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Near and Far: Come for the Story, Stay for the worker placement

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Box An expansive, narrative adventure game from the makers of Above and Below, Near and Far sends you and your character on a journey of exploration, tracking a campaign to search for The Last Ruin, tracing their personal saga, or simply playing a 1-off game in Arcade mode.

Near and Far – what’s in the box?

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Contents Near and Far is a very nice looking game: the art style is quite simple, yet effective, and the graphic design is mostly straightforward and clear.

In the box you will find boards for individual players and for the town where you prepare for your adventures, an atlas which provides the dozen different maps for games to be played on, and a book which contains the narrative encounters that drive the game. There are also player-character standees, lots of tokens and cards, four mottled dice, and even some little plastic gems.

The component quality is good – the books are spiral-bound so you can leave them open/led-flat, the tokens are sturdy, and the card-stock is solid. Overall, Near and Far feels like a game that takes its appearance very seriously, and the impact is good.

Looks nice – how does it play?

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Kitten

I just love the thematic implications of this card…

Near and Far is a game that brings together a lot of different strands: it’s an exploration game, but in order to explore effectively, you’ll need to build up a resource engine for your character, primarily via good worker placement in town. As you explore, you’ll get some chances to have narrative encounters through the story-book, but even these will require you to have a decent skill level in order to be able to succeed.

That may sound like quite a lot going on, and my wife found the open, unstructured nature of Near and Far a bit disconcerting. Personally though, I found the interactions between the various different elements of the game really interesting, and generally quite clever. Let’s look at each of the elements separately to get a better sense of how they fit together.

Going to Town

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Town Visiting town is the most worker-placement-y of the different elements of Near and Far. In a town that looks like the old west, with a slight Fantasy twist, there are a series of buildings that you can visit to gain various effects. Players may trade resources at the Town Hall, Recruit Adventurers in the Saloon, get Pack Birds from the Stables, Food from the Farm, Money from the General Store, Gold and Gems from the Mine.

Aside from the Saloon, each building is single-occupancy and anyone wanting to visit an occupied building will need to duel the person who’s already there, in order to make use of the building. Duelling is done via a dice-off, although the active player (The one moving in) can expend resources to add to the roll.

Whilst Near and Far is a competitive, rather than a cooperative game, it’s definitely at the friendlier, less-confrontational, end of the spectrum. The duelling mechanic is a good example of this: – if the newcomer wins, they simply join the existing occupant of the building, with the previous player being allowed to remain as they were. If the active player loses they have to suffer the tempo-hit of wasting a turn in jail, but next turn they can move into that building without needing to roll again – so no chance of a player who is behind getting stuck in a permanent loop of being unable to do things.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-MineAs a general rule, I thought Near & Far did a good job of giving players options – whilst it often won’t be the optimum way to do things, there is generally a back-up: somewhere you can go to acquire the thing you need if plan A doesn’t work out (money, gems, faction token, reputation). I liked this level of choice and found the flexibility really encouraging.

The different buildings in town offer different levels of power and strategy and, like any worker-placement game, it will take players some time to work out the best ways to approach them. The only building I found a little unclear was the Town Hall, where you can trade one type of resources for another, but it’s a bit unclear on how the quantities interact.

Going on an Adventure

Your first turn or two in Near and Far has to be spent in town, but once you’ve had a chance to recruit someone to your party, and possibly pick up some supplies, it’s time to go adventuring.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Intro-MapAdventuring in Near and Far is done on whichever map you have selected from the Atlas. There are 12 maps, 1 for an introductory game, and the rest representing a wide range of places Near and Far from your starting point – in campaign mode, you will play through them in order, but for arcade or character mode, there is more freedom to dot around. The town board always represents a named settlement on the page (a different one for each map), which will represent your starting point, but there is a lot of scope for you to explore.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Player-Board-CaptionedEach time you leave town, you will arrange the adventurers you have recruited, taking up to 4 of them (maximum one per “faction”) as your active party – at the start, you will only have your pet cat or dog, but over time you will build up the party for more powerful adventuring.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Quick-RefThere are about half-a-dozen stats in Near and Far that you need to be aware of when constructing your party: movement, skill, observation, combat, caution, and hearts. Different play-styles will put more emphasis on some than others, although you will need to balance all of them to an extent. Broadly speaking they do as follows:

Movement – how many spaces you can move along the paths on the map

Skill – the number you add to the dice rolls when making skill checks. It also influences how much food you get at the farm, or how deeply you can mine.

Observation – the amount of gold or gems you get when building a camp out in the wider world.

Combat – the number you add to the dice rolls when fighting threats on the map, or when duelling in town.

Caution – if you have caution, you can simply ignore threats when travelling – you miss out on the victory points, but you also avoid that tricky combat roll.

Hearts – Hearts are the most abstract of the qualities your party produces, and they can be spent to pass-by empty locations in the wild, to build camps at the end of your turn, or even to add to the dice-roll on checks where you’ve fallen a mark or 2 short of where you need to be. Hearts are also interesting as they are a depletable resource, which you spend, rather than a fixed bonus which stays there until you re-organise your active party.

What’s the story?

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Another-Map I think that Near and Far is a pretty good worker placement/exploration game, but there are A LOT of worker placement games out there, and that aspect of Near and Far doesn’t really do a lot that’s particularly new. Where Near and Far starts to feel very different from the thousands of other games out there is with the story encounters.

Near and Far comes with a book full of stories, and in each game a certain number of spaces on the map will come with book-shaped markers to tell you that this is the place for a story quest.

The stories will vary depending on which of the different ways you have chosen to play the game. In the standard campaign, encounters are tied to the maps and the locations depicted therein – over time you will move closer and closer to the last ruin. By contrast, character mode will see you turning to a completely different part of the story book, as you track the individual story and progress of your own hero. Lastly Arcade mode replaces the story encounters from the book with 1-off cards.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Encounter Each encounter follows a fairly standard format: a brief intro, then a choice between a number of actions (usually 2) – each choice will have both a narrative justification and a task difficulty such as “skill 5” or “combat 7” – you decide which you will attempt, roll a die, add any relevant bonuses and, if you have passed, the player reading the story for you will read out your reward.

It’s a very simple structure, but these little encounters are what make Near and Far absolutely drip with flavour and give you a real sense of place. If you’re playing in character or campaign modes, some quests will give you specific keywords, which will then influence future encounters – many will say “If you have keyword X, do this encounter, otherwise choose Y or Z as normal” – although it doesn’t come up all that often, I really liked this aspect, as it made it feel like the choices you made had a real impact on how things played. You can also pick-up side-quests, replacing your next few encounters with a tangential mini-narrative.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Riza

The introduction if playing Riza in character mode

Obviously the fact that these encounters are fixed does give Near and Far a finite amount of replay-value, but the limit is set high enough that it’ll take you a long time to exhaust it. There are 8 characters, each with their own narrative, and each campaign in character mode will take place over the course of several games. Likewise, a campaign will only visit a selection of the different locations on any run-through and, as failed checks don’t lead to an outcome being read, you could comfortably play all through the 10 or 11 game campaign a number of times in campaign mode before you exhausted the story aspect of the game.

Finally, if you do feel like you’ve reached the end of what the game has to offer narratively, Arcade Mode offers you the chance to play a game where the encounters are not linked and lack the narrative explanation, where the worker-placement aspect of the game becomes paramount.

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-Story-EncountersSadly, part of what gives Near and Far so much replay value is the limited number of story encounters you actually get to experience in any given play-through. In a 2-player game, you’ll only have 7 story-spots on the map marked with the book symbol, which is great for prolonging the life of the story book, but makes the actual story encounters disappointingly rare over the course of a game. I was also slightly disappointed with how open-ended things were left in anything except character mode, and how similar the “multiple” outcomes a given character could get were: I would have liked something more concrete to ensure an appropriate end-of-campaign finale, ideally with a bit of extra variety in it.

Near & Far – Final Thoughts

Near-and-Far-Board-Game-In-ProgressI really liked Near and Far. My wife hated it. As interesting as the narrative element is, and as much as it’s definitely the unique selling point of this game, Near and Far isn’t going to keep your attention unless you have at least some enthusiasm for Euro Worker-Placement games.

Assuming that worker-placement is a genre you like, then Near and Far is well worth a look – engaging, very well-made, and with a narrative element that really sets it apart from a lot of other games out there. If you’re only interested in the story though, then this is a bit of a hard-sell. The stories don’t play as big a role as they might do, and if you are lagging behind in the engine-building part of the game, you’ll probably find others beating you to the story elements.

Despite the fact that I can’t see my wife agreeing to play it again any time soon, I’d still give this 7/10 – a really interesting game, sure to be a big hit with the right group.

 

5 (100%) 1 vote
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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