New Bedford Review

New Bedford Review

So, for the first review of the 2016 review set, I’m going to go with one of the games that I was most excited to get, New Bedford. I was fortunate enough to get to playtest this game before it was kickstarted by Greater Than Games and Dice Hate Me Games, and ever since that first playthrough, I was excited to get the final copy. This review is also going to cover some of the expansion material from New Bedford: Rising Tide. The expansion adds some modular material, most of which I’ve used, but the thing I like about it the most is the addition of a 5th player. Let’s get to it.

New Bedford

Designer: Nathaniel Levan

Play Time: 75 minutes

Player Count: 1-4 Players, 5 with the expansion

New Bedford is a worker-placement/resource management game in which you take on the role of a whaling captain in 1800’s New Bedford. Over the course of the game you are trying to construct as many buildings in town while also sending out whaling crews to catch whales to earn points. On your turn, you have 2 meeples that you will place on the board. When the game begins, there are only 5 spaces to place your meeples, but that will increase as the game goes on. The actions start with basic gaining of resources, which then allow you to build ships and then send them out to sea, or construct buildings to place in town. Buildings that are built become new action spaces for subsequent turns. After all the meeples have been placed, the ships out to sea move one space closer to land and begin the whaling portion of the game. There is a draw bag which is full of whales and empty sea tiles.

The Ocean Bag, with the whales and empty sea tiles

The ship that is the farthest out to sea in the 1st position gets the first pick of the available whale tiles and it then proceeds from player to player as the ships get closer to land until every boat has picked a tile or there are only sea tiles left. If, when the ships move closer to land, any ships reach shore, they have to pay their crew for each whale that was caught, and if they are unable to, they can sell whales to the other players to help cover their costs.

The whaling board, with ships at sea

Play proceeds in this order until 12 rounds have been played and then the ships at sea get one last opportunity to process their whales. At that point, each player totals up their points earned from whales and buildings and whoever has the highest score is the winner.

Things I like:

  • Theme. This is such a unique theme. I love unique themes and this one is so cool. I know that Greater Than Games took some heat when this game released because people didn’t like that you killed whales, but I don’t think that’s worth getting upset over. It happened. It was a way of life for a lot of people. And the rulebook even talks about the negative effect whaling had on whale populations and that overall it wasn’t a good thing. Either way, I really like the theme.
  • Quick Turns. Each player has 2 meeples. Once they are both placed, that phase is done. Turns move at such a quick clip in this game. When you tell someone a game will last 12 rounds, it can sound daunting, but not so here. It’s great for the pace of the game.
  • Light press your luck. There isn’t a lot press your luck, but the longer you’re at sea, the more whales you can catch. Which is great! If you can pay for them. You might bring in a huge shipload of whales, but if you can’t pay for them, your opponents get the opportunity to buy the points right out from under you. Which may cost you the game. It’s a fun balance to find.
  • Tight scores. Each time I’ve played this game, the scores have finished over a spread of 7 or less points. That makes the above point about not giving your opponents whales, an even bigger challenge.
  • The Board. As you construct buildings, the tiles are placed on the board facing you. It’s a great way to keep track of which building belongs to which person.

The board for the 5 player version
  • The buildings. A majority of the buildings become actions that are available to all the other players. Each building can only be used once per round, and if someone other than the owner uses the buildings, they have to pay the owner 1 coin to perform that action. It can make certain buildings very profitable early in the game. Additionally, the expansion adds more buildings to the game, so there is variety in every play. One last thing to mention about the buildings is that each building tile is 2-sided. The back has the exact text which explains what the building does, but once you know the iconography, you can use the front of the tiles which are fully colored and much prettier to look at.

The top 3 buildings with the back side up, while the bottom 5 have the full artwork.
  • Bits. I know. Broken record. Really cool pieces in this game.

Wood, Brick, and Food
  • The Art. Again, broken record. But this game is really beautiful. And I’d be remiss to not throw a shout out to a fellow Michigander, artist Nolan Nassar.
One of the player boards

Things I don’t like.

  • The whaling. I love the theme in this game. I’m not the biggest fan of the execution of the whaling though. There is a big bag of tiles that you draw from when whaling. You draw the number of tiles per ship whaling plus one. I’ve played before where someone gets a boat out to sea early to get the advantage, and then they don’t get a good draw of whales. It’s the one big piece of luck in this game, and there isn’t a great way to mitigate it. That is, unless you are playing with the Ship’s Log cards         which includes the Providence deck and Omen Deck. When using these decks, you display the top card of the deck face up, and you can choose to take one of these cards instead of taking a whale tile. This helps make this something that bothers me much less.
3 Providence cards on top and 3 Omen cards on bottom
  • The player colors. Sounds nit-picky, right? Usually I don’t care about these things too much, but it causes a problem in this game. The colors included are blue, orange, yellow, black, and green. This is only a problem with the ships. The pieces for the ships are great, but they are all white with colored keels. This is fine for the blue, yellow, and orange. In poor light, the green and black are almost indistinguishable, and it’s even tough in good light. Like I said, it’s minor, but it bothers me.
The different ships. The 2 on the left are blue, and the 2 on the right are the black and green, in that order.
  • The Expansion. This may sound contradictory, but let me explain. The expansion is fantastic. That being said, I think the base game and expansion should have all been in one box. The expansion material isn’t necessary, but adds so much and fixes some things that I didn’t like, and keeps the game fresh.

Overall, this game is a success for me. I wouldn’t say it does anything that blows me away, but at the same point provides a very solid entry into the worker placement category that doesn’t feel like every other worker placement game. I really like it and would definitely say it’s worth taking a look at. Really solid game from 2016.

GLG Rating 7.5/10

Check it out on Greater Than Games Website Here

Check it out on BGG Here

One thought on “New Bedford Review

  1. On the point of the whaling theme, drawing tiles from the whaling bag is a great mechanism.

    Whales caught from the bag are kept out for scoring, but the dud “empty sea” tiles go back into the bag every round.

    This end up making the strong thematic reality that the more whales are caught now, the fewer are left to be caught in the future, and are more sparsely found.

    It also adds a good arc to the game. At the beginning, mostly all you can do is stock a ship and send it whaling. Later in the game, whaling is less of a sure bet, but the town has been built up, allowing more paths for points and mitigating luck. Again, this models the real history of the town so well and so naturally.

    Dave, you’ve convinced me to bring it the next game night!

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