The latest game from Space Cowboys (Splendor, T.I.M.E. Stories) and designer Martin Wallace (Brass, A Few Acres of Snow), Via Nebula has the potential to be a cracking game in both production and design. But is it? Well let me give you my thoughts.
VN is set in a mystical valley called Nebula where dark fog has shrouded the landscape. As an intrepid explorer and philanthropist, it’s up to you to brave the mist and open up new routes and new constructions to make the valley yours.
To accomplish this, players have six actions in their turn, of which they can pick two. These include:
– Explore the mist using the green hexagon tiles on your player board. Explore enough any you’ll reveal ‘Explorer’ spots on your board, giving you 2 Victory points a piece.
– Explore a petrified forest space. This also uses a green hex tile from your board, but instead of counting as one action, it’s uses both your actions for the turn. The forests tend to be in more advantageous routes, so it’s up to you to weigh up the cost against reward.
– Exploit a resource using your ‘craftsman’ meeple. You grab the Exploitation tile for some VP’s, but the resources themselves actually sit on the board, ready to be claimed by all the players at the table!
– Place a building site. On certain places on the board, you can place a tile to claim a site for a building later. In the 3 and 4 player game the tiles are half-hexes, meaning two players can build at the same site.
– Transport a resource. Remember what I said about resources being shared? Well, if you can trace a clear path (i.e. No building sites or other tokens and tiles in the way) you can move ANY resource token to one of your building sites.
– Build. If you have the right resources at a site, you can build something, either from the two special cards in your hand or the four open buildings that anyone can build. Each building the grants VP’s and a special bonus, such as exploring for free or grabbing a resource for a building site.
This sounds like a lot of things to do on your turn, but the game play is very intuitive, meaning you’ll be humming along at a rapid pace once you have them down. It’s also a very open system, meaning you’ll have plenty of choice during your turn. This can be a bit overwhelming in the first couple of turns (literally ANY move is viable) but once you pick a direction you want to head in, you’ll be away. The building cards given to each player at the beginning of the game help with this guidance to get you started. There’s also that ‘who gives in first’ moment while all the players try their best to not give advantages to everyone else!
Where VN really shines is as a gateway Euro style game. It’s cute theme, engaging and simple game play and plethora of decisions will make it ideal for getting new players to the table and maybe exploring something with a little more meat on the bones.
The game comes with a double sided board, a beginner and advanced. This will give players plenty to get their teeth into initially. However, my worry here is that with a set board every game, VN will lack longevity as players suss out the best routes and placements for every playthrough. Whilst the exploitation tokens and building cards are randomised each time, the buildings tend to be a decent spread that allows you to build something at all times, and the access to resources isn’t a limiting enough factor. My concern is how long this will stay engaging after the sixth or seventh play through.
The production quality is, as expected, amazing! High quality cardboard components, thick playing cards and adorable wooden tokens (seriously, little piggy meeples!) means this game will take a battering. The artwork is suitable cute but not saccharine, matching the light-ish nature of the gameplay. The use of different shaped wooden buildings mean that even the colour blind have been considered during production.
The rulebook is clear and straightforward, making learning VN super quick. In a four player game, I was able to explain the rules, set up the game and play to conclusion in just one hour with minimal confusion.
The box has been designed with a great deal of care. Each component has its own compartment, right down to the pig meeple shaped slot for the little wooden porkers! It speaks of high quality and depth of consideration of the whole product and is testament to the ethic of Space Cowboys as publishers.
In summary, Via Nebula is a lovely game with light-ish mechanics and enough depth to keep all players engaged. It’s beautiful production and well designed rulebook mean players can dive in quickly and get to exploring. My one reservation is whether VN will still be played after five or six play throughs. All in all, a cracking game I can thoroughly recommend, especially to someone looking to introduce a meatier game to newer gamers.
Pictures from Asmodee.us and spacecowboys.fr