Review: Forgotten Waters
Designer: Mr. Bistro, J. Arthur Ellis, Isaac Vega
Artist: Anton Fadeev, Nadezhda Tikhomirova
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Category: Exploration, Adventure
Forgotten Waters is a new entry in Plaid Hat Games’ Crossroads line, a series of storytelling games with a unique decision-making mechanism. First popularized in the smash hit Dead of Winter and followed up by Gen7, this game takes the Crossroads system to the high seas. Forgotten Waters is a cooperative game of swashbuckling pirates and maritime adventure.
Forgotten Waters is a pirate game, so players can expect to see typical piratey flavor. Though it has some suggestive material, the game is far less intense than Dead of Winter; content-wise, it feels comparable to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Forgotten Waters brings out players’ inner scalawags. Stepping into the roles of pirates, 3-7 players work together to brave scenario-based adventures and reach story-specific goals.
This game is not played on a traditional board, but rather inside a spiral-bound adventure book. Each page of the book contains encounters for players to face and actions they can use to navigate them. As with any narrative-driven game, the fun comes from experiencing the story firsthand. As such, I want to minimize spoilers, but I will give some brief insight into how the game works mechanically.
First of all, this game is app-assisted. The app can be used directly in a web browser or downloaded for offline use. It controls the story elements of the game and uses voiceover narration that brings the theme to life. Unlike Dead of Winter, which has a physical deck of Crossroads cards, Forgotten Waters‘ events are incorporated into the app.
The game includes a variety of different roles, each with their own responsibilities. In essence, the roles and their associated tableau boards serve to keep track of in-game stats; the Gunner manages the cannons, the Cooper manages the supplies, etc. Each role must be used, so players may have to double up depending upon how many are playing, but doing so doesn’t really complicate the game.
As for the adventure book encounters, each one has a number of action spaces where players can place their characters. Actions must be chosen within a time limit set by the app, and the rules instruct players not to “read ahead” to see what the actions do. Rather, they must rely on basic symbology and “play by feel.”
Encounters often have specific rules for action selection, which are conveyed by color-coded “action types.” A green action, for example, may be taken by any number of players, whereas a blue action may only be taken by 1 player, and a red action must be taken by 1 player.
Once players have selected their actions, they resolve them from top to bottom. Sometimes, the game will require players to make skill checks. These are resolved with the roll of a d12, but players can improve their chances of success by, for example, earning die modifiers or rerolls. Each player also has an individual character sheet, which includes a skill chart, a constellation (which helps measure how “good” a pirate they are), and a Mad Libs-style backstory.
Players’ win condition will vary from game to game, based on the scenario. They can lose the game in a few ways, as determined by the ship’s stats (which, again, are tracked on the role boards). If the ship’s hull strength reaches 0, everybody drowns. Likewise, if the discontent rating ever equals or exceeds the crew rating, the crew will stage a mutiny, and if the threat statistic ever gets too high, players lose.
Forgotten Waters is easily the most thematic pirate game I have ever played. In the same way that Dead of Winter encompasses all the flavor of The Walking Dead, this game encompasses the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. I certainly did not discuss every aspect of the game above – doing so would have made this review way too lengthy – but hopefully I provided enough information to at least spark curiosity.
App-assisted games are very hit-or-miss, but this one works well. The app helps the game to move along at an enjoyable pace, but it does not detract from the physical, tactile experience. Essentially, it guides the game, but does not run the game. The narration is well done, but players that do not wish to use it can just read the narrative text themselves.
The game’s production quality is nice, even if it is mostly just tokens, cards, and standees. The adventure book feels sturdy, and its imagery is beautifully rendered. Forgotten Waters uses a map board, as well, and as players add tiles to it, it’s as if they are creating a treasure map; it is both functional and thematic. (Also, the colorful d12’s are a blast to play with.)
This game goes the extra mile to provide a pseudo-RPG experience. The characters could have easily had predetermined names and backstories, but allowing players to invent them really brings the characters and theme to life.
Forgotten Waters is a very immersive experience. Like most Plaid Hat Games, it has a strong emphasis on storytelling. I know not everyone enjoys games like this, but I definitely do. Fans of games like Tales of the Arabian Nights or Dead of Winter should definitely check this one out.
A review copy was provided by Asmodee.
The Bottom Line