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Subject: Nations preview in 10 points [April 2013, near print-ready rules] rss

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Filip W.
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I've written a Nations pre-review previously. That was almost a year ago and quite a bit has happened since so when I got the chance to try a near-finished rule set I grabbed it. I won't go through the rules here. Daniel Hammond has done a great job of that. Instead I'll concentrate on how it feels to play Nations. Full disclosure: I'm a friend of Rustan's and have been looking at Nations on-and-off throughout the development. And I like it (it's one of my highest ranked games) so I'm biased.

Nation's in a nutshell

Take two parts Through the Ages, add one part Power Grid, one part Agricola and a sprinkling of Le Havre. Season with Tzolkin, a tiny bit of Sid Meyer and a pinch of Advanced Civilization. Stir, add Geeks and serve hot.

Point 1: Nations plays well with players at varying skill levels
Nations shows its difference right off the bat through to the handicap system. I love the handicap system as it allows me, as a relative beginner, to play on equal terms with experienced players. And yet, I want to play on the same level as them. I want to play Emperor, just to show them that I can. "Take Warlord", Rustan says. "Maybe I'll play King", I counter. In the end we agree on Prince, him with a bit of relief, me with a bit of stubbornness. I don't finish last but I don't do great either. Perhaps I should have played on Warlord level after all.

Yeah, it's frustrating to set your level. I don't want to be seen as a raw beginner, as I want to acknowledge that everyone else is better than me, but neither do I want to finish last. But once I get past that the handicap system works like a charm. (The handicap sets the amount of extra resources you get at the start of the turn if you don't take a population increase - not a big thing but enough to balance the game).

Also, from what others say Nations seems to scale well from 2 to 5 (unlike TTA which is a pain to play with 4).

Point 2: Nations has zero targeted interaction yet lots of screwage
You don't get to attack your opponents directly in Nations. Instead you mess with their plans indirectly but lord oh lord how much screwage possibilities there are, espeically if you play with the advanced cards (cards are separated into "beginning" and "advanced"; play at least once using only beginning cards before stepping off the deep end). In my last game there was Ghengis Khan, who reduces stability (= happiness) by three for all nations (including the one that uses him). That truly messed with Rustan, who depended on low stability buildings, and blocked the rest of us as well.

Since Nations is based on single actions (play a card, place a worker etc.) going around the table until all players pass (once you pass you're out) it's fully possible to set up major screwage by doing throw away actions at the beginning until the other players have committed their resources and then pulling out your major blow.

It's hard to do, since information is open and all players know everything all the time, but if done right gives a major feeling of accomplishment, quite on par with what you get from a supremely well chained move in Tzolkin. And since it's all based on your ability to calculate strategies you don't have anyone to blame but yourself if you didn't see it coming.

That makes screwage in Nations at once harsh and tolerable - you feel it a lot (and can gloat if you get away with it) but it clearly is all your fault for not taking precautions. Of course, if you do take precautions you won't be spending your resources in an optimal way (i.e. keeping a reserve) so you might fall behind on account of that. In the end it's all a tense gamble - did you account for everything in your clever moves or not?

Point 3: Nations isn't a regular engine building game
Nations is highly tactical. No war this turn? Destroy all your military. Have a stockpile of gold? Dump the banks. Since you've got a very limited amount of workers you need them where they'll do the most good. You can't afford to have an unproductive worker. It feels a bit like actions in Le Havre or Agricola - you need to be careful with what you choose - but at the same time it's more forgiving and the other players can only block your external actions (the cards and items you take), not what you do with your workers on your nation.

The cost of moving a worker to a new building is offset by the low amount of turns (the whole game is over in 8 turns, with 2 turns per age and better cards coming out with each shifting of age) so you can't sit back and relax; you've got to keep your economy spinning and shifting with demand.

Also, since you can save up on resources you get a real feeling of being "rich" once you start to gain bunches or resources. In the prototypes I've played the resources are chits, meaning that you get to stack them and move them around like poker chips, which ads to the feeling of power and helps planning by letting you divide up your resources in pre-planned spending piles. You also get to save up and then dump that production in order to max out something else. Just don't miscalculate as you're going to be in the hole.

Oh, and it's fun to fondle your goods, too.

Point 4: Tactical + screwage = groan + yay!

You can't make long range strategic plans in Nations (think going all out for the St.Peters+Michelangelo tactic in TTA). Since every plan that requires more than one action is liable to be disrupted by your opponents (often quite unwittingly) you need to be able to think on your feet. This leads to lots of groan and yay moments, when you've either just seen your plan blown to pieces by an opponent's action or card draw or you've figured out how to royally mess with your opponents (or score big). This leads to lots of tense moments when you've just spotted the perfect move and all you need to succeed is for your opponents to not see that particular card...

Since Nations is very tactical you're never so badly in the hole that a good tactic can't dig you out. It might be hard but if you like thinking on your feet and keeping lots of options going in parallel in your head you're going to enjoy this game.

Point 5: There's no clear upgrade path

Each building in Nation gives you two different types of resources and you've got five slots to put buildings in (military units use a slot as well, but you can stack several workers on a single building/card). This means that you're going to be replacing your buildings quite often and every time you do all the workers on them go back to your free worker pool.

In addition to this there's no clear tech tree - while there are some buildings that are better versions of older buildings (in the aspect that they give the same resources) they are few and the chances that you're going to get them, or even need them when they crop up, are slim.

Thus you'll need to constantly balance what you've got with what you'll need: This turn I need stone, but should I toss my gold and stability building, hoping that I'll be able to replace it next turn, or should I toss my stone and food building since I've got lots of food but will give me less of a stone increase? Sometimes this is very frustrating but mostly it's great fun. Since all resources are equally important at all stages of the game, and since you can store them for later (without corruption/taxation etc.), you're seldom in a spot where you're completely locked in. And if you do find yourself in such a spot you can always trade away your population increase for goods (unless you're playing at Emperor level, but that assumes that you're way experienced and you shouldn't make such stupid mistakes).

Point 6: It feels a lot heavier than it's length would suggest and a lot faster than it's weight would suggest.
Nations is a relatively fast game, even with five players. If you know what you're doing (I don't) I'm told that you can finish a game in 2 hours. We played with four players, of which two were near beginners, and at 2.5 hours we quit at the end of turn 7 (Rustan had to leave). That would suggest that a full game with five players shouldn't take more than 3 hours even with beginners in the group.

At the same time Nations is a brain burner. There's loads of optimizing and there's always something to think about. I rarely found myself in a position where I had downtime. Neither did most of the other players from what I could see.

Point 7: Unlike other card driven engine games Nations isn't multiplayer solitaire.
Yeah, there's no targeted interaction. You can't choose someone to smack around. But you've got lots and lots of screwage so you need to keep in mind what everyone else is doing. And since it's near-simultaneous (you'll do around 10-20 actions each turn and actions go around the table) you need be a step ahead of what the other players will want to do as well.

Oh, and if someone asks you what you've got in some form of resources or production - beware, major screwage heading your way.

Point 8: It's a highly competitive game

Nations is pretty much cut throat all the time. I imagine that it won't go down well with a crowd who likes Settlers, but should be a big hit with the Powergrid fans.

But since there's no direct targeting I don't get the feeling that someone is out to get me, the way I can in, say, StarCraft or TTA. So you at once have more jostling for position and a friendlier game.

Point 9: Euro vs Ameritrash
Nations is as pure a Euro as they come but there are elements that should appeal to the Ameritrash crowd as well. First off you have a theme that spans history. It's pretty loose but well implemented (i.e. you could use the mechanics with a different theme but the current theme adds a lot the enjoyment of the game). Secondly you've got the strong groan/yay element (which isn't available in Euros like Caylus for example but is in most Ameritrash games I've played). Thirdly you've got the stacks of goods that give the feeling of richness (another element that I associate with Ameritrash). So you've got a Euro with lots of feeling in it.

I'd say that Nations is in that modern branch or Euros that have a clear Ameritrash feeling. It's no Axis&Allies, but neither is it Gimpf (ok, that one's an abstract). If I'd evaluate Nations only on feeling I'd say that it's Ticket to Ride on steroids (it's got nothing in common with TTR mind you, I'm only describing the feeling).

Point 10: Who'll like it

Nation's is a gamer's game, through and through. It won't go down well with the light/casual crowd but if you've ever enjoyed games like TTA, Powergrid, Agricola, Le Havre, Twilight Struggle or even Twilight Imperium you'll probably like Nations. I'd recommend picking it up or at least giving it a try. Yeah, I'm biased, but I've already told you that.



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The Soot Sprite
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I'm intrigued by a built-in handicap scheme. Are there any other euros that use such a thing?
 
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Eric
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A civ games that's mostly tactical? Certainly curious to see how it's implemented.

I'm intrigue although there seems to be contradictory statements. Would love to read session reports.
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Filip W.
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spritey wrote:
I'm intrigued by a built-in handicap scheme. Are there any other euros that use such a thing?


Not that I've played. Most Euros do have a catch-up mechanism but its usually implemented in the form of exponential costs rather than pre-limiting rewards the way Nations does it.

Chuie wrote:
A civ games that's mostly tactical? Certainly curious to see how it's implemented.

I'm intrigue although there seems to be contradictory statements. Would love to read session reports.


I'll try to get another game in this month and bring my camera this time - which I should have thought about before going to this one (yeah, I know, I'm a klutz).
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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sthrjo wrote:
the only obviously valid comparison game is Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, why mention Agricola? That is just just namedropping to create hype.


The context was pointing out widely known euros of similar complexity and weight. If anything is a stretch it's calling that sentence hype-generating.

It's not like it was implied that Nations is positioned to replace all those titles on everyone's favorite games list.

Perhaps we just have drastically different excitement/hype thresholds.
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OP mentioned Agricola three times, so, there are three contexts. It really got me excited thinking of fences and reed.
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Moe45673
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This game has me curious due to its solitaire suitability. I'd be curious to see how well that works out.
 
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Makis
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This is one of the new games that I'm truly looking forward to. Gotta give this a try at BGG.Con.
 
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