The Daily Worker Placement

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nova Luna: Beautiful Abstraction

by | published Friday, January 31, 2020

As the number of games released every year increases, my ability to keep up with all of them decreases at a similar rate. Of course, there are some big-name games that you don’t have to go out of your way to find out about – but I am always delighted by the surprise of a game I’d not heard of and end up playing by chance. Now, Uwe Rosenberg isn’t a one-off, unknown designer by any means – so I was doubly surprised that I’d not heard of Nova Luna until well after Essen and BGGcon! Luckily, a friend had snagged an import copy so I was introduced to it late last year. 

While I’ve become accustomed to Rosenberg tile-laying games, this is one that doesn’t make use of polyominoes! It takes the turn-order flow from his previous title, Patchwork, however. And – you may notice another designer’s name on the box – he was also influenced by a game called Habitats, so much so that he provided credit on Nova Luna. I don’t think I’ve seen this happen before! There are a lot of game designs that can be influenced or iterative based on other releases, but seeing it acknowledged like this is a first.  

At its heart, Nova Luna really is an abstract game dressed up a little with a vague theme – really really vague. But it truly doesn’t matter – and it’s a nice looking game nonetheless. The gameplay experience is terrific, and I love that this isn’t just limited to a 2 player game either. The win condition for Nova Luna is simple – be the first player to place all of your tokens in your tile tableau (or, if tiles run out before this happens, be the player who’s placed the most). Turns consist quite simply of selecting a tile and placing it in your tableau, aiming to complete certain patterns. It really is a beautifully simple game with a delicious puzzle at its heart. 

As I mentioned above, turn-order flow is influenced by Patchwork – that is, the player who is in last place will always take the next turn and can choose from the next three tiles in front of the moon marker. Each tile in the rondel has a time cost, and when players take a tile, they move their token that many spaces around the rondel – so, if you time things well and take low-cost tiles you will likely end up with a larger tableau than most. However, you may end up needing some of those higher-cost tiles for their easily-completed patterns to accelerate the placement of your tokens. Play continues around the rondel until less than 3 tiles are left, at which point the current player can opt to refill the rondel or continue by selecting one of the remaining tiles.  

The part of the game where you’ll really dig in is the placement of tiles in your tableau. Each tile with a value greater than 2 has a particular goal (or goals) on it – you’ll be aiming to connect that tile to others that match the combination of colours in a goal. For instance, a blue tile value 3 might have a goal that indicates you have to connect to one turquoise, one yellow, and one other blue tile. Once that condition is satisfied, you will cover up that goal with one of your player tokens. A yellow tile value 5 might have three goals that indicate you need to connect to two red, two blue or two other yellow tiles – in this case, you could complete none, some or all of these goals, depending on your placement of the tile. Perhaps you really just needed that yellow tile to complete a goal on another tile, for instance! 

Now, with each tile only having four sides, it might sound like an impossible task to have 6 tiles adjacent to it to fulfil these goals. That’s where the networking aspect of the puzzle comes in. If a tile has a goal of connecting to two red tiles, you could just place red tiles on two sides of said goal tile. However, you could also place one red tile directly adjacent to that goal tile and then the second red tile adjacent to that red tile, creating a connection of unbroken colour back to that goal tile. This method of connecting back to a goal tile will not only let you complete multiple goals on one tile, but also creates a larger network of tiles that will offer opportunities to place new tiles in your tableau in spots that work well for completing their goals, too. Creating chains of colours and taking tiles that provide better scoring opportunities on your turn is the real meat of the game. 

On your first play, your head may spin a little – puzzling out the best tile to take, and the optimum space to put it in to start to build out a tableau ripe for completing goals can be a tricky thing. If this sounds like your type of game, however, I’d bet you’ll be wanting to play back-to-back games of this to delve further into the challenge, trying something a little different every time (especially with the random tile-draw). I haven’t been charmed by a tile-placement game in a good long while, so I’ve been playing this one any chance I can get. I’m really looking forward to Nova Luna hitting the shelves in North America! 

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Nova Luna is a tile-placement game for 1 – 4 players taking approximately 30 – 45 minutes depending on player count. Designed by Uwe Rosenberg (with credit to Corné van Moorsel), with art by Lukas Siegmon, it was originally released by Pegasus Spiele and Edition Spielwiese and will be coming out in North America through Stronghold Games soon. 


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