This review was originally written and posted by me on Ameritrash.nl
Just your luck. You were finally able to go on a cruise and relax, when all of the sudden your ships sinks! Together with three other survivors you find yourself on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Now you'll need to survive, for 21 days to be precize! Will you be saved or will you die trying? Just keep reading the logbook....
Cooperative Play / Dice rolling / storytelling / Variable Player Powers
In 21 days, the players are on a raft after their ship has sunk (actually the players find the log of four survivors of a shipwreck and relive the last 21 days of these survivors).
The goal of the game is simple. At the end of the 21st day, at least one of the survivors on the raft must be alive. If this happens, you win the game. If all survivors drowned or were eaten by sharks then you lose the game.
Before the game can start, some things have to be done. To start with, the game board is placed in the middle of the table. On the right side of the board, a shark card is placed partially under the board. Only a part of the shark card remains visible.
Both the deck of disaster cards and the deck of jellyfish cards are created and placed on the board at the appropriate places. The deck of logbook cards is also created. The bottom card will always be the 'day 21' card, but a combination of mandatory and randomly drawn cards will be used to form the rest of the 21-card stack. The top card of the deck is revealed and is placed on the left space on the board. On the right space the rest of the deck is placed. The top card of the deck is always revealed. This way you can always see the events of the current day and of tomorrow.
At the center of the board you build the raft which consists of a number of loose parts. The raft always starts with four openings, which represent where the survivors are on the raft. Per survivor you throw two dice (of the same color) and you place the lower die on top of the higher die. For each survivor the total value of both dice is his strength. The value of the visible die represents his visible strength. The survivor with the highest strength is placed on left top of the raft. The survivor with the lowest strength is placed at the right bottom of the raft. The other two are placed between these two survivors.
During the game several effects may force you to destroy parts of the raft. If both parts surrounding a survivor are destroyed, the survivor falls of the raft and drowns.
The raft during the game. The dice around the raft are placed on locations
Each player takes one of the character cards in the same color of his dice (either by choice or random). If you’re playing a solo game you can either play with 4 characters or with 3 characters and the dog Scruff. With two players each player plays with two characters. The player(s) also get an additional die in the same color and one token per character. Players flip this token in the beginning of the game which determines a one-use ability for this game.
Each player also receives two hope tokens. The rest of the hope tokens is placed besides the board as supply. Once the boat is placed on the board, players are ready to start! When placing the boat you can determine the difficulty for the game. The nearer to the end spaces makes for an easier game.
When you’re on a raft every day appears to be the same. Waking up, surviving and trying to get some sleep. It’s not surprising therefore that 21 Days knows a fixed turn order. Each round (day) is played as follows:
- Shark phase
- Morning phase
- Afternoon phase
- Evening phase
- Attack phase
- Logbook phase.
The right side of the board shows the shark card which is partially hidden under the board. The shark card shows several consecutive numbers. These numbers represent the distance between the raft and the sharks. Whenever the shark card shows the 1 (during the attack phase) the sharks have reached the raft and they attack the players. At the beginning of the round (shark phase) you move the shark card one number closer to 1.
The log book on the right side of the board will show two revealed logbook cards at all times. The card on the left represents the current day, the card on the right represents the next day. This way players can anticipate the coming events for the current round and the next one.
The morning phase of the game brings us the events of the morning. To determine if anything happen you check the top part of the current logbook card. When there are multiple events taking place you execute these in order (from top to bottom). Events that might happen include placing a new location card, survivors falling of the raft and trying to swim back whilst fighting against jellyfish or the rescue boat sailing off.
Two logbook cards from the second week. The symbols show you which events will take place.
During the afternoon the players are at their best. This is the time to plan and execute your actions. After discussing their option with each other, each player determines where he wants to place his action die. No rolling the dice yet, because after each player has placed his die the locations are executed in order. When a location has a die it is rolled and the action is executed.
The board shows the following locations:
- rescue boat: at this location you try to get the attention of a nearby rescue boat. To do so, you throw the dice at this location (maximum of 3). For each 6 rolled, you may move the rescue boat one space closer to your location. The last space on this track cannot be reached before the end of the game. Should you reach it before the end of the game the player receive one hope token per survivor. The boat however remains at the space before your location. If there are 3 dice at this location, every 1 rolled forces the players to move the ship one space further away from their location.
- Message in a bottle: You can either get or use a message in a bottle at this location. If you want to get or use must be determined when placing your action die. When the action is executed you roll your die. An even number of eyes on your die counts as a success when you wanted to get a card, an uneven number of eyes on your die is a success when using a previously gained message card. But if you roll an uneven number of eyes when your wanted to get a card, you’re not successful.
Every survivor may have 1 message card at any given time. Until a survivor has used his message - card, he may not attempt to get another card.
- Changing locations: this location will change during the game. Every time this symbol shows up on the logbook card you randomly draw another location card and place it on the board. Each location offers you a different action. Amongst the actions are a turtle (which lets you collect hope tokens), a message in a bottle ( guaranteeing a message card) and a flaregun which lets you use hope tokens to draw attention of the ship.
Another one of these locations is the dolphin. A dolphin can’t be chosen when placing your die, but it gives you a permanent advantage when it is in play. If the dolphin is in play you may (for 3 hope tokens) turn a die result around if you don’t like the first result (turning a 1 into a six for instance). The only locations the dolphin is unable to help you are the shark and the octopus.
- The hope location: All dice here are rolled together and the values are added. For every three eyes the dice show 1 hope token is gained. The players may divide these tokens in any way they see fit, with one condition. Only players at this location may gain hope tokens. The hope tokens are drawn randomly. Some of them contain a +1 giving them the ability to raise the value of a die.
- Fishing: Only one die may be placed here. Depending on the result when rolled one or more characters gain +1 on their visible value.
Once all locations have been activated and all actions have been executed the afternoon is over and we enter the evening phase. Just like during the morning the logbook card will show you if any events happen during the evening. Several times a disaster will happen during the evening. If the disaster symbol is present on the lower part of the logbook card you draw a disaster card and execute it. Disasters can be very game changing and you might not always like what you get. In order to avoid a disaster from taking place, you may a certain number of hope token as shows on the disaster card to avoid the effect from taking place.
During the attack phase the shark will attack you if it is in range. After the shark has attacked the players we end the round with a logbook phase. During this face you place the logbook card on the right to the left (basically tomorrow becomes today) and a new card is revealed on the right.
The biggest threats on the raft are without doubt the octopus and the sharks which will attack you during the game. The octopus attacks whenever the logbook card tells you. When the octopus attack the active player must place one of his action dice on the octopus location. This is a location just like any of the other locations, with the exception that you can’t choose this location. After all dice have been placed during the afternoon phase you’ll start executing your locations/actions with the octopus. The active player rolls the die placed on the octopus. If the value of the die doesn’t match on of his tentacles the octopus remains asleep and the other players may execute their actions.
However, if the octopus wakes up he will attack all characters. Per character a die is rolled. If the result is higher than the visible strength of a character the tentacle grabs the character, who may defend himself. To successfully escape from the grip of a tentacle the characters rolls his die. If the result is equal to the value of the octopus die, the character breaks free. Of not, the character loses one visible strength. Should the character roll higher, he cuts of a tentacle of the octopus. This tentacle won’t harm the players any more.
This process is repeated for all eight tentacles. Once the players have engaged in a fight with the octopus the may not perform any other actions this turn.
The octopus is coming for you!
The shark attacks if the shark card shows the 1 at the beginning of the attack phase or because an event on a logbook card tells you. If the 1 is visible on the shark card, the shark will attack 4 times. Per attack a dice will be rolled to determine where the sharks will attack (and which survivor is attacked). A second die is rolled and if the result of this second die is higher than the visible strength of the survivor he loses 1 visible strength. This process is repeated four times.
The only difference between a regular attack and an attack announced on the logbook card is the number of times the sharks will attack.
During the game an event may cause a survivor to fall of the raft and end up between several jellyfish trying to climb on the raft again. Whenever this happens a jellyfish card is drawn and the top die from the survivor is placed on the card. The card shows several fields which the survivor must pass to swim to and climb up the raft again. For each field a die is rolled. If it matched what is shown on the field nothing happens, if it doesn’t the survivor loses one visible strength.
Both jellyfish cards and disastercards are discarded after they’re used, but may get shuffled back into the deck during the game. This way you van encounter the same disaster or jellyfish card multiple times during a game. Messages in a bottle cards are discarded as well, but will never re-enter the game.
At the beginning of the game a tokens is flipped for every character, determining which ability they may use. Each character card also shows an ability. Abilities on a character card may be used several times during the game (as described), the ability on the flip token may only be used once during the game.
Two of the character cards, the one at the bottom being Scruffs
The last day on the raft (day 21) is basically the same as every other day. However at the beginning of the day (round) each survivor loses one strength. If you survive this, the round will continue. No actions may be executed anymore, your last hope is shouting for help. Each 2 hope tokens lets you shoot a flare. But what if you have hope tokens left? In that case, you really need to start shouting…. (shouting costs 2 strength per shout). If the rescue boat reaches you and at least one survivor is alive, you win the game. If everyone died, you lose.
When playing the game solo you basically play the same game, but instead of two characters you now play all four characters. But you can also choose to play with Scruffs, a dog which replaces one of the characters on the raft. Scruffs is represented by one die on the third field on the raft.
Each round scruffs begins with a strength of 5 or 6 you may draw one of the Scruff-cards. This card will show a dice-challenge. If you roll the die and are successful you’ll gain the advantage mentioned on the card. If not, the card is discarded (you may never use the effect of the dolphin on a Scruffs-challenge by the way).
Scruffs cards must be completely resolved before the next scruffs card enters play. So if a card is in effect for several round, you’ll have to wait till it is discarded after use before drawing a new card. Scruffs does not have an action die.
The rescue boat approaches your location.
I’ve played a prototype of 21 Days which was almost ready for its Kickstarter-debut. Because it was a prototype I can’t comment on the quality of the components, the finalized artwork and the price of the game.
But I can comment on the gameplay. 21 Days contains several nice mechanisms which come together pretty well. The sharks chasing you, falling of the raft of fatigue and swimming for your life to reach the raft again and the raft getting smaller and smaller really add to the theme and immersion in the game. There will be certain moment during the game where you actually feel quite hopeless, afraid for the danger which lies around every corner.
But at its core 21 Days is a dice game and as we can expect from a dice game it is quite random. This is a game which doesn’t want to be a strategical masterpiece and doesn’t need you to be a strategical mastermind. At the beginning of each day you’ll asses the dangers which are the biggest and try to tactically place your dice as best as you can. You have little energy, so where will you use it? Do you want to gain some extra strength, is they rescue boat to far away or will you gamble on a message in a bottle. These are the decision you’ll need to make every turn. You knowing what will happen the next turn ensures that the game doesn’t turn into a complete luckfest.
One of the aspects of the game I hadn’t seen before is the dice-representation for a survivor, using both a visible strength and a total strength. It can be a bit fiddly at times, but all in all it gives the players exactly what they want. During the games you’ll lose eyes on the character-dice and in this way you see you character getting weaker and weaker due to fatigue and hunger. This in combination with the raft getting smaller and smaller gives us a unique view on life on a raft. It definitively beats a character sheet with tokens. The raft itself looked great in the prototype so I’m really curious about the end result!
When I played the game I definitely got a solo vibe. Even when playing without knowing you can feel this game was originally intended as a solo game unlike so many other games which only developed a solo variant afterwards. But make no mistakes, it’s really enjoyable as a two-player game as well. But why not 3 or 4 players, since this is a cooperative game? Besides the downtime (you basically do nothing when the other player has its turn) which would be relatively long, I would suggest playing it with more than 2 players due to the nature of the game itself. Each time you want to perform an action the roll of a die will determine if you’re successful or not. I you’re only using one character (because there are three other players) and you’re not successful this might feel quite frustrating, because basically you have no influence on the game at all. Playing alone or with two players decreases the chances for such a round. The Scruffs variant isn’t necessary, but offers some extra variation and replayability.
I do see some aspects which could be improved before the game hits Kickstarter. The rules for example. Not a big problem since I only played a prototype, but they could be clearer and in some cases it wouldn’t hurt to state the obvious.
The graphic design of cards could be improved as well. In my version of the game it wasn’t always clear when an event had to take place due to the symbol being all over the place. The designer of the game already told me this issue was being addressed, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt :-)
21 Days will appear on Kickstarter any day now. And in my opinions it turned out to be a quick and nice dice game for both 1 and 2 players. Everyone interested in dice games (and the appropriate amount of randomness) or those interested in life on a raft in open sea, should definitely check this one out!
Ameritrash.nl thanks Erik Winkelman for providing the prototype version of the game. This game will launch on Kickstarter on June 24,
Kickstarter is live.
Very nice review. Liked the detailed conclusion.
I hope the designer will offer some variant (or update rules) to help fight the dice randomness.