Shep @ Half Wing Games
'On the table' is my take on the short and simple review, covering game components and basic game play. Enjoy!
I'll start by saying that I missed New Earth on Kickstarter, but when I caught wind of it it seemed like something I'd have backed - I like the theme, mid weight euro games are always a win on our table, and it looked to have been made to a good quality. Thankfully for me, I am local to Nottingham, and knew I could go and play the game at Ludorati as they had retail stock in following the campaign, so off I popped to try it!
The production quality is very high. The board and counters are very well printed and on nice thick card, the playing components are wooden which is always a big win for me (I'm not a fan of plastic cubes and pawns) and the box looks great.
This isn't a bright and vibrant looking game on the table, but this is in no way a negative, in fact it almost makes sense given the theme... this is a world ravaged by weather systems, clutching for survival and in the midst of political turmoil... it's a dark, cold and wet existence, which makes the colour scheme feel right at home.
The cards are multi-use, with a various rules options, points values and colour codes on them, they are printed well and are easy to follow once you understand the core game mechanics.
It's clear from the outset what this game is about. It's a harsh economic resource management game with some sprinklings of territory control. If this isn't your thing, don't bother. Much like games such as Shafausa, even if you love the theme, when you get behind it you have to love economy-type games to thrive here.
New Earth does some interesting things. It displays a fairly 'real-world' (be it very stripped down) process of balancing your economy and during the game it was nice to be able to understand why those decisions were made in the design process. You have to balance 3 core resources - Mining, Energy & Manufacturing. Everything you 'purchase' needs all 3 in different balances. You can purchase the means to generate more of these resources in later turns, you can purchase consumer goods (which are needed every turn to pay upkeep on your territories) and make machines which add flexibility to locations and enable additional resource generation once those sites are full to capacity. You must also think about money. Money is needed to obtain additional manufacturing plants, to buy consumer goods, and also for use in elections.
Elections replace combat or conflict in this game, and it's nicely done. Players who want to challenge an unoccupied territory, or take a location from another place do so by a political battle, where players commit money and cards in secret to create a bidding war for their campaign. At the end of it a die is rolled, with the result being influenced by the amount of capital put towards the election (if that doesn't mirror real life, what does!). I like the use of the die here, it's pretty much the only place in the game where it is used (other than to decide where catastrophes strike!), and it allows for a touch of entropy to come into play. Nothing is a sure-fire thing in a political revolution... unless you pay off the people
The last thing to mention here, and probably my favourite mechanic in the game is the card deck. The cards have a number of rules and numbers on them, as well as different colour boarders. What results is 1 deck of cards that replaces the need for 4 decks of cards. 1stly each card has a number, at the start of each turn all players add their totals and this determines the initiative order for the turn (meaning no 'clockwise play in this game!'), next these a rule allowing the card to be exchanged for a resource, or allowing an upgrade when a city is built, next it details one catastrophe this card can counter if you are unlucky to get hit, next are 2 numbers which apply to elections (when you initiate and when you are defending your territory in one) and finally is the colour of the boarder - you can trade in 4 different coloured cards to build a city which doubles the income from one of your territories. That deck of card does so much for this game, and isn't confusing to use. This an achievement.
I'd read online that it was possible to 'break' your play of this game by ignoring the need to buy consumer goods at the start of the game. Having reviewed the results of what happens when someone can't pay all their upkeeps I can see how this would be brutal mistake. But frankly, the game is set out to show you this fact from the offset. I don't see this decision as being any different to the first turn of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, where half the game mechanics are removed to force you to make a decision between 2 things. This decision was made by the designer to enable you to get an instant grab on a few game mechanics without just letting you start with more stuff. I feel that New Earth has done the same. Yes, it is still open and you 'can' choose to ignore the warning signs, but why would you. I mean, you could recover from not having consumer goods, but you'll be very unlikely to even come close to winning. I don't see this as a 'broken' concept in anyway. If people want to make the active decision to sabotage their own game and let me run riot whilst they struggle, I'm all for it
It's probably worth mentioning that there are areas that this game 'could' be idiot-proofed. There are a couple of wordings that could be tightened up in the rules and in places the terms 'Metal' and 'Mining' are interchangeable, but it's far from a deal breaker. A close read of the rules and a bit of common sense makes it very obvious where things should go and how things play out. If there was to be an update/reprint it might be nice to tidy those aspects up, but it's a fairly insignificant blip on an otherwise solid game.
I enjoyed this game a lot. I loved the need for a solid tactical mindset, but still needing to change your game plan when disaster strikes (and it will!). It steps away from a tactical war-game style affair and throws a touch more chance at you. Some will hate this, but I really embrace that change of pace. I think many will house rule the end of game scoring process and decide to just use the 'all locations score' option, as the others have a nasty way of brutalising your scoring strategy, but again, if you are leaving it to chance, you need to be mindful throughout the game to cover every possible option. Theres a lot to think about in here and it won't be for everyone, but it was certainly one for me.
I've given this a solid 7. It's something I'll be playing more of (I still need to work out the importance of balance between expanding, or staying small and raising your social level!) and will be introducing more people to. If you like economic or resource management game you should give this a whirl. If you like the competitive nature of games like Mythotopia, Agricola, Power Grid or Terra Mystica then there is a good chance that you'll find something you like in New Earth.