Since I discovered hobby games, I have kept my eye on each new wave of young designers. I have enjoyed watching them push the limits of creativity. They are blurring the lines between mechanics and game styles, they are pushing the envelope on art direction and theming, and in general they are raising the standards by which all others games will be made.
Well, in all honesty, I’ve only played one game, but it is one that I own in my collection and I plan to keep for a long time: Above and Below. The sheer elegance of the storytelling-meets-worker-placement game, combined with the whimsical artwork and the intriguing premise has put all of Ryan’s recent and upcoming designs on my radar.
So what is new in Raven Raven’s world? How about a sequel of sorts to Above and Below, appropriately called Near and Far. The Kickstarter for it launched on Monday July 18, 2016 to very good success. It shattered the goal of $25,000 for funding (pretty meager goal in my opinion) in just a few minutes, and then hurdled three or four major stretch goals in the first twelve hours.
Why is Near and Far spicier than Above and Below? First, let’s remember that I am speculating, because I have not actually put crawfish claws on the actual product. But three main differences between the two games really sets this new game apart and makes it one in which I want to support:
A. Campaign setting.
Ryan has been quick to state that the new system is not a legacy system like Pandemic Legacy or SeaFall. No cards will be torn up, no game boards will be changed. But based on the pictures on the Kickstarter page and Ryan’s own descriptions, it appears that your character can develop and grow after each game. I am anxious to see how this system works out in practice.
B. Storybook changes.
One of the complaints I heard from some of the reviewers on the various podcasts is also addressed. There has been a complaint that the stories in Above and Below do not mesh well. In other words, what happens in one story does not seem to have any connection with any other story. In fact, sometimes the stories slightly contradict each other. More importantly, there is not usually any payoff in the story. What I mean by that is when someone completes the adventure, the reward is usually a trinket or two or maybe even something valuable but with no real resolution of the story itself.
Near and Far seems to fix that. Ryan’s descriptions on the Kickstarter page suggest that what you decide to do and what results from that decision could affect the ongoing gameplay and future stories. That is super intriguing to me. Again I want to see how it works in execution.
C. More content.
This is another big change. Not only do fans of Above and Below get additional content for their game with certain backer and reward levels, but there also appears to be oodles more adventures for Near and Far built right in. Changes to the way the maps are done include a separate book just for the maps (which acts as a game board). The game also contains “arcade “cards which can do away with the storybooks and give you even more variability.
This could be just hype. It could be all marketing. But I don’t think so — Ryan has gotten better and better with each offering and this newest release seems to up the ante.
So, if your Above and Beliw game sessions have gotten a little bland, spice it up in May of 2017 by backing the Kickstarter offering from Red Raven Games, Near and Far. I did!
By the way, if you are going to Gen Con, it looks like Red Raven Games will be there at booth 2657. I am hoping to make it and say hello to Ryan and company.
Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler!
(Note: all images taken from public images posted by Red Raven Games.)