Explorers Of Navoria Preview
Dranda Games are back with another new game, and this one is a twofer if you ask me. Firstly, it’s a great choice to bring a Chinese board game – Townsfolk Wanted – to a Western market with a new name – Explorers of Navoria. The second and possibly most interesting feature to me is it being a crowdfunded board game that doesn’t fill a huge table. It doesn’t even fill a small table. Explorers of Navoria is a concise, streamlined, tableau-building game, and I really like it.
Of elephants in rooms
If you’ve seen the artwork for this game and have been in the hobby for more than five minutes, you’ve probably had a “Hang on…” moment. Yes, the artwork looks like Kyle Ferrin’s work in games like Root (review here) and Oath (review here). No, it’s not AI-generated, and no, it’s not a blatant copy. I can see why people are going to get their underwear in a knot about it, but it’s a waste of time. It’s another game with colourful, pastel, critters and creatures. As much as I love Kyle’s artwork, he doesn’t have a copyright on any particular style. Let’s move past that and onto the things that really matter, like whether the game is actually good or not.
The short version is yes. It’s a good game.
At its heart, Explorers of Navoria is a tableau-building game. Players take turns placing wooden agent discs on one of five decks of cards of matching colours and add a corresponding card from the market to their tableau. Some cards have instant effects, like awarding the game’s resources or victory points, and some cards work cumulatively, awarding points at the end of each round, or the end of the game.
More than once I was reminded of playing Libertalia (review here), which is weird because the games play very differently. Agent discs are either drawn from a bag, like the tiles in Libertalia I guess, or played from the town center on the board. Once all the discs are played and cards claimed, players take the discs from the decks and return them to spaces in the town to claim rewards. This part is done in reverse player order, which is probably where the rest of the Libertalia feelings come from.
As a mechanism, the whole tableau-building thing is really well done. Everything is very easy to read at a glance, so it’s easy to get an idea of which cards each player might want. When you draw discs from the bag, you draw two, choose one, and place the other on the main board, which can be agonising. Giving up a disc that you know someone else wants is never fun, but it adds to the dynamic of the game.
Now it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that the game has the word ‘Explorers’ in the title, but I haven’t mentioned anything very explore-y at all. The narrative of the game is that three new continents have emerged from the seas of Navoria, and it’s you folks, the players, who are setting out to explore them. Exploring is a very loose term, however, and it amounts to three tracks on the board. Some of the cards allow you to move your exploration markers along these tracks, and other card effects let you build little trading outposts along the way. Your progress along the tracks is reset at the end of each of the game’s three rounds, but only as far back as your furthest outpost.
There’s another feature which sees each card associated with one of four races who live in Navoria. Each race gets a reward tile at the start of the game, and the first player to amass five icons of a race gets to claim the top spot for that reward tile which typically nets end-of-game points based on the colours of cards in your tableau.
Ultimately Explorers of Navoria is a set-collection and tableau-building game in the vein of a lighter Wingspan (review here) or Earth (review here). If you’re looking for a game which captures the feeling of exploration, you’re not really going to find it here. The exploring is all done in the theatre of the mind. The tracks could just as easily have been straight lines without the map artwork, and it would have made no difference to the game.
That said, it doesn’t really matter that the theme is spread thinly. The game itself is quick, clean, easy to learn, and offers plenty of replay value. The simple inclusion of the randomised race reward tiles dictates your strategy, and that on top of the variety of the cards in the five decks makes for a game with plenty of replay value. It’s at its best with three or four players, as the competition for cards and return sports in the town at the end of each round is at its fiercest.
It’s on the lighter side of mid-weight, so if you’re after something to really get your teeth stuck into it might not be for you, but it makes for an excellent gateway game into heavier things. I LOVE that it has a small table footprint, and that it’s so quick to setup and teardown. In a world of monstrous Kickstarters that swamp tables and need nearly as much time to organise as they do to play, Explorers of Navoria is a breath of fresh air. Yes, it’ll have people stamping their feet about the artistic direction, yes, people will complain that it’s copying the style that Leder Games are famous for now. None of that matters though. What matters is that it’s a great, welcoming game with a low barrier to entry.
I’m so pleased to see Dranda Games bringing a game from Asia to an audience of players who might otherwise never have a chance to play. You can get more details and pledge here when the Kickstarter launches on 8th January 2024.
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Explorers Of Navoria (2024)
Design: Meng Chunlin
Publisher: Dranda Games, Qiling Board Game
Art: Meng Chunlin
Playing time: 30-60 mins