Main Event Games · Reviews

Review of The Isofarian Guard

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Game: The Isofarian Guard

Designer: Eric Bittermann, Sean Craten, David Yanchick

Published: Sky Kingdom Games

Players: 1-2 Players

Playtime: 45-90 Minutes

Play Type: Open World Exploration

**Review was provided based on a prototype of the game, rules and components are subject to change**

Synopsis:

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From the Publisher: “Welcome to Isofar, a wild land severe in its beauty. The Isofarian people take great pride in their ability to flourish among the hostile wildlife and cruel elements of their mountainous home. As a member of the Isofarian guard, life is never dull. You try to keep the peace among your fellow Isofarians (a never-ending job), as well as deal with constant threats from the aggressive Falmund Empire to the south.
But now, the old patterns are shifting. New forces are at work that will challenge the very underpinnings of reality. You will guide eight different Isofarian Guards throughout 4 interweaving campaigns as they deal with a power that threatens not only Isofar, but the entire world.”

Game Play:

The Isofarian Guard is an open world adventure game, where players will either play solo or cooperatively to explore Isofar. Players will have the opportunity to explore the map throughout the game, but will be given a main narrative quest to complete to continue to move the storyline forward. In between the main quests, players will have the opportunity to visit other locations. When at a new location that player will draw chips from a bag to determine what random encounter they would experience at that location. Those encounters can range anywhere from combat encounters to side quests the characters can complete.
The main quests feature a choose your adventure style narrative in which players will make decisions that will impact how their game will continue. These choices not only affect the narrative options, but also how the game play progresses. Players’ campaigns will look different based on the options that they choose during these key narrative points.

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As players explore The Map of Isofar, they will often bump into combat encounters. The Isofarian Guard uses a combined system of AI cards and bag building during combat. Each enemy will have their own AI deck which will determine how the enemy will attack, and who they will attack. The cards will read from top to bottom and clearly define each step a player should take to complete their attack.

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On the players’ turns, they will choose which of their characters should act first. This is important because some enemies will determine whom they hit based on who attacked last. Then, players will draw out a number of chips from their bag equal to their AP. This number can be changed by their skills chart, gear and actions during combat. Those chips determine what actions the player can choose to complete during that turn. Most actions are divided into two categories (attacking and defending). The actions players choose to take will provide either an attack score or a defense score that will be added to the characters base stat. Players who are attacking will compare that to the enemy’s defense stat to determine damage done. After all players have taken their turns, the enemies will get a chance to go again.
Players will clear their board after the enemies turn, placing all chips to the side until their bag is empty. Once their bag has been emptied, players may refill their bag with any chips they have used. Alternatively, players may take damage to their health to replenish their bag early.
Throughout the game, players will have the opportunity to customize their bag and manipulate it to fit their player style by crafting gear and upgrading their skills tree. Players will be able to craft gear by picking up loot that enemies will drop and bringing those items to blacksmiths. Each piece of gear will have a different impact on player’s bags and actions during combat. In addition to gear manipulating what is in a player’s bags, the other players and enemies may also add chips to a player’s bag. The two player characters will interact with one another by adding chips into each other’s bag. These chips provide a temporary one time boost for their teammate, and often give a strategic advantage to the player characters. On the other hand, enemies can also add negative one time effects into a player’s bag that can impact the actions that player may take during their turn.

Components:

The Isofarian Guard will be a game that consists of a variety of components. As

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mentioned earlier, some of the major components will be the bag building elements. These will include over 100 weighted chips, and three fabric bags. These chips are a great quality and are easily drawn from the bag. The symbols on them are clear to decipher and should be easy to use during game play.
The game will also include over 700 cards. These cards serve a variety of purposes including enemy AI Card, Enemy cards, Loot Cards and Equipment Cards. The AI Cards are well laid out and easy to follow. When they use symbols, it is very clear what the symbol is meant to represent. The enemy cards feature gorgeous art that is seen throughout the game.

There are eight character dashboards which are laid out in a way that makes sense. The character art that is featured on them is gorgeous, and is consistent with the artwork seen throughout the maps and enemies. The characters will also have miniatures associated with them for using with the maps. The miniatures are beautifully sculpted and feature dynamic poses. Most of the miniatures are dual character, depicted both characters in a team. This creates a more dynamic miniature, but may disappoint some players who would like to have the characters separately.


There are 18 game boards included in The Isofarian Guard. The largest game board is The Map of Isofar, a beautifully detailed map of the entirety of Isofar. Additionally, there are smaller magnified maps of the Scrolled Areas on the map. These smaller maps provide players with the ability to interact with the towns in a more meaningful way.
In addition to these elements, one of the major features of the game is the story books included and Forteller. Forteller narrates the story of The Isofarian Guard with the use of voice actors and sound effects to help create an engaging narrative. The use of Forteller really creates an immersive experience, and helps elevate the game from a typical adventure based board game.

While all components I used while learning the game were prototypes, they all still demonstrated a focus on providing a quality game. The chips and miniatures really stand out as quality components that make the game feel great while playing. Forteller sets the game apart from other narrative based games by putting the player in the setting of Isofar.

Overview:

Positives:

  • Unique Combination of Mechanics
  • Engaging, Depthful Storyline
  • Forteller Creates a Captivating Image
  • High Quality Components
  • Gorgeous Artwork
  • Equal Representation of Gender with Appropriate Armor
  • Multiple Campaign Storylines
  • Crafting System Provides Customizable Gameplay Experience
  • Easy Set Up/ Take Down
  • Bag Building Combat Provides More Interaction
  • Challenging

Negatives:

  • Limited to Two Players
  • Some Randomness with Bag Building
  • Takes A Lot of Table Space

It is a rare occurrence for a board game narrative to capture my attention and my imagination. The Isofarian Guard has managed to do both, while providing innovative and fun gameplay. It combines board games, video games and role playing games into one cohesive piece that will appeal to fans of all three hobbies. Before I go further into my thoughts on the game, I will simply state that if I only had the funds to purchase one game this year, that game would be The Isofarain Guard. This is by far my most anticipated game this year after demoing it at Gen Con. It has stood out in my mind, and I am waiting impatiently for the chance to play it again.


My excitement for this game is made up of a lot of key elements, but a large portion of that is the narrative experience behind The Isofarian Guard. I use board gaming as a way to escape the stress of everyday life, and I love games that create a world that gives me the opportunity to do so. The use of Forteller in The Isofarian Guard brings a brand new world to life, introducing a story but also developing the world that the story takes place in. The use of background music, sound effects and voice acting creates such an immersive experience that it can make me forget that I am playing a board game rather than a video game or watching a movie. That story drives players to keep playing, and also helps create a deeper connection with Isofar than it would have been if it was simple text.
Forteller is not the only key to the story though. The narration itself is extremely well done. Players are given autonomy in the game, which affects the outcome of their story. I enjoyed that interactions within the game truly affect the experience that players will have, and also give the game replayability. The ability to make choices that impact not only the storyline but also what happens in gameplay created a depth to the game that it would have lacked if it were more linear. I could see many players wanting to go back and rerun the campaign to make different choices throughout and see how it affects the game in the long run.
The campaign is not short either. While I was only able to preview a portion of the campaign, there are many other storylines that will interact with the one I was able to try. I look forward to exploring the different characters and seeing how they play differently. The different storylines add a lot of play time to the game, and also help keep game play interesting. Players will get to watch multiple characters develop and interact with the world around them.


While it may not be important to everyone, I was really happy to see the number of playable female characters included with The Isofarian Guard. Being a woman in the gaming industry, I have often seen many fantasy games include a wide variety of male main characters but they don’t always also include females. This goes for video games and board games. I love the opportunity to play a female character. I also really like that the art depicts the women dressed appropriately for combat and for the season. The artwork is still absolutely stunning, and the armor choices are consistent throughout. This helps keep me immersed in the story line.

The artwork is stunning throughout the entire game. Besides the narrative, I think that the artwork is the second most important aspect for developing an immersive world. The artwork shines through in all aspects of the game, but my favorite two elements are the character art and the maps. The character art does a great job of showing the play style of each character. I also love the maps included with the game. The main map gives a beautiful overview of the setting of the game. When players enter a city on the map, the magnified miniature maps provide an RPG like feel and develop the narrative further. The art style is consistent throughout the entire game, and players can seamlessly travel between the main map, the magnified sections and encounter cards because of that consistency.


The sculpting on the miniatures is just as beautiful. They are some of the most dynamic miniatures I have seen, with strong use of movement without being too busy. Once again, I was really impressed with how both the men and women look ready for battle. I am really looking forward to painting the models and seeing the remaining characters in their 3D forms.
The visuals and narrative though are not used as a distraction for poor game play. The game is mechanically strong as well, using a unique mix of mechanics to provide a new look at combat and exploration. While the narrative guides players towards certain story points, similar to a main questline in a video game, players truly have the option to go anywhere they choose. They are encouraged to explore to gain items that are needed to craft certain items. Those items help players individualize and manipulate game play through out. This creates a truly open world experience that gives players control over the pace of their game.
Combat also stands out among other exploration and combat based games. Each enemy has a streamlined but unique AI deck that is easy to follow. Each player character will have their own combat bag, that is populated with a variety of chips that will be used to determine actions that player can complete in a combat round. I found combat to flow very well and be simple to understand after a round or two of practice. The chips themselves provided an interesting mechanic because while there was still some luck involved, there was also a little more math and probability than if the game used dice. As players become more familiar with their character and the enemies they will be facing, it will be easier to identify what strategies and abilities work at what times. When playing with two player characters, the synergy between those characters can also really affect what strategy is used. Occasionally however, players will still find that bad draws can be detrimental to their game play, regardless of how strong their strategy was.
Those draws though are what helps make the game challenging. This is not a game that a player can breeze through and easily win each encounter. Every move counts, and when players to choose to stop and rest at cities can make or break whether they live or die. The anxiety of low health and the reality that my players won’t make it out of an encounter if I do not play smart makes me think more strategically than I was expecting. It really makes players also put an emphasis on exploration to get materials for crafting rather than trying to railroad through the storyline as quickly as possible. I have died or almost died every time I have played because I have made some poor choices. I love that challenge throughout, but if players are looking for something that they will be consistently successful with, they may struggle with The Isofarian Guard.
The game is well thought out from start to finish, including organization to help with set up and clean up times. It will feature an easy saving feature, which will make stopping the game and picking up where you left off very easy and accessible. The box itself will have organizers to keep set up time to a minimum, and make all components easy to find. This is especially important because there are a lot of components in the box, and having organizers will not only help keep gameplay moving, but it will also help minimize the table space needed to play. That being said, this is a game that needs significant space to play, especially if players intend to use the full map to keep track of where their player is.


The Isofarian Guard offers the closest thing I have seen to a fully open world experience in a board game. Due to that, I think that it would really appeal to players who enjoy open world videogames and who also enjoy board games. It is the closest thing I have seen to games like Skyrim in a board game setting. On the other hand, I also think this would appeal to role playing game players, especially those who struggle to find a large group to consistently play. The open world nature and the narrative structure closely mimic that of an RPG, but this is more flexible in fact that it can be played solo or with two players. That being said, this would not be my suggestion for players who are fans of playing RPGs because of the social nature of the game. The Isofarian Guard only supports up to two players, and while I wish I could play with a full table, I think the game play and interactions do make the most sense as a two player campaign.
If you are interested in hearing more about The Isofarian Guard or want to pick it up, I suggest taking a look at the Kickstarter campaign. It will be live starting on September 10th at 10 AM CDT. You can find the link here to get more of a feeling for the game.

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