[Editor’s note: The following preview is based on a complete, but not finalized, product; in advance of a crowdfunding campaign. -dc]
There is a note directly above this, but it bears saying again. What you are about to read is a CrowdFUNding PREVIEW. Quests and Cannons doesn’t hit Kickstarter until September so there is lots and lots of time for the rules and components to be finalized. What I’ve had the pleasure to play was a well-made prototype, so when I talk about how cool the Player Ship Dashboards are, for example, I have no way to know just how much those will or will not change.
Quests and Cannons is a game of nautical exploration and adventure, with a high fantasy theme. It plays 1-6 players, in several free-for-all or team configurations, making for a great replay value.
Let’s talk a bit about the theme and storyline of the game. There has been a drastic geographical upheaval in the land of Miraheim. The homelands of the three seafaring races; the Dwunnies (dwarf bunnies), the Delves (duck elves), and the Porcs (pig orcs); have been rapidly losing vital resources. Meanwhile, new, resource-rich, islands have risen from beneath the central sea between these nations. The Players take on the part of a unique ship captain exploring these new islands as they try to ensure future prosperity for your people. You don’t have any particular animosity towards the other denizens of Miraheim, but when the choice is your survival or theirs, tensions will always flare.
Having a high fantasy theme opens up the game to whole new worlds (literally, that’s basically the definition), as well as the opportunity for unique and absolutely STUNNING artwork. (Again, prototype means the art may change but I’d be shocked for it to somehow become less incredible.) Some of my usual playgroups aren’t fans of high fantasy, so I want to say that it wouldn’t take much to reskin this as a lower fantasy setting, Pirates of the Caribbean style. The high fantasy theme also makes it easy to avoid any possible colonial undertones that a low fantasy setting could stumble into.
To a mostly-non-gamer the hex-map play area inevitably draws comparisons to “that Settler game I saw once” but other than the visual and mechanics inherent in a hex map, that’s where the comparison ends. The outer edges consist of six large interlocking tiles that represent the three nations, as well as three outposts that lay between them. The nation sections each have three starting spaces for players using one of the Captains from that region, while the outposts have a space for ships to dock and do things like repairing their ship or buy ammo, as well as selling resources, loot, or map clues. There are also three trading post hexes near the middle of the board that allows players to not only sell but also trade, for resources, etc. The trading posts are each individual tiles, but most of the map is comprised of number tiles of 3 hexes each. This is great for speeding up the setup, since the map is intended to change depending on player count and style of game. I do wish the outer frame was a bit smaller and the main hexes a bit bigger. Bigger hexes would do a better job at showing off the island artwork, and the ability to find any given island when you need to.
Besides the map, each player has a “Ship Dashboard” to easily manage their resources and stats. These boards are a bit big, but also couldn’t be any smaller. There are spaces for cards, to track the actions you’ve taken, how many sails your ship and has used, cannons, ammo, cargo slots, and most importantly: the Champion who is in command of your ship. Most of these things are represented by a double-sided token. Sails/Sails-Used, Cannons/Cannons-fired, etc. Champions are also is represented by large, interchangeable, tiles that have all the specific abilities and stats for that individual. This is one of the points that really shows off Short Hop Games’ dedication to putting out a physically high-quality game. Many publishers would have printed a full ship-board for each champion, probably on inferior cardstock. But instead, they have made double-thick cardboard ships, with recessed spaces for everything (including a finger-tab for anything that needs regular flipping.) This makes for easier expansion, easier promotional champions, and an overall more satisfying tactile experience.
Gameplay is fairly simple. A player has three actions points. They spend one action point to Attack an enemy, Gather a resource from an island, or take a Move action. A move action (usually) takes that ship one hex away, and the player can use their sails (by flipping the tiles on their dashboard) to extend that by one hex per sail. To attack you would flip over any available cannon tokens, take one ammo-die per cannon from your supply, and roll. Every four pips rolled equals one hit. I LOVE this mechanic. If you have one cannon, you’ll never do more than one damage. If you have two and roll badly, you’ll probably still do one damage, and a perfect roll does extra damage. More cannons mean you’re less likely to miss completely, but also doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sink your enemy with one volley. As well, since a player’s sails, cannons, and ammo are openly visible you won’t get blindsided.
Besides combat, the major point-getting comes through fairly straightforward pickup-and-deliver mechanics. When a player stops their movement on an unexplored island, they flip over a feature token to learn what resource is available at that island, gain a coin for being the first person there, and draw a quest card. Once the island has been explored any player may stop there and use an action to gather that resource and they will always draw a new quest there. Each quest lists what resources need to be collected, where they need to be delivered, and what the reward is. Players are limited to three quests in their hand, so when (not usually an if) that player draws a fourth card they need to discard one, meaning you aren’t going to be stuck with the same unattainable goals unless you choose that.
There are a few other mechanics, but that’s the bulk of the game. It seems big and intimidating at first glance because there are just so many components and setup configurations. But once it’s set up and you get playing it’s smooth sailing (pun intended). If you already have things set up, this could be a great gateway game for someone new. Where Quests and Cannons will really shine is for those players who have played something more than the basics and want to wade just a little deeper into the ocean of games.
TheRatHole.ca does not accept payments for our reviews but may have received a promotional copy of this game for review.