Are those my footprints in the sand? …surely they cant be! I don’t have seven toes, webbed feet and rear facing ankles!!!
Having found myself washed up on the shore of a deserted Island who should show up but none other than esteemed English Naturalist, Boiologist and Geologist Mr C R Darwin on his Beagle (cruel, a man of his size, riding such a small dog, but that’s how these scientific types roll I guess) One man and his dog…and Friday…and a horse and a cook and Darwin himself explore the Cursed Island.
So how did I get to this state? Well…I met a chap on Thursday called Friday who had phoned me up on the Wednesday, all of which has no bearing what so ever on the adventure I undertook a few dozen decades ago.
I was working at the time as an apprentice stamp licker when I saw an advert in the local pie shop window…
“Renowned Biologist seeks lackey to fetch and carry botanical specimens in inhospitable environments as directed by the director. No experience necessary, though a basic understanding of the differences between animals and plants would be of an advantage. All meals found. Enquire within”
In this current climate, who could resist going back to the squalid conditions of sea travel in the 1800’s?
How we arrived safely on this treacherous island, I cannot say, but arrive we did and camp we did make upon the beach. Exploration was the order of the day…stay alive, avoid the poisonous stuff, animal-eating plants, don’t kill the animals- take them alive no matter how vicious or eager to eat us they appear and collect as much wood &…bananas, I suppose.
Life is going to get just a little bit hairy, and there is no reference to the Silverback over yonder, shooting malevolent sidelong glances in my direction.
What is all the fuss about?
The Voyage of the Beagle takes an incredibly successful, but ridiculously difficult to win game and turns that challenge dial up to….ELEVEN! ELEVEN I tell you! Not ten like most nerve-racking games…this goes that little bit higher….all the way to eleven.
At this point I would foolishly assume most people are at least vaguely aware of the Robinson Crusoe story, his trials and tribulations of staying alive, marooned on a tropical island in book form, film form and, even a boardgame. The fuss about this game is justified for at its heart is a monstrous game of survival. Exploration of the island, collecting resources, using said resources to construct items/develop new skills all to further aid survival…on and on. As a solo player it is your wits pipped against an onslaught of unpleasant situation/event cards that do nowt but kick you…
…in the soft, tender parts…oh and the weather…what a pig of a place to live…so much wind and rain and storms…I might as well have stayed for the summer back in England!
Now this is all well and good (and there are reviews/playthroughs aplenty out there in the digital universe that can further inform on Crusoe’s early antics. Now the Voyage of the Beagle revisits some of the same hostile environments but builds in a campaign mode to the game (although it is possible to play each element as a stand a lone game) Now Darwin, an additional character to be operated by the soloist, enlists our help collecting, cataloging, and eating all manner of flora and fauna.
Immersion or Subversion?
The base game sent us on a spiralling journey of mayhem, chaos, fire building, monkey punching and precarious resource balancing in a futile attempt to survive the hostile climate of the Cursed Island. Be prepared to be chewed up and unceremoniously spat out on the forest floor.
Into that mix the Beagle expansion require that not only all protagonists need to survive, each section/adventure of the logbook has specific win conditions, of which the degree of success will influence the ability of succeed in subsequent adventures. Finding carnivorous plants, wild animals, geological specimin findings etc. all to be recorded and tallied for a final endgame score…assuming the party of botanical explorers is able to survive to the end.
At its heart, both in base-game format and Beagle expansion have exploration and resource management as key mechanics. Explore wisely and various resources become available but life is never that simple. Dice often need to be chucked and there are sooooooo many nasty events that can turn up to scupper the best laid of plans.
Exploring certain regions makes certain ‘potential’ tools and skills available which, when finally made available, improve the ability to find/collect resources in future turns that much easier. With so few actions available to each character, pushing ones luck against events/weather is always a gamble but a necessary one if staying alive is top of your priorities.
Each chapter of the Beagle book has specific goals to achieve but also throws in the occasional curve ball in the form of minor rule adjustments and additional tokens to the scenario. And so each leg of the journey has a very different feel to it, and despite using the base-game components, each plays completely different too.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
The artwork, quality of cards, text, wooden components, plastic components, tokens and tiles are all of a very high standard and at the time of my purchase I had only two complaints.
There were no images on the wooden discs representing the characters (there are a fair few different ones to choose from, all bringing different abilities to the table) so I made my own…only to discover that there is now a sticker sheet available with the revamped version. The second beef I have is with the size of spaces on the character boards that represent health. They are not big enough for my red cubes…a very minor, petty, nitpicking point on my part and by no means affects play.
Meeples and Standees:
Game Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Game Development: Portal Games
English Version: ZMan Games
It is possible to play this cooperatively (and this should be in the Cooperatively solo section…but it isn’t…so there!) as there are plenty of characters to select from and I would imagine this group cohesion can lead to some interesting dialogue between players but for me, it is the perfect solo venture especially for those, like me, who like that “full control” mode. There is a fair amount to keep track of but with the wide selection of wood, card and plastic to act as memory joggers, it is a straight forward job of notating progress.
Although the game is quite open as to what activities a player carries out, and in which order, the sequence of play is systematic, logical and the board is laid out in such a way that all a player need do is follow the turn sequence symbols on each area of the board (notating which actions can be done in which order.) Having Darwin and a character of your choice along with…
…the dog and any other minor support characters, gives us, the soloist, plenty of action-points…or wooden discs in this case, to use but with so much that needs to be done to just survive, let alone complete the scenario tasks…prioritising becomes of paramount importance. I recall having to face off against a sabre-toothed horse when hunting and had to draw lots to see which of me would actually fight it but I has no idea what shape they were and didn’t even have a pencil…I eventually found a piece of charcoal and drew the short straw instead!
Me, Myself and I:
I have to set aside a descent chunk of time for this game as it does burn your brain for a goodly length of time …and so far I have yet to go beyond the second chapter/scenario of the Beagle. It really is a bloody difficult, challenging, frustrating, but incredibly enjoyable gaming experience. It is nice to have minor support characters such as the dog and horse that, although useless on their lonesome, can assist in a variety of actions, easing the burden somewhat. But that is little consolation when there is so much to do…do I make certain I can fabricate a basket by channeling many action points into the task (thus ensuring a high level of success and thus allowing me to collect plant specimens with a degree of safety) or do I spread out action points to many tasks because food is in short supply and a fire that needs building and a tent that needs erecting (once the giant bear has been gutted and skinned) and…
….all this frivolity risks dice throwing and potential disastrous event cards. Having to be drawn…so difficult and dice soooooo hate me. This isn’t a game I would pull out frequently (mainly because death is almost inevitable and it makes my brain hurt) but when I do, it is an incredible adventure of survival, exploration and a marvellous campaign adaptation of the base game.
This title, for sheer brutality of weather, earns itself a stormy, yet magnificent BSoMT 1d8 roll of (8)
Yay or Nay?
If you want a survival puzzle with immersive theme by the barrow full and are quite prepared to be eaten, cursed, wounded, starved, blown out of your hammock as well as ridiculously tricky objective completion then this is deffo the game for you. The original base rule book, for the most part, read well and made sense of what was what but there were some ambiguities that have been ironed out in the new reprinting/release of the base game. The beagle has a handy bound booklet of adventures which succinctly details each scenario, rule changes/amendments and game turn tracker. A good size and a particularly useful tool it has proven to be. I have not experienced the reprint and newly edited base game rule book, but whichever version you get, the Beagle is a must-get game.
Now to get all these samples back to the ship…why the crew all had to piddle in bottles is beyond me….then I have to get this man-eating plant back to camp…his name is Derek and has an obsession with eating vegetation…and finally get this carnivorous budgie into a strong holding cage…which will be a simple task once I extricate myself from its vice-like grip… but none of that will be possible until I get out of this trap…it is not much fun sat in the belly of a giant Venus Fly Trap with so much still to do
Something For The Weekend?
- Zman games twitter
- Ricky Royal runthrough of the Beagle expansion
- Micro review from Drive Through Reviews