Game Review: Forgotten Waters
Saturday, November 25, 2023

If you're in the mood for a laugh-your-ass-off pirate adventure, check out Forgotten Waters!
I got this boardgame for my birthday, and it's been a ton of fun. You play as a member of a pirate crew and can have up to six friends join you as you play through various scenarios.
Game Mechanics:

The gameplay takes a little getting used to, but after a round or two it actually goes pretty fast. The game's "board" is actually a book with multiple locations in it that you flip to depending on what's happening in the plot. (If you've played Stuffed Fables, it works like that.) In each location there are numerous activities that can be performed by crew members. Some can be done by multiple people, while others can only be done once and are then locked. If you're playing by the rules, you're supposed to set a timer and each player sets their pirate icon on one of the actions in first-come-first-served fashion. (I admit, we sometimes negotiated more than we were supposed to in this stage. Turns out my family and I are not very cut-throat pirates.) Then players resolve the actions in order. Each action can have multiple outcomes based on the choices a player makes or how well they roll a skill check. Sometimes you get magical blessings or extra supplies, sometimes you might accidentally blow a hole in your ship. This adds to the replay value, since no two playthroughs will be exactly the same.

Along with the storyline shared by all players, each player gets a unique character backstory and story arc that they uncover through skill advancement. Learning a skill occasionally unlocks a step along your character's constellation chart, which in turn leads to another step in their personal story. This also grants boons in the form of story cards, re-roll tokens, or additional skills. Fill in the whole constellation and you become a legend. Fail to do so, and even if your crew manages to succeed in the overall story, your individual character will likely come to a gruesome or bitter end. Though even those terrible endings are fun, as they are conveyed in a Mad-libs-style fill-in-the-blank story. Of the four of us who played the last game, only one accomplished their goal. One was crushed by a cart of anchors pulled by a charging rhino, one led a life of depressing mediocrity, and one (me) was beaten to death with my own weapon and eaten by kraken pups. Whatever the outcome, it's guaranteed to be hilarious due to the glib, irreverent writing style of the game developers.

Another unique element to this game is the ability to "save" your progress. I can't tell you the number of times my family has had to leave a game out on our kitchen table because we couldn't finish a playthrough in a single day but there was no way to quit partway through without losing all our progress. Forgotten Waters includes a "ship's scribe" that records all the player and game progress, as well as discovered and discarded map tiles, so that you can pack the entire game up and come back to it at a later date without having to start over. This makes longer campaign scenarios much more doable. Kudos to the game developers for addressing this problem!

Circling back to the "ship's scribe" I mentioned earlier, players stay well-engaged during the quick rounds not only while completing their own location activities but during other players' actions as well, because each player is responsible for one or more jobs onboard the ship. These include the gunner, cooper, quartermaster, and boatswain, to name a few. So everyone will have things to do even when they aren't the person making the decisions.
Content Quality: The contents that make up this game are of a very high quality. The artwork is well done, the cardboard pieces are durable, the cards (while small) are not too flimsy, the location book is spiral bound with beautiful illustration. There are only two short-comings in what the game box holds. One, the rule book is light, as in, it didn't address all of the questions that came up during gameplay. We had to make up a couple of rules to account for situations that we couldn't find explained in the book. Two, the scenarios aren't included. Be aware that this game is not fully self-contained. You *must* have a phone or computer to play it, because all the scenarios are online. In that regard, I suppose Forgotten Waters is half boardgame half videogame. They did a good job with this integration, but I still find it a bit uncomfortable because if something should happen to disrupt the website the rest of the game would become unplayable, and people without internet access can't play at all. Therefore, this is not a true boardgame in the strictest sense. It's not something I'll be able to pass down to my kids or grandkids. But for the time being, it works and it's fun. If you like pirate games, I highly recommend giving it a try.