Who I am/ Who Might Find This Useful
My gaming habits have changed over the past year and these days I tend to play very few solo games or games with my kids; instead, most of my plays are 2-player with my girlfriend (who is an avid gamer) or Agricola on Sundays or occasional games with groups on Friday night. As a result, my focus has been much more on games that are a bit more meaty, play well with 2 and can be played with more on occasion.
So the most important things for me are: (1) meaty (I'm looking for games with tough choices and meaningful decisions), (2) number of players/ scalability, (3) playing time, (4) re-playability (doesn't have to go on forever, but at least 20-30 games before it gets old) (5) player interaction (I don't mind multi-player solitaire but my girlfriend like the competitiveness and opportunity for screwage), (6) downtime (7) mechanics (something different to help me justify getting it) and (8) the extras - theme and components (not necessary but a nice touch).
Number of times I've played: 4 (3 2-player games; 1 3-player game)
NB: This review is based on the Z-Man components and the first edition rules.
A 2 hour 2 - 4 player worker placement, engine building, pick-up-and-deliver game. Players begin with a player count specific number of VPs (aka Coat of Arms). The goal is to build buildings that use these VPs. The first player to get rid of all of their VPs wins. To build these buildings you need resources that are generated from other buildings. These other buildings need resources that are generated from yet other buildings and so on and so on until you get to the three basic buildings that require no input but produce a resource. Players use up to 10 actions during a turn to place workers on buildings to "produce" a resource and then remove them when they want to "consume" the resource to either (a) produce a more complex resource (requires 1 action) or (b) build a building (requires 0 actions). The first twist is that any resources not consumed during the player's next turn are lost (i.e., the workers are returned to the player's supply) so you need to plan ahead so that whatever resources you build this turn you can use the next. The second twist is player order is determined by whoever is furthest back on actions taken (think Thebes or Glen More). Mix this in with a small number of each building type and an additional action transportation cost if buildings are far away from resources and you get a game that has taken me a few plays to even begin to fathom a strategy.
Meaty (1 = luck-fest, 10 = brain hurts when done)
Played with the original first edition rules, there is no randomness or hidden information. All you have to do is figure out what you need to build buildings that get you points, figure out how to build a construction path to it that your opponents can't block and figure out how to block your opponents from doing what they want to do. Oh, and plan this for 3 to 5 moves in to the future. Yeah, I'd definitely call this a brain burn; it's one of those games that after you're done, you're still thinking about what you could have done differently and what you want to try to do next time. I'm not sure if the game is deep enough to not eventually feel solved, but getting to that point (if in fact it exists) will take a lot of work. Score: 10
Number of Players/ Scalability (1 = only works with 3+ players, 10 = great with 2 and with more)
I think the sweet spot for this game is 3; however, most of my plays have been 2-player and I love it. If you fail to plan far enough ahead, this game can suffer from end-game blocking. I've seen it in 2-player and I think it was due to a failure to plan ahead. I've heard it's at its worst in 4-player so I might be careful about that player count; however, with 2 or 3 I strongly recommend it. Score: 8
We've only played this game a few times 2-player so our game time might go down; however, right now it's about 1.5 - 2 hours for a 2 player. The 3-player (with one noob) took us right at 2 hours. Score: 8
Re-playability (1 = 5 times and I'm done, 10 = 50 games and still going strong)
After 4 plays, the jury is still out. I really like this game and don't see myself getting bored with it. I definitely see it hitting 20 plays; however, I don't know whether it will start feeling "samey" at around that time. The only randomness is the distribution of land tiles. This may provide enough replayability to get it up to 50 plays; in addition, it may continue to feel deep enough that even with the same players, strategies will continue to evolve. However, at this point I'm not sure. Score: 5
Player Interaction (1 = multi-player solitaire, 10 = messing with your opponent is the key to success)
In my first two games I didn't see the interaction and was worried that it was going to dissolve in to a race game. During my third play, I started seeing the importance of blocking and anticipating your opponents. Now, I see this game to be all about interaction. While not on the same depth as Chess, I feel like the interaction is comparable; while you need to plan and advance your own strategy, you also need to anticipate what your opponent is doing and slow him down or stop him. If you can consistently come up with a move that does both, you're probably going to win. Score: 8
Downtime (1 = I have time to do my taxes between moves, 10 = I don't have time to make my moves on BGO)
This is probably one of the biggest drawbacks. Assuming you can trust your opponent's bookkeeping abilities, there's no reason to watch his intermediate actions. For the most part, you can see the things that matter in about 15 seconds after his turn is over. While a turn is not particularly long (my guess is about 3 minutes), nothing is gained watching her produce food, then turn it into wood, then ... Get a drink, check the scores, and then come back. Score: 5
Mechanics (1 = been there/done that, 10 = I've never seen that before)
The decaying goods mechanic is one I haven't seen before and while the "next player is the one furthest back" mechanic I've seen before, Neuland uses it better than any other game I've played. Mix that with an engine building mechanic and a spatial locality transportation mechanic and this game is chock full of interesting mechanics. What impresses me the most is that Neuland does an amazing job of integrating them into a seamless whole. Score: 10
While I wouldn't say Neuland reeks of theme, it is certainly present. I think it may be due to the lack of cubes. So, I'm never saying I've got three yellow thingies and two orange thingies. I'm producing food to produce wood to build a mine. For me, that's about as far as the theme goes but that's ok. The components are just cardboard (except for the coal, silver, and iron which are good quality wood) but nice, thick cardboard that is well illustrated and let's you know what you need to do. After the first or second game, you won't need the rules at all. The mechanics become intuitive and the specifics of each building is either on the building layout board or on your handy-dandy reference card. Score: 8
I generally don't review a game that I've played less than 5 times. However, I really like Neuland. It's not an abstract but it feels like it's got the depth of one. It blends together worker placement, engine building, time-track turn order, and pick-up-and-deliver mechanics seamlessly so that after a game or two, the mechanics become second nature and players have a chance to explore strategies. It's got a lot of player interaction (in fact, for me it's what makes the game interesting) with a good balance of tactics versus strategic planning. Finally, the components are very functional and by changing out the coal/iron/silver for coins (or something like that), the game will work perfectly well on the week-long camping trip I'm taking it on next week! Personal Score: 9
Thanks for the review. I watched a video on this game and the reviewers did not like it so I was put off. I'll take a closer look now. I play 2P games almost always and am always looking for new ones.