Review: Old World, New World

Posted by James (admin) on January 24th, 2014

Old World New World game

Old World New World is a fast-moving and simple game by Victory Point Games.  The winner is the first player to get 3 of their units to the scoring locations on the furthest side of the board from where they start, and each player is heading in a different direction to the other players.

Gameplay is simple: At the start of the game, the board is blank – consisting of just the card frame – but this gets filled-in with landscape cards as the game progresses.  Each card has 4 smaller squares on it showing land, sea or mountains – some land spaces have camps on them and some sea spaces have ports on them.  On their turn, a player has a hand of cards and can take two actions.  An action can be to place a card to fill in any empty square of the board, or they can discard a card to add new units, move existing units, or use a special card for its special effect.

There are a few important gameplay mechanics to mention.  First, all players’ units are double-sided (soldiers and ships) –  a player can move one of their soldier/ship units across land/sea by discarding a card showing a camp/port symbol respectively.  Second, when you move a unit, you can move it as far as you want in a straight line so long as (a) the move is all on land (soldiers) or all on sea (ships), and (b) it doesn’t pass through any other unit.  (Note that only soldiers units can only move into mountain spaces and must stop after 1 space).  Third, a unit that is on a camp/port can perform a free move without using an action.  Finally, a unit can be converted from a soldier unit into a ship unit if the unit is next to a port and the player plays a port card – this flips the unit over onto the adjacent space (and ships can be converted into soldiers in the same way using camps).

As a result, players are trying to place land to create the best routes for their own units (whilst making other players’ routes more difficult) and find chains of free moves to get their units across the board in as few actions as possible.  The special action cards allow players to remove opponent units from the board, convert opponents units into their own, rotate cards that are already part of the board, etc.

Old World New World starts out feeling like you’ll have lots of options to get your units across the board, but as other players start placing cards to create the landscape, you start to realise things may not be so simple after all.  Getting cards down early is important to create the landscape that helps you – If you don’t like games when other people play cards to hinder you, this isn’t the game for you.  (Yeah, I’m looking at you anonymous Xbox Live player who gave me my only negative rating ever because I blocked one route they needed on Xbox Ticket To Ride.)

As the board takes shape players start to send units out and you start to see the routes you (and they) will need to get across the board.  Leaving your units close to their goal is asking for trouble as other players will try to play cards on you to remove your units or hinder some other way – so it’s often best to hang back just within striking distance hoping no-one notices the chain of moves you could complete in one turn to get a unit across the board when you have the cards required.

Working out routes comprising of chains of moves, free moves and unit conversions to reach my goal was very interesting (as well as watching out for others doing the same so I could get in their way).  Whenever a player moved one of their units clear across the board in a single turn, there was always an impressed sound much like the aliens regarding ‘The Claw’ in Toy Story.  However, players would often block other players’ routes with their units (in many cases not just out of spite but because routes often crossover and share sections so they needed to use them too).  If you don’t like games when other people place their units so they’re blocking your way, this isn’t the game for you either.  (Still looking at you anonymous Xbox Live player.)

The special action cards add some variety to the gameplay; however, I felt the negative effects on other players could be too powerful.  This becomes a greater issue later in the game because they make up a greater percentage of the deck as landscape cards get placed to create the board.  When all the board is complete (36 cards), the remaining card deck consists of 22 land cards and 14 special action cards, so special action cards comprise almost 40% of the cards in circulation.

As a result, they appear more and more frequently.  This caused my games to slow down and feel a bit drawn out during the end game.  It felt like you would always get obliterated by someone’s special action card if you didn’t get across the board in one go, and often it wasn’t possible to do so when other players were blocking the way requiring actions to remove them or go round them.  This can be even more exacerbated when a player who is obviously close to winning is picked on by the other players (as is natural) before their next turn.  Often, I’d take a turn but have that progress removed and be back at the same point by my next turn.  I think this issue is less pronounced with fewer players as there are fewer opportunities for people to interfere with your plans between your turns.

Having more landscape cards in the deck would dilute this this issue; however, I think this could be solved relatively easily through a slight change to the rules.  Maybe special actions cards go out of the game after they’re played (or do so once the board is complete); maybe each player can only play one more special action than the player who has played the fewest; maybe each player can only be affected by one special action between turns.  Alternatively, maybe after the first time through the deck (or once the board is complete), players’ units don’t block each other.

Whilst the game play is bit unconnected to the theme, the theme is nice and it feels like a eurogame which is simple to play.  The artwork has a thematic old-map-style to it which looks nice and a good balance between theme and clarity, although I would have liked the brown borders on each card to be removed so the land and sea areas on the map visually flowed together more easily.

Overall, Old World New World has lots of fun interaction and light decision-making.  Whilst you have a limited number of cards in hand, you usually have quite a lot of options as to how to use them.  It moves quickly and you’re always looking to see what has just been placed, what routes you can make, and where others have moved.  The only area that I didn’t enjoy as much was the end game which can be a bit too long, but it’s fixable.

You can check out Victory Point Games’ web site for more details about Old World New World including the rules.

[Played with 3 and 4 players]

P.S. I usually think of Victory Point Games as a publisher who create relatively complex historical games for gamers, but they actually do quite a lot of smaller, faster, lighter games.  I recently played their game Trieste, which is an asymmetric card game for exactly 3 players with each player (City Watch, Merchants and Thieves Guild) having very different goals, cards and playing styles – this was a very interesting, fun game.  VPG also publish many solo-playing games including Darkest Night (which looks very good), In Magnificent Style (the Gettysburg-themed game I posted about a few months ago) and Cruel Necessity (which I shall be reviewing soon).

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