Artist: Reiko Ohba
Publisher: bouken (Adventure Planning Service)
Playing Time: 15 minutes
Times Played: 11 with a review copy
bouken, the publisher of Fish, Farewell, Forever, is not well known, but in the circles it is known, it is known to not give advance notice of new games. In 2017 a formal edition of Goritaire appeared, and this year it was Fish, Farewell, Forever. Both solo card games designed by Pawn, who, if you know the designer, you more likely know from the game Shephy.
(bouken’s low profile releases are even more curious to me as the packaging is printed indicating it as a Spiel release.)
I had found myself headed to Thailand last week and flights had timed out for an October Christmas: I left two pieces of pumpkin cake out for Dr. Spiel Claus the night before my flight, and on his way home from the airport, with 6 hours to spare, he came down my porch and left me Fish, Farewell, Forever.
As they usually are, bouken rules are a treat and filled with robust allusions. Here, they start with a Salinger quote from the eponymous Teddy, where the apples are referencing a certain garden.
I’d just make them vomit up every bit of the apple their parents and everybody made them take a bite out of.
What’s the game about? When I first saw W. Eric’s post that the game existed, I wondered if it was going to be about a child’s pet fish dying and the process of saying goodbye and childhood grieving. It’s not though. This is a game “designed to free the masses of their suffering from earthly desires.” You win when you liberate your deck of desires and other human experiences and achieve nothingness.
I think let’s also make this one of those reviews where I start you off with a soundtrack of sorts and then we’ll get into the game.
The game consists of 30 cards, a tatami mat card to set a draw pile on, and a tray to hold cards that have moved to The Beyond and later The Far Shore. (If you ask me the far shore of what, I’ll let you know that the rules refer to the river Styx at one point, though I imagine Sanzu or Vaitarna may be more apt.)
The game also comes with a rule sheet. (I’m often translating Japanese games that I’ve picked up, and inevitably the components list includes the rulebook, but I rarely include that in my translation as it seems superfluous. Here, the rules can play a functional roll. We’ll get there.)
In a broad stroke, you’ll be working to liberate cards from your deck to The Beyond, hoping to achieve nothingness by liberating all 30 cards. This won’t happen the first time through the deck, and each time through is, in essence, another life. The next cycle of the deck is another incarnation.
Each card shows the amount of virtue points required to liberate it in the upper left hand corner and each turn starts with a hand of 5 cards, and the potential to liberate one card.
The virtue cards are quite simple: you play them to provide virtue points equal to the value show on the card.
The action cards are straight forward, allowing affects such as drawing additional cards, granting extra liberation slots this turn, allowing the liberation of one card up to a certain value, copying the affect of another card, etc.
The desire cards are nothing. More to the point, they stand in the way of nothingness. Greed, Lust, and Hunger are functionless cards that obstruct your path.
You may play as many action and virtue cards as you’d like on your turn and once you are finished, discard the cards you’ve played, any remaining cards in your hand, and draw 5 new cards. (If the deck is exhausted, move 2 cards from The Beyond to The Far Shore in order to be able to shuffle the discards into a new deck.)
If you are able to liberate all of the cards from the deck, you win!
One more way the rules are a treat: there’s a section header that simply says “Well, good luck!” with the text of that section providing the helpful instruction, “Those are the basic rules.”
What comes after basic rules are elevated wins, as once you’ve liberated the cards, you check to see if you can also liberate the tatami mat from the draw pile, the rule page, and the card tray. (It’s a game that puts itself away as part of the game if you can get there.) To achieve these elevated wins, you need at least 12 cards to be in The Beyond when you win: 6 cards to achieve impermanence and liberate the mat, 4 more to achieve anatta and liberate the rules, 2 more for nirvana as the tray is liberated. According to the rules, “Rest well!”
(Did you see the fellow at Wat Arun Ratchavararam wearing a Nirvana shirt last week. The Kurt Cobain kind. Was the joke on him or on us?)
(Are the 2, 5, and 8 costing of the functionless Hunger, Greed, and Lust an allusion to Dominion’s Estate, Duchy, and Province?)
There are incentives to work quickly. Winning is winning, but there’s also the possibility for the elevated win, yet all this discussion of winning, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves: how are we going to get there.
Hold please. Better idea. How are we going to start? See, the thing with Fish, Farewell, Forever, is there’s no engine to build. There aren’t cards you can buy or sort. You’ll have a little Karma that lets you draw cards, and maybe Fate lets you draw a few more, but how will you free yourself of lust and greed?
When I say there are incentives to work quickly, I mean you have to move 2 cards from The Beyond to The Far Shore to begin another life. Paying Charon his toll. You move 2 cards, shuffle, and draw 5 cards. What pieces of your deck can you liberate that you won’t need later? Find at least 2.
The pieces of the deck are a scaffolding of sorts for each other. There are components here and there that you’ll need to get into the same hand in order to be able to reach up and remove the lust and the greed. What can you afford to remove to increase the chances that the chaos of the shuffle will allow those pieces to collide? (I hope it wasn’t the scaffold you’ll need in order to later remove the virtue cards.)
Um, I just thought of something else. How will I get rid of my last card? What about the card before that.
The game is a puzzle that you must solve from both directions. It’s almost a deck builder in reverse. As a thought exercise, you started with a 0 card deck and bought up to these 30 cards. Now shuffle them together and play it in reverse. You have to think about how to un-buy these cards, while not creating a paradox back at the beginning of time with how you started this adventure.
That was my first enlightenment.
I had played my first game, made it down to 1 card (which I was unable to liberate), and thought “That was easy. I was so close.” But was I? That single card was on a far shore from nothingness. What does my last card look like? My last 2, last 3. How do I get there. That card was closer to 30 cards than it was to The Beyond.