Visitor in Blackwood Grove: An Alien Assumption
An alien ship has crash-landed in the forest outside of town. Agents have been tracking the craft and rush to the scene, hoping to dissect the Visitor and seize its craft. But a local Kid has also ridden her bike out to the wreck to save the Visitor. Who will make it through the ship’s force field first?
That’s the premise behind the Visitor in Blackwood Grove, an unusual deduction game for 3-6 players from Resonym. Players take on the roles of the Visitor, the Kid, and one or more Agents. The Visitor creates a rule for what can pass through the force field, and the Kid and Agent(s) race to be the first to “prove” that rule.
Players each choose a role; the role of the Visitor is the most challenging, the Agents are the easiest, and the Kid is somewhere in the middle.
Deal 7 cards to the Kid and each Agent. The Kid also gets the Trust Board, to track their rapport with the Visitor. Trust starts at 0. The Visitor flips 2 cards for all to see, then draws 14 cards. From these 16 cards, the Visitor creates a “pass rule”: what can pass through the force field, and what is repelled. If they’re having trouble, there are also example rule cards available to get them started.
After the Visitor has determined what the “pass rule” is, they pick 7 of the 14 cards in hand to keep, and returns the other 7 to the bottom of the deck. Then they classify the 2 cards that are face-up on the table, placing them inside the force field if the object meets the rule, or outside the force field board if the object would be repelled.
Now you’re ready to begin the first round.
The round starts with the Agent(s). Each Agent gets a turn, choosing to either test an object or prove the pass rule. After all Agents have had a turn, the Kid chooses whether to predict 1-3 objects or prove the rule. Finally, the Visitor classifies an object in an attempt to help the Kid learn the pass rule.
Test an Object
To test an object, an Agent picks a card from his hand and secretly shows it to the Visitor. Then the Visitor classifies the card, face-down, and puts that Agent’s token on it, indicating that Agent is the only one allowed to peek at it (in case they forget what the object was). Then the Agent may draw a card.
Predict an Object
To predict an object, the Kid chooses a card from their hand, revealing it for all to see. Then they announce their guess, whether the object will pass through the force field or be repelled. If they guess correctly, they may predict another card (up to a total of 3 predictions) or stop. Any wrong guess ends the turn. If all their guesses were correct, the Kid gets +1 Trust for each correct guess, moving the pawn on the trust board. With each move, the Kid gets to draw cards – this is the only way the Kid can replenish their hand! The Kid and Visitor will also unlock some special powers as trust increases.
Prove the Pass Rule
The Kid may choose to prove the pass rule once Trust is at least 2. Agents can attempt to prove the rule on any turn.
Proving the rule does not involve saying out loud what the rule is. Instead, the player draws 4 cards from the deck and lines them up across the force field from the Visitor’s privacy shield.
The Visitor secretly marks the the classification of each object with tokens behind the privacy shield, while the proving player pushes the cards forward (into the force field) or back (outside the force field) to indicate their guesses. Then the Visitor lifts the privacy shield: if all the card positions match the token positions, the proving player wins!
If any object’s position does not match the tokens, the Visitor simply “classifies” all the cards and the turn is over. If the proving player was an Agent, the Kid gets +2 Trust.
The Visitor’s Turn
The Visitor does not get a choice of action: their turn always involves classifying a card from their hand. If the current Trust level is less than 3, the Visitor must classify a card face-up for all players to see. However, if Trust is 3 or more, the Visitor shows the card secretly to the Kid and then classifies it face-down.
Usually, the game ends when a player successfully proves the pass rule. If that player is the Kid, then the team of Visitor + Kid have won! If an Agent proves the rule, then that Agent wins (and does not have to share glory with other Agents).
However, the game can also end if the Visitor runs out of cards in their hand. In this case, all the Agents automatically win as a team.
Visitor in Blackwood Grove plays very quickly, usually in under 15 minutes, as advertised on the box. It often takes longer to explain the game than it does to play it! Most sessions we played only went for 2 or 3 rounds before someone successfully proved the pass rule. A few times we went longer, but the rules allow for this, ramping up the power for the Kid and the Visitor to help each other before the Visitor runs out of cards.
The Visitor is the most challenging role. Making a good pass rule (neither too broad nor too restrictive) is hard, and making judgement calls (is a rope a “thing with strings”?) requires a lot of thought on how the players will interpret your judgement.
The Kid’s role is easier, but not by much. The agent guesses are hidden from you, but you need to start “predicting” right away. You’re also pressing your luck. You want more than a single successful prediction to raise your trust level quickly, but if you ever get a prediction wrong, you gain nothing on that turn.
Agents have the easiest job. You basically throw objects at the force field and see what (if anything) passes through. Pay attention to the information the Kid and the Visitor reveal to inform your future guesses. Even so, you have a balancing act as you decide when to try to prove the rule. Do it too soon, and you might fail, giving the Kid additional power. Wait until you’re 100% sure, and it’s likely someone will steal your victory!
Visitor in Blackwood Grove feels like a cross between the movie E.T. and the “the green glass door” riddle. No particular language skills are required, and we’ve successfully played it with some kids much younger than the 8+ recommended age. The Visitor should generally be played by an older child or an adult, due to the difficulty of making a suitably selective pass rule. However, players “proving” the pass rule don’t need to be able to state what the rule is, only whether their 4 objects would pass or be repelled.
The art on the board, privacy shield, and card backs set the scene without being creepy. The object art isn’t scary either, and it’s usually pretty clear. This isn’t Dixit: all players should easily agree on what a card represents, even though the art may sway the Visitor as they make a judgement call on whether or not that object meets their rule.
The previously-mentioned “green glass door” riddle is fun to play once, but once the other people know the secret, there isn’t much else to do. In Visitor in Blackwood Grove, Resonym has created a space for the same level of mystery, in a game that can be played over and over. The basic mechanics of the game are simple enough, and we were legitimately surprised at how quickly our kids took to it.
There can be some down time as players cogitate on which cards to play, and if the agents are playing their cards, other players can’t learn from them anyway. This can be frustrating with kids, but freeing with adults; games like this without too much deep multi-layered strategy are great for good friends who want to use a game as a vehicle for a social experience.
For such a simple game, the asymmetric aspects do make the rule book feel awkward – but we think it’s more related to the awkwardness of trying to explain overlapping roles and actions, rather than a bad rule book. Once we had played a few times, it became easy to tell new players exactly what actions were available to them.
For younger players, removing The Kid allows everyone (except the Visitor) to play the same way. Let a parent play the Visitor, while all the kids race to be the first Agent to guess the rule!
If you’re up for an unusual deduction game with asymmetric roles that accommodate many skill levels, we highly recommend Visitor in Blackwood Grove. Find it on Amazon, at Target, or ask for it at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Visitor in Blackwood Grove from Resonym for this review.
Visitor in Blackwood Grove
Playtime: 5-15 minutes
Age Range: 8+ (some roles can play younger)
Number of Players: 3-6