Discover Lands Unknown is a board game of survival and discovery from Fantasy Flight Games. It's also part of their Unique Game brand, like KeyForge that we've also begun covering. The Unique Game concept is that every single product sold is entirely unique, so no two players will receive the same game. For Discover Lands Unknown, that means that no two games will have the same experience.
Because of the unique nature of the game, we decided that a review would be a strange concept as we would be reviewing our own experience, which would be entirely different from any other players away from our sets. So in this article we'll talk about what Discover is and how it works and also discuss some of the concepts of the Unique Game idea. We're going to keep it as spoiler free as possible and anything we do post will be very early game stages; if you are worried about spoilers though, simply don't look too closely at the images in the article as we won't post any spoilers in the text.
We were sent two copies of Discover Lands Unknown, and as such our article is entirely based on our experience with those two unique copies. Other players will have entirely different experiences in terms of the story and challenge they face, but the core rules and general experience should be the same player to player.
I had a personal preference for being the writer to review Discover for TechRaptor. Having spent nearly half of my life in the military and also having a survivalist background and interest beyond that, I wanted to see what sort of challenge Discover offered and how thematic it felt beyond the unique selling point.
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Discover Lands Unknown is a game for 1 to 4 players, and works as well solo as it does with a full complement of players. As it's a cooperative game of survival and exploration, having more players allows you to complete more tasks, and explore quicker, but at the cost of requiring more resources to keep the group alive. The game breaks down into two phases, the day and night phase. During the day phase, players can complete any number of tasks that their stamina will allow. Day tasks include moving, exploring, gathering resources, trading items with other players, investigating landmarks, restarting fires, cooking meat or recovering. This is where a bulk of the action takes place during games of Discover. Players complete all the day actions they wish, using one stamina for each, before play passes to the next player.
After all players have had a turn, the night phase begins. The night phase is dictated by a randomly drawn Night card. The night card has a list of actions to complete such as how much stamina the players recover during sleep, if any resources are required (like food or water) and other in-game effects. Sometimes there are different effects for players who didn't make it back to the camp and the safety of the fire, or haven't been able to start their own fire. Threat cards can be drawn that can adversely affect the survivors, or monsters can spawn on the map.
With the night requirements for resources, players will have to spend some time during the day gathering resources like food and water, either from sources on the map, or from hunting animals. Players also have access to a project card from the start, this gives them a personal item to try and construct from resources on the map, which will make their lives easier.
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Combat with animals and monsters is a very simple system. Discover includes two twelve sided-dice (D12), one red and one gray. Every animal card lists a value in red and gray on their card. Red is their attack value and gray is their defence. Both dice are rolled together and checked against the animal's card. If either value of the coloured dice is equal to or higher than the printed value, it has either dealt you damage (in case of the red dice) or you have damaged it (in the case of the gray dice). All monsters and animals have a health value, and once those many points of damage have been dealt to it, the token is removed from the map and the player gets the rewards printed on the card.
Players themselves can only take four points of damage, either from physical damage, thirst, starvation or sickness. Players mark the damage by using the dials on their player card and once they receive their fourth point of damage, their character has perished. This makes always having at least one health point left essential, as players never know where the next damage type is coming from.
Each Discover game comes with two terrain types, and five scenarios to be played in order within those two terrain types. The Terrain Reference Sheets detail how to set up the maps for that terrain type and the multi-stage quest cards let the players know the situation is and what they need to do to move on to the next stage of the quest.
Playing Discover Lands Unknown is pretty intense. The game does an incredible job of keeping the pressure on the players and also provides a couple of different methods of play. Will you be cautious and try to spend every night by the camp fire, or will you explore far while you're fresh? Will you keep the group together, overpowering animals and monsters with strength of numbers, or spread out to cover more ground quicker? Will you allocate tasks between the group, gathering resources equally and exploring slowly, or will you push straight for the goal, roughing out any injuries the group receives as you go? This incredibly varied approach to the game speaks volume to the theme of the game and in that how it actually feels like a survival game. The colourful and cartoonish artwork is a ruse, Discover is a brutal survival simulator. The damage is pretty relentless throughout, and not thinking about the core pillars of survival will mean your character won't last very long.
The challenges and the approaches are interesting and the multi-part quests are enjoyable. Once you've worked through the story and know the scenario, the game won't have the same impact as the first time. The map tile placement isn't varied enough to make the game challenging for multiple playthroughs.
The narrative in Discover Lands Unknown isn't very deep, the unique nature of the game means that it has to be a top layer of narrative rather than a truly interlocking story over the ongoing campaign. The game can also be very swingy in terms of the items you have and the challenges you face. Combat is based entirely on the single dice roll, but having certain equipment can provide re-rolls. The character cards are also not very indepth, providing only a single ability. It would have been nice to have a few more details in the characters.
Our biggest issue with Discover is that it's not entirely cooperative. In our first campaign, the first three part scenario was completed with everyone working together, and then won by the first player to complete the task, leaving the other players to then complete the task one by one or fail. Everyone chipped to help the first player win, thinking that it was a group effort. It led to an instant sense of mistrust and all cooperation after that was looked at with some scepticism.
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The idea of the unique game is a very interesting concept and Discover Lands Unknown is a great attempt to put it in to practice. There are a lot of learning points for FFG with it and despite them being an established company, the production involved with Discover must have been a huge undertaking and making the rules work with all of the components even more so.
We're interested to know how people will collect Discover Lands Unknown. A single copy gives you access to two of the six possible terrain types, plus the huge mix of cards and character cards associated with them. There's a lot of variety in just the cards themselves. Once a copy has been played, will players look to trade for different copies? Will players try to find a complete set and create their own campaigns? The sets are supposed to remain separate and unique, but there are completists out there. Will there be a market for trading entire copies, or just trading individual parts from the sets? And what will the future hold for Discover Lands Unknown? This is what interests us the most. FFG have made an impact on the market, and regardless of how successful Discover is, between it and KeyForge, there are conversations and ideas happening that weren't happening before, and that can only be a good thing.
These two copies of Discover Lands Unknown were provided by Asmodee UK.
Have you played Discover Lands Unknown? What two terrains did you play on? What do you think of the Unique Game concept? Will you be collecting Discover Lands Unknown or Trading? Let us know in the comments below.