Old World, New World

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

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OWNW_SlipCover_v0-2Hundreds of years ago, when explorers from Europe set out to explore the New World of the Americas, little did they realize that their adventures would become the sources of inspiration for game designers everywhere. But exploration is the theme in Old World, New World, the new game designed by Aaron Smith.

The field of play for Old World, New World is not a map as you might think but a grid created by piecing together a bunch of border pieces (“frames”) to form a large open area. This grid can accommodate cards which, when played, will fill a 6 x 6 array.

Each player starts with six double-sided counters in his color (black, green, red and yellow) showing a soldier on one side and a ship on the other. (There are also two “Native” counters.) The edge of the board nearest each player is his “home row” and it is his job to get his pieces over to the opposite side. The 72 square cards in the game come in two varieties: Terrain cards and Action cards. Terrain cards are divided into quadrants with each quadrant showing one of the different types of areas in the game: mountains, plains and/or ocean. In addition, most cards will show a Port symbol (for ships) or Camp symbol (for soldiers). Action cards, as you may suspect, allow you to do something a bit different. (More on that later.) Both types are shuffled together to form the game’s deck with each player dealt a starting hand of five cards. The youngest player starts things off.

On a turn, a player has a choice. He may simply discard any number of cards from his hand and then replenish his hand back to five to end his turn. Or he may take actions (and then, when done, draw back to five).

oldworld2Taking actions means playing TWO cards and performing any “Free Move” available. Cards may be played in two ways – by placement or “burning”.

Placing a card is simple. All you do is put the card into the 6 x 6 playing area. The card may be placed in any orientation. When a terrain card is placed so a Port or Camp symbol borders that player’s home row, that player can automatically deploy (place) one of his pieces onto that symbol (ship on a Port, soldier on a Camp). One Terrain card, the Volcano, when played, replaces an already played Terrain card and destroys anything on the card it has replaced! (“Destroyed” ships and soldiers return to a player’s supply.) A prettypowerful and destructive card. By “burning” (discarding) a card, a player can perform several different actions: Deploy, Move or Convert.

Deploy allows you to place one of your pieces onto one of the spaces bordering your home row. By burning a card, you need not have a corresponding symbol on the occupied space. (Although, of course, ships cannot be on land or mountain spaces and soldiers may not land in the ocean.) To move a piece, you need to burn a Terrain card with the corresponding symbol (Camp to move a soldier, Port to move a ship). Movement is done like a rook in Chess. A piece will move in a straight line over terrain it can travel (water for ships, land for soldiers) until it either runs out of terrain (no card has been placed in that particular area as yet), runs into a mountain space (where it MUST stop), runs into another piece (you cannot move through another piece, not even your own) or needs to make a turn (in which case, movement ends). Any unit beginning its turn on a matching symbol (Camp for Soldier, Port for Ship) can do a FREE move. This means travelling along without having to burn a card to do so. The final option is Convert.

Convert is a useful ability for it allows you to change a soldier into a ship or vice versa. While this allows you to escape from being boxed in by terrain, the piece to be converted MUST be adjacent to a symbol (Port or Camp) of the piece it will morph into. If so, then the piece flips to its other side and jumps onto the space with the symbol. You also have to be willing to accept that soldiers can convert to ships when necessary and ships to soldiers. Think of it as embarking or disembarking if that helps.

Action cards may be played as well as Terrain cards and these cards allow you to manipulate tiles and pieces in the play area. For example, the Convert Action card allows you to flip a counter to its opposite side without burning a card. The Natives card allows you to place one of those native units anywhere on the board and acts as an obstacle that other pieces cannot pass through. Bribery allows you to exchange an adjacent unit (enemy or native) for one of your own and a Tornado can lift a piece and place it two spaces over in any direction (a great boon to liberate a piece closed in by unfriendly terrain). But these actions are relatively innocuous compared to Barbarians and Pirates which allow you to pick any Camp space (or Ship space, respectively) and have ALL units on that space AND the 8 adjacent spaces to it destroyed (returned to the respective players)!

As play continues, units will make it to the opposite edges. Each unit that does so scores a point for its owner and is placed on the arrow marking its exit. That exit is now out of play! Other units seeking that home row will have to find other landing areas. The first player to score 3 points wins!

Game graphics are a mixed bag. The cover artwork credited to Vinh Ha and Brett Mitchell is eye catching and appealing. The use of puzzle-like border pieces to create the game area is clever but maybe a little too clever. The curious thing about it is that the colors used to help you fit the border together correctly are on the BACK of the pieces. This works just fine – until you flip the borders from back to front. That’s when they break apart! Shouldn’t the colors have been placed on the FRONT of the pieces? While the cards themselves are of good quality and appropriately thick enough for easy handling, the colors used are disappointingly dull. This is especially important regarding the muddy colors of each player’s pieces which can blend into the terrain colors. And, as long as we’re speaking about it, what about those terrain colors? There are only three basic terrain types: plains (green), mountains (a brown/orange) and water (a gray/blue). That gray/blue for water was not the best choice. Like many others, I tend to associate a gray/blue combination with mountains (rather than brown/orange). If it has been up to me, I would have gone gray for mountains and used a brighter blue for water.

Despite a name that promises an involved strategy game of exploration and discovery, Old World, New World is a fairly straightforward abstract game where theme is used to give the game some flavor. At its core, the game fits into the genre of games like Alex Randolph’s Twixt where the intent is to connect a path from one edge of the board to another. Here, you need to try to construct a path of water or plains that will carry you far across the “board”. Where the game shows its own character is in the multiple uses for Terrain cards and the presence of those Action cards which can sabotage a player’s plans in the blink of an eye while, at the same time, requiring you to use your own pieces and Action cards to best advantage. Admittedly, there is a significant luck factor here with card draws and unforeseen Action cards changing configurations before your eyes and shattering strategy. But that’s the pleasure of the play. While the game works for 2 and 3 players, it is at its best with the full contingent of 4 as that means more pieces on the board and more obstacles to overcome. In short, a greater challenge. For these reasons (and because the game plays relatively quickly), the game will leave serious strategists bemoaning lost opportunities but more casual gamers , especially those who enjoy tactical treats, will find Old World, New World a game with solid appeal.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Winter 2014 GA Report Articles


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