Review Detail

The 7th Continent
Board Games 492
Myst meets permadeath
(Updated: April 20, 2019)
This is a singular game, fusing choose-your-own-adventure and exploration mechanisms into a narrative atmosphere that feels a lot like Myst, where the player is given a few verbs, a very simple rule set, some creepy derelict puzzles in a beautiful (though menacing) landscape and are left to fend for themselves.

The design walks a fine balance between gamerly abstraction and palpably evocative, borderline escapist exploration analogs. Its main stroke of brilliance lies in the latter, primarily through the blending of the choose-your-own-adventure mechanism with the gradual visual unveiling of a landscape that feels less like a map and more like a tiny storybook environment on your game table, complete with hidden visual clues. It takes the mental image that one would draw for oneself if this were being played as a book and (beautifully) draws that space in front of the player, with just the simple production concept of visually interlinked cards. It's one of those ideas that I'm surprised hasn't been explored before and I'm sure will begin to appear in more designs in the future. If the cards are your canvas, why not allow it to sprawl, gradually & mysteriously, across your table in tiny, detailed, card-sized increments?

On the more abstract side of the design are concepts like exertion & survival which are implemented by push-your-luck "action" card flips. Almost every significant action in the game costs the user anywhere from 1 to 6 action card flips which contain varying numbers of success pips (against varying success requirements). This card deck constantly forces the player to weigh the value of a guaranteed success with the current action against the increasing likelihood of a depleted draw pile, which triggers a discard recycle and can end the game if a single bad draw is performed during this reboot. The player is given ways of refilling this draw pile or slowing its use and buying time but these methods, usually hunting & using items, also carry their own risk considerations.

Inventory management is also abstracted, limiting the player to very few slots but allowing them to frankenstein multiple item cards into a single contraption that can fulfill several roles. The trade-off with these swiss army knives: their durability is shared. So sometimes it can make the player feel like they're perhaps building something that a bit *too* good but more likely to vanish with usage.

These are fun risk-reward puzzles to chew on while exploring and trying to figure out the overarching diegetic puzzle that needs also to be solved. The designers balanced these registers of gaming, puzzle-solving, visual exploration, & diegetic exploration in a nearly perfect and addictive alchemy.

I don't think I can give it a perfect 5, however, since the combination of Myst and permadeath isn't always going to be palatable, making this game more susceptible to lulls on the shelf between plays unless I want my frustration meter to be tilted & my current wonderment to be degraded.
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