Jeremy enjoys gaming when not working as a manager at the same college he graduated from.
What Is Near and Far?
Hit board game Near and Far captivated many gamers, myself included, with its strategic and unique gameplay. Gathering supplies in a hub town before adventuring into the wild, players compete to gain the most journey points, undergoing choice-based quests along the way.
With numerous maps, play modes (including an overarching campaign mode), Near and Far has something for everyone and rightfully deserves its reputation. That said, its balance is disrupted by the first player's significant advantage: let's examine how.
Advantages of Going First in Near and Far
Unlike some games, everyone will always have an equal number of turns in Near and Far, which helps balance the experience. However, the first player enjoys undeniable advantages that can really make it hard for later players to catch up, even with smart decisions. The first player enjoys:
- First pick of the five adventurers at the Saloon (almost always your best opening move)
- First chance to reach the closest quest on the map (which give big early-game rewards)
- First chance at fighting weaker threats
Most experienced players begin the game by buying a character at the Saloon, then heading out for an adventure. Thing is, not all characters are created equal, and nabbing the best of the opening five can really put someone ahead. Once the other players have made their moves (likely taking the sloppy seconds at the Saloon), this gives the first player a good chance to explore, especially if there's a quest within reach.
Plus, since bandits on the map gradually increase in power, it gets more and more difficult to defeat them. The first player to fight one only has to deal with a strength check of four, but (assuming they succeed) anyone following will face bigger and badder foes.
Advantages of Going Second or Later in Near and Far
Perhaps the only benefit of moving later is if the first player places a camp on the map (likely on their second turn, after buying a character at the Saloon), meaning that space will no longer cost any hearts to move over. However, this only helps other players if the first player only moved one space (players start with two movement); if they utilize their full traversal, there's little incentive to follow their path since you won't have enough initial movement to reach the next space anyway.
Basically, playing second or later has little to no pros and surrenders the perks of going first. I'm surprised that designer Ryan Laukat let this slip considering he balanced gameplay in previous game Above and Below (which I also recommend) by giving the last-moving player an extra coin. Thankfully, we can even things here with a similar fix.
House Rule: Give Stragglers an Extra Coin
Players start with three coins each, and they're especially valuable early on since you need them to purchase adventurers. Adventurers in turn help you explore the map, fight threats, and generally improve your chances of winning.
So, to compensate for not going first, try giving non-first players an extra coin, having them start with four instead of three. This should counter the first player's quick start. If you think an extra coin is too big a reward, you could instead substitute a less-valuable food token, but I often find myself wanting to go first even knowing I'm missing out on that extra coin, showcasing just how advantageous it is.
Near and Far Review
Admittedly, I can be a "rules lawyer" who prefers to play games as printed, so it's telling that I consider this house rule a must for balance. But don't let one easily-fixable gripe dissuade you from an otherwise fantastic experience; Near and Far admirably blends strategy, storytelling, and a little luck into one of gaming's premiere packages.
With over ten maps, four play modes, and numerous artifacts, the game has more than enough replayability to justify its $50 price tag. Plus, its double-sided characters can also be used as expansion add-ons to Above and Below, further increasing the game's value. But for now, vote for your favorite Red Raven experience and I'll see you at our next gaming review!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill