NEAR AND FAR (Red Raven)
Hidden far out past the reaches of civilization in the wasted terrain lies the Last City. Rumor has it that this once great society possessed an artifact so powerful that it could grant the greatest desire of its bearer’s heart. Many heroes have spent their life in search of this power but further tales of its existence remain hushed.
There are a number of ways to play out your adventures in Near and Far. Campaign Mode takes a group of players through all of the maps in the Atlas over multiple sessions. Character Mode is another campaign style of play but introduces character specific quests and cumulative experience points, talents and keywords earned over adventures in three or more maps. Arcade Mode is a stand-alone version of the game that deviates from the Storybook and can be played on any single map. Finally, helpful to new players whose heads may be spinning by the vertigo-inducing depth of play contained in this box, the Atlas starts with a First Adventure map to help familiarize the rules and gameplay in Near and Far. There’s also tutorial videos available online, which is always nice.
Running through the First Adventure map, it quickly becomes apparent that much of what’s in the box for Near and Far is not situational rule upon exceptions and further counter-exceptions, but a wealth of story-telling elements set very nicely to an exploratory, tableau building and decidedly unaggressive worker placement style of board game. Turn options are confined to actions in and out of town and after a few symbols are deciphered and the town location actions are remembered, gameplay flows fluidly.
Rules and game mechanics are just the vehicle for Near and Far though and the heart of the game is found in the Storybook, a living index of quests that unfolds differently with each action and completed map. The First Adventure map’s quests bring to mind Betrayal at House on the Hill but with more player interaction adding to the stakes and story. Campaign and Character mode unfold this personalized story-telling even further, playing off of character keywords and more to create a truly interactive feeling setting. It’s not easy to pull off, but Near and Far is a wonderful example of a GM-less RPG.
Alongside the Storybook, the art for Near and Far does an equally impressive job in world-building. Anthropomorphic characters, Terry Gilliam-esque tinmen, cat, dog and platypus companions make for an undeniably cute fantasy world, but that’s not to say the stakes in the Storybook’s quests can’t be dire.
Most impressive of all is that Near and Far is largely a single vision, thought out, illustrated and developed by Ryan Laukat. While the gameplay is engaging, even more compelling is the setting of Arzium he has created. What stories are there to tell? What stories have yet to be even hinted at? Near and Far will have you flipping through Atlas pages to new maps and adventures like chapters of your favorite fantasy novel.