It Came From Kickstarter! New Bedford, Pt. 2

Ahoy, there! Welcome aboard the second part of our exhaustive review of Dice Hate Me Games’ latest board game, New Bedford, its little brother, Nantucket, and its expansion, Rising Tide, fresh off their Kickstarter (KS) campaign fulfillment. As a quick recap, New Bedford is a worker placement game of whaling and town-building set in the mid-1800s. Players take on the role of a captain/businessman-about-town and compete with each other over victory points through the course of 12 rounds.

Part 1 of our review covered the components. This week, we will dive into the gameplay and the KS campaign. I’ll touch on the Rising Tide expansion and the KS-exclusive content throughout. Rising Tide is really three expansions in one: Town Expansion (more building tiles), Ship’s Log (adds random events) and the 5th player expansion (pretty self-explanatory; I do not want to pull out a chart and graph to explain this).

Disclaimer: As of the writing of this article, the misprinted building tokens for Rising Tide have still not arrived, so this review does not include discussion of Town Expansion or the extra building tiles for the 5th Player expansion. However, I still cover the other aspects of the expansion. I plan revisit the expansion in a later article to cover this aspect because I’m a completionist (yes, that does mean Fallout games wreck me).

Gameplay

Setup

Behold, the glory of 12 megapixels! Also, this is the game set up.

Behold, the glory of 12 megapixels! Also, this is the game set up.

At the start of the game, players fill the whaling bag with a set number of whales of the three main types (Right, Bowhead and Sperm) as well as empty sea tokens all based upon the number of players. In a 2-player game, a limited set of the buildings are used. In the solo variant, you compete against a number of “AI” opponents that you choose, so this part of the setup is the same.

For a solo game, a tile left out of multiplayer games—the Turner’s Mill—is added to the available buildings. This was another goof on the part of the manufacturer: none of the base games shipped with this building tile. It does not have a large impact on the game, and the solo variant can still be played without it.

Example of a player’s area. Gosh, this camera is so much better.

Example of a player’s area. Gosh, this camera is so much better.

In typical board game fashion, a first player is chosen by whatever means the players choose (dice roll, roshambo, fisticuffs, eldritch ritual, whatever). Following this, players pick their color-coded ship boards and gather the accompanying ship tokens and meeples. The first player—besides getting to pick his color before anyone else—hangs on to the super-nifty ship’s wheel token to signify that they are first player.

Example of “AI” opponent in solo variant.

Example of “AI” opponent in solo variant.

In the solo variant, the player competes against named captains on the reverse side of the ship boards, each with their own unique abilities and behaviors. You basically follow a series of if-then situations and roll a die to determine what they do each round. It’s a neat feature and one you can tell they put a lot of work into. It does, however, add more things to track, especially as you add more opponents.

The players position themselves around the town and whaling boards with all resources and building tiles within easy reach. Ideally, each player should sit near one “leg” of the town board for ease in identifying their buildings. The also-super-nifty whale-eeple token goes on the space marking Round 1 on the whaling board.

Finally, in turn order, players gather $5 (in-game) worth of resources. Wood and Food are worth $1 each, brick is $2 and the coins are worth face value. Already we have a little of bit of strategy coming into play with players allowed to customize their starting resources.

Overview of Play

Each round is played over the following four phases:

  1. Action
  2. Movement
  3. Whaling
  4. End of Round

Action

During the Action phase, in turn order, each player places one their meeples on a location within the town and performs the action, paying any associated costs. The Action phase is where players gather resources, build buildings and prepare their ships for whaling. Consequently, it is also where the bulk of the game is played.

Wood allows you to build buildings and prep ships. Brick is used almost exclusively for building. Food launches ships. Each of these resources can also be sold for cold, hard cash if need be (some of the buildings boost the amount you receive when selling). Money serves a number of actions, but its key function is to pay your sailors what’s called the “lay.” According to the New Bedford Museum of Whaling’s website, the lay is defined as follows:

“…a percentage of the profits, instead of wages, the size depending upon his status. The captain earned the largest share, perhaps 1/8th, and the green hand (inexperienced crewman) the least, as little as 1/350th. An ordinary crewman might earn only $25.00 for several years work.”_

See how I worked a history lesson into a board game article? I’m sneaky like that. We’ll get into why the lay is important in the Movement and Whaling phases.

The town expands as players build new locations.

The town expands as players build new locations.

At the start of the game, you will only have the five location options open to you.  The 5-player board from Rising Tide adds a sixth starting location, the Wheelhouse, that gives anyone landing there the first player token and $3 to the first one to use that location in a round.Each option on the starting town board can be used by multiple players in a round; but, if you’re the first player to use that location this round, you get a bonus. For example, the first player to use the Town Hall (which allows you to build locations) gets to spend one less resource of their choice to perform the action. Other player can use the same action, but do not get the discount.

The same is also true of the dockyard and city pier locations positioned just above the whaling board. In order to send ships out on whaling expeditions, players spend wood to prep the ship at the dockyard and then spend any number of food tokens to launch their ships as denoted on the whaling board. In general, it takes a minimum of two actions to launch a ship (though there is a building tile that allows you to prep and launch with one action, provided you have the resources).

When you launch a ship, you place the ship in a position corresponding to the amount of food you spend. Spending more food allows for longer expeditions. In some cases, sending a ship out a shorter expedition makes sense, but I’ve found this usually only beneficial either very early or very late in the game.

Typical location tiles players can build.

Typical location tiles players can build.

Any tiles built onto the town by players can only be used once per round. Turn order plays a major factor here; having a second, third and maybe even fourth option of actions to take is a good idea in case someone ahead you wrecks your plans. Another twist on this is that to use a building owned by another player, you have to pay that player $1 (owners use their own buildings for free). Not only that, but each building is also worth one victory point each. Some buildings—identified by a brown border—serve no purpose other than to give a player bonus points at the end of the game.

Bonus point buildings denoted by the brown border.

Bonus point buildings denoted by the brown border.

In the solo variant, the player has the typical board. The other captains behave according the instructions on their captain board, or helm, to use the rule book term as mentioned above.

One last thing to point out is that all players have access to one free bonus action per regular each turn: they may purchase either 2 wood or 2 food for $3 (you can’t mix it up with 1 wood and 1 food). It makes the resource more expensive, but sometimes you really just need more of that hardtack.

Once all players have placed both meeples, the Action phase ends.

Movement

During the movement phase, all ships out at sea move one space closer to shore. Ships closest to shore move first, then the next furthest out and so on. Each space on the whaling board has three open slots marked 1st, 2nd and 3rd. As you might guess, the first ship into an empty space takes the first position. This order priority is important when ships return from sea and when choosing whale tokens during the Whaling phase.

Any ships returning must pay the lay (as mentioned above). Each whale token has two numbers: a cost in the upper left corner and a point value in the upper right. The lay is the cost in the upper left. This value must be paid for each whale aboard your ship for you to earn the points from those whales. Any whales you cannot pay for go up for auction to the other players. This gives players another place to earn points without needing to have ships at sea. You still earn half the lay’s value in money from the unused whale, but miss out on the points.

Here’s an example scenario: I return to shore with two Right whales, two Bowheads and a Sperm whale. I have $17 to spend on the lay. I decide to keep the Sperm whale and Bowheads. This costs me $16 and nets me 8 total points. I don’t have the money for the Right whales, so I get $1 for each. Now the other players, in turn order, get a chance to purchase the whales at the lay’s full value.

Whales that earn points go onto the corresponding spaces on the ship board. Whales that do not score and are not purchased by other players get discarded (you monsters).

Whaling

Whalers be whalin’.

Whalers be whalin’.

Once drawn, the tokens are laid out for all to see. Starting with the ship furthest away from shore, players choose which tokens they encounter keeping in mind that any whales they pick up must be paid for, or auctioned off. Empty sea tokens are returned to the bag. Any whale tokens still left unchosen are discarded. This simulates the historical decline in the whale population. As you see this unfold during the game, you get a small sense of the loss this brought to the world.

The KS promo tiles act as a nice surprise when drawing tiles. Ambergris gives you an instant $8 upon reaching shore, which you can then use to pay the lay. The blue whale tile costs a whopping $12 and restricts that ship from gathering any more whales, but gives you 6 points when returned. The White Whale—my personal favorite of the promo tiles—destroys your ships and any whales you had aboard, but gives you an instant 4 points. Finally, the castaway tile gives you a free town action to use the moment that ship returns to shore.

Examples of Omen (left) and Providence (right) cards.

Examples of Omen (left) and Providence (right) cards.

The Ship’s Log expansion cards come into play during the Whaling phase. A player may skip this phase entirely to draw one of these cards. Any players that draw empty sea tokens during this phase may also draw one of these cards. Generally, Omen cards hurt other players while Providence cards help you. However, it is possible that one of these could backfire on you, so use with caution.

End of Round

Once all the whaling tokens have been resolved, the round ends. The first player token moves clockwise to the next player, and the round marker moves one space forward. Players gather up their meeples and play proceeds to the next round.

For solo games, the player is always first player.

End of the Game and Scoring

After Round 12’s End of Round phase is finished, all remaining ships at sea return to port. Players must again pay the lay for whatever whales they still have on their ships or auction them off. Basically, you run through an extra Movement phase that draws the ships all the way back to port.

When scoring the game, count the points earned from the whales. Add a point for each building you built. You also earn a point for every $5 you have left over. Bonus point buildings are tallied up separately and then added to the total. In the case of tie, the player with the most caught whales wins. If there’s still a tie, victory is shared.

New Bedford Gameplay Thoughts

My first reaction to the game when I played it was surprise. I had watched a number of videos ahead of time, but they still did not fully prepare me for the feel of the game. _New Bedford_ is very laid-back. You aren’t really in any hurry to get anywhere and never really feel panicked by much in the game. And yet, it moves very quickly and, once you get used to it, has a nice fluid rhythm. Two-player games, even with someone unfamiliar with the game, last less than an hour. Games with more people rarely hit the two-hour mark unless you have a group of methodical and/or deliberate players.

Complexity puts it at about a light-to-mid-range worker placement. Not as simplistic as Carcassone, but nowhere near as complicated as, say, Kanban, it hits a really nice sweet spot that is easy for new players, but has enough depth to keep a seasoned gamer engaged. The game also feels incredibly well-balanced. All of the games I’ve played have been close. The largest margin I’ve seen between first and last place is six points, which really isn’t much.

The thing that really struck me after several plays is that every action moves you forward in some way. While not every action gains you the most at that exact moment, there really aren’t any bad moves, just decent moves and really good moves.

With the exception of the Post Office, all of the buildings feel like they function well and fit their function well thematically. Others may have different experiences, but I have yet to see where the Post Office fits in a viable strategy.

The solo variant feels a little…strange. I mean, I don’t mind the solo aspect. I still had fun, but I’m not sure it’s something I would do on a regular basis. It adds a lot of “fiddly-ness” to a game that excels at not being that fiddly otherwise. I’ll probably play it again at some point, because I see the potential, just not totally sold on it.

As I mentioned in Part 1, the KS tiles are great to have in the bag, and they add enough that I don’t want to play without them. Having said that, I wouldn’t jump through hoops to get them. Keep an eye out at conventions and GtG’s website for any specials that include the promo, but don’t feed the price gougers on ebay or BGG.

The Omens and Providence cards that make up the Ship’s Log expansion in Rising Tide are great. I love the variability they bring to the game. I would only use them with a crew of experienced players, or those familiar with the game because it is one more thing to keep in mind while playing the game.

And the theme…I love love love the theme. Don’t get me wrong; I am against whaling. I watched Star Trek IV and got it.

(RIP Mr. Nimoy)

(RIP Mr. Nimoy)

However, whaling is not a subject to shy away from. Games like this don’t glorify their subject matter; they bring them up as a topic of discussion. While it’s hard to fault our ancestors for their mindset, many just did what they felt they needed to survive, it is unfortunate that they went too far. After playing the game, I read up on the history of the towns of New Bedford and Nantucket and whaling in general and learned a few things along the way. This, I believe, is exactly what the designer was after.

Overall, the game excels at its core mechanics and plays really well, even if some of the extraneous add-ons and variants are a little off. The theme is integral to the game. Every physical piece is designed to draw you into the game’s world. The mechanics are solid, but the theme gives it that extra touch that rounds it all out very nicely.

I give the core New Bedford game 5 out of 5 tug boats and the KS promo 5 out 5. Rising Tide still needs to be finished for me to finalize that part of the review, so final score pending.

Nantucket

A game of Nantucket under way.

A game of Nantucket under way.

Basically, Nantucket is a stripped-down, 2-player version of New Bedford. Two cards give you a total of 12 buildings to work with. Multiple cards give it some variability in town set up. Players take turns placing their token on a building and perform the action.

Coins serve several functions in the game. They not only act as your currency, but they also function as your ship. During the whaling expedition, you toss your “ships” onto the table (or into the a box). The type of coins you use and which side is facing up when they land determine what whales you capture. Lastly, the coins function as an identifier when you purchase buildings; one player is heads and the other is tails. Nantucket plays super-fast and is a great filler game for a decent price.

It also helps that my wife actually likes this one. Probably because she kicked my ass when we played it. Twice.

KS Campaign

Image from KS page.

Image from KS page.

Dice Hate Me and Greater Than Games have a solid reputation for their Kickstarters. This was, in fact, one of the main reasons I even backed the game. Both companies have consistently delivered high-quality products and New Bedford is no exception.

The situation with Rising Tide is unfortunate. I’d really like to add all the bells and whistles this game has and put them through their paces. Having run plenty of school and projects of my own, I can sympathize with the company a little. You can do everything right and still come up short because someone else in the chain dropped the ball. It reflects badly on you, especially, as in this case, when you’re ultimately responsible to the end customer. I can understand the frustration of other backers at the slip-up in delivery.

The creators communicated fairly well throughout the campaign, though there were some dead spots here and there. They have been much slower to communicate in the aftermath of the campaign, which is not so good considering what happened with the expansion. They were quick to notify backers of the problems with Rising Tide, and set up an errata and FAQ on BGG, which is a plus. But there hasn’t been much since. I understand that sometimes it’s just a waiting game, but a heads up every now then just to say “hey” would’ve been nice. It’s much better than dead silence.

The end product is great, though incomplete. Their communication, however, needs a little work, so, Rising Tide corrections pending, the score for how they ran the campaign sits at 3 masts out of 5.

Summary

All in all, New Bedford and Nantucket are fantastic games. With some minor exceptions, the components are top-notch, as greatly detailed in Part 1. The art, components and gameplay work hand-in-hand with the theme, and I’d be hard pressed to think of a different theme for the mechanics. It’s laid-back feel is refreshing and eases new players into the game.

The verdict is still out on Rising Tide, and I will revisit the expansion once the issues are cleared up. I know it means that this review is slightly less than exhaustive, but I plan to rectify that as soon as I am able. The KS-exclusives were worth the price of admission.

Overall score: 4 out 5 ship lanterns (pending further review)