Now or Never is the third instalment in Red Raven Games' Arzium storybook series, following Above and Below and Near and Far.
20 years ago, a meteorite full of monsters landed near your village, the Monument, and drove you from your home. Now those monsters are dying, and it is time to take back and rebuild. Before others get there before you!
Setup And gameplay
Now or Never consists of several boards, tokens, cards, and markers. At the start of a game, each player receives a number of coins, two specialists, and eight Quest Cards of which you keep four. Each player also randomly lays out their 20 Building Tiles in a 5x4 grid.
A game is played across six seasons where you take turns doing either Specialist Actions or Hero Actions until all players pass.
Specialist Actions require you to pay and flip over a specialist on either your or another player's Hero Board or hire a new one. Specialists can build buildings, fill up your hearts, give experience, mana, or resources, or let you buy gear.
To do Hero Actions, you must spend a movement arrow and move spaces up to their number on the map. After this, you can play a Quest Card if you are in the right location and meet its criteria. Finally, you may visit a location, fight an enemy, or search.
At game end, you gain points from the coin value of resources produced by your buildings and villagers, the placement of your buildings and distribution of your villagers, your completed Quest Cards, and certain other tokens and trackers.
The game gives you the choice of four heroes. Each hero is slightly different in terms of its movement arrows, starting abilities, and amount of mana and hearts. Additionally, each hero has unique Hero Abilities that can be bought with experience.
Building Your Town
Your first building must come from the outer border of your grid. After that, you can only build buildings that are adjacent to empty spaces in the grid. On the Town Board, your first building has to be placed in the bottom row, and subsequent buildings must be placed adjacent to another building. A lot of buildings produce resources between seasons, and they can house villagers who do so too.
If you land on a space with a Search token, you can lose d4 hearts to gain the token's resources.
Alternatively, if you play Story Mode, you instead get to hear a story depending on your location, chapter, and hero. There are six chapters in total, each with its own conflicts.
Typically, stories will set up a situation and give you two options of how to react. You pick one and try to meet its skill rating with a combination of a d4 roll and hearts. Rewards usually consist of resources, villagers, or reputation.
When you fight a monster, you roll a d4 to see which ability/piece of gear you use and how much damage you deal, and you lose as many hearts as the monster's attack. You continue these actions until either you or the monster runs out of hearts, or you decide to retreat.
Experience And Replayability
I have really enjoyed playing Now or Never, both with and without Story Mode. I love games with a set length, and I love the large variety of possible actions every turn. Of course, towards the end of the game when you are running out of time to make sure you have enough coins to pay enough specialists to build enough buildings, that's when the potential analysis paralysis begins.
However, as someone who has lost every single Now or Never game I have played, I can attest that the game is perfectly fun if you do not optimise your turns and instead mostly want to fight monsters and read stories. During Story Mode, I particularly liked how the stories are character specific. Even if the challenges and encounters are often similar, it adds an extra level of engagement and it makes each hero's playthrough different.
I also liked the story as a whole, how the heroes are set up in the first chapter and how each chapter brings new obstacles and dangers. Often this affects gameplay by adding additional winning conditions, special gear, or villagers. Two chapters even use the underground sides of the Town Board and map, which have different location actions and different effects on how you build your town.
When played without stories, the game is similar to Islebound, as you travel about to different locations to use their actions and use specialists to build your town. The high number of different actions, as well as the different board sides mentioned above, means that even if you play through the campaign with every hero, the game is still both highly replayable and very fun.
I cannot stress enough that you do not need to have played the first two Arzium storybook games to play Now or Never. But as I know this is a series with many fans, I wanted to touch on what kind of experience to expect in comparison to the earlier games.
Now or Never's focus is specifically the rebuilding and repopulation of the Monument. When you travel across the map when you fight monsters or interact with stories, that remains the focus. Most of the stories are about the mystery of the meteorite that caused your character to leave their home, about saving people from monsters, and about protecting the Monument from new outside forces that would threaten it.
Despite the movement around a map, this is not a big journey of exploration and wide-reaching plot like in Near and Far. The stories and their options and resolutions are more similar to those of Above and Below in scope, but longer and with the addition of hero specific angles and concluding lines.
Like In Above And Below
Most of your points come from your buildings and resources. However, the way this works is completely different in Now or Never, again in a way that suits its focus. You gain points from having built a town that can produce and continue to produce, resources, not from how you have accumulated resources throughout the game. I personally think this is a really cool way of retaining a similar feel and mechanic while making it its own thing within the new context.
Creatures known from the previous games show up in Now or Never but are used in different ways. Two examples of this are how pack birds are used as gear that increases your movement, and how the glogos show up in the stories. I love that while Now or Never has a different story, it is still thoroughly the same universe. And the ever-beautiful art helps to maintain this, too.
Now or Never is both a good game in and of itself and a worthy sequel to previous Arzium storybook games. It retains a lot of similar mechanics, but most have been given a new spin or context.
If you play in Story Mode, the new storyline is interesting and progresses steadily throughout the chapters towards a satisfying conclusion. And if you play without the stories or play the stories so many times you learn them by heart, you still have a perfectly fun and rewarding game at hand. I recommend this game to fans of story games, and fans of games with a lot of different actions per turn.