Ever play one of those games that looks serene and beautiful on the outside, but it reveals its dark interior once you start playing? Board games like Tokaido, a game that promises a peaceful journey through Japan, but is usually more cutthroat than a game of Munchkin. Or video games like Ori and the Blind Forest, with their adorable characters and epic soundtrack, that turn out to be so brutal that you rack up over 200 deaths in your first two hours of play (or was this just me?).
As Far As The Eye is one of those games for me. Its aesthetic appealed to me the moment I laid eyes on it. Its turn-based structure and hex-grid map give it a board game vibe. Gameplay-wise, it has a lot in common with Forbidden Desert: a race against time and the elements, with many failures along the way. Generally, you learn something with every failure. Something that will likely help you get a little bit further in your next attempt.
In As Far As The Eye, your job is to guide beings called pupils on their perilous journey to the Eye, gathering enough supplies to make it through the next leg of the trip, and stopping along the way to gather more. All the while, the floodwaters rise behind you, preventing you from lingering too long. As the flood approaches, ‘vagaries’ will start to plague the area, from lightning strikes to mosquitos to small earthquakes, perhaps forcing you to move on sooner than you would have liked.
Playing through the short campaign will gradually introduce you to the various aspects of the game: setting up a temporary camp, choosing the next step in your path, gathering the supplies you need, and staying ahead of the flood. Your pupils will need to gather food, wood, wool, and more, and they will gain experience while doing so. They can also be directed to construct specialised buildings like sawmills or bakeries, which allow or improve the harvesting of the various resources.
Attempting to stockpile massive amounts of resources won’t help you as much as you would think. You can only take as much with you on the next leg of your journey as you can fit on your caravan. The space available can be upgraded a bit, but it’s still a little puzzle you’ll have to figure out before moving on.
Pupils will gain experience in the job they’re doing, improving their efficiency in that job. Jobs include harvesting, stone cutting, growing, farming, and building. If pupils are working in a building dedicated to that job, then they’ll start to specialise, gaining even more powerful bonuses while doing that job. Pupils also have traits, which can be positive or negative, which affect how good they are at certain jobs, or how much food they eat, and so on.
You’ll sometimes get visited by other tribes on the same journey as you. All of them are friendly, and may offer opportunities for trade. The maps may also contain ruins, sacred sites, or auras, which protect the hexes around them. Each of these can be explored to gain various benefits – or penalties.
In addition to collecting resources to build structures and to allow you to progress to the next stage of your journey, your pupils need to eat every turn, and will quickly starve to death if you don’t ensure you always have adequate food production. And yes, the vast majority of my pupils across my many games starved because I forgot to keep collecting or making food.
Initially, this was very disheartening. I had never played a roguelike video game before, but once I realised that failure was part of the process, I started to really enjoy the game. Each time I played, I got a little bit further and learnt a little bit more for next time. After the campaign, there’s a series of different challenges you can attempt, as well as custom games. I’m still working my way through these, chipping away and trying to do a little better every time.
As Far As The Eye features a calming soundtrack and equally soothing sounds to go with the beautiful visuals. Despite being pretty challenging, I found myself coming back time and again to enjoy the peaceful environment and to try and help the pupils on their journey.