Near & Far – Strategy Tips

So if you are picking up Near & Far for the first time, then I would dive into the Character Mode first and leave the campaign for another time. Pick a random map and a couple of characters (avoiding the two player characters), and kick off the game.

The mechanics are in the book, and the overall aim / feel of the game is hopefully in the review, but if you are looking for some quick tips for how you might win…

During the game:

Mining: This is key – it gets your camps out which brings you closer to finishing the game and it scores you points for those camps. If all that’s not enough then this move also gets you basic goods which help you through the game.

Getting the band back together: Got your first camp in the mine; well it’s time to get a new character to build out the gang. Each new character will give you swords to fit, hands to gather, and potentially extra movement. Over time you can build up the team to allow you to get to key locations on the maps – getting through the bandits, or just travelling very long paths. Each character of one type allows you to get the next one cheaper – helping you to build through the game.

Don’t underestimate pack-birds: Getting pack birds is more important than it seems at first – you need them for movement and you need them to keep items that you find along they way. These items can get you points, can get you key bits of “luck” later in the game.

Gamble earlier than you think: The easiest way to lose this game is to spend too many turns in town. You just don’t score your points there. Getting out of town as early as possible even if you are taking a risk is going to help you win or stand a chance of it!

Bandits: These guys are cheap points at the end, but also they get much harder as the level steps up. Killing the early bandits gets you more scores but also makes it much harder for your opponents to get across the map. This second part is often under-rated!

Hearts: This game has a bit of output luck and also makes it costly to move long distance on the map – the only way to combat both of these features is to increase your hearts. Keep getting heros and items that give you hearts! Normally you will finish with around 10 hearts!

Good luck!


Near & Far – Review

Type: Worker Placement / Narrative / Race

Time to play: < 90 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 3)

Looking for a narrative game that allows you to build your character and go on an adventure? However, you want something you can break up into 60-90 minutes games with lots of maps? Well… Near & Far by Ryan Laukat might just be that game!

This is a simple narrative game built on a book full of maps – the incredible design of a book full of thick card maps which open up across the double pages. Add to that one board which represents the town, and where you take your worker placement actions and you have a simple, fun game. The game then adds replay-ability through a mix of different characters, and a couple of different game modes!

Campaign allows you to take any set of characters through a core story line that drives you to the final map. Character mode allows you to take individual stories of each of the characters and play it again and again with many groups. If you get through all of that content you can still pay this through in a simple mode without the legacy aspects of these stories.

Strip back all that content though and what you have is a worker placement game where players race to meet the victory condition. First player to get all their camps out finishes the game, but at this stage you count up the points – finishing the race first doesn’t guarantee you will win the game. You get points for the things you have achieved during the game (stories / killing bandits / placing camps in key locations). This core game is an interesting challenge – the conditions encourage you to push your luck early in the game to score the points before your opponents can. The bandits get harder, the point locations are near & far and going to the far edges of the board can be a real challenge!

So you are being pushed to take risks early, and you can get these great stories from the successes that you only just achieve and from the occasional big misses that happen when you take these risks. If you are playing the story modes of this game you can get out there and keep pushing the story, or your character story forward! These interesting little snapshots of your character develop over time with key words and other elements carrying over from one story to the next.

The worker placement of this game is pretty simple – a small number of actions to select from and you can’t stay still. However, you can go into the action spot that someone else has taken – as long as you are prepared to duel them for the spot. Lose, and lose a turn. Win and take the action! These exciting moments require a bit of luck though. This is probably the common theme of the game – there’s quite a bit of output luck and that will frustrate some people. Whether it’s the times where you go for the story and you have no idea what will happen, or if it’s going for the duel and rolling the dice. At points the game combats this with allowing the player to spend hearts to add points, however this does limit or restrict the player and sometimes doesn’t get them over the line! If you hate this kind of output luck then it might be worth playing this game before buying it.

However, the game’s narrative is highly engaging, the characters are very distinct and in a 2-3 player game there is very little downtime. The worker placement spaces are limited but the actions are varied, and each allows you to develop your character and their party in interesting ways.

The only other negative to mention is the importance of the mine (and it will be interesting to see how the recent kickstarter expansion changes this); the mine allows you to place camps which is how to achieve the end of the game and it gives you key resources. This will be a dominant strategy for players and players will need to take this action when the option arises.

For me, this is a great game – I am looking forward to completing more character stories and to exploring how each map (with very different paths) changes the balance of the game.

Last notes;

  • If you like story driven games and a combination of push your luck, race and euro mechanics then you have to try this
  • If you hate output luck or don’t have a regular group to get through the stories… perhaps enjoy the occasional game
  • If you win, turn the page and go again!


Mechs vs Minions – Strategy Tips

So – someone recently pointed out to me that the strategy tips I write assume you have some prior knowledge of the game. IF YOU DON’T – DON’T PANIC! The reviews I provide are designed to give you exactly what you need to know in order to start to think about these strategies. This is no happy accident – I pick games because of the types of strategies I can play and so the idea is that the combined review and tips here can really inform your choices.

So back to the table….

Given the ever expanding game mechanics and the campaign nature of this game – there is a lot that I could say which doesn’t apply to every mission. What I have tried to do below is stay focused to core game mechanics and things that will be relevant from early games to the end!

During the game: 

Space at both ends: The single most important factor in this game is trying to keep flexibility – you need to control your board. You are going to keep executing this command line time and time again, so keeping space at the front and back of the line for as long as possible will give you a lot more flexibility. Okay, damage can come up anywhere but keeping these slots free means that you can turn or move or attack before anything else goes wrong!

Spinning Around: Don’t underestimate the spinning requirements. The ability to turn and move gets you out of trouble, gets you into the attack and gets you to the finish line. Being able to turn with the 3rd card level means facing any direction! Even at the second level the ability to turn 90 or 180 degrees gives a huge amount of flexibility compared to the basic single turn.

Shifting Types: During the course of the game you can stack a card on an existing card stack (in your command line) if it’s the same colour; if it’s not then it replaces the whole command line. Now sometimes this can remove a spin you no longer need or remove a move you want to avoid – yes it could mean losing two cards for a single card (or even three), but sometimes that is better than charging in or spinning out of control.

Repairing & Reprogramming: As your command line fills up the new cards you can draw become less helpful – you have the moves / attacks / spins you need. So then the challenge is to repair the damage you suffer or shift the command line to the situation you are now in. As you draw up cards you can use certain colours to remove damage (Blue & Red) and others to reprogramme, switching two of the card stacks in the command line (Yellow & Green). This can help you avoid the negative consequence of damage or change your moves to get to the end!

Glitch Defense: One common damage is to get a glitch – this will swap symmetrical positions in your command line (most commonly). The fact that this is commonly symmetrical is an advantage you can utilise – you can have a symmetrical command line such that this is not a significant negative – i.e. don’t put all your spins together and all your moves together (unless it’s in the middle).

Focus on the Goal: This is a mission based game – get yourself to the end goal. It sounds obvious but it’s important. The aim changes drastically based on the game so thinking about this at the start of each game is key. It’s often true that your plans will fail rapidly but this is a game that rewards a continued and gradual effort towards a goal.

Pushing over Towing: One common concept in the game is moving others and moving things! You can do this by pushing or by towing. When dragging or towing something however for every two movement you use – you and the item only move one! When you push, you push two and you / the object move two. This is far more efficient – so towing is a last resort!

Overdrive! Schematics!: Killing minions can often be a side show to the main quest, however sometimes you do this so much that you can get close to unlocking a schematic or even your overdrive. As you get close to these, there becomes a significant advantage to a push toward this. When this comes to schematics, I wouldn’t rush – however, when it comes to Overdrive, the bonuses are big. Probably the first few missions won’t use this, but once these kick in they are very helpful and worth pushing for!

Good luck!

Mechs vs Minions – Review

Type: Programming / Co-Op

Time to play: < 60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

You can take two actions – what, that’s all? Well, you can take one more each turn – OK. You have to do that every turn though – what everything? Yes and you take damage!

That’s what will go through your head as you start to read the rules for Mechs vs Minions, but this brilliantly simple game is tough, well balanced and very innovative. If you have played a programming gaming, like Colt Express, you will recognise the core mechanic of this game; a game where you find yourself guessing what will happen in the future, where other players will be and what will you get next turn!

Mechs vs Minions starts with a very basic mission where you have plenty of time to think about how things work and where the enemies are coming at you slowly. If this all feels a bit pedestrian, it quickly becomes complex as you realise that executing the same command line time and time again means you go forward a lot more than you mean to, or that you end up facing backwards!

Now I don’t want to put any spoilers for the campaign in this review, but this is a game that builds as campaign develops. You will fight tougher opposition. You will suffer worse damage. You will get more time pressure! All of this will build up the pressure you are under to achieve a really interesting challenge.

So what can I say without spoiling the campaign. Well this is a game that really benefits from a full group of players taking on the spirit of the instructions – let each other make choices and try to complete the campaign objectives. The game leans into this with a complex set of choices for each player – it’s hard to track your own path over multiple turns let alone the whole team! As for focusing on the campaign – each campaign setting is very thematic. It builds on the map pieces available in the box, and adds new rules and pieces throughout.

Every time you think you have the game figured out there is a new little mechanic that just perfectly ups the difficult one step further. It’s not taking it beyond the players, but it’s adding a layer more for the players to think through with each new card.

The game is also incredibly comic at times – whole player turns spinning on the spot, or one player doing the equivalent moves to the time warp! These are the moments where re-programming or repairing are needed, but are also the turns that make the game. This comic lack of control as you execute exactly what you planned, makes this game feel like the wacky races of minion fighting dungeon crawl games.

I would also add that players can drop in and out. The difficulty does move up but in small steps and not leaps – players dropping out and in will feel familiar with old problems and not overwhelmed by rules. Even new players late in the game can jump in and leave it to the rest of the party at first as they build out their own command line.

Does this mean the game is for everyone? Sadly not, and it’s not just the access to a copy of this (which is now very difficult!). The game is a comic and short game, but it doesn’t present opportunities for real heroic actions or for great conflicts. The game’s simplicity is part of its charm but it does seem to prevent this developing to a more filling and memorable campaign. So if you have come looking for an epic novel in a board game – you will be disappointed.

Of course, it’s a co-op and that brings the usual alpha gamer risks, and the potential for players to feel they barely contributed to the win (particularly if you spent half the game facing the back wall). However a little co-operation goes a long way here and the team is demonstrably better together than the four solo players.

Last notes,

  • If you like puzzles and well paced, light co-operatives you will find a lot in this box
  • If you have a need for a deep story arc, characters that matter or agency that develops – perhaps time to dust off the D&D books and stay clear of this
  • If you win at this game, crack open the next envelope!