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Go back to your roots

Now or Never is a 1-4 players game by Ryan Laukat featuring a mix of adventuring and city-building, as you lead a hero through the perilous wilds of a Fantasy world, rescuing villagers that will help rebuild your ancestral community. It is available on pre-order from the Red Raven Games website.

Image source: BGG

To start the game, you must first pick a hero. Different heroes come with a different starting set of offensive abilities (that are meant to be replaced during the game) and one permanent defensive ability. The game features two interlocking narratives: the adventure, where your Hero explores the main board, faces enemies, fulfills quests and visits locations, and their progress is tracked on the hero board, and the town building, that is entirely done on your personal town board.

The game is played over six rounds called seasons. In the solo mode, you take turns by performing either a specialist action (on the town board) or a hero action (on the main board). Then, the AI will take a turn by flipping a card from the AI deck. The AI does not follow a specific strategy, is not represented by a hero, and does not build a town. At the end of the game, the AI does not score. Its role is mostly to snatch opportunities from you as you struggle to get the best possible score within the six rounds. At any time, you can declare the end of the round and stop taking actions; therefore the AI takes exactly as many actions as you do.

Image source: BGG

The specialists are cards that you purchase permanently and that allow you to perform actions in your town. You start with two specialists and can control up to four: if you want to hire new specialists afterward, you must discard a previous one. When you take a specialist action, you can either hire a new specialist from a common display of four, adding it to your board, and then performing their related action; activate a specialist either you or the AI owns (and the AI can activate your specialists as well), here again performing their related action; or “rest” one of your specialists, that is, get resources from them instead of performing the action. A specialist can only be used once per season (either for “rest” or for their action). The specialist actions allow you to heal your hero, build structures in your town, gather special resources, or purchase gear that grants new abilities to your hero or upgrades existing ones.

The structures you build in your town are chosen from a supply that is unique to you. They are initially laid in a grid-like arrangement besides your board, and you can only build a structure that is adjacent to one you have already built. Structures grant you one or more “housing” points that allow you to host as many villagers in your town (villagers are rescued by the hero). Villagers are important, as they grant you a specific production of resources at the end of every round.

Image source: BGG

You can take at most three hero actions every round. When you take a hero action, you first move a certain number of spaces. Then, you can play a quest card if you are at the matching location. Third, you can interact with the location (getting resources or quest cards, for instance), “search” a token if present where you stand (the search tokens grant bonuses), or fight an enemy if present. When you fight an enemy, you roll a d4 to select one of your four offensive abilities and deal the corresponding amount of damage. The enemy will deal you a fixed amount of damage every combat turn, that you can mitigate with your defensive abilities. You can always retreat after a combat turn if you want; otherwise, you roll the die again and the enemy strikes you once more. If your life points get to zero, your hero cannot take any more actions until they are healed. If you defeat the enemy, you rescue villagers that you can settle in your town if you have sufficient housing.

When you decide to end the round, the production phase begins, and you get resources depending on your villagers and your town structures. The specialists are all refreshed. After six seasons, the game ends. You first discard all acquired resources, then go through the last production phase and trade as many goods as you deem fit. You then score points for gold, buildings, villagers, and completed quests, among others. If you have more than 100 points, you can count that as a win, but you are still encouraged to beat your own score.

To provide variability, you can use a different main board, the Underground, with different enemies, or play a “Story mode" that features six interconnected games with special set-up rules.

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Cadet Stimpy
Cadet Stimpy
Jun 14, 2021

I've played a few other Red Raven games (Near and Far (with Amber Mines expansion), Deep Vents, and Megaland) and liked them well enough. I'm gonna look at this one a bit closer. $60/€49.5/C$73 + shipping.

Jun 15, 2021
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I realized reading the solo rules that I have a profound dislike for games when your means of action (here the treasures, to get buildings) and your source of points is one of the same, which means you want to refrain from acting too much in fear of spending your VP.

This is also the reason why I so much dislike Dominion as you clutter your deck with points, hence must find the balance between acting and scoring. In this case, I feel like scoring just gets in the way of playing.

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