclosure: A review copy of Visitor in Blackwood Grove was provided by Resonym.
Yeah, I’m still making my way through a pretty nontrivial Gen Con Backlog before … con season starts up again in like, three weeks. I’ve resigned myself to the idea that this is going to be like this forever, probably, and that’s fine. There are many games still to be talked about, and we’re already knee-deep in Spring releases, but you didn’t come to this review to read me complain, so let’s move on. One publisher I visited at Gen Con was Resonym, who published Mechanica, one of my favorite-themed games last year. They’ve published several titles, one of which we’re looking at today: Visitor in Blackwood Grove. Let’s crack it open and see how it plays.
In Visitor in Blackwood Grove, you play as one of three factions: a mysterious Visitor from worlds unknown, who has crash-landed here and needs help to escape; a precocious Kid, who can team up with the Visitor and help them get off-world if they can figure out a way through the forcefield; and some government suits, a collection of Agents that wish to keep the ship and dissect the Visitor for further study. Thankfully, that forcefield is keeping everyone out, but it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out a way through it. They’ll notice that the Visitor created the field and allows certain objects in, so perhaps there’s a pattern to it? Only one way to find out. The Visitor will give some clues as well to the Kid, but they don’t quite trust the Kid enough yet to obfuscated their hints from the Agents, which might be bad. Only one side is going to win this competition; will it be yours?
Player Count Differences
Not much to report on this front, surprisingly. More players yields more Agents, which isn’t necessarily good for the Visitor, but it might not be bad, either. The game moves a bit slower, sure, but the Agents each can individually win by guessing the rule (Proving it) or as a group by waiting for the Visitor to run out of cards. So having more of them doesn’t really help or hinder them; they have no incentive to share information. They can, however, if they try to Prove and fail, buff up the Kid’s trust with the Visitor, so be careful if you’re an Agent. Beyond that and the slight increase to playtime, though, I haven’t noticed any big differences. I’d play it at three or six players with basically no issue.
- The Visitor should come up with a rule that’s non-obvious. Don’t make your rule “things that are bigger than a car”; it’ll be pretty quick to realize that your rule is based on size. Come up with non-obvious properties of things and try to draw links that way, if you can.
- Visitor: Choose your initial cards carefully so that you can come up with a good rule but also throw other players off the trail. The best thing you can do is classify your starting two cards as one in, one out. Or both out. You might be able to draw some data from that, but try to make it so that they’re barely not passing your rule if they’re both out to try and throw your opponents off the scent.
- Visitor: Remember, though, that you’re trying to help the Kid actually guess what you’ve played. If you only keep cards that are out, you won’t be able to give the Kid enough information to guess. For the same reason, you want to keep your rule broad enough that there can be a good chunk of things that make it into the forcefield.
- Be careful about projecting your own interpretations onto the cards. There’s a big difference between soda, the drink, and a can of soda, the container for a drink. There’s a big difference. What you’re bringing in and saying might not be what your partner or opponents are thinking.
- Agents: Try to go broad and whittle down as you get yes and no’s. You want to try to knock out broad categories of cards like animals, vehicles, plants; whatever can help you get a rough sense of what the Visitor is going to accept and reject will benefit you.
- Agents: Also remember that messing up the Prove step gives the kid a ton of information and bonus trust. You probably don’t want to wing it and see if you can win it on a random guess; you’ll be really boosting the Kid if you’re not careful. Plus, they’ll eventually get to see the cards that you placed if you’re not careful. That’s likely bad for you.
- Agents: It honestly might be worth waiting it out and seeing if you can win on cards. If the Kid seems genuinely stuck, that’s a not-bad way to win the game. Is it fun, though?
- Kid: Remember that everyone can see the cards you play. Get information for yourself, but don’t leak too much of it, otherwise you’ll just help the agents win the game.
- Kid: Be bold with your predictions, but don’t press your luck too far. If you’re wrong about any of them, you get 0 Trust for the turn. That limits your draw power and makes it hard for you to Prove and win the game. You need to get some small wins when you can.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I appreciate that it comes with some sample rules. That, I think, is a hallmark of user-focused game design. If you can generate it yourself, also include some sample ones. Even if they’re just used for inspiration, you can get a lot of extra cheap mileage out of it for players while not increasing the stress they feel to try and come up with something “good”.
- Some of the cards are quite good. Special shout-out to the card that’s just a copy of the game.
- Plays pretty quickly, once everyone knows how to play. You’re not doing much on your turn besides making a guess or getting told some information; you have to come up with the answer on your own, and that’s most of the game’s difficulty. Thankfully, you do that when it’s not your turn.
- Pretty minimal setup, too. Most of the work is on whoever has to come up with a rule, and even then you might be able to ignore that if you can use one of the starter rule cards.
- I like the style of this game a lot. It reminds me a bit of Codenames, but it seems to be a distillation of old games similar to 20 Questions. It has some nice similarities to Insider, as well, so I’m definitely into it.
- The art style of the game is also pleasant. I like the card art and the whole spooky alien vibe. It all looks pretty great.
- The three different roles offer a variety of play styles. I prefer being the Visitor, but I’m also really bad at it. We lose pretty much every time we play. But it’s fun! Playing as the kid is about managing the information you’re giving and receiving so that you don’t help the Agents too much, and the Agents are strictly on the deduction end for as long as possible.
- Tiny cards remain the bane of my existence. They’re just very difficult to shuffle! It’s an ongoing concern.
- This is likely me being overly sensitive, but it might have been fun to have some fake government agencies for players to choose from rather than just real ones. Just a thought, but, eh, if someone’s really gung ho to play as the NSA, let them, I guess.
- As with a number of these games, you’ll likely get a bit frustrated at least once by cards being subject to interpretation. I think that’s half of the fun of the game, but it can lead to some pretty severe miscommunications, if you’re not careful. That’s how we lost my last play.
- You can definitely win without knowing the rule if you get the right four cards. That’s kind of a bummer when it happens, but, it’s totally possible you get four cards which are just obvious rejects. You may not even know what the rule is, but if you’re just guessing randomly, you do have a 6.25% chance of just getting the cards right. Not much of a way to prevent that.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Visitor in Blackwood Grove is a solid title! I’m hesitant to call it a party game, honestly, since it’s a weird some vs. some style of a game, but it can support up to what, six players? That’s mostly a party. I’m not convinced I’d do that (lots more downtime), but again, I’m a board game review, not a cop. The thing I appreciate about this game is that it has similar Word Association Games vibe as like, Codenames, but it’s one player who decides the association before the game starts. That gives them a lot of power, sure, but then they have to do all the work verifying other players’ guesses. Personally, I think that’s fun. It gives me a lot of room to make up stupid rules like “things you could knock down a tree with” or “things I could probably eat if I were really determined” or “things I can easily fit inside” (car, yes, tree, no). It’s mostly just me memeing on my friends. This is partially why I recommend not sharing your rule after the game; it leads to a lot of unproductive arguments. It’s basically the “is a hot dog a sandwich” argument all over again. If that sort of validation isn’t your thing, though, you can play the deduction route or the deduction + press-your-luck route, which gives the various players some asymmetry to their roles. I find that most people enjoy one role or another after a play, so it settles into a pattern (or you can rotate, if you like that sort of thing). Either way, I find that to be a pretty enjoyable time, and the game’s very quick, once you get used to it. If you like trying to deduce those associations, or you, like the sphinx, enjoy exceedingly cryptic riddles and are a bit of a jerk, you’ll probably enjoy Visitor in Blackwood Grove! I certainly have.