Players represent families attempting to settle New England in 1621.
New England has players as the heads of families attempting to expand their land holdings and develop their lands, which come in three varieties. Players place tiles on the board to expand their lands, and flip the tiles over to develop them. New England uses an interesting turn order/bidding/auction systems whereby the highest bidder gets to go first, but has to pay more for their purchases. An interesting game that isn't too heavy, but isn't too light either.
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The game begins with an empty board, and each player receiving the three starting family tiles of a family and 12 shillings. The tiles are double tiles, and take up two squares on the board. The players then take turns placing these tiles onto the board, with the only restriction being that no two tiles can be touching another. The tiles represesnt land for grazing, (Green), land for planting, (Black), and land for buildings, (Brown).
The English translation of the rules, (and possibly the German rules as well), state that no two tiles may touch diagonally, or orthagonally. The designer, (Alan Moon), posted a message to the Spielfrieks mailing list that this was NOT in fact correct, and that tiles could touch another tile diagonally. There are cases where the tiles can be laid out in such a way that a player is unable to place their starting tiles when using the written rules, (and allowing diagonal adjacency makes for a more interesting game).
After all players have placed their starting tiles, play begins. The starting player then declares how many land tiles, (from 3 - 6) will be available for purchase in this round, and this number of tiles is turned up and place on the side of the board. After this is done, the remaining spaces, (of which there are 9 in total), on the board are filled in with development cards. These cards will depict one of four things: Land Development, Pilgrims, Barns, and Ships.
Each player, beginning with the start player, then takes one of the bid markers displayed on the board, (numbered 1-10). This value represents not only what will be the turn order, (highest chosen value goes first), but also how much a player will have to pay for each item they buy. In turn order, each player may now buy up to two of the items on display, paying the value shown on their bid marker. If a player cannot immediately play an item, they cannot purchase that item. After buying and placing their purchases, a player then takes 4 shillings of income from the bank, and the turn passes to the player with the next highest bid marker. Here's what the items represent:
Land Development cards: These come in the three colors of land, and show on them one of four possible tile configurations: Two in a row, three in a row, three in an "L" shape, and four in a square. If a player has undeveloped land in the proper color/shape, they can buy the card, and flip the tiles involved over to show their "developed" side. The two tile cards are worth three victory point, the three tile cards are worth 6 victory points, and the four tile cards are worth 10 victory points. The tiles involved cannot have any pilgirms, barns or ships on them.
Pilgrims: Pilgrims are placed on any undeveloped tile a player has and can be moved at any time. When a player takes income, they get one additional shilling for each pilgrim they have on the board. Pilgirms are worth 1 victory point.
Barns: Barns are placed on any undeveloped tile a player has and can NOT be moved once placed. If a player has a barn, they may buy a land development card, (even if they cannot immediately use it), and place it "into" the barn. Each barn can hold only one land development card. At any time on one of their later turns, they can take the land development card out of the barn and develop their land. Barns are worth 1 victory point.
Ships: Ships can be placed on any undeveloped land tile a player has that is touching one of two board edges which border the sea, and can be moved at any time. If a player has the most ships on the board, they may, at the start of their turn, turn up an additional land tile or development card, and add it to the items up for sale. If they do not buy it, is is then also available for all of the other players who come later in the turn order. Ships are worth 1 victory point.
After all players have had their turns, the start player marker rotates to the left, all bid markers are returned, all unpurchases items are removed from the game, and a new round begins. The game ends immediately when either there are not enough land tiles to meet the number called out by the start player, or when there are not enough development cards to fill out the remaining nine spots.
At the end of the game, the player(s) with the most pilgrims get 4 victory points, the player(s) with the most barns get 3 victory points, and the player with the most ships gets 2 victory points. Unused development cards in barns are worth nothing. The player with the most points wins.
Clearly, the turn order bidding=amount you will pay mechanic is the primary hook of New England. It's another in a long line of interesting mechanics that Moon and Weissblum have come up with in recent years, (you divide/I choose in San Marco, cards as functions and money in Capitol), and it works pretty well. There will be rounds where the markers chosen are 4-3-2-1, but there are others where this choice is exruciatingly difficult. This mechanic is hampered a bit by the small amount of money the players tend to have. After a few more playings I think it may be interesting to change the income levels a bit to provide a bit more interesting bidding. However, the play on the board is interesting as well, as there is the possibility of shutting out other players by skillful tile placements, and there is always the issue of the pilgrims, barns and ships. Since these can only be placed on undeveloped tiles, you need to make decisions as to whether it's worth it to get that extra pilgrim, or keep a few tiles open so that you can buy a development card. Especially at the end of the game, you often realize that you can win the bidding, and if you only had one more open land tile, you could scoop up two pilgrims, and win the 4 point bonus, but alas, you don't. The barns allow for both offensive, (store a card for later), and defensive, (store a card so an opponent can't use it), play, at the cost of tying up an undeveloped tile for the rest of the game.
New England is also a Goldsieber game, which means it comes in a gigantic box, and the bits are first rate. It is going to be released in English soon as well, though I would bet that the component quality won't be up to the Goldsieber level. As there is no text on any of the components, (and a rules translation is available from BoardgameGeek), there's no reason not to get the version you prefer.
Given that New England is a really simple game in terms of rules, and very satisfying to look at, I think New England makes an excellent choice as an introduction to sociable strategy games for those wanting to bring non-gamers into the fold.
About the only downside I've found with New England is that it's a bit too short. The game always seems to end sooner than it should. I wish there were one more sheet of tiles and another 10-15 cards, to ensure another two or three turns. Others have mentioned that while the systems are interesting, they didn't get much fun out of it, but I've enjoyed all of my playings so far. As I've yet to win, I am always looking forward to another go at it, and find the bidding/purchasing angst fun. Also the box cover art is a bit freaky, (what's up with that pilgrim???).
Buy/Read about New England now at Funagain
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