NEW ENGLAND (Goldsieber, 3-4 players, 60-90 minutes; about $40)
One of the better releases coming out of Germany this year is another concoction by the design team of Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum. Here, players are transported back to 17th Century New England where they seek to settle and become the most prosperous.
New England comes with a mounted board depicting a New England coastal area, 60 land tiles (and a bag to hold them), 58 development cards, 13 Pilgrims, 11 barns, 10 ships, start tiles, 4 family markers, money chips (in shillings), bid markers (in values from 1 to 10), other play aids and rules (in German). (Fortunately, for those of us with English as our first language, English rules can be found at www.boardgame.geek.com and, if you can wait, Uberplay, www.uberplay.com, will be publishing the game in English this August)).
Each player receives a family marker (identifying the family which he heads), 3 start tiles that match his family and 12 shillings. The start tiles bear the letter of the family name and are double-sided with an undeveloped and developed side. The player to the right of the start player places one of his start tiles, undeveloped side up, on the board so it covers two spaces. Now, the next player places his tile and so on until all start tiles have been placed on the board. Now the regular game play begins.
The board to the game shows an area, bordering on a coastline, consisting of 98 spaces. On the side of this there are "offer spaces". Three of these spaces can only hold land tiles, three can only hold development cards. The remaining three spaces, at the discretion of the active player, may hold either.
Three phases make a game turn. First, the start player uncovers the tiles/cards available for purchase by all players. He announces how many land tiles (a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6) will be available. These tiles are placed, undeveloped side up, on the appropriate spaces. The rest of the spaces are filled with development cards drawn from the deck. Now players vie for these exposed items.
The start player leads the bidding by taking one of his bid markers and placing it in front of him. The next player follows suit and so on. The number on the bid marker serves two functions: it determines player order (high number going first, second highest going second etc.) AND it determines how much it will cost the player for each tile or card he wishes to buy.
High bidder now makes his buys. He can purchase up to two items and must use them immediately in settling the New England area. His bid marker is then returned to him (for use in a later round if so desired) and the player now receives 4 shillings in income. These procedures are followed by each player in bid order. Once complete, all remaining tiles and cards are removed from the game and the next round, starting to the left of the start player for this round, begins.
Once buying a tile, that tile must be placed, undeveloped side up, on an unoccupied area of the board with this caveat: it MUST be adjacent (horizontally or vertically, NOT diagonally) to one of that player's already placed tiles of the SAME TYPE! (The same land type of two different player MAY touch diagonally.) Also, players may only have ONE connected area of each land type. If surrounding areas have already been claimed making a legal placement impossible, that tile may not be bought.
If buying a development card, that development must immediately be done. Then, the card is placed in front of the player and is worth the number of Victory Points specified on the card (at game's end). Two types of development card are in the game:
Land development cards: These cards turn the undeveloped land into settlements, fields or pastures. To legally use a card, the undeveloped land must match the pattern (such as a right angle) of the card. The land tiles are now flipped to their developed side.
Resource cards: These are the Pilgrim, Barn and Ship cards which allow these pieces to be put into play. Again, there are certain restrictions. These pieces may only be placed on UNDEVELOPED land with only ONE piece allowed on a tile. These land areas may NOT be developed later on. These resources allow players to reap benefits, specifically:
Each Pilgrim generates an additional shilling in income each turn. Own four Pilgrims, for example, and you DOUBLE your normal turn income. Pilgrims may be moved from one undeveloped land tile to another (to allow development to occur in an area).
Barns allow players to "store" a development card so that a player may buy a card and save it for later use. Once placed, of course, barns may NOT be moved.
Ship placement is restricted to undeveloped coastal land areas and may be moved along the coast to other undeveloped coastal areas owned by that player. The player with the most ships on the board may uncover an additional land tile or development card (create an array of 10 instead of the standard 9) during the buying phase.
Play continues until either there are insufficient land tiles OR development cards left to fill the empty spaces on the array. Now, Victory Points are calculated.
Players receive the amount of points listed on each of their development cards. The player with the most Pilgrims receives 4 additional Victory Points, most barns earns another 3 VPs and most ships is worth 2 VPs. (In cases of ties, BOTH players receive the full amount of VPs.) The player with the most VPs wins. (If there is a tie in VPs, the tie is broken as the player with the most money wins.)
Several aspects to New England make this game a level above in design. Although there are always at least nine items available to purchase at the start of each round, the precise combination of items (how many tiles vs. how many development cards) is up to the starting player. This gives a certain amount of control to the start player so that he can effectively sway available options to maximize his position.
The "push and pull" of undeveloped land vs. developed land is a key concept. Undeveloped land is necessary to place those Pilgrims (and get extra money each turn so that you can tiles and cards) and barns (which allows you to hold a card in reserve) and ships (which can increase your choices in purchasing). Of course, the more of these items you can place, the better your chance at getting those Victory Point bonuses. But they can only be placed on undeveloped land; it is the developed land that generates the bulk of those necessary VPs for victory!
The bidding is tantalizing too since a high bid can assure you going first (and getting the juiciest items) but the higher you bid, the more money it will cost you for your purchase! Sure, money greases the wheel but when the smoke clears, money is only a tie-breaker. You can have the most money and still LOSE! Take all these factors together and what we have here is a delicate balancing act that keeps the game fresh and interesting.
The team of Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum have created an impressive library of quality games: San Marco (Spring 2001 GA REPORT), Capitol (Spring 2001 GA REPORT), Das Amulett (Summer 2001 GA REPORT) and King's Breakfast (featured this issue) to name just a few. But in New England, this creative team has come up with a few unique concepts to create a demanding and fascinating gamer's game of land development and resources deserving recognition and applause. Recommended. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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