This article contains no story or puzzle spoilers! This will be a higher level overview and review of the game as we don’t want to delve into anything that could spoil the experience for prospective players.
You’ve returned from the 7th Continent renowned! It’s the mid 20th century and as one of the last true explorers, your tales and experience have made you a favoured dinner party guest. You are glad to be home and are revelling in the comforts and luxury that your efforts of the past few years have awarded you. But something is wrong. A black cloud is tugging at the edges of your consciousness. You try to ignore it but it grows stronger. Eventually, you must accept …. the allure of the 7th Continent is commanding you to return, to revisit, and to try to lift whatever curse you may be afflicted with.
1-4 Players | Lots of hours | Designed by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter
Let me quickly clarify the above information. 7th Continent is a campaign style adventure game. Each scenario is long. Like 10-20 hours of gameplay long. The game is designed in such a way that it can be comfortably played in 2 hour or so sittings, and easily packed away and restored between games. The 1 – 4 players thing is interesting too. Technically you can play with 4 players, but I wouldn’t. I did it with one other person and it was perfect that way. I can’t imagine playing it on my own, or with even 3 people.
7th Continent was a Kickstarter success story of 2016 and 2017. The first campaign was a quiet success, with a significant buzz about the game arising as the first wave of games were being delivered. Serious Poulp, the publisher, ingeniously timed the second printing Kickstarter to begin right at the peak of the wave of praise the game was receiving from its first printing, and the second printing of the game was a massive success. At the time I was very much enjoying story driven style boardgames such as T.I.M.E. Stories and after much umming and ahhing over the price (7th Continent is not a cheap game..) I made a pledge and started the waiting game. I received it earlier this year and it has probably been my biggest gaming investment to date (both financially and in terms of time).
How does it work?
The core gameplay mechanics of 7th Continent are very simple. The game is a coo-operative card based resource management game that includes a form of push your luck as the main mechanic used to resolved challenges in the game. The players win when they figure out what they need to do to resolve their current curse.
At the beginning of a curse, players are each given a character who has some unique abilities and skills. They are plonked somewhere on the 7th Continent and given a vague directive on how to lift the curse that has been placed upon them (each scenario involves figuring out how to lift a certain curse, hence why the scenarios are called curses). The players share a deck of action cards, which represent the player’s life force. All actions in the game require players to pass a check (e.g. to craft this item or defeat this enemy, players will need x number of successes). Spending action cards to perform actions reduces the size of the action deck, and when this deck runs out, the players are likely to die (and lose the game). Cards in the deck are all multi-use.
When attempting a challenge, rather than roll a dice to see if they pass a check, players decide how many cards they would like to draw from the action deck. Each action card has a number of stars on it (0 to 3, including halves). Each star you draw is one success. Say you need two successes for an action. You decide to draw three cards: one has no stars, one has one, and the third has one and a half. You succeeded at that action. This is where the push your luck mechanic lies: you do not draw cards until you succeed, you decide in advance how many cards you will draw. There is an obvious trade-off between making success highly likely, and having the deck run out faster (needing to replenish it sooner via hunting etc).
Using this system, players explore a map built up from terrain cards, find and craft items, and slowly uncover the secrets of the 7th Continent to try to figure out how to lift their curse. There is a lot of narrative in the game, with nearly every card containing flavour text describing the location, events and encounters that take place throughout the game.
How did we actually play it?
As I’ve already mentioned, 7th Continent is a big game. I knew going into it what a big commitment it was, and after initial discussion with my fellow player, we identified one main issues we might have with the game: dying. This game is a massive time investment. Time is something we all have a limited amount of, and we just couldn’t imagine ourselves having fun if we got part-way through a scenario and died, having to start it again from scratch. We initially didn’t do anything to actively counter this issue, but as we played on, we made a few small (and then increasingly large) changes to how we were playing the game to increase our enjoyment of the game, which was largely derived from the narrative and not the gameplay mechanics themselves.
The first thing we ended up doing by accident, which made the game a little bit easier was sharing cards in hand freely between players. Technically there is a cost to trade cards but we felt this didn’t make thematic sense to us so we ignored that.
As the game went on and we got deeper and deeper in, we found our fears of dying were not as great as we had thought (maybe our small ‘cheats’ helps here) but we did play very cautiously, making sure to keep our deck well stocked. There were a couple of situations we ran into where we decided to do some small retro-actions or rewinds. Obviously this wasn’t playing the game to the letter of the rulebook, but it increased our enjoyment.
We finished the first and second curses taking a few shortcuts here and there. Playing the other two, we were still keen to explore the rest of what the game had to offer, but we were much less patient. We took significant liberties with the rules, and by the end of the last curse, we were basically just reading through the cards in narrative order to find out what happened. I won’t say we exactly got sick of the game, but I think that the way the game was structured and designed got in the way of what made it fun for us. We loved the interesting and quirky story elements of the game. Bear in mind, this is an estimated 40 hours in. We played the game over 8-10 long sessions. The first two curses took us about 30 of those hours.
What do I think?
I definitely enjoyed my experience so far with 7th Continent but if I were the design director of the game I would have made some changes. I’m still looking forward to exploring the second wave of content when it arrives next year, but I’m hoping it is a little different, and refreshing. I think that this game is definitely only for very patient people. It was a very fun experience, but only when we made the changes we did. Unfortunately the game is hard to get your hands on but despite my issues with it I think it’s worth giving a go if you can because of what a unique experience it is. See if you can borrow a copy from someone, or grab it on the second hand market.
The next section of this review (an appendix) will discuss some slightly more specific gameplay and design elements. There are no explicit spoilers on game content here, but I feel it could influence how you might play the game knowing what I’m going to discuss below, so don’t continue reading if you plan on playing the game yourself.
After playing the first curse ( The Voracious Goddess ) I was quite optimistic and excited for the game’s potential. While it was a bit slow and vague, it was very fun and the narrative elements kept me engaged throughout. I felt a bit let down by the design of the other three curses though. They felt to me like the designers had come up with a sort of formulaic system and applied it to three different ideas in order to provide the remaining content of the game. There was much less story and direction, and significantly more ‘grinding’ to get to the end of the curse. By the time we were 1/4 of the way through the third curse we knew exactly how it would play out and the fourth seemed pointless to play (we tacked it on to our third). There was still interesting narrative, but it was just disjointed tid-bits you randomly came across as a result of exploring the continent rather than completing the scenario. I’m hopeful that the second wave of content will depart from this format, we will see.
I think my main disappointment with 7th Continent is that it is such an amazing gameplay system, and I think it would have lent it self perfectly to several shorter scenarios being placed within the world (2-4 hours max). There’s no reason why the curses are as long as they are (and I would say there’s no value to them being so long) and I would love to have seen the game provide more, shorter scenarios with no grinding. I would more than happy to simply explore the continent within the confines of the game’s mechanics doing little scenarios or missions and I think this would have been a perfect way for the game to have been changed. Maybe Serious Poulp will release another game using a similar system with shorter scenarios like I’ve described. I would certainly play that!
I’m really interested to hear other perspectives from people who have played and what they think. Let me know in the comments what your experience with the game was. Did you die? How did that affect your enjoyment of the game?