Given that an expansion for Near and Far from Red Raven Games has just hit Kickstarter, I was curious about the base game. I got lucky at a Meetup last night and had a chance to try it out.
I will start by saying there is plenty to enjoy about Near and Far. The game is easy to pick up. It's engaging. The art is beautiful, and there are lots of ways to make progress so you don't feel stuck. I can absolutely see this game being right for certain players.
But for me, it wasn't the right fit, and I am glad I figured it out in time. My issue is not that I didn't have fun. If asked, I would certainly play Near and Far again and do it with a smile.
My issue is with the integration of story elements (or lack thereof) into the rest of the game. Near and Far primes you to think of it as a grand story to co-create with your friends. The game maps are printed in a book. The game also comes with a storybook that you read at certain points à la Tales of the Arabian Nights. But there are only certain spaces on the map that come with story sequences, and if you focus too much on them you might miss the real point of the game: amassing victory points.
The stories also have no long-term consequences for the rest of your game (at least in the one-off game I played). Even if your reputation drops or something, you can just go to town and pay money to improve it again. In fact, if you want to win Near and Far, you can mostly proceed without paying attention to the story aspects of it at all, except to try to earn banner tokens.
I love story-driven games, and when we started playing, I was sure that Near and Far would be right up my alley. But the fact is that the game's story elements are sporadic, not connected with each other, and not particularly essential to victory. I like the story of a game and its victory conditions to intertwine. Near and Far doesn't quite succeed in that respect, at least not for me.