A review copy of 21 Days was provided by Erik Winkelman. I would like to thank Erik Winkelman for supporting my blog. All thoughts, comments, and pictures herein are my own.
The year is 1903, you have boarded The Esperanza looking for leisure and fun at sea. Instead you find yourself amidst a violent and deadly storm. The vessel and 163 souls are claimed by the sea, you are lucky. You and three other passengers wash ashore the isle of Juan Ansidad. You wait to be rescued, but it soon becomes clear no one is coming. You and your fellow survivors fashion a raft from the wreckage, and brave the waters once again, trying to look for help. You keep a careful account of the adventure in the form of a logbook. Will you survive, or will you join the other passengers of The Esperanza on the ocean floor?
21 Days, designed and self-published (copies can be found here) by Erik Winkelman, is a 1-4 player cooperative, dice driven game of survival. The game plays out over a 21 day period, in which four survivors of the wreckage are vying to stay alive, by any means necessary. Players will face shark attacks, jellyfish attacks, raft deterioration, and many other disasters. Players will work together to overcome these obstacles, try not to lose hope, gather precious resources, and try to signal nearby boats, all in an effort to be rescued.
21 Days is an extremely immersive experience. Erik Winkelman has gone to great lengths to ensure that every possibility has been covered in the 5+ years this game was in development. It drips with theme, from the impending shark attacks, to the monstrous octopus dragging unsuspecting survivors off of the raft. The game is so thematic that it even has it’s own soundtrack to help you set the mood. 21 Days is more than a game, it is an experience. After a playthrough I feel drained, saddened by my lost survivors, and elated at the ones that were saved. Unfortunately, not many make it, this is a tough game. All the elements are against you, yet when, against all odds, you pull off a victory, it feels as if you actually survived something!
The box is not large, but it contains a bunch of components. There are decks of cards including your survivors, bottle cards, the log book, jellyfish cards, and disaster cards. There are token galore. Tokens for the octopus tentacles, the swap location, flip tokens, and hope tokens. Then there are the dice, survivor dice, placement dice, shark dice, octopus dice, and even one for the solo play survivor Scruffs. The box has 2 game boards, one for regular play, and one for the Weather Expanion. Oh, did I forget to mention the hand made bag to hold your tokens in? The components seemed never ending. All of these components then merge into, what has become for me, one of the most enveloping game play experiences that I have had in a long time.
So how exactly does all of this play? Glad you asked. Setup consists of setting up all the cards and tokens that I previously mentioned. Once they tokens and cards have been placed in their appropriate, and well marked, places, you may choose your survivors. There will always be four survivors, one for each color, or class. In solo play you may opt to add Scruff the Dog in place of the Crew survivor. He plays a bit differently, having his own deck of cards to draw from, and not participating in choosing actions. Once all the survivors haven been placed and chosen their respective dice are rolled. Once the dice have been rolled they are then placed on the raft, nearest to their corresponding cards. Each survivor has two dice, they are stacked on top of one another in the order of your choosing. This represents the total strength of the survivor. This die can increase and decrease throughout the game, if it were to decrease below 1, it is removed and the second die is now used. If the second die is ever depleted, that survivor is lost. Each player is also given a hope token, these tokens can be spent to trigger certain actions in the game, and a Flip Token. The Flip Token, well, needs to be flipped, granting the survivor a one time benefit dependent on which side it depicts.
Once the board has been set up play begins. The first order of business is to move the Shark Distance card one step closer. The sharks are closing in on our survivors. If the distance shows “1”, the sharks will attack, this occurs during the evening phase. Before that unpleasantness, we start with the morning phase. The pages of the logbook will outline the events for the day, showing any necessary actions via displayed icons. Once the morning phase has been resolved, as outlined on the card, play moved into the midday phase. During this phase players will choose where to place their survivors for the day, there are 6 available options. The first option is the octopus location, thankfully this can only be chosen when directed by the logbook in the morning phase. The second space is the flare location, where survivors attempt to signal the rescue ship, rolling a six while on this space will move the rescue boat one space closer to your location. The third location is the bottle location. Here you may attempt to look for, or play a bottle card. Often these cards can be beneficial to the survivors. The next location is the swap location, this spot is a fluctuating, as indicated by the logbook, offering players advantages such as shooting a flare, obtaining more hope tokens or bottle cards, often at a discount. The fifth location is the hope location, where survivors may obtain more hope, for every 3 points rolled on a single die, the player may obtain and additional hope token. The last location is the fishing spot, feeding these survivors is important, as it can increase the strength of one or more survivors. After the midday phase we move to the evening phase, spoiler alert, nothing good ever happens at night! First the events listed in the logbook are resolved, then if the shark distance is at 1 they will attack. Sharks attack 4 times targeting different parts of the raft. If you survive all of this, it is on to a new day. The game is won, if you make it to the 21st day with at least one survivor, and are able to signal the rescue boat.
I may have mentioned this before, but it is worth mentioning again. This is a challenging game. My survivors have perished more than they have survived, but I keep coming back to it. I play the game, soundtrack playing, and I become these survivors, trying to make it, clawing to the raft. The game has a lot going on, and that can be overwhelming, especially in the first few games, but it is worth sticking it out, because every part makes sense. The sharks attacking your raft, picking off survivors, makes sense. The octopus dragging players off, the remaining survivors rushing to aide their commrade, makes sense. Looking for something, anything, in the water to help you make it to another day, makes sense. All of these frustrating events can then be punctuated by a disaster befalling our heroes, such as a plank drifting off of the raft, or the rescue boat actually getting further away, all make sense.
The game is well thought out, beautifully illustrated, and maddeningly fun to play. This is a game that I play when I want to live out a story, and feel like I am a part of it. I can construct a narrative to go along with everything that is happening to these poor souls. 21 Days, in my opinion, (which, if you’ve made it this far, is what you’re here for isn’t it?) plays best as a solo game. I strongly recommend this game to solo players looking for a captivating, thematic, gaming experience.
Thanks for joining me this week as I singlehandedly sought to last 21 days at sea! Join me next time, follow me on Twitter, and please, feel free to leave a comment below!
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