Nemo's War Review

A little while ago, I got an email from Victory Point Games suggesting that I was absolutely sick of reviewing games, but that their games could restore my joy in reviewing! I thought that this email was hilarious, but I decided to take them up on their offer. Since I didn't know much about their games, I went on Board Game Geek and looked for what seemed to be popular. And so, I wound up with my very own copy of Nemo's War to try out.

Nemo's War is a solo game based on Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and you play the role of Nemo captaining the Nautilus.  Throughout the game, you can search for treasure, fight ships, and fight imperialism.   On each turn, you start by rolling two dice.  Based on the dice rolled, you place a new ship in two different oceans (or if you roll doubles, you replace a treasure).  Also, if you roll high enough, you draw an adventure card - which is either a test for your ship, or a bonus that you can use later.  After this setup, you select an action for the Nautilus - it can Move, Incite rebellion, Search for Treasure, Stalk or Attack an enemy ship, or Rest/Repair/Refit the Nautilus.  After this action, the year marker is advanced, and the next turn begins.  This cycle continues until you have completed a year (each turn represents one week), you have encountered the Maelstrom, or you have encountered one of the other end of game conditions.  At this point, you calculate your score to see how well you performed.

Exerted crew resource
The first thing that I liked about Nemo's War was the concept of "exerting" resources.  Essentially, what you can do is bet a resource before you roll dice for various actions (like attacking a ship).  Betting this resource gives you a bonus to your die roll.  If you then succeed on the die roll, you don't lose anything; but if you fail, you lose the resource that is exerted.  Not only can you do this before the die roll, but there are also three once per game resources (passengers) that can be sacrificed for a bonus after the die roll - but, if you use these, you lose several victory points at the end of the game.  This exerting mechanism was very interesting to me, as I don't recall seeing anything like it in other games.

The next thing that I enjoyed about Nemo's War was that Nemo had four different possible motivations in the game.  You start the game by picking a motivation, but it can change once later during the game (after you've done several turns and you can see what you actually want to score bonuses for).  Based on this motivation, you score points differently at the end of the game.  If his motivation is war, you get extra points for sinking warships, but nothing for science or wonders.  If you are exploring, then you get less points for sinking ships, but you get a lot of points for wonders.  These different motivations force you to implement different strategies, and this allows the game to stay fresh longer.

With those pros, I also had a few cons with Nemo's War.  First, I would say that there was waaaay too much dice rolling.  In the same way that people say Monopoly is all luck-based because of the dice rolling (which I disagree with), I think that Nemo's War has the same kind of "plan but hope" element (a term that I just made up).  If you roll well, you will do well; if you roll poorly, you will fail miserably.  Here's an example of how much dice rolling you may have on a turn.  You roll two dice to determine if you have an adventure (and where ships appear).  You roll high enough that you have an adventure.  Your adventure is a test - so you roll two dice to see if you succeed or fail.  Since you fail, you choose to sacrifice your Conseil once per game resource to roll again.  Next, as Nemo's Action, you choose to Rest.  You roll one die (and cut the number in half) to see how many weeks you spend resting.  Next, you roll a die to see if you were successful at Resting.  Now, your next turn begins.  Now, admittedly, this is an extreme example (though you can roll even more dice on your turn if you are attacking repeatedly - especially if you encounter warships that attack you before you shoot back!), but since every one of Nemo's Actions except for moving the Nautilus requires you to roll dice, you are basically always rolling dice for one thing or another.

The game comes with the world's smallest dice
The next con that I had for Nemo's War was that the game felt very fiddly.  Though, I think that there were two main aspects that annoyed me with their fiddliness - the year tracker and the resource exertion.  I was always doing something with one of them.  Every turn the year tracker advances.  That's fine - it's a turn order tracker.  However, each turn, after you roll to determine if there is an adventure, you will quite possibly have to flip the tracker.  If you are exerting resources, you are supposed to move the resource down slightly to indicate that it's exerted - and if you succeed, you move it up, if you fail you move it down.  I generally forgot to do this, and left it moved slightly down until I failed, and then moved it the rest of the way down.  After all, I normally wanted to continue exerting the same resource until I lost it.  Overall, though, you are constantly tweaking pieces around on the board, and this is compounded by the fact that it is single player, and so you are the only one taking care of all of this upkeep.

The final con that I had for Nemo's War was that it felt unnecessarily complicated.  And, I think that one of the things that would really help this would be to have a turn order cheat sheet that quickly told you what you needed to do (and what you were trying to roll on the dice at any given time).  Most of this is present on the board itself, but it serves to clutter the board more than give you an easy reference of what you need to know.  Since you don't have a clear cheat sheet, you have to refer to the instruction book that is essentially a 6 page wall of text.  What's more, there are actions that you won't use in some games (or will use rarely), and yet to understand the game and get going, you still have to read through all of these.  Specifically, the Incite action is completely worthless if your motivation is Science - Liberation (the track that you affect with the Incite action) is not worth any points with this motivation.  There are also three different tracks that can affect the game at any given point.  This adds to the confusion when initially learning the game, as you have to figure out how much you care about each of these tracks.

Finally, here's something that you should be aware of about Victory Point Games' games.  They all have inexpensive components.  Their company motto says something about the fact that they focus on gameplay instead of components.  I can appreciate this, and I knew it going in, so I wasn't disappointed when I got the game.  I don't consider this a con - I'm simply mentioning it here so that you will realize what you're getting if you buy one of their games. 

Overall, I give Nemo's War a 7.0/10.  The game worked, but I didn't find it exciting enough to keep drawing me in to play it repeatedly.  And, with it being solo, there won't be other people asking me to play it.

If you like literary based games, you might also check out Beowulf: The Legend and Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (which can also be played solo).

I would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing me with a review copy of Nemo's War.

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