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Review: Old World New World

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There’s a lot of debate about who, exactly, “discovered” the Americas – Christopher Columbus, the Vikings, the Chinese, a lost tribe of Israel, or even aliens.  Now, with one of Victory Point’s latest titles, you can make sure the history books get it right – it was YOU!  It may not be the vast American continents, but a New World beckons nonetheless with all its riches, honor, renown…and dangers.  Can you survive hostile Natives, an unwelcoming environment, and competition from your Old World neighbors to claim both land and glory?

How it Plays

In Old World New World you are racing against your opponents to survey a recently discovered land, which is slowly revealed through game play.  The first “colony” to send three explorers across its entire breadth claims it all for their King and country.The design is primarily card-based, but these cards will also serve like tiles – yet they’re still the flimsy cards, not thick tiles.  The boundaries of your new world are preset to start the game by a puzzle-locking border which creates a 6×6 grid in which you’ll lay terrain cards, thus “exploring” the land as you play.  Each player begins with 5 cards.  You then have two actions on your turn: place a card or burn a card.

Placing cards is how the land unfolds before you.  You simply lay a terrain card in any orientation that you wish, according to the overall grid.  Individually, cards depict one or more ocean, plains, and/or mountain spaces and may additionally have one or more camp or port symbols.  These attributes impact which type of explorers can move across the new world – soldiers or ships.

Terrain cards showing plains and ocean, but not all are so exclusive.

Instead of adding to the map, you may burn a terrain card for a particular action – deploy, move, or convert a unit.  The card you burn must have either a camp or port symbol, which corresponds to which type of unit you may deploy, move, or convert.  Unit tokens are double-sided with a solider on one side and ship on the reverse – and you only have six total combined to use throughout the game.

Deploy allows you to place a new soldier or sailor on a space of the appropriate terrain in your home row – that is the first row along the grid side closest to you.  You can also deploy an explorer for free when placing a terrain card with a camp or port symbol along your home row for the first time.  Move is as self-explanatory as it sounds.  Both unit types move like a Rook piece in Chess; up, down, left, or right as many spaces as you wish, as long as a line of appropriate terrain remains along that straight path.  You cannot move through other units, however, and soldiers must stop immediately anytime when reaching a mountain space.  Also, anytime a unit lands on or occupies its corresponding camp or port symbol, it may make another move for free.  Thus, it is possible to chain many moves together during one turn.  Convert allows soldiers to change into ships and vice versa, as long as they are adjacent to the corresponding camp or port symbol for which they wish to switch.

A deadly volcano!

In addition to the typical terrain cards, there are two special cards.  One is the volcano, in which all four spaces comprise one larger, volatile peak.  These may be placed on any other previously played terrain card that has at least one mountain space.  The volcano destroys all units which occupied the previous tile and that area is now treated as one big mountain.  Also, besides terrain cards, there are a number of special action cards.  These are not added to the map, but instead burned for the ability printed on it.  Typically these allow you to block spaces, move/rotate previously played terrain tiles, change an opponent’s soldier/ship to one of your own, destroy units, or convert one of your explorers for free.

Using these many and varied cards, you will build a new world, send forth explorers, and navigate treacherously winding labyrinths.  The first player to successfully traverse the map and occupy three designated spaces on the grid boundary opposite their home row is hailed as the greatest Conquistador!

Score one – a successful expedition to the other side.

Great Discovery or Lost Expedition?

I was always intrigued by Star Trek episodes and other science fiction stories that dealt with terraforming – changing the landscape of a planet to suit a people’s needs.  That’s what I feel like in Old World New World…just 700 years earlier!  Yes, in one sense you’re “discovering” this new world as it expands before you.  However, you can also twist and shape it however you want in order to best get your explorers across.  Just think if the Puritans could have done that, I doubt we ever would have had the first Thanksgiving!

The new world discovery theme is pasted on and doesn’t always make sense, but it’s not meant to be integral to game play. While many other motifs could easily have been applied, it provides some nice flavor and an excuse for cool drawings.  And it serves as an entertaining distraction from what is otherwise an abstract design. Nonetheless, the choice is interesting. Often, historically-based themes are a turn-off for many casual gamers to which this title is targeted. However, those specifically looking for a strategy game regarding this period will find it sorely lacking. Old World New World is an abstract design with a veneer of exploration. Its strength lies in its strategic, puzzle-nature and mischievous player interaction – not theme.

A new world to discover…and terraform!

The rules and game play are extremely simple.  After two or three rounds, even young and non-gaming players should be up to speed.  However, that doesn’t mean everyone will immediately grok its subtle strategies.  Laying terrain tiles to create the map is a science.  The trick is to arrange spaces to not only create a path across the land, but also with camps/ports lined up or strategically located.  That way you can chain together several free moves and/or set-up conversion points when ships run out of water or soldiers reach then end of the road.  However, you’re not drawing this map independently, but only adding to what other players are contributing, too.  So meanwhile, you’re trying to prevent your opponents from using your same routes, at the least, or actively blocking them, at best.

In a two player session, this tile-laying affair is a more controlled and calculated dance.  While the game is nothing like Chess, it has a similar vibe in that you’re maneuvering units mono-a-mono to implement your plan while still reacting to your opponent when necessary.  There are less pieces and more restrictions than Chess, but there is a deeper strategy than first meets the eye.  Players who enjoy less chaos will prefer the two-player game.

Blocked by the Natives – they don’t trust you. Neither would I…

Three-player sessions are fun for more casual gamers, not to say that experienced hobbyists won’t enjoy it.  Just prepare to be more reactionary.  It’s a little more difficult to format terrain specifically to your liking.  The crazy thing is that each player is trying to make a path to a different endpoint.  Sometimes it works out that a terrain card will benefit more than one.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Four player games can still be fun, but it’s chaotic and extremely challenging to shape the terrain by plan.  Your new world suddenly becomes a small world with traffic-jammed units jockeying for space.  It also adds some extra length and just a wee bit of downtime.  It’s not terrible, but enough to recommend the thee-player version as a more attractive option.

Player interaction is one of Old World New World’s strongest features. Many abstract designs tend to focus on “civilized” head-to-head competition: outmaneuvering an opponent to beat her to a location, eliminate a piece, or block her objective. That’s certainly a part of the interaction here, but it’s also a bit more unpredictable and spiteful.

Deploying a ship – ready to set sail.

Aside from that, it can be difficult to defend against. For example, the Bribery card lets you replace an adjacent enemy unit with one of your own.  Not knowing what cards your adversary holds, you can play it safe and make sure to end your turn away from her.  Or so you think you’re safe!   However, in one turn, they can move their explorer next to yours for one action, then burn the Bribery card for their second.  In an instant, you’ve lost a unit to her gaining one – without any form of defense!

Other action cards are not as harsh, but will still leave you in a pinch. There are a couple which allow you to kill off units, but it’s indiscriminate based on what’s located where, so be careful it doesn’t affect your own pieces. The Tornado lets you move units two spaces, but you might want to use it for yourself in order to get through otherwise impassable terrain.  Another card can block paths, which can be effective, but typically proves more of a nuisance.

Despite how direct and unforgiving this interaction may sound, it’s actually quite appropriate for the game’s simple structure and length.  There are only two copies of each action card – as well as two of the deadly volcanoes – so attacks are not frequent.  And when you are a target, it may set you back, but it’s never crippling or insurmountable.

The nastier action cards.

Through all the unpredictability, there are at least ways to manage luck of the draw.  First, the action cards are critical to successfully navigate and/or traverse the new world.  Aside from hampering your foes, you can use them to circumnavigate uncooperative terrain – such as using Tornado, Bribery, or a free conversion card.  These help to mitigate some of the chaos wrought from multiple players trying to weave together disparate and conflicting paths.  However, while acquiring these special abilities is, in and of itself, also luck of the draw, the bigger way to coax your own luck is with conversion.  While not all paths lead to the promised land, it will converge at some point with a port or camp, since all terrain cards have a least one of those features.  Efficiently converting from ship to soldier and back and forth will increase your chance of success, as you laugh at those you try to thwart your every move.

The components are serviceable.  The puzzle-locking border pieces have matching color- and shape-coded symbols on their backs for ease of construction.  It’s a little cumbersome at first, but it fits together nicely and creates well-defined boundaries.  Unfortunately, the cards themselves slide around too easily once placed inside the grid.  You have to be careful picking up and laying down unit counters every time you move.  There will be constant tidying of map cards.  The artwork is very nice, evoking that of illustrated maps from the 16th century.  The action cards are great and designed well.  Terrain features and unit types are clearly identifiable.

Competition from Old and New World neighbors alike.

Old World New World is a non-intimidating, fast-paced, and intelligent strategy game accessible to a broad range of ages and gamer types.  It is not a heavy, brain-burning colonization building game, if that’s what you’re looking for.  The historical subject is a bit misleading – while good for some nice artwork and thematic flavor, the design is decidedly abstract.  It has simple rules, yet challenging game play.  Turns proceed quickly.  You can manipulate “luck of the draw” to formulate strategy.  While it does include more than a few unpredictable swings, they are never crippling.  Player interaction is fun, exciting, a welcome addition, and very appropriate for the design’s mood and length.  Many of Victory Point’s games fly under the radar, but Old World New World has a mixture of elements that make it worth discovering.

 

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of Old World New World.

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Simple, but with depth
  • Tense puzzle-style strategy
  • Ways to manage luck
  • Nice, appropriate interaction

Cons:

  • Cards slide around in grid
  • Can get repetitivePasted on theme
7.5 Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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