Making a modern board game these days is no simple task. The standards are high and the expectations are even higher. Behind the scenes, the process can take years for design and development alone. Afterwards, you have to have a publisher willing to take a risk on that game, integrate artwork, manufacture, and handle fulfillment. Finally, it goes to trial in the unforgiving court of public opinion.
Some games, they immediately break through these barriers, often making it look easy, while others are relegated to obscurity, gathering dust in dark warehouses. Innumerable factors can add up to either success or…the alternative. To say I was surprised was an understatement when I found out that a new game not only did this successfully, but also included dinosaurs, and a second game in the box, and the promise of two more games to come, and that all of the games tell an engaging, coherent story? I was pretty sure Mindclash Games had lost their collective minds; I still think they may have. These are some pretty lofty goals, but they seem to have shot for the moon and landed with aplomb with their new project Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles.
The Perseverance project was an opportunity for Mindclash Games to continue showing off its pedigree of rich decision spaces with themes that makes perfect sense and mechanics that reward the players for doing what they want to do. Mindclash has always had a wonderful ability to develop games that live in euro mechanisms, but are as thematic as any well-written novel and tell just as epic of a story.
The dust from the Kickstarter campaign for Perseverance is just starting to settle after an astonishing $750,000+ was raised by excited gamers during a global pandemic. Mindclash Games has a history of successful Kickstarter campaigns including: Trickerion, Cerebria, and Anachrony, as well as individual campaigns for expansions. They have always taken care to fulfill successfully both in terms of logistics and customer satisfaction. With the most recent campaign finishing, it promises two things: smooth fulfillment once again, and more excitingly, another campaign to follow with two more games in this series projected for next year.
While not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here is why I am excited. As mentioned, the box for Perseverance includes two complete games that share a history, part of which can be shaped by the player. While this isn’t a legacy experience, the stories do go in a chronological order. Episode 1 begins this epic as your luxury cruise liner crashes on a beach and survivors have to establish a camp and fight off waves of dinosaurs. Players will compete to build walls to defend against the invading dinos, build traps to protect the walls, and there will have to be some players brave enough to stand in front of the oncoming prehistoric aggressors—face to face. Episode 2 starts about a year after this initial struggle. By this time, the encampment on the beach has been established and the survivors are beginning to go further into the wilds; exploring for supplies and cementing their presence on the island. This will allow for future generations to expand their dominance over the dinos by starting to capture and train those that they can.
Throughout both games a wonderful narrative develops of who did the most to protect the survivors from the plight they might face in this dangerous world. This allows for intrigue and story to develop out of the game play, rather than forcing narrative onto players in the form of events or legacy elements. They aren’t needed here since the narrative is so clear from the actions players take. If you have ever wanted to watch a game tell a story without words then all you need to do is pay attention. You will be given every opportunity to feel clever.
We won’t be spending a lot of time talking about specific mechanisms but both games work similarly in the big picture. At the start of the round several dice are rolled, then players will take turns drafting the available dice and all available actions to them. Once dice are rolled they will be primarily used for the actions they show but this does not take agency away from the
player. You will have the opportunity to mitigate rolls, which isn’t always necessary since no face of the die are less useful than another. Speaking of agency, players are empowered to feel brave by pressing their luck with outcome cards. Since you are moving soldiers in the game, that are empirically not the character you are playing, you are now presented with the opportunity to be magnanimous and safe with your people or you can willfully submit a human sacrifice for Valor—or more likely—supplies. Instead of adventuring, you can always influence one of the leaders bringing in an element of political intrigue to the game, especially because timing your influence with a leader is crucial. At a certain point in the game, you start to feel like someone living in a dinosaur version of Game of Thrones.
What impressed me most about handling the game in this way is that the mechanics inform the narrative and vice versa. As an example: in Episode 1, initially you will want to avoid placing your people in line with the onslaught of angry dinos. Then after a couple short turns this narrative starts to reverse and you are encouraged to start standing up to your oppressors. This will help complete patrol cards which grant boons needed for the continued survival of those on the beach.
You can start to see the story develop in the earliest stages of the game. As soon as the boat crashes and people start congregating to devise a plan, they are attacked by dinosaurs and immediately try to avoid them (good call). Shortly there after, players start to hunt the beasts in an effort to both protect themselves as well as accumulate some much needed provisions. This even supports the resources and end game narrative as you are often rewarded with story tokens (essentially telling the tale of the heroes that risked their lives to help the other survivors). This all makes sense as it smooths the proverbial weld lines of narrative and gameplay to the point where they nearly disappear and you are left with an actual experience in the end; a story of your own that you got to share with others.
The art and components all lend themselves to this immersive experience. The dinos are plastic minis while the soldiers you command are cardboard standees (these will be plastic minis for the final version). With just a glance, you can clearly see where the number of dinos are getting out of control and where your defenses are shored up adequately. Traps and walls are clearly visible as well as what actions will be available on your next turn. Even the player aid cards are simple to follow yet robust enough where you do not need to reference the rules every turn.
I did find Episode 1 more cutthroat than Episode 2 since there are more opportunities to upset the plans of other players. This was appreciated since narratively the survivors would be under tremendous stress once they landed. They would be selfish, clumsy, and on occasion, underhanded. Episode 2 brings a lot more serenity to the story, likely due to the relief of stress from the first year on the island. Inhabitants are now established on the beach. They have a wall separating them from the dangers of the island and they have started to learn how to use the beasts and the environment to their advantage. This comes through as more of a sandbox in gameplay since you can follow whatever path you like. Want to train dinos to do your work for you? Okay. Want to go hunting and trapping in the wilds? You do you, boo.
Perhaps most ambitious of all is what will tie all the games together—Chronicle Mode. While Chronicle Mode isn’t finished yet, the goals are a testament to how Mindclash approaches design: replayability, progression, and asymmetry. Purpose, direction, and teaching the rules while telling a story. The full campaign will consist of 8 games, all four episodes playing each episode through the beginner rules, and full rules of each game, leading players through the learning curve of the Episodes while also weaving them together narratively. You will be able to play chronicle mode with Episodes one and two immediately, and the campaign can either be wrapped up after Episode two or continued with Episode three and four as soon as they are out.
Mindclash put it best: “As an aspiring leader, your goal is to prove yourself to the city of Perseverance, and, maybe even more importantly, to the Officers’ Council. As you work on establishing the city, you will be able to earn prestigious Titles as your reputation grows, but with reputation also comes responsibility! Whenever you gain Titles or accomplish the tasks they come with, you earn Glory, allowing you to unlock various Perks and ultimately win the Chronicle mode”.
Even though the title suggests otherwise, this game is effortless to love. This is an ambitious project for many reasons, not least of which is the notion of making four games with the same DNA running through them, tying both the story and the mechanics together to make players comfortable and excited about bringing this to the table again and again. That comfort is made even more accessible with the option to use the introductory game rules to make the initial plays more approachable while still having the rich decision making space of the full game. Everything about this project invites players in to its world, and I am here for it.
Perhaps the most fun of all is how Mindclash leaves room for speculation about the coming games. Episode 1 sits strongly as a tower defense style game while Episode 2 is more of a sandbox strategy game. Will Episodes 3 and 4 also be different genres while expanding on this detailed story arc? Which direction will Mindclash take us next? Will humans continue to assert their dominance and learn to ride dinos as to use them against other attackers? Are there other inhabitants on this island? Will the survivors ever find a way back home? Do they even want to return to where they began? And the most important question: will the survivors create a civilization strong enough to last years, decades, or generations?
I, for one, can’t wait to find out. Mostly because I want to ride a pterodactyl.
*Board Game Squad received a prototype copy of this game for preview purposes. See their Kickstarter for more infomation, details about the final product, and access to the pledge manager for late backers.
If you’re curious to see how the game plays, I recommend checking out Paul Grogan’s Tutorial and Playthrough on YouTube: