J C Lawrence
Four player game: Dave, Chad, Christopher, JCL (me).
Having just gotten in Neuland from SpieleGuild we were excited to
get it onto the table. It had missed the table the week before in
favour of another Essen release: Reef Encounter. I was particularly
interested in Neuland given the many descriptions as being
Rules explanation took the better part of 20 minutes. Neuland's
rules aren't particularly complex -- it is actually a rather simple
game rules-wise -- but like many heavy games, while the rules may be
simple, using them to play the game well seems anything but.
ObPeeve: There was minor difficulty in getting the recommended
starting board setup. The hex tiles in the game are in various
shades of green and gray and the illustrative picture in the rules
is monochrome and lacks a key to indicate, for instance, whether
the light gray tiles in the picture are supposed to be gray or
light green, or the mid-gray tiles should be gray or light green.
Some tile counting and comparison resolved the question (light
gray in the picture is light green in the game tiles).
And we were off! Chad won starting player and started off in the
east quickly building two mines and using only the minimum actions
for it. Christopher started in the south and built a quarry and
then a smelter. I went for the north west and built a charcoal
burner and a mine, along with getting production markers on them and
everywhere else I could afford ("get while the getting is good!").
Dave went for another mine and quarry. And then the first round was
over and the clever turn track mechanism was about to start...and we
suddenly realised that just like in Roads&Boats, nobody owns
anything in the game except their production markers (transports in
R&B). Buildings are free for anyone to use just so long as there
isn't a production marker on them. As such board position is very
fluid and transitional. Production markers are really just
temporary investment markers.
And the brain melting began and didn't stop.
Early turns were slow, long, and tentative, often running for 10
minutes or so per player. Many times we had players do long
sequences of actions and then say, "Ooops, no, that's not what I
want to do, undo!", roll back a whole bunch of actions or even their
entire turn so far and then try a different tack, which they'd then
rollback, try something else again etc before eventually settling on
a final move. While normally this sort of tentative and analysis
heavy (and discussion heavy) play style would be a huge problem, in
this case due to the weight of the game and our shared inexperience
it turned out to be a great feature in helping us learn how to play
effectively. We all watched, made observations, corrected each
other's moves, and learned together. By the time the late game
approached moves were faster and shorter, often done in a minute or
so. We still had some tentative exploration going on, but we'd all
started to be comfortable with the base patterns of the game, had
some ideas of where the really stupid things to do where and how to
avoid them, and thus a lot of the early floundering had fallen out.
Some comments from the game:
"This is a great game!"
"Boy, we really suck at this."
"We're in a massive clue vacuum here. None of us know what we're
doing: we're in a Ross Perot field. Can you hear the great big
"My brain hurts." "You still have a brain?"
"Oh my god, I don't have enough actions!" "You can't get there
"Hey, at least I don't suck at this as badly as you do...I think!"
"I'm going to play this so much differently next time."
"I want to play again."
"Where did you get this from? I want a copy."
"You bastards, you blocked off all the quarries!" "Uhh huh..."
"You know, iron is pretty worthless." "You mean, except for all
those victory points?" "Oh yeah..."
"Lie down!" (Christopher at the start of every turn)
"Oh crap." "Yup."
"I guess I can't do that." "Well I wish you hadn't done that."
Our most common mistake was forgetting to pay the stone or wood
needed to build a building. This became known as a "Chad" and was
something we all kept a careful eye on when it wasn't our turn. Our
next most common mistake was forgetting to count an action for
production when the resources had to be shipped in expensively,
something that I narrowly escaped having named after me.
Me: "I make a silver bar here with this coal from there and that
silver ore from over there with a transport cost of three..."
Others: "Plus one action for the production."
Me: "Oh yeah...so that's four."
And, in the end, Chad won, placing all his victory point markers one
step ahead of the rest of us via some very nice control of the turn
track. Total play time was about 210 minutes, 190 minutes minus the
rules explanation -- which wasn't bad considering the weight of the
game and that it was the first game for all of us.
All of us wanted to play again, soon.
This is not a light or simple game. It is also a perfect
information game. Expect your first game to be like ours: much
more of an explorative learning session than a game. There is a
long learning curve. While we're ready to be surprised, none of
us expect to even start feeling comfortable and effective with the
game until at least our third or fourth game.
Mik Svellov's English rules are quite good but require careful
reading several times over. Many critical details didn't reveal
their actual significance and relation to other parts of the game
until the N'th time over.
Good player aids that show the resource, VP and production graphs
would help a lot. There are two that come with the game (why 2 in
a 4 player game?), but they're in German and but we didn't find
them particularly useful due to the language barrier and poor
Land is a limited resource and with the exception of mines,
there's a very small number of each building type. Transport
costs and control of free central land area end up featuring
significantly in the late mid-game and onward.
Play with players of similar skill/experience. Newbie players are
going to get mashed by more experienced players. There is a steep
learning curve and a large reward for getting further up the
The decision tree is unusually wide and very bushy. Unlike most
German games there aren't ~7 possible moves from which to select,
but hundreds followed by yet more hundreds, and pruning the
decision tree just isn't that obvious early on. This, combined
with an action point system could lead to serious AP problems if
your group is sensitive to them.
Neuland seems well suited to an online version.
At times the game seemed VERY tactical due to the board changing
so much between turns. My impression is that this was more of an
apparency than a fact, and was due to our inexperience. Adaptive
long term strategies (if that makes sense) seem the order of the
The accelerating values of the VP buildings helps keep trailing
players in contention, especially if they control the turn
mechanism well. However this same feature can also make it hard
to tell who is ahead in the game: the guy with 6 VPs on the board,
or the guy with 1 VP who could produce another 8 VPs over the next
two turns if you don't stop him?
Control and manipulation of the turn mechanism is critical. Be
willing to waste action points this turn in order to get them back
and then some due to the turn track mechanism.
Try and keep at least two different production channels in
progress in each turn. As such the base pattern seems to be to
try and finish one channel one turn, and setup the another channel
for the next turn.