Reviewed by Herb Levy
NEVADA CITY (Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 90-120 minutes; $69.95)
It’s 1849 and the western part of the United States is growing and growing fast. With the discovery of silver in Nevada with the resulting silver mines and sawmills leading to a boom, Nevada City is poised to grow exponentially! In this new design by Alan D. Ernstein, players are heads of one of the founding families of this community and will compete to shape the destiny of Nevada City.The playing board of Nevada City is a long one, depicting areas for construction of new buildings, with a score track in the center as well as a Production and Market Value chart. Each player receives a Homestead Mat (with space for mines, farms and ranch tiles, an area for accumulated Commodities and room for up to three acquired Workers and/or Contracts) along with a Ranch Gate, Pawn, Action and Ownership markers in their chosen colors. In addition, everyone starts with one Property tile of each type (Mine, Farm and Ranch) and one of each Commodity (Iron, Lumber, Brick, Spirits and Entertainment).
The Production and Market Value charts are seeded. The five spaces of Production are filled with one cube for each commodity type (food, livestock and silver) with the two remaining spaces filled by a random draw. The Market Value chart has 8 spaces with two silver and 1 livestock always occupying a slot and the rest randomly filled.
The Sheriff (the first player) is randomly chosen and gets $8. In turn order, going clockwise, additional players get $1 more (e.g. the second player gets $9, the third player $10, the fourth $11).
As head of a family, all players choose a set of four Family cards (Pa, Ma, Son and Daughter), placed face up by their mat, with additional Properties (listed on the “Pa” family card) added on their mat. Properties are worth Victory Points as are the Starting Building cards randomly dealt to each player that are placed on the board with ownership markers on them. VPs earned for those Properties and Buildings are immediately scored.
Event cards are shuffled and 12 dealt to make the Event card deck. The 6 “Start” events are shuffled with two randomly placed on top and the deck, then reshuffled. The remaining 4 Start events are put on top of the deck. Contract cards are shuffled and four revealed. The Building card deck, however, is done a little differently.
Building cards are dated. These card are shuffled and placed face up with the 1855 set on top of the 1856 which is on top of the 1857 cards. (In a 2 player game, there is an 1858 set of buildings as well.) Secret goal cards are dealt to the players (the number depending on how many are in the game). One card is kept and the other placed face down on the Goal space on the board. These “secret” Secret Goal cards will be scored at the end of the game.
At the start of each round, an Event card is revealed (provided there is one on the proper space) and resolved. Now, the family gets into the act.
Each family member has certain skills and the ability to do a specified number of actions. (Action markers are placed on the family member’s card in the appropriate area). Starting with the player who is the Sheriff, each player choose ONE member of the family and does all the actions that family member can provide (or pass). These actions include:
Farm or Ranch or Mine – Doing any one of these three actions generates crops or livestock or silver tokens. Should the active family member have a matching skill, more tokens are earned.
Use a Building – Buildings already in play can be used including the “starter” buildings: the Bank (to get loans), City Hall (to claim a building or property tile), Trading Post (to get commodities) and the Hotel (to hire workers to beef up your family’s abilities). As the game unfolds, more buildings come into play including the Post Office, Pharmacist, Blacksmith, Sawmill and General Stores and more in addition to the Sheriff (for you to complete or reserve any Contract and/or hire a worker that has been discarded as well as becoming the first player for the next round). The player who owns the Building benefits as other players have to pay a fee if THEY want to use it!
Construction – This involves moving specified tokens to the Building. Most Buildings do not come into the game fully formed. It may take several turns or rounds to finish the requirements to construct a Building as a character may only take this action once per round. Completing a building earns a player Victory Points.
Reserve a Contract – Some Buildings have Contract spaces. Putting an action marker there allows a player to reserve a face up Contract (based on the type of space occupied). Once reserved, action markers may be placed on the Contract until its requirements are fulfilled. Completed Contacts also score Victory Points – more VPs if the building associated with the Contract has already been constructed.
Once all family members (and any hired workers) have done their actions, the round ends. Production and Market Value charts are reset and used Action markers returned to their characters. (Markers still at the Bank due to the taking out of a loan remain there until the loan is paid off!) Hired workers must be removed (to the discard pile) UNLESS the player marries them to an eligible son or daughter of the family (i.e. one who is not already married) at a cost of two Spirits and any other 2 commodities. A married worker is a permanent addition to the family.
Rounds continue until the fourth year (or fifth in a 2 player game) is completed OR all building plots have Building cards on them (even if the buildings have not been fully constructed). Now, end of the game Goal cards are revealed and scored. The player with the most VPs wins! Tie? Then the player with the most remaining resources gets the win. Still tied? Then we have a shared victory.
Advanced rules add additional factors including gunslinging where rowdy workers (those NOT hired) threaten to shoot up the town. This threat to the public is resolved by using a (very abbreviated) deck of cards with high card winning the shoot-out.
All of the people you’d expect to find in a western town populate the game from the sheriff to the banker and more. As the town develops and more Buildings become available, more actions can be done. This is both a positive (in making the game more thematic and adding to the decision-making) and negative (so much to digest in trying to grasp what each can do, how they do it and how you get them to work together to generate VPs). The action mechanism used (each family member has specific skills and a set number of actions) makes each family character seem more like an individual as opposed to just a generic meeple. Hiring workers (and marrying them into the family) is well worth it (IF you can afford it). As in virtually all worker placement games, having more workers at your command is a decided advantage.
From developing properties to gaining crops, livestock and silver to sell them to earn capital, to producing (and selling) commodities, to constructing Buildings to completing Contracts, there is a definite methodical engine building aspect to this worker placement game. But luck can be a significant factor too. You only have partial knowledge of those endgame Secret Goal cards, Event cards can tweak rules unexpectedly and gunslinging can, quite literally, turn on the draw of a card. While this is in keeping with the theme, to those whose method is their madness, it can be a bit jarring to plan and plan – and then see a monkey wrench tossed into the machinery! As a result, this may put off some players. You have to be OK with a slow and steady pace coupled with the unexpected making its appearance – which, come to think of it, is the way real life works! If you can, then you will be able to enjoy Nevada City and bask in your role in creating a city amid sawdust and silver. – – – – – – – Herb Levy
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Summer 2020 GA Report articles