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Visitor in Blackwood Grove Review


Quick Look:


Designer:  Mary Flanagan, Max Seidman
Artist:  Maggie Chiang, Jack Hagley
Publisher: Resonym
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 3-6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 5-15 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

From the publisher:  A spacecraft crashes in Blackwood Grove, and the Kid is the only one watching. Federal Agents hunt down the signal, but no one can get near the craft due to its crushing forcefield. Why can some objects pass through it, but others are repelled? Hiding in the craft, the Visitor hopes the Kid can figure out the rule before the Agents and help it escape. The agents want to dissect the Visitor and keep the ship.

Visitor in Blackwood Grove is an asymmetric, two-versus-many, inductive-reasoning game in which one player — the Visitor — makes up a secret rule like "Things that contain metal" to determine which objects can pass through the forcefield. The other players — the Agents and the Kid — try to figure out the rule by seeing which objects pass through the forcefield and which don't. The Agents secretly test cards from their hands to learn what passes the rule and what doesn't. The Kid tries to predict which cards will pass the rule, and she builds trust with the Visitor if she’s right.

***

As I sat staring at the cards that made it through the Visitor's forcefield, someone at the table said what all the Agents were thinking:


"I can't think of a condition where a horse, meteor, and a pizza would all pass through the forcefield."

The Visitor smirked and offered a shrug. They had done their job and created a pass condition for the forcefield that was a mystery to the agents, but seemingly evident to the Kid.

The Visitor's player card.
The Kid began to boast about how obvious the pass condition was. They may have been bluffing at that point in the round, but the Agents weren't going to have a chance to find out. 

The Agents continued the round, secretly sliding their object cards to the visitor for inspection - each of them finding that their objects did not pass through the forcefield until the last one.

The Visitor carefully reviewed the last Agent's card with a picture of a piece of pie and placed it within the forcefield, and as the common thread started to emerge an expression of "Eureka" was shared among the Agents.

Heat. Or at least something related to it.

The Kid announced that they were going to prove the condition and flipped four new cards from the draw deck - a chair, a telescope, fruit, a flag.

"These all fail to pass through." they proclaimed.

And they were right. The Visitor and Kid had won. Heat, specifically things warmer than room temperature, was the secret condition.

As with all the groups I played with, most players at least feigned knowledge of the condition at the end of  game.


And as with all the groups I played with, everyone wanted to play again. Roles were changed and cards dealt.

"I can see this being a game we play while we wait for the others to get to the table and start [a heavier title]," said one of the players, and the others nodded in their agreement.

I agree, too.

Based on what made it through the forcefield, can you guess the condition?

Now that you can see what didn't make it through, is it any easier? (Hint: think place in history.)

Going into this review, I had only a vague understanding of the game, but was excited from what I had seen online (which was basically only the theme and most basic of mechanisms). And after several plays, I admittedly was surprised by this game.

I envisioned Visitor as a game that I could play with my family.

And it was. The game is quite image heavy so it made playing with a young child easier than, say, a text-on-card game that required a lot of reading. So no surprise there.

I had also envisioned Visitor as a game that served as a subversive educational tool - a kind of educational Trojan Horse that was disguised as a game. And it definitely does that. Visitor is basically a game of if/then conditional statements. Kids are learning basic coding principles without knowing that's what they're doing. More on this below, but since I had hoped this was the case, the educational benefit wasn't the surprise.

No, what was surprising to me was how much the adults - the groups of self-proclaimed "serious gamers" - enjoyed this game. In every instance that I played with a group of adults, they wanted to play again...and again.

The Kid's turn actions outlined on the player card.
 So we would, and as soon as a game would end, roles would change - often based on someone really wanting to play the role of the Kid or Visitor - and cards were dealt.

I was surprised that this game that I picked for review initially because of the educational benefits I foresaw for my children, was quickly cementing itself into the game-between-game choice among my differing gaming groups. But in hindsight, I can see why.

Visitor plays quickly  - there were games that lasted less than 5 minutes, most played in around 10 minutes, and none were over 15 minutes.

Visitor can be challenging (or not) - ultimately the game is as challenging as the player playing as the Visitor chooses to make it. If every condition was limited to things that are cold, or something similarly simple, it wouldn't have been received by the adults as well as it wash. But since the Visitor can create their own condition, we had gems like "things that can kill you" and "things that can be used to kill you" - both of which sparked lively conversations upon reveal.

Visitor is a shot of nostalgia - E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter, Lilo & Stitch, Gremlins, Earth to Echo - we've grown up watching kids befriend and/or protect aliens and Visitor allows us to take on that role.

Overall, I liked Visitor for what I thought it was, and for what it turned out to be. It's a light title for sure, but can offer quite a challenge, with a heavy does of nostalgia, in only 5 minutes. It's one that I will play again...and again.

***
For those that have grown accustomed to the usual format, here is a high-level overview, including
critique of the above information and further explanation of rules and game play.

Review:

Rules and Game Play:
I wont go into the step-by-step minutia of the rules (the complete rule book can be found here if you want to read it) but game play can be summarized as one player taking on the role of the Visitor, one player taking on the role as the Kid, and the remaining players playing as Agents. The Visitor secretly creates a condition in which objects will pass through the forcefield. The Kid and Agents test the pass condition by showing a card to the Visitor - the Agents in secret, the Kid publicly - to see what passes through and what is blocked by the forcefield. Once a player thinks they have solved the condition, they select four cards from the top of the draw pile and classify each as pass/fail. If they classify them correctly, they win.

The FBI Agent player card.


Agents test their cards in secret. Objects that would make it through the forcefield are aligned on the edge of the forcefield, while those that would not are placed outside. The Agent's token goes on top of the cards so that they can revisit their cards throughout the game.
Mechanisms:
  • Partnerships
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Press your luck 
The Kid's Trust Board. The game gets easier for the Kid as trust builds between the Kid and Visitor.

Artwork and Components:

I liked the art and variance of all the different objects. There are enough cards that you could play several times without seeing the same cards.

The objects cards do not come with any text, so it is up to the eye of the beholder to determine what the object is and whether it would pass the condition. That being said, since there isn't text on the cards, players must rely on the clues in the picture, and for players with color-impairments, this may be a challenge. Especially if the condition is based on a color.

Examples of the object cards.
The components are good quality and will likely hold-up for several plays without issue. The object cards are smaller than a standard playing card and this makes them difficult to shuffle sometimes, but not a deal breaker by any means.

The Good:
There is a lot of good about this game. It can be as challenging, or as easy, as the player playing the role of the Visitor chooses to make it. I played with several different ages, and the game was easily adjusted to each skill level.

Players can use one of the provided condition cards, or create their own.
The game plays quickly, so it is an ideal candidate if you are looking for a quick light game between heavier titles.

Finally, the game is a great subversive learning tool for kids. This game helps in developing critical thinking and laying the ground work for skills necessary for things like coding. I've praised games in the past for their use of pattern recognition, and I'll continue to do so with Visitor. Pattern recognition is a big part of this game and developing pattern recognition in children is shown to boost math comprehension, creativity, memory, and critical thinking skills. So, play Visitor and make your kids smarter. 

The Bad:
The only complaint I heard from the players is that the winner didn't necessarily have to know the condition in order to win. There were instances were the player assigned the four cards as pass or fail, got them right, and only then discovered that their solution to the condition was not close to the actual condition as assigned by the Visitor. This only happened a few times, but it was met with some eye-rolls when it did.

Final Thoughts:
I liked Visitor for what I thought it was, and for what it turned out to be. The adults enjoyed as much, if not more, than the kids. I enjoyed the scalability of difficulty, and being able to play the same game in the same way with vastly different age groups and enjoying it with all of them.

I also really like the fact that there is deduction and bluffing, and pattern recognition and a dash of luck all rolled into a potentially 5-minute game. You can find quick games, and you can find good games, but those two don't always overlap. In the case of Visitor in Blackwood Grove it does, and it does it well.

Players Who Like: Quick fillers, deduction games, kid and alien buddy films in pop culture.



Check out Visitor in Blackwood Grove on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/231223/visitor-blackwood-grove   https://resonym.com/game/visitor/   https://www.facebook.com/resonym/   https://twitter.com/resonym  https://www.instagram.com/theresonym/  https://www.amazon.com/Resonym-Visitor-Blackwood-Grove-Board/dp/B07G2RWM5Q/ref=lp_14959864011_1_5?srs=14959864011&ie=UTF8&qid=1535550194&sr=8-5

About the Author:
Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. You can follow what Nick is playing on Twitter at @ndshipley
Visitor in Blackwood Grove Review Visitor in Blackwood Grove Review Reviewed by Nicholas Shipley on September 12, 2018 Rating: 5

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