Visitor in Blackwood Grove Board Game Review (Mary Flanagan)

6

It's always difficult to review a game that you wish had been better. In Visitor in Blackwood Grove, a mysterious Visitor attempts to guide a Kid through their forcefield, while the Agents surrounding them attempt to intervene. To protect herself, the Visitor has created a forcefield that has certain rules. The Visitor and the Kid must build trust, all while the Agents attempt their own guesses. It's a fantastical, B-movie premise, and a manual that is -- if not good -- relatively clear. The problem is, unfortunately, the game itself.

Game Details

Players: 3 to 5

Game Time: 10 Minutes

Age: 10+

Genre: Pattern Recognition / Asymmetrical

How is Visitor in Blackwood Grove Played?

Visitor has a large deck of items that comprise the bulk of its play. To start, the player who has been selected as the Visitor will use these cards to create a "rule" about what can get into the forcefield. This rule could be "lighter than a book" or "invented before 1800." Two cards are set aside at the beginning of the game; the Visitor uses these now to show what should and shouldn't pass through the field.

Once the Visitor has set their rule in play, the agents take their turns. Agents can pass a card to the Visitor (who will let them know whether it passes or fails) or guess as to what the rule is. Guessing the rule is done by positioning four cards, face down, either on the forcefield or off the forcefield. The Visitor responds to them by looking at each card and placing tokens on the forcefield or off the forcefield, to match them. If the agent has guessed correctly, that agent wins.

The Kid has their own sequence of actions. They can make guesses, but only visible guesses (everyone else's guesses are secret). The Kid and the Visitor are tied by a level of trust; when the Kid is able to make good guesses, their trust level goes up and they gain additional powers.

How Does Visitor in Blackwood Grove Look?

The art design of Visitor is delightful if sparse. Each of the cards have a sort of whimsical-yet-somber tone, like a drawing viewed through microfiche. Everything sort of recalls a 1960's FBI case file, with its typewriter print. There isn't a lot to the physicality of the game, but what is there is solid. 

Visitor in Blackwood Grove positions a significant portion of its manual setup as a flow chart, and I can't decide whether that was a good idea or not. We were certain what to do, but at the same time, it took us a moment to parse the syntax of it. It makes the game look more complicated than it actually is, and also leaves out some critical steps (such as positioning the kid to the right of The Visitor, rather than across from them, which is usually the case).

What's in the Box?
1 round board * visitor shield * 14 card stands * trust mat * guess tokens * reminder cards * rule book

How Does Visitor in Blackwood Grove Feel?

Here's where we arrive at the core problem of the game: it's a 10 minute game that plays closer to 5 minutes. In fact, regardless of who we chose to be The Visitor or The Kid, we were able to guess the rules nearly immediately. This is a problem with how the game developed its guessing strategy.

Guessing in this game is pass/fail. Rather than having to guess the rule itself, you just need to guess what will pass. I won in the very first round by simply putting a whole bunch of "heavy" cards on the forcefield. They passed. I was completely wrong about the rule, though; I thought the rule was "heavy objects" and the rule was actually "Items too large to fit inside a car."

There is a penalty for guessing incorrectly -- the Kid gets to go up in loyalty. All that would have meant would likely have been that the Kid would have won in the very first round.

It feels as though you've only begun to play the game when it already ends, and because of the pass/fail mechanic, even extremely complex rules don't really heighten the length of play. They aren't supposed to: it's a ten minute game.

The other issue was just how asynchronous the gameplay was. The Visitor was constantly engaged, the Kid had a whole slew of things they had tolook at, and the Agents really only had two tasks. The Visitor is clearly intended to be played multiple times with The VIsitor and the Kid moving down the table, but each game was so brief that it couldn't catch our attention for that long.

There are things that just make no sense. The entire mechanic for guessing has the Visitor put up their screen and place tokens on/off the board to replicate whether they're getting into the forcefield, even though this mechanic is actually pointless; The Visitor could just as easily give a "yes" or "no" answer to each. 

None of that is to say that Visitor isn't a good game. It's a game that probably needs some reworking to be better, and those who like schlocky alien movies from the 80s are likely to find the premise appealing.

Visitor in Blackwood Grove Review
  • PRO: An interesting take on asymmetrical gameplay with some cooperative elements.
  • PRO: A compelling theme with solid art direction.
  • CON: Just too short to really get into it; the game feels like it's missing some element of challenge.