National Geographic in outer space

Chances are most solo gamers are not aware of Far Away. I wasn't either until recently, when a fellow 1PGer mentioned it as part of his wishlist. A strictly 2 player cooperative game, according to the description. So why can I not play double-handed like in most other co-ops? Answer: of course I can!

The designer has been reluctant to market it as soloable because his intention is that players do not communicate while taking their actions, unless they are standing on the same hex. And indeed, if you try to implement this rule in the solo game and wonder 'does my partner know what I'm doing?' after each step, it will become very cumbersome. However, I can assure you that ignoring this rule and executing each astronaut's actions doesn't make the game easy. The X factor here is the behaviour of the animals that inhabit the planet. If role-played as 'true to life' as possible, they will likely make your missions hard to complete.

Role-playing alien animals... This as strange as it sounds. The game gives you the general traits of each species: how big it is, what it eats, which environment it prefers, and if it is solitary or forms packs, as well as a useful tip on the animal's behaviour. For example, the pennae tapirus is a gentle gift-giver who turns mad if the receiver rejects the offer. Or the volubilem multos tends to move towards structures, latch onto them and corrode them. Which makes its appearance very bad news for you. You can fight the creatures if you must, but fighting increases your hunger, and food is not always readily available.

If an animal is aggressive, it will attack you if you're close to it, so you have to try to avoid it. As the game progresses, the map will be populated with more and more species, and even if they are not dangerous, they slow you down. Besides dying of injuries or hunger, you may also die of loneliness if you stay away from your partner for too long. So every once in a while, you will have to take less productive turns just in order to meet up with your other half and rejoice in each other's company. You have the option of domesticating animals, if you like, and use them as either pets or servants but there are so many things to take care of and so few actions you can take on your turn, that taming may not be your first priority.

I have so far played 5 missions, including the Tutorial. The rules are easy to follow but the role playing may feel weird until you get used to it. It certainly was what drew me to this game besides its deadpan sense of humour. I enjoyed thinking about how each animal might act, and memories of wildlife documentaries I watched when I was younger came in handy. Even though they are alien, these species bear similarities to real animals you may be familiar with. Some graze peacefully in the forest, others are cunning and patient predators, and others are parasitical or poisonous. It is mostly up to you to decide how they react to both human and other animal presence. For this reason alone, the game is fascinating.

Some missions run a bit long, and may require that you leave the game on the table for more than one day. The initial surprise element will subside as you get to recognize the animals and know how to play them, so perhaps don't play the missions back-to-back like I did (I'm halfway through them and need a break). The aesthetics and components are a peculiar mix. On the one hand you have vintage-looking taxonomy illustrations for the animals, and bold 60s graphics for the player boards and bits. On the other hand, the placement of building, dens and other cards on the map makes the game look a bit like a prototype. Everything is functional, however, and doesn't get in the way of the story that unfurls in your head. If you are willing to try something different, a game that goes off the beaten path, I recommend taking a look at this little-known gem.