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Review: New Angeles

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Ah, New Angeles. The greatest city in the world – or at least, the largest. Ripe with opportunity to make billions, if you’ve got the wits, foresight, and a few million to start out with.

But be warned; the city balances on a fragile edge. Unrest among the masses, the spread of disease, and a nearly overloaded power grid threatens to topple the balance of power. Only the corporations can keep things from upending, thus unleashing the flood of government oversight and regulation. You might not be allies, but you’ll still have to work together. Better for all of you to stay in control, as long as you can beat your rival.

Welcome to the world’s newest city of angels.

How It Plays

New Angeles is a game of uneasy cooperation, negotiation, and possibly betrayal. The goal for each player is to beat their secret rival (dealt randomly at the start of the game), while preventing the Threat level from reaching 25. If that happens, everyone loses… except for possibly one player. If someone is the Federalist, they win when Threat reaches 25 as long as they have at least 25 Capital in the bank. Ultimately, more than one player can win, but at least one player will lose.

It’s a big city but there’s not enough room for everyone!

The city is divided into 12 districts; each district has the potential to produce some goods, but might also get marked with Protests, Riots, Outages, Disease, and Developments. A district can also end up occupied by Human First revolutionists, Organized Crime, or Private Security, any of which affect activity in that district.

The game is divided into 9 rounds. Players have two rounds to meet a set of demands – specific goods in the supply that must reach a certain amount – followed by a third “Demand” round in which the supply is scored and some personal goals can be met for points. After this cycle happens 3 times the game ends, unless it ends much sooner.

Each action round lasts between 3 and 5 turns. Each turn an action card is played, but here’s the rub: in order to play an action card, you have to get people to vote for it. It works like this:

The current player makes an “Offer” by playing an action card from their hand in the Main Offer slot. Each other player has one chance to make a Counter Offer, playing a card from their own hand. There can only be one counter offer, but a player can cover up an existing counter offer by discarding additional cards from their hand.

After the offers are set, everyone gets to vote, again using the cards from their hand. Everyone except the two players who made the offers, of course. It’s a simple tally, and a tie is broken in favor of the main offer. The player whose offer gets voted  for the most gets to resolve their action card.

I’ll make you an offer you can refuse and then bribe you to take it up anyway!

There’s another catch: the player that wins the vote also gets to claim an Asset card, which grants a powerful, usually permanent ability.

Action cards cover pretty much every angle you can think of in the game world. They remove disease, move androids, get rid of Human First and OrgCrime units, place PriSec units, add developments, and let people draw cards.

At the end of an action round, there’s a quick production phase. Only districts with Android tokens produce their resources, and producing increases Unrest. Riots and Outages prevent any production. Orgcrime siphons some of the resources away. Human First makes Unrest go up much faster.

Finally, an event card is drawn which adds a bit of trouble to a few districts, a new round begins.

As I mentioned, the game is lost if Threat reaches 25. Primarily, Threat increases when an action card affects a district with disease, but it can also go up based on certain events, or if demand isn’t met in a demand round.

After the ninth round and final demand phase, the game ends, players reveal their rivalry cards, and you find out which players win.

Don’t. Trust. Anyone.

The New New Angeles

“Everyone gives me two capital, or we all lose this game right now.”

That was Bryan. You see, we’d slipped up. There were two offers on the table, but it was pretty obvious which to vote for. The other one ended the game immediately thanks to Threat. Fortunately, the good offer was the main one, so it would win automatically. No one needed to waste any cards.

Only we’d forgotten about Bryan, the last player to vote. He’d fallen behind, far behind, so he had nothing to lose. He wasn’t going to win anyway. Might as well take everyone down with him. Even I, who was the federalist, didn’t have the credits to win with the Threat hitting the limit. We didn’t end up giving him 2 credits each, but we did give up a lot. Bryan was back in the game, and there still was a game to get back into.

This is one of my favorite and most memorable moments of New Angeles. There’s almost a real-life philosophical message in that moment, about power and opportunity and burning your own house down to collect the insurance money.

“Insurance money”

New Angeles is possibly the ultimate game of cooperative distrust. It’s a massively streamlined Battlestar Galactica, or a heightened version of Dead of Winter where you actually can’t trust anyone.

Keep that in mind as you decide whether or not this game is for you. There’s definitely going to be a lot of aggressive maneuvering, backstabbing, paranoia, and mistrust. It’s not personal, it’s business – but it can feel pretty personal.

I think there are two key reasons this works so well here. The first is that right off the bat you have a target. Your personal victory condition, rather than some arbitrary collection of Stuff To Accrue, is to beat someone else. That immediately puts you at odds with that player, even when you’re not the betrayer. You also don’t know who’s painted a target on your back.

We demand to be taken seriously!

That’s before you even get to the Federalist, which isn’t necessarily even going to be in the game.

The second element is that to reach your agenda and score your points, you have to convince people to vote for you. Sometimes that means bribing people. Sometimes that means playing the best card for the overall situation rather than the best thing for yourself. Sometimes that means taking advantage of a situation to coerce people into doing what you need them to, as Bryan did.

These two things create this incredible push-pull dichotomy that generates unbelievable tension, which is exactly what you want to have in this sort of game. It forms a dynamic that makes the game interesting, and it also allows a whole slice of rules to be cut out. You don’t need a section on the Federalist getting revealed, or a bunch of clear rules on what needs to be kept secret, because those motivations are created by the plot of the game. Everyone keeps their agenda close to the vest, because it’s better that way even if they aren’t the federalist.

These guys are here to make trouble. So you give them some trouble.

Then you look at the city itself. Much like Battlestar Galactica, there are a whole lot of problems and not a whole lot of time to fix them. Yet, while the BSG game (which i love, by the way) is big and complex and at some points cumbersome, the city of New Angeles has a very clean ruleset. It basically comes down to keeping the districts you need functioning, and trying to keep disease low. But the mechanical challenge is that there are too many districts to manage, too many resources to produce, and too many corners to cover.

Once again, that serves the paranoia. You can propose almost any action, and chances are it’s needed somewhere in the city. So what if my corporation earns a bunch of money by removing disease? It’s what the city needs, right? And sure, those Human First units are a problem. And the outage in district 8 will need looking at. But we can take care of those next turn, right?

It’s up to the player to convince everyone that their agenda is the most important.

We demand to be taken very seriously!

So now, you’ve got this trifecta of brilliant tension. The game first sets players against each other with directly competitive goals, then drags them together by forcing them to work together to do anything at all, then provides too many things to accomplish in too little time. It’s entirely possible to succeed, and to keep the Federalist down. Then again, you might have someone who tries to prevent everyone else from winning just because he can’t win himself. You only know that you can trust yourself.

Then we layer on the icing. Aside from neat miniatures, the Asset cards you earn add some excitement and keep the game fresh. You don’t use the entire Asset deck in one game, which means you can’t rely on any particular ability popping up. The different abilities that come into play can shift the dynamic of the game, opening new strategies and closing others. These cards provide a whole variety of ways to manipulate the game in your favor, or at least earn something for your troubles.

And yes, it is possible for a player or two to not get any of these assets for a while, but this doesn’t prevent them from actively engaging in the game. Usually this self-balances in the long run; people notice someone having too much power, so they’re more willing to give Assets to the player(s) who have less. Assets can even be passed around as part of a deal, so stock up some votes and use ’em as leverage!

Prisec will save us!

It also helps that, despite competitive agendas, the game allows simultaneous victories. It doesn’t force you to beat everyone, and therefore, cooperation is possible. You have enough information to make reasonable deals with players, to earn money, to get things done that you think need to get done. You earn money for certain things whether or not you’re the player to make them happen. You can convince and argue and bribe no matter if it’s your turn or not. That means you’re always involved in the game, and you always have a chance for victory.

This is definitely a highly social game. It’s difficult to plan things in the long run for yourself, and you’re going to have to make deals with other players in order to succeed. Well, let me back that up a bit – you’re going to need to make long term plans with the other players to keep Threat down and meet Demand, but for your personal victory you’ll need to be on your toes, taking advantage of every opportunity the moment it presents itself.

The game supports 4-6 players, which is possibly the biggest rub, as I know many of us often get stuck with 3 player gaming groups or even smaller. Well, there’s no way around it; you need the 4, and truthfully you should have at least 5 to get the most out of the game. 4 is probably better with all experienced players rather than relative newbies, but it helps with the negotiation and voting to have more people involved. It also helps to have all the corporations and their special abilities in play.

The unique player abilities help ensure that people are motivated to tackle all the cities problems.

Amongst all the paranoia, the backroom dealing, the suspicion, New Angeles presents a wonderful world of competing interests finding ways to work together. It takes about 3 hours to play – maybe a little more with less experienced players, maybe 2-3hrs once people know what they’re doing. There’s little downtime, since everyone is involved in every turn, and invested in every little thing that happens. You get a beautifully designed board with a nice Android-y vibe, plenty of colorful tokens and plastic minis. If you enjoy these sorts of highly paranoid, highly interactive games of negotiation, bribery, and distrust, you have to play this game. It succeeds in a brilliant dynamic of mistrust and cooperation that keeps things tense and interesting through the whole game.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America and Fantasy Flight Games for providing a review copy of New Angeles.

  • Rating 9.0
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Summary

Pros

Filled with paranoia
Brilliant dichotomy of distrust and forced cooperation
Rules aren't bloated
Beautiful board and components
So many clever elements

Cons

Requires 4 players (really, 5 or 6)
Might hurt people's feelings

9.0 Excellent

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Hurting people’s feelings shouldn’t be viewed as a con. Feelings are useless vestiges of our un-evolved selves. They serve only to dissuade from achieving victory no matter the cost.

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