Here’s an overview of two more of my favorite new games I played at Gen Con this year.
Via Nebula is a game by Martin Wallace that was published by Space Cowboys. It’s for 2-4 players, and takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to play. There’s a vague fantasy theme, where the Nebula Valley is emerging from a dark period where monsters haunted the mists that surrounded the land. Now they’re gone, and explorers are trying to find the pathways to new resources in order to construct new buildings and rebuild the land.
The game comes with a double-sided board (beginner and expert), 4 guild boards, 41 contract cards (neutral and private), 12 half-hexagon building sites, 12 full hexagon building sites (for the 2-player game), 60 meadow tiles, 20 exploitation tokens, 5 special exploitation tokens (showing five resources), 20 wooden building pieces, 12 wooden craftsmen, and 90 wooden resources (wood-food-stone-clay-wheat). Each player begins the game with a guild board, two private contracts, five buildings, three building sites, twelve meadow tiles, and two craftsmen. Four neutral contracts are dealt out face up by the board, and all exploitation tokens (minus one random special) are distributed to the meadow spaces. Each special exploitation token is then removed from the board, and replaced with five of the corresponding resource.
On your turn, take two actions. You have six options:
- Place a craftsman. Put it on any space containing an exploitation token. Claim the token, then place the type and number of indicated resources in the space. You may only use available craftsmen, i.e. the ones on your guild board. Craftsmen on the game board are not available.
- Place a building site. Take a building site and place it on any ruins space on the board. Each ruins space can contain two building sites (since they are half hexagons). In the two-player game, building sites are whole hexagons, so only one can be used. Again, you can only use available building sites.
- Explore a fog space. Take a meadow tile from the leftmost pile on your board and place it on a fog space that is either adjacent to a craftsman, building site, or building or your color, or adjacent to another empty meadow space.
- Explore a petrified forest. Take a meadow tile from the leftmost pile on your board and place it on a petrified forest space that follows the adjacency rules above. The only difference is that this takes both of your actions to do.
- Transport a resource to a building site. Take a resource from any exploitation (your craftsman does not have to be there) and move it to one of your own building sites following an uninterrupted path of empty meadow spaces. If you take the last resource at an exploitation, the craftsman that occupies it (if any) goes back to its owner. This space is now considered to be an empty meadow space.
- Erect a building. Turn in all resources at a building site for a contract card. These cards have resources listed that they need in order to be completed. If you have any extra resources, they go in your storage area and will count as negative points in the end. The contract gives you an immediate benefit. Place a building on the site and take back your tile.
After a player has erected his fifth building, he gets the end-of-game card and ends his turn. All other players get one more turn, and any leftover resources on building sites or exploitations go into storage. You then score – exploitation tokens plus fulfilled contracts plus explorers (revealed as meadow tiles are placed) plus end-of-game minus stored resources. The highest score wins.
Martin Wallace fanboys have been complaining for a while that he’s just not doing the type of games that he used to. And it’s true that, since Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, his games have tended to be much lighter and not quite as thematically dense. Via Nebula, to me, seems to be both a nod to his past as much as it is fully a game of the present. You’re building routes with hexes and moving resources around, much as in something like Age of Steam, though without the inherent meanness. One guy I demoed the game with at Gen Con called it a train game without trains, and I can totally see that. It also stands on its own feet with some very interesting choices to be made. Building sites need to be strategically placed so you can take advantage of resources that are already out there without taking anything unnecessarily. It’s nice that you have some private contracts to work on, but you’ll still have to get at least three public contracts, and those are tough since other people might be working on them as well. It’s a really cool game with some great art and very nice bits, and I look forward to playing it again sometime.
The Networks is a game by Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games. This one is for 1-5 players and takes 60-90 minutes to play. In the game, you are an executive at a floundering TV network that needs to replace your horrible lineup of terrible shows (like Cooking for Your Gerbil and Name That Stain) with great new shows (like An Hour of Shouting and Babylonian Idol). Your goal is to get more viewers than your opponents, who are all in the exact same predicament.
The game comes with 55 Show cards, 48 Star cards, 42 Ad cards, 62 Network cards, 7 scoring track boards, 5 player boards, 5 scoring cubes, 5 turn order discs, 20 black cubes, 5 100/200 viewer tokens, one 300-viewer token, 100 money chips, and a season marker. To setup up, you’ll use three scoring boards – the left, the middle, and the one of five right scoring tracks that corresponds to the number of players. Each person gets a player board, three starting Shows, one starting Star, and one starting Ad, as well as a turn order disc and four black cubes. The Shows are laid out in a time slot next to you player board – the order doesn’t matter. The Star and Ad go in your Green Room. A black cube goes in the topmost Viewer slot on each show and gets money based on their turn order – the first player gets the least, and the last player gets the most.
The game takes place over five Seasons (rounds), and in each Season, players will take turns performing actions until everyone has dropped out. There are six action options:
- Develop Show. For this, you take a new Show card and place it in one of your three time slots. You will need to pay the cost. It will replace another Show, which is rotated 180 degrees and placed into Reruns. Some Shows require that a Star and/or Ad be placed with it, while others give you the option. You’ll place a black cube on the topmost Viewer space. Note that some Shows will give you more Viewers in certain time slots. Also, if you ever have three or five Shows of the same genre in time slots, Reruns, or Archives, you’ll score five Viewers and get a new Ad, Star, or Network card.
- Sign Star. To do this, take a Star card and place it in your Green Room. You’ll have to pay the cost to sign them.
- Land Ad. Take an Ad card and place it in your Green Room. This will give you an immediate cash bonus.
- Take a Network Card. These give you special powers, and are not available until Season 2 in the basic game (the whole game in advanced play). These can give you an immediate one-time benefit, a one-time benefit you can use whenever you want, a scoring effect, or an ongoing effect.
- Attach an Ad or Star. You can move an Ad or Star from your Green Room to a Show. If the requisites are already filled, you can discard a Star or Ad for the new one to take its place.
- Drop and Budget. When you take this action, you are effectively out of the Season. Move your turn order disc to the first available spot on the Drop and Budget track, then collect the listed reward.
Once all players have Dropped and Budgeted, the Season is over. Ads provide income while some Shows and Stars will cost you money. You then score Viewers from your lineup and Reruns, using the provided Scoring Calculator track to make sure you get it right. You’ll then age your Shows by moving their cubes down a space. Sometimes, this will result in an increase in Viewers for the next Season, but often, it will be a decrease. After this, all Reruns go to your Archives, and you’ll replenish all Stars, Ads, Shows, and Network cards from the appropriate Season decks.
After scoring the fifth Season, score your Shows one more time (they will have aged before this so you’re not just duplicating your score). Add in Viewers for unused Stars in your Green Room and Network cards, and the player with the most Viewers wins.
This game is very much a management game. You have to watch your money, try to maximize your number of Viewers as well as your profits, and most importantly time your acquisitions to get what you want. If you spend all of your time getting Ads and Stars, you’re missing out on the Shows that will bring in the Viewers. But you need Ads and Stars before you can launch shows, so it’s very much a tightrope act. The game is a lot of fun and works in the theme in very creative ways. The cards themselves are pretty hilarious and play on a lot of television tropes – rather than name the Stars, you’ve got people like Tabloid Fodder, Adorable Hipster, and Always Dies In Everything. The game is more of a light-medium weight game, and I think probably a good next step for people looking to move deeper into the hobby. Definitely one to check out.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!