23 January 2019
The first ‘unique’ board game feels a little bit Lost
There is no denying the appeal of owning a board game you know nobody else in the world will have – this being the much-heralded USP of Fantasy Flight and Corey Konieczka’s co-op wilderness survival game Discover: Lands Unknown.
Thanks to their complex algorithmic alchemy, you’ll be forming your modular landscape from a different set of hex-cluster tiles than anyone else; turning feature and monster tokens that will appear in different combinations on every other tabletop – even drawing character cards from a deck that’s unlikely to be replicated in anybody else’s set. The collector in you will be giggling with glee.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t make any difference when you’re actually playing it. Your five-scenario story may not be exactly experienced by any other gaming group (though some elements do repeat, as we found out from playing two different boxes), but uniqueness doesn’t necessarily equate with excellence. In fact, you’re more likely to notice things about Discover which, we suspect, reflect the negative impact of this bold new game-designing initiative.
First and foremost, the narrative feels oddly patchy, as if stitched together from many disparate little scraps that don’t quite fit together. The theme recalls J.J. Abrams’ TV blockbuster Lost – and indeed that show was a big inspiration for Konieczka, hence the story’s strange, supernatural elements. But, as with Lost, the initial thrill of intrigue eventually gives way to a sense of frustration at some awkward and unintuitive twists and turns.
It starts out well, the players getting busy just trying to stay alive: searching for water, hunting animals for foot, trying to craft handy things like water skins and weapons. But the aim is to meet the objectives on the quest cards, sending you on errands which sometimes jar with logic and whose requirements can be so cryptic as to make you stop, stare at the board and say: “What the hell do we do now?”
Also, even with its replayability, only five scenarios feels measly, especially when compared with most campaign-based games out there. Whether this is necessitated by those component-combining algorithms or just plain old commercial cynicism, it’s not a good look.
There are some mechanical niggles, too. This is not fully co-operative, the idea being that survival instincts often turn selfish. However, there is neither a full-on ‘traitor’ dynamic (as with Dead of Winter or Konieczka’s own Battlestar Galactica), which means Discover falls between two stools into an area where there is – shudder – player elimination. If your character dies, that’s it. You lost. You’re out. Tough luck.
There at least remains much to enjoy. It works well for solo gaming (unless you’re playing the final scenario, which requires a group), its comic book-style artwork is pleasing to the eye, its action-point management keeps you thinking, combat is elegantly resolved with a single roll of two d12s and it does evoke a strong, alone-against-the-elements atmosphere. But you can’t help thinking it would have been a stronger offering if Fantasy Flight had just played it straight, without all those ‘unique’ trimmings.
An evocative and attractive semi-co-op survival game, but one which arguably suffers from its proud claim that each box is unlike any other.
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Artist: Chan Chau, Keny Widjaja, Juliette Brocal
Time: 2 hours
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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