You are one of four foolishly brave world explorers who returned from the first ever expedition to the newly discovered land off the coast of Antarctica — the 7th Continent — So new it doesn’t even have a *name*. However, no time to publish…something is wrong and your team is slowly disappearing…and you are suddenly stricken by a mysterious curse. To figure out what is happening to you and your team, turn to page three…<<flip flip flip>> You return to the mysterious continent to search for an end to your ailment. Will you discover a cure? Turn to page 7 <<flip flip flip>> Or will you perish to never be discovered again. Turn to page 13 <<flip flip flip>>. No matter the direction you take, players must use their character’s unique abilities and intuition to survive long enough to unravel the mystery of the 7th Continent.
7th Continent is what I would term (as least as close as we can get to it) a “sandbox” board game for one to four players. The main concept behind that game is that it is based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” games of our (if you are as old as I am) youth. As a player, you are one of the early explorers of the 7th Continent — a mysterious county as of yet, only partially explored. After a previous expedition, you find yourself cursed and drawn back in order to find a way to break the curse. Throughout the game game you will explore, create, work together in order to succeed. With an advertised 1000+ minutes of gameplay, 7th Continent allows you to “save” your game and come back to it later.
At the start of the game you choose a character with their own unique abilities, actions and story. Right off the back this differs from other cooperative games where you take a role…in this game you are certainly taking a personality if you choose to play it that way. While not specifically promoted as an RPG it certainly allows for an amount of it if you wish. You will also select a curse for you to play through. In the demo game I was provided with one curse to play and I assume each curse will provide a different play experience and goal. You then take your character’s action cards, the curse cards and shuffle them into the action deck of the game.
In running with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” theme, the game begins with card 001. There is an Exploration Deck of numerous cards representing the unexplored areas of the island each providing some flavor to read and certain actions that can be taken on the card. At the start of the game everyone is on card 001. After placing the card from the Exploration Deck, you would then place random Event Cards as shown on the card. These are the unexplored areas of the map and where you begin to make decisions. When you decided to explore the card must be flipped and the event on the card resolved.
Most of the action will take place on the terrain cards. They will show you which directions you are able to explore the island (the Card 001 allows you to move North or West, for example) and which numbered card will be placed there. Terrain cards will also provide you with resources and different terrains (sand, rock, snow, tall grass, etc) will provide different resources (stone, wood, bamboo, etc.) that you can use to craft new items to help you on your quest. Each card will also have an additional action that can be taken and what the cost of taking that action will be. The actions a player can take during a turn is limited by the actions represented by icons on the Terrain Card (or Event Card) or cards in the player’s hand. There are loads of potential actions but during your turn your choices are actually a manageable. This was something I was concerned about when reviewing the rules — there being too many options during a turn and players getting overwhelmed. However, in the end, the decisions space is small enough that you can make decisions relatively quickly. As the game progresses, you get more and more options but never *all* the options all at once. Completing an actions occurs in several steps: Using an item to complete an action which reduces its durability (as an aside, I love this aspect of the game, crafting items and then using those items until they break or their efficiency is reduced, reminds me so much of Minecraft…I love it). There is also a cost to each action which is a number that represents a number of cards you must draw from the Action Deck. These cards are then flipped to determine success. There are stars on each card which need to be added up to the amount needed for a success. Idea cards from the resulting flip can be added to your hand and the rest are discarded. Depending on the flip, you either succeed or fail and follow the directions accordingly.
At this point, I have to admit the mechanisms are not particularly intuitive the first few times and can take a couple of plays for it to ingrain itself enough that they seem straightforward. But that aside the wonderful part of this action mechanism is that the Action Deck is basically your health bar for the game. The more you do, the more actions you take, the more you draw from that deck, the weaker you become. Sometimes you can replenish your deck but eventually it will run out and then you need to work from your discard and the purple Curse Cards therein. These cards kill you instantly. So you have one safe run through your deck but on the second run, you are playing on borrowed time…
What makes it different?
- The sandbox-style, choose your own adventure play-style. I understand that “sandbox” is reserved for certain styles of videogames where the play is completely unstructured allowing players to roam and explore as they will. This is not easily adapted to the analog board game medium and 7th Continent certainly takes steps towards that. This style of play plus how easy it is to save your play makes this one of the first sandbox styled board games of my knowledge.
- It plays amazing well as a solo game. In fact, I pretty much prefer it that way. This isn’t unique to only 7th Continent, but it is nice to see that some games really excel at solo-play. I played the introductory set for this review as a solo player and it was exciting. It picks up on that choose your own adventure style that aims to emulate.
- The ability to gather resources, craft items, and then store them (up to a limit) provides a distinct limitation to play that makes the game much more engaging.
- Doing stuff in this game means that you are slowly working down your action deck (your health meter, basically) but at the same time you need to do things in order to gain insight and inspiration throughout the actions of the game which will help you develop new ideas and be able to explore more of the island. It just works so fluidly.
- Your decisions have permanence and consequences which will mold the future of the game. Everything is connected in this game. Everything has meaning.
- The theme is more about survival than it is about exploration. The engine that game employs makes for a perfect survival game. Whether it be a curse, or whatever, this engine feels as if it has as much, if not more potential than the “crossroads” mechanic of Dead of Winter. And just as with Dead of Winter, you may not enjoy the early 1900s explorer theme in 7th Continent but even the most negative can’t help but see the potential and be excited for more.
I played 7th Continent’s introductory prototype solo for a few hours now and even with the limited amount of cards I was hooked. The mechanisms are engaging (albeit a bit complicated for my taste) but once you get a feel for the way the cards work, it is entirely engrossing. There is an amazing depth of decision space and so much potential in this game. Personally, I’m amazed I had such a good time playing just this basic tutorial/introductory prototype. Even, at it’s simplest, it delivers! There is such a robust sense of discovery tempered by the tenseness in just trying to survive and not wear yourself out through the game. I’m a huge fan of immersive narrative and storytelling but so many games just don’t touch that level of immersion that makes the game work. And the problem is usually the disconnect between your actions and the flavor provided by the game. But 7th Continent works towards connecting narrative with action by providing you with multiple tracts of story and an engine to choose which ones you wish. Be warned though, if you are a completion-ist either in terms of playing everything you can and discovering the full array of a game or in terms of wanting every expansion and shiny bit that is offered in a system, you are screwed. Gloriously screwed.