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Subject: Some very tentative initial impressions fwiw... rss

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Armand
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I got to play Via Nebula twice with two players this week. Definitely NOT enough to post a full review!

I have played a lot of Railways and Age of Steam, and there are a lot of similarities, so I thought I'd post a little something for those that are on the fence about making a purchase.

Marked improvements:

1. Meadows replace track. All the new 'track' tiles are the same. I always had a problem in AoS with the idea that you could run out of a certain type of track. Did we suddenly lose the technology to turn right?

I know, ease up on the theme, lots of great games have thematic inconsistencies, and of course there's a limit to how many of each tile can fit in the box! But this was part of the overall confining atmosphere of AoS that I didn't enjoy. The list of things I wanted to do that I couldn't do was always way too long.

So Via Nebula solves this 'problem', if it was a problem for you, very nicely.

2. Contracts that give one-off bonuses, buildings placed on the map. For me, much more satisfying than AoS. It's clear at a glance roughly where you are in the game, and you get a nice sense of progress. All good.

PU&D < PUD&U (pickup, deliver and use)

3. Resources instead of cubes. No need to elaborate. The bits are high quality and make the game easier to get your head around for new players.

Concerns

And please note these are just concerns, not problems. I don't have enough experience with the game to know if they are problems yet.

1. Botched Plans. There ought to be a term for this aspect of game design. I first noticed it playing AoS. I really disliked it then and I've really disliked it since in many other games.

Here's the moment I dread...

Me: "Holy crap. You just completely destroyed my whole plan. Wow. Nice play. I'm dead and buried."

You: "Really?!? I didn't even notice!"

Ugh. I don't mind conflict. I don't mind getting crushed, re-racking and going again. But if you make that brilliant play that effectively eliminates me from competition, it should be just that, brilliant, it shouldn't be an accident!

I'm afraid this did rear its ugly hear in VN. (Should I call it "Accidental Assassination"?) There are four buildings in the public offer. I was one action behind in building one. Then one behind in building the next. All of the new buildings that were then drawn blind off the top required a resource that wasn't available. Opening that resource and getting it to building sites would take several turns. Shut down play. Brilliant and devious.

My opponent:"Oh hey, I didn't notice that!"

Forehead. Slap.

2. Garbage time. The last turn AoS is kind of weird. All through the game you are punished mercilessly for inefficiency. On the last turn, one or more players will have nothing particular to do, but they can grab a couple points by building useless track, a road to nowhere. It's not a big deal for most people but it bugged me, that decrescendo. Like the fourth quarter of a blowout football game, you're not playing the actual game anymore. At the end you do this thing that sort of looks like football, or AoS, but really isn't. This happened on the last turn of VN. I built two tracks to nowhere and won by 1pt.

3. Point salad to the rescue! It has been determined by the Lords of Game Design that the runaway leaders of early Euros are most definitely not ok and must be thwarted at all costs. The easiest way to 'balance' a game seems to be to give points for everything. Do something brilliant? Points! Do something pretty useless that doesn't advance you toward the ostensible objectives presented by the theme? Points!

In the second game I played of VN, as I said, I got outplayed, rolled, and was dead and buried. I added up my score and I had lost 17 to 26. Then my opponent said, "Hey, did you count your points for the exploration tile thingies?"

I hadn't. And I had the building that gives you +1 per crouton. Sorry, I mean tile. So I won by a point.

Is this a zombie game? Shouldn't the dead stay dead? I was wrecked! I couldn't use the resources I had opened, couldn't build anything, and was just running out my turns mindlessly. My opponent used my resources to build buildings - ostensibly the point of the game - and he built five to my three. Success!

So what the heck happened?

I honestly don't know. I suspect, as with actual salad, dressing may lubricate, but too much will make you sick.

Maybe it's good that you can win by exploiting a niche, being the explorer and not building much. For me, it was unsatisfying to fail at what I was trying to do and to succeed by accident because merely by acting at all I would inevitably generate points.

That said, one thing is clear:

Via Nebula is deeper than it looks and neither of us played well at all.

I should have known I was winning. And my opponent should have known, too. I don't know how things would have played out if we had.

Is it a super tight well-balanced game that perfects Wallace's early rail games? Is it a food fight at a salad bar? Can the luck of the top-decked contracts be mitigated? And at higher player counts will you inevitably get screwed with more than one player snatching buildings between your turns?

Only time will tell.

I certainly will play it again if I get the chance, but lacking answers to these questions it isn't on my wishlist just yet.

Hope these initial impressions are helpful or at least interesting, when taken with the grain of salt they deserve.

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There's a shape called "The Golden Rectangle". Have you heard of it?
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It refers to a rectangle that's approximately contstructed in the ratio of 9 to 16. The golden rectangle has several characteristics. Let's say I create a square within this shape. Then, this smaller rectangle that I just created will also be a
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golden rectangle. I make another square within that and the leftover is another golden rectangle. And I make a few more, and when I connect all the central points of these shapes it creates a spiral that continues forever. This is the "Golden Spin".
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doctoryes0 wrote:
In afraid this did rear its ugly hear in VN. (Should I call it "Accidental Assassination"?) There are four buildings in the public offer. I was one action behind in building one. Then one behind in building the next. All of the new buildings that were then drawn blind off the top required a resource that wasn't available. Opening that resource and getting it to building sites would take several turns. Shut down play. Brilliant and devious.


I never found it difficult to see how many actions away someone was from completing a building. It's not an accident if you brought it upon yourself by delivering a resource before being sure you'd get a building that needed it.

Quote:
2. Garbage time. The last turn AoS is kind of weird. All through the game you are punished mercilessly for inefficiency. On the last turn, one or more players will have nothing particular to do, but they can grab a couple points by building useless track, a road to nowhere. It's not a big deal for most people but it bugged me, that decrescendo. Like the fourth quarter of a blowout football game, you're not playing the actual game anymore. At the end you do this thing that sort of looks like football, or AoS, but really isn't. This happened on the last turn of VN. I built two tracks to nowhere and won by 1pt.


Similar to above, it should be relatively obvious how many turns you have left until the end of the game (assuming they only have one building left). If your last two actions are something other than completing a building (or buildings), mistakes were made. At the very least you should have the resources ready to go for one of your starting cards and then hold off on actually finishing it until the end -- this is especially true for the starter cards that give no benefit besides points.

Quote:
3. Point salad to the rescue! It has been determined by the Lords of Game Design that the runaway leaders of early Euros are most definitely not ok and must be thwarted at all costs. The easiest way to 'balance' a game seems to be to give points for everything. Do something brilliant? Points! Do something pretty useless that doesn't advance you toward the ostensible objectives presented by the theme? Points!


And this is just bizarre. The amount of ways to score points has absolutely nothing to do with catch-up mechanisms -- if everything gives points then you need to do more things. If you can't do more things (like in this game where you do two things per turn no matter what) then do the more efficient things. Building is still far and away the most point-efficient use of actions (especially in 2-player where there's 5 tiles in each exploration stack and anything you do that helps the opponent counts double due to the zero-sum nature of the game).

Your statement about the disconnect between how you score points and what the theme wants you to do would make sense, but the rules quite clearly state: "it is now time for guilds of brave explorers to travel through the foggy pathways, exploit the resources and build new buildings and towns on the ruins of the devastated cities." You're explorers first, architects second, and it makes perfect sense that finding a new source of "croutons" earns you points.
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Harv Veerman
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Played this game with my SO 10+ times, that is to say: every day since buying it. In this house, it is a blast.
Respecting every opinion, just giving my 2c. Red text mine.

doctoryes0 wrote:
I got to play Via Nebula twice with two players this week. Definitely NOT enough to post a full review!

I have played a lot of Railways and Age of Steam, and there are a lot of similarities, so I thought I'd post a little something for those that are on the fence about making a purchase.

Marked improvements:

1. Meadows replace track. All the new 'track' tiles are the same. I always had a problem in AoS with the idea that you could run out of a certain type of track. Did we suddenly lose the technology to turn right?

I know, ease up on the theme, lots of great games have thematic inconsistencies, and of course there's a limit to how many of each tile can fit in the box! But this was part of the overall confining atmosphere of AoS that I didn't enjoy. The list of things I wanted to do that I couldn't do was always way too long.

So Via Nebula solves this 'problem', if it was a problem for you, very nicely.

2. Contracts that give one-off bonuses, buildings placed on the map. For me, much more satisfying than the AoS. It's clear at a glance roughly where you are in the game, and you get a nice sense of progress. All good.

PU&D < PUD&U (pickup, deliver and use)

3. Resources instead of cubes. No need to elaborate. The bits are high quality and make the game easier to get your head around for new players.

Concerns

And please note these are just concerns, not problems. I don't have enough experience with the game to know if they are problems yet.

1. Botched Plans. There ought to be a term for this aspect of game design. I first noticed it playing AoS. I really disliked it then and I've really disliked it since in many other games.

Here's the moment I dread...

Me: "Holy crap. You just completely destroyed my whole plan. Wow. Nice play. I'm dead and buried."

You: "Really?!? I didn't even notice!"

Ugh. I don't mind conflict. I don't mind getting crushed, re-racking and going again. But if you make that brilliant play that effectively eliminates me from competition, it should be just that, brilliant, it shouldn't be an accident!

In afraid this did rear its ugly hear in VN. (Should I call it "Accidental Assassination"?) There are four buildings in the public offer. I was one action behind in building one. Then one behind in building the next. All of the new buildings that were then drawn blind off the top required a resource that wasn't available. Opening that resource and getting it to building sites would take several turns. Shut down play. Brilliant and devious.

My opponent:"Oh hey, I didn't notice that!"

Forehead. Slap.

Trust me, I know and recognize this feeling. IMO, the game is first and foremost about tempo. I think it is in the "one behind" you mention. Some building give you an advantage or "push" in tempo, we think these are the key buildings. Distillery, By Air, Express Delivery, Adventurers, Work Shops, etcetera all change the tempo, changing your position from "one behind" to "one ahead". Granted, they have to be available, but there are a lot of them and you have your starter contracts. After are first 5 plays, we thought there was a first player advantage. We don't any more.
TL;DR: Keep in mind the tempo.


2. Garbage time. The last turn AoS is kind of weird. All through the game you are punished mercilessly for inefficiency. On the last turn, one or more players will have nothing particular to do, but they can grab a couple points by building useless track, a road to nowhere. It's not a big deal for most people but it bugged me, that decrescendo. Like the fourth quarter of a blowout football game, you're not playing the actual game anymore. At the end you do this thing that sort of looks like football, or AoS, but really isn't. This happened on the last turn of VN. I built two tracks to nowhere and won by 1pt.

I dare say you didn't win by building a track to nowhere, but by building and exploring a lot prior to that. The difference was 1 point, you might have scored that winning point halfway through the game though. In fact you played so well you hardly needed your last turn, didn't you?


3. Point salad to the rescue! It has been determined by the Lords of Game Design that the runaway leaders of early Euros are most definitely not ok and must be thwarted at all costs. The easiest way to 'balance' a game seems to be to give points for everything. Do something brilliant? Points! Do something pretty useless that doesn't advance you toward the ostensible objectives presented by the theme? Points!

In the second game I played of VN, as I said, I got outplayed, rolled, and was dead and buried. I added up my score and I had lost 17 to 26. Then my opponent said, "Hey, did you count your points for the exploration tile thingies?"

I hadn't. And I had the building that gives you +1 per crouton. Sorry, I mean tile. So I won by a point.

The theme of the game is rebuilding the valley by exploring, providing resources and building. I say that's just what you did. It is not just about building, so again: well played.

Is this a zombie game? Shouldn't the dead stay dead? I was wrecked! I couldn't use the resources I had opened, couldn't build anything, and was just running out my turns mindlessly. My opponent used my resources to build buildings - ostensibly the point of the game - and he built five to my three. Success!

So what the heck happened?

I honestly don't know. I suspect, as with actual salad, dressing may lubricate, but too much will make you sick.

Again, it is not just about building IMO.

Maybe it's good that you can win by exploiting a niche, being the explorer and not building much. For me, it was unsatisfying to fail at what I was trying to do and to succeed by accident because merely by acting at all I would inevitably generate points.

That said, one thing is clear:

Via Nebula is deeper than it looks and neither of us played well at all.

I should have known I was winning. And my opponent should have known, too. I don't know how things would have played out if we had.

Is it a super tight well-balanced game that perfects Wallace's early rail games? Is it a food fight at a salad bar? Can the luck of the top-decked contracts be mitigated? And at higher player counts will you inevitably get screwed with more than one player snatching buildings between your turns?

Only time will tell.

I certainly will play it again if I get the chance, but lacking answers to these questions it isn't on my wishlist just yet.

Hope these initial impressions are helpful or at least interesting, when taken with the grain of salt they deserve.



Thanks for this very recognizable description. In our case, the keyword was "learning curve" (two words, I know...).

Enjoy your plays, and thanks for this write up.

EDITED for colour
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Jonathan Franklin
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Another way of saying what those above said is that this is not a race game, even if it appears to be one. The person who triggers the ending, even with the two point bonus, does not seem to correlate to who wins.
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I'm with most posters above. I think you may just have the wrong perspective. I don't think you can call a game where there are only 3 ways to score a point salad (not including the bonus for ending the game, focusing on what all players score). And it makes complete sense to score exploitation tiles and for fields placed as this is a game where players are working together to build a shared engine and then exploit that engine for the most points. That only works well when players are rewarded for contributing to the engine building. Another great example of this concept is Scoville. Perhaps comparing VN to Scoville will be more accurate than trying to compare VN to Steam just because of the designer.
 
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Team D20 wrote:
I'm with most posters above. I think you may just have the wrong perspective.


Very likely!

Team D20 wrote:
Another great example of this concept is Scoville. Perhaps comparing VN to Scoville will be more accurate than trying to compare VN to Steam just because of the designer.


Funny thing, I thought of that comparison but felt it was unjust. Of the last maybe forty new games I've played Scoville is the one that stands out as the one I've liked least. My negative reaction, and this is based on one 5p session, was entirely toward the extremely pronounced 'race to common objectives' aspect of the design.

VN has the same thing, and it's quite possible that's just a thing I'm never going to enjoy.

That said, I liked VN much, much more than Scoville based on these first impressions.

And, also fwiw, although my first impressions of VN may be unduly influenced by my experience with Steam and RotW, there are certainly a ton of similarities: PUD, hex map, route-building.

I would even go so far as to say that Mr. Wallace, as any artist does, is attempting in VN to improve and perfect the ideas that he has always been drawn to and which have earned him acclaim. What's more, for me at least, VN is successful in that regard. Based again on very limited exposure, I already like it much more than Steam/RotW.

And I should have mentioned in the 'marked improvements' above that I like the speed and shortened duration a lot more, too. I overlooked that.
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Jonathan Franklin
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I remember Cinque Terre having the same issue, diverse array of contracts and if you commit and then realize someone else can beat you to it, it does not feel good, as you cannot easily chance course.

Is that more acceptable in the routes in TIcket to Ride? Maybe because there are often longer alternatives.

In Via Nebula, it feels like a way to force you not to dawdle.
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I've only played once so far, but I suppose it's a good sign if after just one play I have a lot of opinions about the game.

I won by 1 point as well (29), but 2nd and 3rd place were tied right behind me (28), while 4th came in with (23).

Points are points, even if it's a little anti-climactic simply sitting on exploitation tiles, laying down meadows, etc. As far as the contracts go, the first two I successfully build were my own, just to get a sense of how the game played out, and I knew I had at least 2 that no one could take away from me.

You can always amass resources on your construction sites and then build whatever building is available. Of course, you have to worry about the negative points in your storage area, but I think that's part of this game's charm; that's a tiny moment of tense decision-making.

In any case, I very much enjoyed my single play of this game, and that's not just because I happened to have won. My advice: stop comparing it to AoS and play it for what it is - a light, family-style, gateway-ish game by Martin freaking Wallace, of all people!
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