VISITOR in Blackwood Grove Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 3-5 players (2 versus 1, 2 versus 1 versus 1, or 2 versus 1 versus 1 versus 1)
  • Approximately 10 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Imagination
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • First one to the Alien wins

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

With a flash and a bang, something alien entered our atmosphere and crashed in Blackwood Groove. Only two people saw this event. A young kid who was dreamily looking at stars from their bedroom window and a shadowy government agency who constantly monitors outer space. Now it’s race not only for discovery, but for survival, for an alien has landed and the world will never be the same.

VISITOR in Blackwood Grove, designed by Mary Flanagan and to be published by Tilt-Factor Games, will reportedly be comprised of 100 Object cards, 1 round game board, 1 Visitor shield, 14 card stands, 1 Trust mat, 1 Trust token, 4 Guess tokens, and 4 Reminder cards. As this is a prepublished version of the game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. Nor can I comment on the game’s illustrations, as we were not provided a preview copy with final artwork.

On a Dark Night…

To set up the game, first place the round game board in the middle of the playing area. The game board is also referred to as the “barrier board”.

Second, decide which player will take on the role of the Visitor and which player will take on the role of the Kid. All other players will take on the role of Agents. It’s recommended that new and inexperienced players play as the Kid or the Agents. Hand to each player their role Reminder cards.

Third, the Visitor and Agent players each take card stands of one color. The Visitor also takes the Visitor shield and Guess tokens, setting the shield in front of them and placing the Guess tokens behind it.

Fourth, place the Trust board next to the barrier board and place the Trust token next to it.

Fifth, shuffle the Object cards to form the Object draw deck. Place the draw deck face-down next to the barrier board and draw two cards. Place these two Object cards face-up next to the barrier board.

Sixth, deal 6 Object cards to each player. This it the player’s starting hand. Players should keep their cards hidden from opponents.

Seventh, the Visitor player now makes up the “Pass Rule”. This done by first observing the Object cards in the Visitor player’s hand and the two revealed Object cards. The goal here is to come up with a rule that classifies an Object card. For example, “things that are red”. Any Object card that meets the Pass Rule can pass through the barrier that protects the round game board’s boarders (and alien). Any Object card that does not share a trait decided by the Pass Rule cannot be played to the barrier board, but must instead be played around it. The Visitor player then classifies the two face-up Object cards as either “in” or “out”, placing the Object card that follows the Pass Rule on the barrier board and the Object card that does not on the border (but not on) the barrier board. The goal here is for the Visitor to create a Pass Rule that will stump the Agents, but can be determined by the Kid.

That’s it for game set up. Let’s see who gets to the alien first…

In a Deep Wood…

VISITOR in Blackwood Grove is played in rounds and turns. A round always starts with the Agents, followed by the Kid, and finally the Visitor. Each role and the actions they can take on their turn are summarized here.

The Agents

The goal of an Agent player is to break through the barrier and find the alien that crash landed on Earth. To do this, they must determine what the Visitor player’s Pass Rule is. This is done by testing ideas and then proving hunches. Each Agent player can take one action each. They work as a team, but can win the game independently. The actions are as follows:

Test a Card

The Agent player selects one card from their hand and passes it to the Visitor player without showing the card to any other player. The Visitor player looks at the card and announces it’s either “in” or “out” without revealing the card to any other player. The Object card is then placed on a card stand and either placed within the barrier or on the barrier’s border. The Agent then draws a new card, bringing their hand size back to 7 cards.

Prove the Pass Rule

Since the Visitor is an alien, they do not understand how to speak the Earthlings’ language. This means that proving to the alien that you know the Pass Rule is done without using words. Instead, the player demonstrates to the Visitor player that they know the Pass Rule by first asking the Visitor to draw the first four Object cards and placing them in a row, face-up. The Visitor then classifies each card using their Guess tokens behind their Visitor shield as “in” or “out”. The player then guesses if each card is either “in” or “out”. Then the Visitor reveals their Guess tokens.

Example of four possible objects the Agent must consider

If the Agent was correct, the game comes to an end. If the Agent guessed wrong, the Object cards used to attempt to prove the Pass Rule are discarded and the Trust token is moved to the next position on the Trust mat.

The Kid

The goal of the Kid is to get to the alien first and save it. Think E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and you’ve got the player’s motivation. The Kid player’s turn is similar to the Agents, with two possible actions available to them, but only one action can be taken per turn.

Predict an Object

The Kid player takes one of the cards from their hand, shows it to all the players and hands it to the Visitor player. The Kid player then announces that the passed Object card is either “in” or “out”. If Kid player guessed correctly, the Trust token is moved to the next highest position on the Trust mat and the Object card is placed in the playing area appropriately. The Kid player may guess again, up to 3 times, if they continue to guess correctly. A new Object card is then drawn.

If the Kid player guessed wrong, the Object card is placed, but the Trust token is not moved. The Kid player’s turn immediately ends and they do not draw a new Object card.

Prove the Pass Rule

This is done exactly the same way as the Agents, but the Kid player cannot attempt to prove the Pass Rule until the Trust marker is high enough on the Trust mat!

The Visitor

The Visitor player has only one action on their turn. They must select one Object card from their hand and classify it as either being “in” or “out” in accordance to their Pass Rule. All the players see this and get some much-needed insight. The Visitor player, therefore, needs to be careful. Too much information will allow the Agents to get them, but too little will keep the Kid guessing. As the game progresses, the Kid may earn enough Trust to allow the Visitor to only reveal the Object card to the Kid player, keeping the Agent players in the dark. After revealing a card, the Visitor player does not draw a new one.

Humanity Confronts the Unknown…

The game can end several different ways.

  • If the Visitor player ever runs out of cards, the Agents have won and it’s only a matter of moments before the Alien is captured by a shadowy government agency…
  • If an Agent is able to prove they know the Pass Rule before the Kid, that specific Agent player wins and can happily go about dissecting the alien…
  • If the Kid player is able to prove they know the Pass Rule before the Agents, the Kid and the Alien player win, resulting in a spectacular adventure full of important life lessons…

To learn more about VISITOR in Blackwood Grove, visit the kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks had a lot of fun playing this game, regardless of what role they played. According to one Child Geek, “I really like this game! I feel like it is an adventure and I can feel the pressure of saving the alien before the bad guys get him!” This particular Child Geek was playing as the “Kid”. An “Agent” Child Geek said, “I really like that I have help from my Agent friends, but I can still win the game all by myself.” And an “Alien” Child Geek said, “Holy crud, why is everyone out to get me! I had a hard time trying to tell the Kid how to find me without tipping off the Agents.” All the Child Geeks agreed that VISITOR in Blackwood Grove was a lot of fun, full of moments of intensity, laughs, and cheers. They universally agreed to approve the game.

The Parent Geeks were also big fans. According to one Parent Geek, “This is a very creative and surprisingly simple to learn but really difficult to win game. I like that because it allows me to easily teach it to others, but the game is always different and always presents a new challenge for me to enjoy.” Another Parent Geek said, “I’m surprised that a game that has so little can be so much fun to play. I felt like I was part of a 80’s alien buddy movie. Great stuff.” The Parent Geeks found VISITOR in Blackwood Grove to be a lot of fun with their family and with their friends, with the different victory conditions and always different Pass Rules to keep the game fresh and fun.

The Gamer Geeks were very pleased with the game. According to one Gamer Geek, “What I love most about this game is the asymmetric game play. Everyone has the same goal, but goes about it in very different ways. This allowed me to determine my best path to victory without ever feeling that the racetrack we were all on was occupied. Super good stuff.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A fun and entertaining game. Really fast, too. I think our longest game was only about 15 minutes long and it was crazy intense. I’d play this again and again because the game is always changing.” The Gamer Geeks weren’t gushing over VISITOR in Blackwood Grove, but they sure were singing its praise. That’s about as good as it gets from the gaming elitists.

This is a terribly fast game, which just further enhances the player’s growing need and urgency to determine the Pass Rule before the others. Or in the case of the Visitor player, keeping knowledge at a minimum while maximizing subtle hints. Not at all easy. In fact, I’d argue that the Visitor player has the toughest job, but it’s also the most rewarding. And it’s here that I must shout a word of caution…

DO NOT LET NEW OR INEXPERIENCED PLAYERS ROLE AS THE VISITOR!

It’ll kill your game. For the best possible game playing experience, allow the most senior and experienced player to take on the role of the Visitor. This will provide all the other players a smooth game playing experience and a genuine challenge. Failure to put someone who is confident and experienced as the alien will result in a lackluster affair.

The asymmetric game play mentioned by the Gamer Geek deserves a quick word. “Asymmetric” means not identical. Each player is engaged in the same game but goes about playing it slightly differently based on their role. This means players will be butting up against an opponent, but never to a point where their previous actions dictate the player’s results or next possible actions to take. Players learn as they go, adjust as they need, and swim in the same waters as their opponents with lots of room to maneuver. Think of it like playing a sandbox video game. Everyone is playing the same game, but everyone is having a slightly different experience making each player’s interaction with the game uniquely their own.

I very much enjoyed the game and found just as much joy simply watching the game as I did playing it. This is because as an observer, you have a chance to figure out the puzzle, too. The only difference is that you don’t have an opportunity to win (or lose) the game. Super good stuff and I very much recommend you give this game a try.

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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