Before I begin I was provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review, check it out below. Get your own copy here.
If I had to name the one thing that Plaid Hat Games does as well, or better than almost any other publisher is put out games that tell a good story. The story is always engaging, detailed and a joy to discover, in fact I would venture that their games are story first then mechanics and rules after. It is one of the things I love about their products.
In this particular instance Jerry Hawthorn told me he thought I would really enjoy this one, especially if I could get 4+ players together to test it. So I committed to that, and reached out, got sent a copy…and pandemic hit. So it was shelved for a while. However, luckily for me we have a large backyard, a projector, an light colored wall and friends willing to play a game while spread out all over the place. It took several weeks to get all 6 people together social distance style, but we finally got it done!
Forgotten Waters tells the story of a rag tag group of pirates who set out to do something pirate-y. The game utilizes an app to tell the story of the game. As you move your ship around the game board, you will find new hex tiles that will guide you to an entry on the app. The app will then narrate (or you can read it yourself) a story, and set the stage. Then you turn to a page in the adventure book and off you go!
Once you arrive on each page you will be faced with a series of actions that are possible. You then start a 40 second timer and in order of infamy rank you get to select what your individual pirate is going to do. However, here is the catch. Each option has to be made without knowing the details of how it is going to work. You can look at the icons and get a rough idea but that is all. Once everyone has chosen then you get to learn what actually happens. You get to roll some dice, and make some choices.
Once all that is done, off you go to a new page and a new bit of story. In addition to this each pirate has their own mad libs style history that you are slowly revealing as the game progresses. You see the actions you take can potentially improve your skills, as your skills improve you get to fill in bubbles on your pirates personal constellation. As you do this you slowly unlock more and more of the story. Each pirate has 5 different bits of story that can be unlocked, at the end of the game if the ship has survived, all players who unlock at least 3 are considered the winners, while anyone with less than three has lost…but that is pretty clear because each pirate also has a story closer that correlates directly to how many chunks of story they unlocked. So winning or losing is really a function of how good your pirates epilogue is really.
So what do I think?
The artwork and the storytelling in this game are fantastic. I love the care they took with diversity, and representation, the story of each adventure (that I have seen so far) are simply top notch. However, what really makes it work is the voice acting in the app, it is very good. I will also add that the app seems to remember what you have done, there were a few times that we wound up back on the same page, and the app had a story that built on the last time we had been there. This is a delightful bonus. Along with that the game is delightfully tongue in cheek, and it masterfully sets this tone from the beginning with the mad libs style pirate history.
Additionally, the way the game works with a large group of people and the timer is just delightful. There is something deeply enjoyable about having to rapidly make a decision without all the information, and at the same time trying to balance not letting the ship sink, and accomplishing your own secret pirate-y objectives. I will also add that this really only works if you are following the rules and not reading the details of each option.
All in all, this game is a brilliant collective choose your own adventure story-telling game. It works exceptionally well with a group.
Playing the game solo or in a small group. Does it work? Sure. It is nearly as fun? Not so much. By playing with fewer people you lose a bit of the frenetic insanity of the 40 seconds. Will it still tell a good story? Yes, to me it just does not work as well.
The biggest warning that I a have to give about this game is that if you are most interested in deep game mechanics then this is not the game for you. Yes everyone has their own character sheet they are building, and their own job they are tracking for the ship, but at the end of the day the game is not about mechanics. I think the last game I played I rolled my die 7 times over the course of three hours. The game is about story telling, and making fun choices, far more than it is about crunchy game mechanics.
Bringing it all together
Forgotten Waters is the ultimate in storytelling. The story is well written, tongue in cheek, and utterly delightful. A special nod goes to Plaid Hat for great diversity and representation in their cast of characters. The game really shines at max player count, and seems like it loses a little something when played at a lower player count. This game is far more focused on collaborative story telling, and choosing an adventure together rather than it is on crunchy game mechanics. Mechanics are definitely secondary to story telling.
Yar! We pirates not be too literarily inclined
* Fantastic story telling
* Great art, great representation
* Far more entertaining at high player count
* Not a ton of “game” but tons of choices, story and discovery