The 7th Continent is a narrative-focused adventure game of exploration, discovery, and survival. Drawing inspiration from the choose-your-own-adventure books of the 80s and 90s. This highly thematic game puts players in charge of explorers who recently returned from the first expedition to the mysterious seventh continent. Except, when they get back, they discover they have brought with them a terrible curse.
To lift the curse, the players must return to the continent and retrace their steps to undo their mistakes. But the seventh continent is a dangerous place, where death can come from starvation, injury, perilous terrain, ferocious fauna, and trap-filled temples. Players will need to craft items, hunt for food, and plan for the long term because exploring The 7th Continent is no small undertaking.
When playing a game of The 7th Continent, the first thing you do is choose a curse. This will set your primary goal. The base game comes with three curses of increasing difficulty. Each curse comes with a clue. This could be a map, a symbol, a riddle, something to get you started. It will also give you a starting location. A curse will drop you in a different part of the continent.
Players then choose a character, one of five different explorers with their own unique. Each with their own unique skills, which will be shuffled into the Skills Deck. Depending on the number of players, you will also get dice to use for tracking the uses of any items you craft.
After that, you’re ready to go. This game takes minutes to set up, which is good because it’s going to take hours to play. Each curse will likely take multiple sessions to complete, so make sure your group is committed. That said, it is possible for players to drop out or even join a game already in progress.
Progress And Penalties
Exploring the continent and removing the curse is done with a single game mechanic, repeated constantly throughout the game.
Each round, players select an action on their current location indicated by a white box with an icon that signals the action’s type. To successfully complete the action, draw a number of cards from the Action Deck and add up the number of star symbols on the right-hand side of the card. The number of stars required for an action depends on its difficulty. Some will require more than others, and some actions limit how many cards must be drawn. The players can draw as many cards as they think they will need in order to succeed.
Success means resolving the action’s rewards. This might mean discarding a hazard, crafting an item, revealing more of the map, or moving to a new location. If the test fails, the players must resolve penalties such as gaining negative conditions, damaging and discarding items or banishing a card from the game.
So why not draw fifty cards for each test to guarantee success? The action deck is also your life force. Buried in the deck are several purple curse cards. When you first run through the deck, these cards have no effect (other than granting no stars for skill tests), but if ever the Action Deck becomes empty. You must reshuffle it into a new, more deadly Action Deck. If you draw a single curse card during action with this discard Action Deck, you all die, and the adventure is over!
It might feel like the action deck presents a hard time limit on the game, there are many ways to prolong your expedition to the continent. There are many ways to prolong your expedition to the continent. When the test ends, succeed or fail, one character involved in the action may add one of the revealed cards to their hand. As well as stars for action resolution, Action cards represent craftable items, skills, and special actions, all of which will help the explorers survive longer.
Skill cards can be played to turn failures into successes. Items can be crafted to make your actions more efficient. When you find food, it can be eaten to shuffle cards from the discard pile back into the Action Deck. There’s also an experienced mechanic that lets you spend experience points on advanced skills that get added to your Action Deck, making it bigger and stronger.
Of course, food can run out. Items break after too many uses, and the limited hand sizes stop you from hoarding too many resources. There’s a curse to remove, after all.
The design of The 7th Continent is elegantly simple. Almost the entire game is made up of cards. These might be player cards, showing your character and what they can do. Action cards showing skills and craftable items. Negative conditions which slow your progress and deplete your life force. Map tiles that build the game board. Points of interest for you to interact with. Treasures you find, the food you catch, beasts you fight, the list is endless, but all of these features are included on the same square cards that fit neatly into storage trays in the modest-sized box.
In addition, the art on the cards is part of the game although most of the game is based around the action mechanic. If you see animal tracks on the map, you can follow them to good hunting spots. Some traps present visual puzzles the players must solve mazes, riddles, and spot-the-difference. If you spot a hidden number cunningly concealed on a card, you can switch it out with the matching numbered card to see what your keen eyes have uncovered. The game rewards common sense and intuition in a way that can be really satisfying.
A Long Journey
One of the best and worst things about The 7th Continent is how long it takes to play. A simple save system makes the game very easy to pack away, but the next time you return to your adventure, you will have to re-explore a lot of the terrain all over again. This can have the benefit of repopulating previously exhausted hunting spots, but it also forces you to re-tread old ground and risk new randomised threats. Choosing the right moment to pack the game away is as important as how you play it.
The biggest issue with the length is if, after playing for 5+ hours, you get a run of bad luck and draw one of those deadly curse cards. This brings the campaign to an abrupt and unceremonious end which can be a little anticlimactic. The game does offer easier modes that grant second chances.
The 7th Continent is an incredible feat of game design. The art is beautiful, but also functional, hiding clues and allowing players to make educated deductions. The simple, repetitive mechanics make it easy to teach. There’s just enough randomness to keep it interesting as you return to the continent to remove the next curse.
That said, because so much of the continent is predetermined, playing the same quest twice will not offer as much variety as more heavily randomised campaigns. The map won’t change from game to game.
The more you visit the continent, the more you can learn which areas to avoid. It might affect replayability, but it also means you get the satisfaction of feeling like a real explorer when you get to use knowledge of past expeditions to help you succeed.
The 7th Continent puts you in the shoes of an explorer who must plunder the land’s depths with a mix of courage, intellect, luck, and determination. But the game’s most impressive achievement is that, if you want to succeed, you have to become the explorer yourself.