Backing board game projects on Kickstarter (KS) can feel like a gamble. Will the project go out to backers in time (if at all)? Will the components be as good as promised? And the big one: will the end product be as great as we hoped?
With those questions in mind, today we begin a new segment on Cardboard Carnage where we review tabletop games and gaming accessories that recently arrived from a project backed on KS. We’ll take an exhaustive look at the end product and give you our thoughts on everything from the components to the gameplay to way the project runners managed the project.
For our first project, we will dive headlong into a mid-level worker placement game from Dice Hate Me Games called New Bedford. We will also look at its little brother, a 2-player game called Nantucket, since both were part of the same campaign as well as _New Bedford_’s first expansion, Rising Tide. Both games were designed by Nat Levan.
The theme for New Bedford, at first glance, seems controversial. Set in the mid-1800s, during the height of the whaling industry, its namesake, the town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, became the whaling capital of the world with ships going in out of its port on a constant basis.
You take on the role of manager and ship’s captain running your own whaling business. The goal of the game is to be the player with the most points at the end of 12 rounds. Given its touchy theme, one might wonder why anyone would back the game. The designer’s intent isn’t to justify the practice of whaling; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. He aims to highlight an aspect of history seldom touched by gaming of any sort. More thoughts on that in Part 2.
For this first article, we will unbox the game and look at each of the components. The next post will be a review of the game. Along the way, I’ll make comments here and there about how different aspects have been handled both during the KS campaign and afterwards. With that, let’s crack open the box. Apologies for some of the poor photos; I need a better camera.
The small little square packet there resting on the New Bedford game box is a promotional expansion for all KS backers called White Whale. All KS backers also received Rising Tide at no additional cost. I backed the project at the main level and added the small 2-player game, Nantucket, to my pledge. Before we jump into the larger game, let’s detour into Nantucket.
The first thing I am struck by is the artwork. Nolan N. Nasser and Jorge Ramos immediately draw you into the theme with the bright colors that have an old, painted feel to the game. In a word, gorgeous. The boxes themselves are sturdy, giving the game more potential mileage.
As you can see from the image, Nantucket is tiny. And as much as they pack into the little box, it is surprisingly lightweight.
The cards, box, rule sheet and even little plastic baggie are of decent quality. Like I’ve already said, the art on the box, cards and rule sheet are great to just look at. However, I was a little disappointed with the cardboard tokens in the game. They felt cheap, especially compared to those in New Bedford. Outside of that, the pieces in the box are overall good.
White Whale Promo
As previously mentioned, every KS backer received a copy of the White Whale promotional expansion. This includes a set of four whaling tiles that behave differently than the others. I love the additional gameplay options these tiles give players. Once again, the artwork jumps out at you. However, as with Nantucket, I wasn’t such a fan of the cardboard tokens’ quality. They felt cheaper than the tiles in the main game. Nevertheless, they add so much to the game, I doubt I’ll play without them. Knowing GtG, this promo will not be available for purchase, so you’ll likely have to snag it at a gaming convention or special giveaway on GtG’s website.
We’re now to the heart of the KS campaign, New Bedford. Again, the artwork does a great job sucking you into the historical theme. The box is nice and sturdy. I was surprised by how small the box actually is. Even so, they packed a lot of pieces within, so it weighs more than you’d expect. Enough about the outside of the game. Let’s pop open the lid.
Dice Hate Me not only knocked it out of the park with the artwork, the graphic design of the game is top-notch. The rulebook is printed on nice quality paper and looks like an old, leather-bound captain’s journal or logbook.
The cardboard components of New Bedford continue the high quality feel of the game. Pieces practically fell out of the tile sheets, a sign of high quality handiwork from the manufacturer. The town tiles and ship boards had a solid weight and rigidity to them.
The quality craftsmanship continues with the whale, empty sea and coin tokens. During the whaling portion of the game, any whales drawn are either caught or discarded from the game. Empty sea tokens, by contrast, are always returned to the bag. This means that fewer whales appear later in the game, highlighting the historical decline in whale population.
Building tiles are how players earn the resources needed to launch and fund whaling expeditions. While whaling is the primary means of earning points in the game, the buildings themselves are worth a point each and some buildings give you bonus points at the end of the game. Since you’ll be placing your meeples on these tiles, it’s a good thing they are well-made and sturdy.
One downside is that the manufacturer failed to include a building tile in the version of the game sent out to backers. Fortunately, the tile only affects the solo game variant and, even then, does not prevent someone from playing the game. Replacement tiles are en route, but no timeframe for arrival has been established. I don’t know the impact to the retail version either, but if you do wind up with a copy that does not have this tile, contact GtG.
All the whale and empty sea tokens go into a bag at the beginning of the game. During the whaling portion of the game, players will rifle through the bag, grabbing these tokens. High quality components mean that even if you have that one guy with perpetual Dorito’s hands at the table (yeah, you know the one) they should last through many, many play-throughs.
The whaling board serves two functions: 1) tracking the whaling expeditions and 2) tracking the rounds. The City Pier and Dockyard tiles are positioned above the whaling board during the game and are accessed the same way as building tiles.
The board is where building tiles are placed as players build them. The funky shape of the board gives the game a distinctive look, immediately recognizable at the table. At the start of the game, the board is oriented with one particular “leg” pointed at the first player. Players build down their own “leg” of the town to better identify which ones belong to them, an important gameplay aspect we will discuss in Part 2.
The bag used for the whaling phase surprised me. Most bags I’ve seen in games are either made terribly, or made from cringe-inducing velvet (sorry, velvet fans). The whaling bag in New Bedford is good quality canvas with nice, clean-looking artwork. It feels great in your hands and even adds to the game, as though you were holding a piece of material cut from a sail.
_New Bedford_’s wooden tokens are almost a game character in and of themselves. The original version of the game called for little colored wood cubes. Thankfully, the KS campaign cleaned house with respect to its stretch goals, so each game comes with amazing little wooden components. Let’s look at each one.
The first player token changed from a cardboard punch-out to a wooden ship’s wheel. Functionally, it only serves to label the first player for each round, but, like every other component in the game, it draws you into the setting and theme. Continuing the trend, the whale-eeple is used as a round marker throughout the game. Again, they could have used a simple wood cube, or cardboard token, but the whale-eeple is such a cool component that only helps the immersion. Lastly, the ships went from full-color to the much cooler-looking two-toned.
The resource tokens look and feel great. Dice Hate Me even went so far as to drill two tiny little holes in the brick tokens. Real-world bricks in that era used two holes instead of the modern three-hole design. A minor touch, I know, but a nice one nonetheless.
Overall, the components of the base game are amazing. Everything is of excellent quality and designed to draw you into the game’s setting and theme. From here, we now face the Rising Tide.
Rising Tide continues the standard set by its parent with nice artwork and a sturdy, well-made box.
The Rising Tide rulebook has the same look and feel as _New Bedford_’s rulebook, only with a navy blue color and fewer pages.
Rising Tide adds a number of things to the base game. Chief among those additions is the capacity for a fifth player. The first part of that is the extra ship board.
Another thing Rising Tide does is use different sets of buildings that replace or supplement buildings from the base game. The tradition of high quality components continues here. Unfortunately, the initial boxes shipped to backers had a number of misprints for the building tiles. The designer has set up a forum post on BoardGameGeek to capture the errors and communicate them with everyone (you can find that here). New tiles are on their way, but no word yet when they will arrive. I also don’t know how much this impacts the retail version of the expansion.
The quick response on the part of the publisher to fix the issue highlights what backers saw throughout the campaign: solid, meaningful communication. I would have liked a few more updates in the slow times, but that’s a small complaint.
Since Rising Tide adds a fifth player, it adds enough tokens to accommodate the extra player. The third and final aspect that the expansion adds are the Providence and Omen cards which add random events that, as the names suggest, either help or hinder players’ efforts.
The 5-player board, like its predecessor, has a distinctive look easily noticed on the table. It adds the wheelhouse as an additional starting building.
Summary (AKA TL;DR)
As I’ve mentioned over and over, the artwork, graphic design and quality of the components for Nantucket, New Bedford and Rising Tide are incredible (with notable exceptions within Nantucket and the White Whale promo). Each piece is designed specifically to immerse players in its world. You can practically hear the sounds of a bustling 19th century town as you place buildings and gather resources. Ocean spray and sea shanties like those heard in movies like _Master & Commander _or some of the Assassin’s Creed games come to mind as you send your ships out to hunt for whales. And, as the game continues, you can feel as small sense of loss as the whale population diminishes. It is then that you fully grasp what the designer was after.
Overall, I give the components four and a half harpoons out of five.
So, does the game itself live up to the wonderful components? We’ll discuss that in Part 2. See ya then, landlubbers.