Monday, 27 November 2017

New Angeles - First Impressions

Monday, November 27, 2017

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The city falls.
Yesterday I went to my first JIGG (Japan International Gaming Guild) board game meetup since 2010 and it turned out there were still a couple of familiar faces hanging around, and a bunch of new ones of course. It was good being back and playing games! I started out playing a couple of games of Roll for the Galaxy, a game I own but have only played twice, and it reminded me of how much fun and how quick to play it is. When everyone knows the rules it's 30 minutes, tops, and filled with fun decisions. I think I might like it better than Race, for general play like this.

After that I set up New Angeles with four other players. No one hade played it before so there was a bit of a rules explanation and the first round was a little slow, but we were soon up to a decent speed. What I was expecting, or hoping for, were the fun discussions and arguments from Battlestar Galactica, but with less cruft that is only tangentially connected to this core, and... that is pretty much what I got, with a twist.

It plays over six rounds with each round being 3-5 turns. A turn consists of a new Asset being revealed, the active player poposing an action (clean up the streets, or fixing the broken power lines, or setting up hospitals etc) which can then have a counteroffer proposed by another player. The players with no offers on the table votes for which to go through and then that is implemented and the turn passes to the next player. This structure is interjected by events that are bad for the city in different ways, and Demands that are requirements that the corps need to meet every two rounds, to not be penalized with added Threat.

And here's the first brilliant part, Threat is a measure of how close it is that the US government steps in to take control of the city, meaning everyone loose (it's very similar to Archipelago). It goes up through certain actions, or inactions but mainly by not meeting Demand and doing actions in districts with Illness tokens. To win the game you need to make sure Threat doesn't reach 25 AND make sure you have more capital than your immediate rival. At the start of the game you draw a card to see which other player is your rival and it doesn't matter if someone else has more capital than you, if you have more than your rival at the end of the game you are one of the winners. There's also likely a secret Federalist in the mix who actually want the Threat to rise as a government takeover would mean the Federalist wins! Having personal victory conditions like this is smart as you can never really discount anyone.

Jinteki, for all your clone and biotech needs!
The second brilliant thing is having the Demand take place over several rounds. Instead of drawing a Crisis card every turn, like in Battlestar Galactica, you have this looming threat that you need to take care of together. The idea of the Cylon player tanking a skill check in BSG was cool, but usually only happened once per game as it tended to expose her. With more time to work subtly it's a very different thing here, and things aren't usually as black and white, or cut and dried, as in BSG. This allows the Federalist (or anyone else) to work more subtly toward his goal.

Did I forget to mention Investments? Yes, I think I did. This is a third brilliant mechanic. There will be three checks for Demand in a game and at the same time you check to see how well your investment faired. You get one at the start of the game, and one after each Demand phase and generally they tell you to do something that has a negative impact on the city for a capital gain. And since you win by having capital they are important, however going for them could make you look like a Federalist to the other players. Add to this that each megacorporation has different ways of making extra Capital (Jinteki by removing illness, HB by moving bioroids etc) and you have a nice murky soup of city planning, corporate greed and high stakes backstabbing!

I like the orange minis, and I can see that they were going for some kind of holo Deus Ex-like thing. However, all of them in the same colour makes it tougher to read the board state at a glance. Might have to paint.
Just as with BSG the game highly rewards a little bit of light roleplay and theatrics. When you have the right group of people interpreting what's happening on the table through the lens of the Android setting the game really takes off! The game I played yesterday wasn't quite there, but everyone was very involved and there were quite a few deals being struck, even outside the codified offer-counteroffer mechanic.

You still have a bit of a board state to take care of, but instead of the Raiders and Vipers of BSG you have Human First, Orgcrime, strikes and outages that all have more of a menacing impact on the game. While these negative elements rarely have a direct impact on Threat they do make it much harder to run the city properly and meet demand. This  makes it important to clean up now and then and this is usually when corps can make a killing or the Federalist can sneak in some damage.

I've talked about Battlestar Galactica quite a bit, and although there are many similarites, the tone of the game is completely different. Or should be completely different. I think it's easy to fall into the kind of pure co-op mindset of BSG when you play it, when in fact you should simply embrace greed and play as dirty as you can possibly get away with! Since capital, assets and general favours are all up for trade you can propose all kinds of interesting deals. Especially when twisting the other players' arms! You could play nasty and vote down an important action only to take advantage of the following crisis later to score some capital. Or, as I did, slowly push for actions that raised Illness in the city and then reap the rewards as I went in and quarantined the affected districts for a lot of points!

The two main critiques of the game, that I've seen, are that it is boring and repetative and much too long. Both of which I think are perfectly valid! It is not a game for everyone. If you don't find the setting interesting and don't like negotiatons it is going to come off as boring, with "nothing much happening". It's going to be even worse if you play it as a pure co-op. And if you think it's boring it's going to feel even longer than it is, and it already quite long. Battlestar Galactica used to take us about five hours to play because of all the fiddly stuff combined with all the discussions. The game of New Angelese yesterday took us a little bit over three hours which included lots of rules explanation and no player who had played it before. Which I think is a pretty good improvement! Then again, as the trend toward shorter games seem to continue I can understand how many would feel three hours is too long.

However, for old BSG ethusiasts like me and my group this is a great game and I have a hard time seeing how New Angeles wouldn't replace it. That's not to say I would turn down a game of Battlestar Galactica, it just means that New Angeles would be the one I reach for first when I'm in the mood for some intrigue and backstabbing.

As soon as I got back home I pulled out the Worlds of Android book and started reading again. I really hope we'll see some more games in the Android setting soon...

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