Ever since publisher Plaid Hat Games released Dead of Winter in 2014, I’ve been curious to see where they could take their Crossroads system. It was a clever mechanic that helped bring players into the narrative of the game with events tailored to things happening during the game. Their second iteration of it, Gen7, turned out to be a flop in eyes of our BGQ reviewer. But now, the crossroads system has not only taken off into a new and interesting direction, but it’s been excellently wrapped into a pirate theme (one of my favorites).
Say hello to Forgotten Waters, a cooperative game of wooden sailing ships and adventure on the open seas. So, strap on your peg leg, eye patch, and cutlass as get ready to shiver our timbers.
The rulebook for Forgotten Waters is all of 4 pages, so learning to play is pretty simple. Once you’ve selected a scenario using the free web app, the game will walk you through any setup needed. Each player will control a unique pirate from a stack of fillable sheets. After you enter a few words Mad Libs style onto your sheet, you’re ready to set sail.
Each round of Forgotten Waters takes place over three phases.
The planning phase will have players selecting their actions, worker placement style, in a timed period. Each space will show how many pirates it can accommodate and what kind of event you should expect to have there. Players should not look at the details of the actions during this phase (we covered up that half of the book with a sheet of paper during the planning).
Once every player has chosen an action, they are resolved in player infamy order. Most actions involve a skill check (there are six skills in the game). To perform a check, roll a 12-sided die and add a bonus for each box of that skill you’ve checked off, as well as any provided from treasure or story cards. Usually, the higher you do the better. The game will even sometimes have ranges, so not every check is an all or nothing affair.
At certain points in the game, you’ll be able to fill in a circle on your player constellation. The more circles you can fill in, the better pirate you are! You need to complete enough branches on your constellation by the end of the game to get the best ending for your pirate.
Players will continue planning and taking actions as they sail around the ocean, having adventures, meeting new characters, and unfolding the story. Once you hit the end of the story, players will check how many constellations branches they’ve completed and read the appropriate ending on their character sheet.
When it comes to the actual experience of playing Forgotten Waters, I was really impressed. The game manages to draw you in quickly with its story and keep you entertained for most of its lengthy playtime. This is in no small part due to the writing and the fantastic voice acting. I loved how every encounter and narrative has a voice actor read the text for you, which really helped bring the immersion home. The writing is great for a board game and will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next. It manages to drive the story forward at a solid pace with our players never getting bored.
For the mechanics, they work well even if they tend to take a back seat to the story. The skill check system is quick and intuitive, however; I can say that it can occasionally feel repetitive. This is especially true if you manage to get a duplicate encounter during your scenario. In the first scenario, we hit the same ship battle and resource gathering missions more than once. Even though the skill check system is fairly simple, it can still generate some nice tension during the battles, helped in no small part to the thematic background audio.
I was also fairly impressed with how many characters come with the game. Plaid Hat Games offered up a stack of them, each of which has their own quirky spins. The progression system was also a great idea that works well in the game. That’s also where the game can turn semi-cooperative—when players start putting checkboxes on their sheets ahead of the goodwill of the team. But that’s also pretty fitting for the theme. You’re pirates after all.
Our games have Forgotten Waters have been both fun and engaging, which was a sigh of relief after the experience we had with Gen7. That being said, I will point out that this game absolutely works better at the higher end of the player count. Ideally, you’ll want at least four players for this game (it goes up to 7). Three players works OK, but below that you’ll be using some variants and the game will also lose a bit of its charm. So be aware of typically have a small group.
Credit: Forgotten Waters Review