You’re looking fairly dapper today. If I do say so myself one could say you even look dashing. Now I know we could sit here and exchange pleasantries all day long but there are much more important things to discuss. I want to discuss the topic that’s really on your mind: board games. That’s right friends today I want to discuss the 2-4 player route building, pick up and deliver game Via Nebula by Space Cowboys.
Via Nebula is a 2016 release by Martin Wallace of Treefrog Games fame that pits players as crafters and builders that are trying to populate the Nebula Valley with fantastic structures and clear the mists that haunt the land. The thing that makes this game fun is that in many ways you are trying to work together, but to win you must achieve your own objectives and the balance between the two can be very fun.
Another reason that this game is a winner in my book is that it is a highly strategic game that doesn’t feel too heavy. This means that even people who aren’t convention going, math trading, 10x10ing, podcast creating, cardboard addicts like myself will enjoy the game. This is great news for you family members out there that are looking for new and interesting ways to connect with your loved ones that doesn’t involve spending inordinate amounts of money or sitting in front of a screen…HOORAY!
Now that I have you on the hook with all this talk of cheap entertainment, let me continue to reel you in with a slow and steady stream of tabletop mechanic talk. Are you as excited as I am?! Alright probably not but please stay with me because I want to unpack this game a bit and I would love it if you read along.
As I said earlier this is mainly a route building/pick up and deliver game. There is a little more going on than that however so really quickly let’s talk about what you’re going to do on your turn. When you sit down you’re going to be looking at a hex board filled with resources and fog tiles, as well as spaces reserved for building cities and some spaces that allow you to put more resources on the board.
On your turn you will be able to take two actions out of a possible six. You can do actions in any order you wish and can do the same action twice. The actions you can take are:
- Putting a craftsman on the board – You have a number of workers that you can place on the board. This allows you to collect a resource tile that is worth points from the board and place resources down. These resources are used to fill contracts and construct buildings. Now the interesting thing about this is that all players can use the resources you place on the board, but if all of the resources that you generated aren’t used they’re worth minus points for you at the end of the game. So this action can reward you in a couple of ways but it’s also risky. You want to place a resource that people need so that players will be forced to take them and clear you of a penalty, but you also want to make sure that you are able to use enough of the resources to accomplish your goal. Fun balance.
- Place a building site – There are a number of spaces on the board that are reserved for building sites. You can place one of your tiles on these sites and claim it for your building. To build a building you have to pay the resources shown on either a common contract that all players can access, or one of two private contracts that you have in your hand from the start of the game. The trick with this is that you can place a site down and hope to build a contract that is in play, and have that contract bought out from under you. This can be quite the challenge to out think the other players and be efficient.
- Explore a fog space – This a fun aspect of the game that creates a fun mini challenge for points. At the start of the game each player receives four stacks of blank green hex tiles. The number that you receive depends on the number of players, but each time you empty a stack you gain two points. So if you empty all four stacks you’ve gained eight end game victory points. The other neat thing is that to deliver resources to your buildings you have to have an open path between the resources and your building site. So laying down tiles and creating open paths is a benefit in more than one way.
- Explore a petrified forest – This is essentially the same action as exploring fog except that it requires both of your actions to complete. There are special designated areas on the board that have forests on them. You can clear the forest and lay down your green tile which will once again allow you to empty your tile stack.
- Transport a resource to a building site – The interesting thing about the building in this game is that you first have to place a worker to unlock resources on the board. Once a worker is placed a number of resources are laid out that everyone has access to. As an action any player can transport a needed resource to one of their building sites as long as there is an unobstructed path to their site (i.e. no fog or forests or forbidden spaces in the way.) So basically if there is a path of empty meadow tiles between a stack of resources and a building site you are working on, you can move one of those resources to your building as one action.
- Erect a building – this allows you to construct a building based on the requirements of the contract cards available in the market or in your hand. You move the required resources from the building site to the supply, take or play the desired contract, and place one of your buildings on the board permanently. This allows you to take back your building site tile to be used again. The contract that you complete often will give you some type of one time bonus or endgame scoring ability as well which can be very helpful.
This is essentially the game. After a player has built their fifth and final contract the end game is triggered. The player who completed the final contract gets an end of game card worth two points and does not get another turn. All other players receive one final turn and scoring starts.
From the standpoint of learning to play and the complexity scale Via Nebula is fairly straightforward. It’s not too much to learn and doesn’t tend to create AP that grinds things to a halt. What the game does really well is create fun tension and makes you feel like each turn matters quite a bit. All of the build sites, common contracts and resources are shared meaning that how well you solve the puzzle of completing your contracts is directly dependent upon how well you can outthink and outplay your opponents. The other thing that creates tension in Via Nebula is that your decisions directly impact your opponents. You can buy a contract out from under their noses or move the last resource that they needed from a site they unlocked. How you and your opponents react to these constantly changing conditions is the fun of the game in my opinion. You have to plan, and then adjust your plan, and then react to how your opponent plans. I love that aspect of Via Nebula.
There is also quite a bit of an efficiency puzzle and resource management aspect to Via Nebula as well. The interesting thing about managing your resources though, is that other people have access to them too. So it’s not solely up to you how your wood, food, stone, clay and wheat is used. Doesn’t that sound fun?! The other thing about resources in this game is that like I mentioned above you receive a token worth points for every resource space that you unlock. So you want to unlock the resources that you need, but also unlock resources that you think others need because you get points for doing so. You want to be careful however because any resources that you control and have not been used at the end of the game are worth a negative point. So the question is can you be efficient? Can you collect the resources that you need and also open up the resources that your opponents will need? You don’t want to get left holding the bag but at the same time the risk might be worth the reward. So much fun!
The theming and presentation of this game is beautiful as well. This is a Space Cowboys release and one of the things I’ve noticed about their games is that they have terrific inserts and beautiful art. Via Nebula is no exception. The insert fits everything perfectly, the art is fun and has a wonderful fantasy feel, and if there were an award for cutest meeple of the year the pigs in this game would win unanimously…I mean look at it. LOOK AT IT! It’s beyond adorable.
So overall I think this game is a winner in a lot of ways. It’s not too heavy but provides plenty of fun and player interaction, it’s reasonably priced and is accessible enough that young and old will have a good time. I hope that you enjoy the article and hopefully pick the game up! It’s one of the better games of 2016 in my opinion (which is very important to you I know) and that’s saying something because 2016 was kind of a stellar year for gaming. In fact, two of the games released this year have made their way onto my top 10 of all time. And that list had not changed much for over a year. I’ve uploaded a how to play video to the instructional section of BGG and at the bottom of this article so that you can see what the game looks like on the table and how it plays. If you have any questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org and until next time I’ll see you at the table!