Newton

Simone Luciani and Nestore Mangone

Publisher: Cranio Creations / CMON

I wonder why they the apple isn’t red…..(Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

Newton is a game about inventions, academia and scholarship….. or not. While the choice of theme is uncommon, this is a pretty traditional Euro with a relatively pasted theme. So, if you are looking for a game with a scholarly design, this game is not it. Fortunately, the designers for Newton comes from a good pedigree: Simone Luciani best known for Tzolkin, Teotihuacan and Marco Polo is credited with designing the game (with all due respect to Mangone). So does Newton’s game play rise to the occasion or does the apple fall far from it’s design tree?

The star of the show and also the core mechanism that drives Newton is undoubtedly the action selection. Players have a hand of action cards that can perform five different actions: Work generates coin; Technology allows progression on a tech tree which activates end game VP tiles; Travel generates movement on a map to collect resources; Study enables set collection of books which triggers periodic scoring and finally, Lessons allow you pick up more action selection cards. Starting with a pre-determined set of cards, players can quickly purchase more action cards (using the Lesson action), each with one of the aforementioned actions but also increasingly powerful abilities that are paired with each action. There are shades of Concordia here.

The main novelty of the action selection is how the value of each action can be amplified: Each round, players will play 5 of these action cards on their player board. At the end of each round, one of these cards will be permanently sacrificed and tucked underneath the board so that only the symbol for the action remains. Any special abilities on that card are lost. The tucked symbol then acts to boost this action’s value in future rounds when another card with the same action is played. For example, when playing the travel action, each travel action symbol previously played or tucked will allow for greater movement. Similarly, a work action accompanied with more work symbols earn you more coin and a technology action will progress faster if you have previously accumulated more technology symbols. In this way, which action selection card you purchase will determine specialization. You can focus on a particular action by buying and playing more of those cards. This is the hook, or if you prefer, gimmick for the game.

There are many opportunities to score VPs across the five actions, but the Technology and Study actions are most important. The Study action represents small but repetitive scoring throughout the game. Players collect sets of books for the library and once the books are aligned in rows and columns, they trigger scoring each round. The earlier you complete the collection, the more times they will score over the 6 rounds of game play. Hence, a puny 2VP column of books which score each round is actually worth 12VP in the end. Books come in different colors and are mostly found on selected action cards and supplemented by potions which act as wild cards. Once the requisite color of books are displayed on your action tableau, a Study action can be played to pick up a book tile and place it in the appropriate library slot that demand a set of specific colored books. A slot on the library usually consists of books, but can also be visits to certain sites on the map via the Travel action.

While the Study action scores repetitively each round, the Technology action are the VP engines that score only at the end. As Technology cards are played, you move students pawns up different branches of the tree to collect bonus tokens, but also more importantly to trigger end game scoring. At the end of each branch is a tile with an end-game criteria which scores VP points (i.e. score 1 point for every coin, etc.) Once the student arrives at this tile, that tile is activated and scored in the end. While the Study action is potent, it appears that the tech tree cannot be ignored if you want to remain competitive in scoring. I do not know if other ways to score points is enough to overcome the massive chunks of VPs’ you can earn by carefully building an engine throughout the game.

The other two actions, Work and Travel seem to support the two scoring actions. Travel allows you to send a student to visit different regions of the map. Like before, there are bonus tokens on the maps you can collect, but visiting Ancient Sites, Universities or Cities help to complete the library or can be part of the VP engines depending on end-game criteria (i.e. score 3 points for every city visited). Similarly, there are powers to be triggered on the Work track, but the coin generated from Work can be used for multiple reasons including boosting actions, buying potions, traveling on the map. Money is king I guess and allows a great deal of flexibility. There are also one modular end game VP tile featured on the map for the Travel action and at the end of the Work track when collecting coin. In a 2 player game, focusing on the Work track can also be competitive if paired properly with other options.

Chaining the actions together is fun. Collecting the symbols and and specializing is also fun and I think part of the joy of the game is discovering how cards interact and which areas to specialize. The first few rounds are slow because the actions values are tougher to amplify. However in rounds 5 and 6, there are now enough symbols accumulated on individual tableaus that each of your action can go the distance. For example, a Travel action may allow you to through 4 or 5 sites on the map with one action card. This also means that when played properly, you can have an explosion of points in the final few actions. It can be rewarding to see your engine sputter alive if only for the final moments.

As it stands, I enjoyed my two plays of Newton. Once each with two and four players. It looks like specialization is key but the focus cannot just be on one board. I suspect some diversification is important. If you focus on building the library, it needs to be accompanied by one or two VP engines. Similarly, hoping to score only VPs in the end may not be enough to overcome someone with periodic scoring. Each starting player board also have a starting symbol, so together with the first few action cards you pick up with Lesson action, it should chart your strategy for the entire game. Observing where the VP end game tiles are located is critical. With the right pairing of VP engines, starting resources and going up the right tech tree, can really shape your strategy. This is likely going to be easier with two players given the plethora of choices.

Initial impressions: Good

A final word on CMON. This is the first CMON game I own. I am not terribly impressed with the quality of the cards and the board. It feels… flimsy for the lack of a better word. That said, the game is fine and completely playable. Now, if that means CMON can shave off $10-20 per game, then I stand by their decision. It means more people get to buy and play the game, components not withstanding. For me, I think that is more desirable than a $100 game with outstanding components. That’s also why I eschew deluxe editions. I don’t see the point. The components are critical up to a certain extent and once they reach the level of acceptability, I no longer care. This has reached that level.

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