Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Playtest Review of the Numenera Board Game

Last week, I was able to attend Boardgamegeek Con in Dallas.  I had the fortune to participate in a playtest of the upcoming Numenera Board Game from Loneshark Games.  I figured this audience might have some interests in the game given its roots in Monte Cook Games Numenera setting.

Before I discuss what the board game is, I want to discuss what it is not.  I came to the playtest with some inaccurate assumptions.  I don't recall ever reading that this was the case but I assumed it would resemble the approach of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game or the forthcoming Apocrypha (which I also tested and was great - I may review that later if there is interest).  I assumed that the game would consist of building a character through a series of encounters and a campaign arc included in a series of expansion packs.  This is not the case with the Numenera card game.  It is not a re-skin of the Pathfinder/Apocrypha system.  In many ways, it more closely resembles the Thunderstone Advance: Numenera (TA:N) game -- but with some compelling additions.

The basic gameplay consists of using your characters abilities to bid on activities across several phases of a turn (exploration, buying cyphers, questing, upgrading characters, and combat).  The more you bid, the more you can do in that phase.  The player with the highest bid goes first in the phase -- which can matter if there is a particularly attractive cypher to buy, for instance.

Each turn takes place along a track as the characters move away from the city into the wilderness and back again.  Some of the stops along the way (that is, on some turns) the rules will change slightly to reflect the nature of the location.  In a typical turn, a person may decide to focus her bid on wilderness exploration.  She would allocate more of her bidding points to this phase and use those points to turn over and mark (like calling "dibs" on) new wilderness locations.  These locations may include new cyphers, new monsters, etc.

This is still a playtest so there is a lot that may change in the game before it sees its final versions.  However, the core of the game play seems stable.  Players compete to allocate resources to win specific cards (monsters, quests, cyphers, etc.).  The player with the most points on the return to town wins.

What impressed me most about the game was the close tie to the Numenera setting.  Some of this was pretty simple.  The monsters, cyphers, and locations are all tied to iconic parts of the Numenera setting.  This was the case with the TA:N game -- which I also enjoyed -- but there the setting material just sat on top of the game that was otherwise identical to the base Thunderstone game.  It was just a (fun) re-skinning.

The Numenera Board Game takes the source material more seriously.  The core gameplay is exploration of the world as you march out from civilization into increasingly hazardous wilds.  This invokes the centrality of exploration in the core Numenera game.  While it is possible to win the game through recovering cyphers, defeating monsters, or social quests, each requires exploration of a sort.

The game also places the character "sentence" at the heart of each character.  Each character has a descriptor, type, and focus.  The current plan is to allow players some options for changing the character's focus.  They have kicked around some variations on types (with some nanos playing differently than others, for example) but that seems at an earlier stage of development and we did not test it.  Just having options with foci opens up some character customization.

Of course, the setting also serves as the inspiration for many of the specific creatures, items, locations, etc.  The locations through which the play proceeds evoke some of the iconic locations of the setting (like the Amber Monolith).  Combined with the deep mechanical influence of the setting, the board game definitely feels like it is a Numenera game rather than a simple re-skinning.

I recommend keeping your eyes peeled for this game.  If the basic game play (bidding/resource allocation to collect point-generating items) in the Numenera sounds interesting, I recommend giving this a try when you can.  There was a rumor about a possible kickstarter campaign.  If that materializes in the coming weeks, I suspect you will be able to get a lot more information at the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment