Discover: Lands Unknown is a major talking point in the board gaming community right now. A trailer has been released and Fantasy Flight Games has a decent synopsis of what to expect from the game on their website.
After hearing the initial premise of the game, my hype meter rose through the roof. I am all for story-telling type games that let you get immersed in the decision making and theme that’s set in front of you. I own Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island and First Martian: Adventures on the Red Planet, as well as being a backer of The 7th Continent. Discover: Lands Unknown looks to offer that immersion in a way that no other board game has in recent memory: by offering randomized components in each box. Pulled directly from the FFG website, “as a Unique Game, every copy of Discover: Lands Unknown is unlike any other in the world. The unique mix of environments, characters, storylines, items, and enemies in each copy of Discover means that your own adventures will play out very differently than your friend’s copy of the game.” These “Unique Games” are a new territory that Fantasy Flight Games is branching out into. The other game in this new series is Keyforge, which is a deck-builder where you customize your own deck and play against others with their own personalized decks.
The game will play the same from copy to copy but what you’re playing with will be different. One box will have some cards whereas another box has a completely different set which means you’re going on a completely different adventure.
This fact is driving me insane. On one hand, I am completely fascinated. This could be the next evolution of board games (after the Legacy implementations).
This could cause game groups to purchase multiple copies of the same game, which is something that doesn’t typically happen now. If the people I game with own Viticulture, why would I purchase my own if they’re the ones I would play it with? This business model at least creates the idea that buying your own box will provide you with your own unique experience and when talking with your friends, you could swap boxes to experience a vastly different game. The idea is there and on paper, it’s plausible and makes business sense.
However, I would really have to love a game to not only buy my own copy that my group already owns but also to buy it knowing it won’t be the exact same as the copy I fell in love with.
With the lack of information available, my concern level is high though.
I think of games that I already know and are familiar with, such as Viticulture or Clank! and how they would play if pieces were randomized. For example, would my copy of Clank! be unbalanced due to certain cards being excluded from the deck? Would strategies that work for my copy go bust when playing another’s copy?
I don’t think the business model is for individual players to purchase multiple copies of the same game with the hope of acquiring all the components but that will definitely happen. This hobby breeds completionists and you can look at the prices of rare promos for verification to that claim. The fear of missing out (FOMO), coupled with the random distribution, could make this a hot commodity if it turns out to be a good game. Obviously, we only have the hobbyist’s to blame if they end up purchasing multiple copies just to get the few missing links but it’s not a business model I want to become prevalent.
The price, to me, is too high for such a random investment. Board games are an expensive hobby and to not know what you’re getting is a scary precedent. Board games are incredibly subjective and many of us do an insane amount of research to see if a game is for us. Not knowing what is rattling around inside the box is a step I’m unsure I’m ready for. Obviously, I can choose to just not buy the game or others that follow this mold but what if Discover turns out to be a smash hit but the copy I inevitably get my hands on differs from the versions that everyone has acclaim for?
I also think that for that price, why would I not go for proven exploration and adventure games? This could be The 7th Continent-light, which is a niche that is waiting to be filled, but is that something you want to find out at $60? This could be another Seafall.
I also wonder if this move to randomized box sets is really any better than utilizing an app to do the exact same thing for you, a la Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. Why not give players everything available (or at least make it available for purchase) and use an app to seed and create the randomness? This obviously will cost more money and upkeep but if it has worked for MoM for so long, what’s keeping it from working here?
My biggest concern at the moment is that reviews will be pointless. You might read a review from someone and fall in love with what they experienced but then when you purchase your own copy, you’re left with something completely different. If there are balancing issues and different tiers of the boxes, how will we know if the reviewers did not get a copy of the “best” version of the game?
I’m excited for the evolution of the hobby and while not outright dismissing these ‘Unique Games’, I’m proceeding very cautiously. While there are games I’m much more interested in playing and seeing come to fruition, this is one that I will be keeping an eye out for just to see what happens.