Here in moose country, sometimes you’ll see a moose. Not very often. But sometimes. Once, on a hike, a moose wandered near to where we were eating lunch. Another time, when my Mom was painting a landscape while listening to music on some headphones, she looked up to see a moose standing next to her. Those are my two moose stories.
In Alex Wynnter’s Panorama, there are moose all over the damn place. Foxes too. That’s probably the best thing about it.
On its exterior, Panorama looks like a pleasant time. There’s something soothing about creating an imagined physical space, and shooting the perfect panoramic view of the surrounding hills, trees, mountains, and wildlife sounds pleasantly clement, like waking up on a camping trip to discover that the previous night’s gusts have given way to a cool, open morning. It’s not that far removed from the setup that made me fall in love with Josh Wood’s Santa Monica. Here’s a space with some small overture toward realism, a few guidelines for snapping its pieces together, but not so much that it ever slips over the line into stressful. Board gaming as an intellectual stroll rather than a sprint or a marathon.
Perhaps I’m a world-famous adrenaline junkie, but while Panorama didn’t require full-throttle stress, the threat of a turned ankle or light sweat wouldn’t have gone amiss. Even then, it’s doubtful Panorama could produce more than the phantom pulse that may be detected when a coroner is under such duress that he feels the reverberation of his own heartbeat through his fingertips while checking a cadaver’s radial artery.
Panorama gets very little right. Your task is to place symbols for maximum scoring potential while also keeping the horizon aligned. A fine concept. But the symbols are limited and the scoring opportunities are confined in scope. There are foxes and moose; the former earn points near campfires while the latter are best left alone. The occasional bear wants to be surrounded by forest. The aurora borealis shimmers overhead, but it’s just another adjacency bonus.
Perhaps, in spite of this landscape’s odd uniformity, it will foster some connection? Not likely. You don’t even “own” your panorama. Instead, it’s shared between neighbors on both sides — you’re making two panoramas, both of which are shared with a partner. This not only strips the game of the intimacy and fondness that comes from building something all of your own, but also injects some odd and ill-fitting scoring considerations. Your final score is derived from the sum of both panoramas you contributed to, implicitly encouraging you to game the system by playing keep-away from your highest-scoring neighbor.
So maybe it provides the mercy of ending quickly? Nope. Leaving aside how it encourages you to pause to estimate rough scores, cards in Panorama are drafted, forcing you to assess a new hand of cards with each placement, and turns are necessary because everybody is working on shared tableaux. Put these together and you have a game that feels like developing a panoramic image by crawling to your darkroom through cold molasses in the shade uphill from the bottom of the Grand Canyon just because.
Oh, and you play it twice.
No, really, Panorama is designed to be played twice in succession, from two separate decks, both in coordination (but not cooperation) with your neighbors. First you play through the dusk deck, then slide those panoramas to the side — they’re quite wide — to make room for the panoramas you’ll build from the dawn deck. The icons are slightly different, but what’s more surprising is how similar they are. The same foxes, the same moose, equally unengaging adjacency bonuses… gone are the bears, but by that point our eyelids were so droopy that we might have missed them if they’d shambled through the living room.
It’s a perplexing decision. At least it’s only the final perplexment in a string of them. Why make us play this game twice? Why make it this slow, this uninteresting, this bifurcated between two sets of cards? Why not focus on a single set, with all those icons and ideas condensed to their densest volume? Why make it a drafting game? Why not provide incentives to work together rather than this snide game of keep-away? Why conclude on a spasm of arithmetic that’s just protracted enough to be monotonous but not hefty enough to feel like something was accomplished? Why, and to whom, did this game feel ready?
Look. The illustrations are pleasant enough. It has moose in it. But there are more enjoyable ways to explore the beauty of nature without leaving your house. Might I recommend releasing a wild badger into your bathroom?
A complimentary copy was provided.