If you came here for thematic pirates, then you’re in the right place. Forgotten Waters is an app-driven narrative board game. Narrative is a common phrase in tabletop these days, but Forgotten Waters really is driven by the emerging narrative and app-related elements.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
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Forgotten Waters is a 3 to 7 player game, with a solo and 2-player option available with some tweaks to the rules. It’s also got a very decent remote play option that is extremely handy in 2020. The game has a lot of moving parts that at first seem extremely complicated, but after a turn or so, flows so well that you don’t even notice.
The first part is the hex map, where your scenario takes place. To start, it’s a blank sea that gets populated by scenario tiles as part of the setup. As players travel around, randomized navigation tiles are added and explored.
Each tile has a number, and that number is usually typed into the app and a narrative element is either displayed or readout. A lot of effort has gone into the voice readings, and the production quality is fantastic. After the narrative element, some mechanics are detailed and a page in the storybook listed.
Each storybook page has several options that take place in the location. Some can be carried out by multiple players, such as chores on the ship, and others are restricted to one player, like doing a job for the captain or exploring an area. Some are also mandatory, and others are locked and can be unlocked after completing other elements. The events of the location options all vary. Some change levels of things like supplies and the hull value of the ship, others give a narrative element controlled by the app, and some require a test.
The changing levels of things like the ship's hull, supplies, and the ready state of cannons are tracked by the players. There are 7 jobs in total, each with a specific board. If there are less than 7 players, then some will carry out multiple jobs. Each role is simply a matter of tracking elements, and the choices are generally controlled by the player making the choice on the storyboard.
Each player also has their own Pirate playsheet. Each playsheet is a unique experience, which details a constellation that fills up as players get skills, along with a backstory and emerging story. At the start of the game, players are required to fill in some blank sections with word prompts. Like the Assassin Pirate’s special move or signature weapon, which I chose Flim-Flam and Trout-Harpoon. These then fill in some blanks on your pirate’s backstory, and also parts of the narrative emerging during gameplay.
Each pirate board also has a list of skills, which all start at zero. As the game progresses, players will be able to fill in skill boxes, which add 1 to dice rolls for those tests. So if your pirate has 2 in Swagger, they will get to add 2 to any Swagger test. Tests are a simple matter of rolling a 12-sided dice and comparing the number rolled to the information on the storyboard.
As players are filling in skill boxes, some are marked with stars, when these are filled in, the player is then also allowed to fill in a box on their constellation. As the boxes on the constellation fill up, players unlock narrative elements, and the player with the most unlocked narrative elements at the end of the scenario wins.
But winning is only really part of the fun. The journey is the true joy for Forgotten Waters. Being part of the shared story and experience means that actually winning doesn’t mean a great deal. Scenarios can take a while, but they can be paused, packed away, and then picked up later. There are only 5 scenarios, so there might not be the same pull to play after you’ve played all 5, but the time investment for each scenario and the wonderful experience that it is overall makes it still worth it.
There is an element of roguish behavior during gameplay, with players able to steal treasure cards off each other with certain storyboard options, other treasure card abilities, and some story cards that are unlocked during the game. Treasure cards can give unique abilities or add to skill tests and can be discarded with the bury treasure option to fill in constellation boxes. This stealing element does feel good-natured but can be oppressive if everyone gangs up on a single player, so keeping the game lighthearted is down to the group as a whole. Not working as a team is straight-sailing to scenario failure.
The Bottom Line
Forgotten Waters is a truly awesome experience. It’s wacky and takes a while, so if you want a quick game with a serious nature, then this might not be for you. But those who want an awesome narrative with fast-flowing simple mechanics will find a lot to love. The first game set up can feel like there is a lot going on, but after a turn or 2, everything will flow extremely well and you will be able to simply enjoy the experience. It’s great with every player count, from 1 to 7 and while there is a limited number of story scenarios to play through, each one will take a while and give a huge return for the investment.
Get This Game If:
- You want an awesome narrative experience.
- You want a game that focuses on fun over rules depth.
- You love a pirate pun at every opportunity.
Avoid This Game If:
- You don't want an app controlling your game.
- You don't like fun.
The copy of Forgotten Waters used to produce this review was provided by Asmodee UK.