Boardgame Reviews

New Angeles Review – Being A Ruthless Corporation Is Kind of Fun

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Designed by: James Kniffin
Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 4-6
Playtime: 2-4 hours.

Review copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games.

Within movies, books and games massive corporations becoming the dominant force in society is a constant theme and one that is these days a little too close to reality. We live in a time when companies have unprecedented sway over the public and even the governments, both publically and behind closed doors. Perhaps that’s why we find the premise so intriguing because we can see it happening. Oh jeez, I feel a deep discussion about politics, ethics, and capitalism coming on.

The point is New Angeles casts you as one of these powerful gigantic corporations within the Android universe, with the goal being to acquire as much capital (victory points) as possible by negotiating, arguing, bribing and even threatening the other players. During setup each person sitting at the table will randomly be given a corp sheet that lists their unique way they can earn bonus capital, such as when illness is treated or outages are fixed. In other words, each corporation has its own strengths, down to the fact that they draw different action cards and are therefore better at doing certain things. Jinteki, for example, focuses on biotech cards that help battle illness, earn capital whenever illness is treated and have a special emergency power that removes a lot of illness tokens from the board. Another company is all about removing troublesome sections of society.

Each player will also draw a random rival card that will pit them against one other player. In order to win you simply need to have more capital than your rival, so you can happily come in second last on the score track provide your rival is below you. However, you can also draw your own corporation as a rival, at which point you need to have more capital than two or three other players to claim victory at the end.

But look at me chatting about action cards, emergency powers, rivals, and other nonsense when we haven’t even gotten to how the game works.

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Each player’s turn begins with an asset card being placed onto the board. These are powerful cards which often let you break the rules of the game, and thus are worth fighting over. Some may increase your hand size and the amount of cards you can draw, providing you with a wealth of extra options and even more power when it comes to supporting offers, while others do a variety of things.

With the new asset revealed you draw the action cards listed on your corp sheet, with each company being focused toward certain things. These actions cards are separated into piles, each of which has a general theme; security is geared toward removing enemies and placing Prisec units on the board; media is all about quelling the unrest in districts; biotech is good for handling the illnesses that spread across the city; construction lets players upgrade a district and fix outages; and finally labor is all about shifting androids around in order to produce resources. We’ll get back to these later, but the gist is that action cards are how you influence the city of New Angeles and hopefully guide it toward your agenda.

You then pick one of these action cards and place it on the board in what New Angeles refers to as “making a deal.” Going clockwise around the table the other players then have an opportunity to play one of their action cards as a counter offer to yours. Should a counteroffer already exist a player can still make an offer of their own by discarding action cards equal to the number of counteroffers already on the board, so going up against an opponent can become progressively more expensive.

Assuming a counteroffer has been played the support phase begins where any corporation who did not make an offer can now vote on which action card they want to see go through by playing face-down cards from their hand, sacrificing them to support that player and their offer. Of course, you can also opt to abstain from the support phase if you’re attempting to remain neutral or just don’t care.

This is where the majority of the game takes place as players attempt to convince each other that their actions should be supported, and by doing so alter the city in order to earn capital, because whichever card gets selected will be resolved, and the face-up asset card will go to whichever player had their offer picked.

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To aid in the negotiations New Angeles smartly allows players to use almost everything aside from action cards as an incentive to get people to side with them. You’re free to trade capital or asset cards, and to make promises of support or other things. The only rule is that any trade which can be executed immediately is binding, so if it comes time for one player to choose whether to support a deal or not and the primary player offers capital to do so the trade would be binding. However, outside of that player’s are not held to their word, either when it comes to resolving their action cards when selected or actually giving their opponent’s what was promised to them. You might tell the table that you’ll use your action card to move an android to district 3, but in reality you plan on doing something very different.

The wording of the rule is actually a little tricky. Allow me to explain; as taken the rule implies that if you offered something to a player during their portion of the support phase to entice them into aiding you then the offer would be binding. However, if you made the offer before it came time for the other player to either support a deal or abstain then it wouldn’t be binding, so you could betray them by refusing to uphold your side of the bargain. Basically, this means if you sweet talk one player into supporting you during the time you’re putting down an action card, by the time the support phase comes around your words are not binding.

Regardless of potentially tricky wording that can be taken advantage of by sneaky players who have truly taken to the game’s theme onboard it’s this wheeling and dealing segment that is the beating heart of New Angeles. Everything revolves around the back and forth of players pushing their own agendas and slyly attempting to maneuver the board into an advantageous situation where it becomes easy to convince everybody else that the action which will benefit you is the right one to take. All the while everybody has to be wary of the fact that they could be aiding the person who has them marked as a rival, either by the way they’ve changed the board or by giving them capital as a bribe.

Whether or not New Angeles is a game for you comes down almost exclusively to the type of people you plan on playing with. This is a game that lives or dies based on whether or not players are willing to really get into the game, by which I mean you need people who will act the part of ruthless corporations willing to negotiate for every single point and who are willing to outright lie to win. Making deals and then completely failing to uphold them is a part of the game and wholly encouraged, as is being able to understand when it’s best to simply work toward keeping the threat level in check, even if it means giving up some capital.

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Yes, the threat level. Here’s where the co-operative side of New Angeles rears its head, because while you may be competing to earn the most cash the city must also continue to tick otherwise the government will step in and take control, meaning game over for everybody. Well, nearly everybody. While most players simply have to get as much cash as possible while ensuring the city doesn’t burn to the ground there’s a good chance one player will wind up playing as the Federalist, who wins by having 25+ capital and maxing out the threat level.

This brings us to the city of New Angeles itself, a sprawling metropolis split into ten districts, each of which is capable of producing resources in the form of energy, credits, entertainment, consumables, and tech. Every two rounds you’ll go through a demands phase where the needs of the city must be met or else the threat level will rise by a good amount. Whether the group manages to meet them or not a new card will be flipped over that determines the demands of the city for the next time, giving players exactly two rounds to produce what is needed. It’s this system that ensures players can’t simply constantly refuse to support each other, and instead must occasionally work together in order to keep everybody from losing the game. It becomes about scoring capital by smartly playing cards which will clearly help keep threat in check.

The demands phase also gives players a chance to score capital based on their investment cards which are dealt out at the start of the game. These offer capital for a bunch of things, like for meeting the demand of tech or entertainment, or for however many Prisec security goons are stomping around the city. These cards are the biggest chances to score in the entire game, and during each demands phase you’ll draw two more, pick one and replace the old one with it, ready for the next demands phase.

Each area within New Angeles is subject to a variety of tokens and miniatures, starting with the three android tokens which make a district produce when placed there. As a byproduct of production a district’s unrest level increases by one point, indicated by putting a yellow token there. This just means the population is feeling a bit unhappy, and protests are starting to break out. If unrests increases further then the token is flipped over to its red side, meaning riots are breaking out and the district can’t produce any more resources until the populace unbunches its collective panties. An outage has essentially the same effect, replacing any existing unrest tokens and halting the production of anything until an action card fixes the problem. The next potential things to consider are production tokens that increase the output of a district’s primary, which can obviously be very helpful in the long-term. The final slot for each district is for illness tokens, which increase threat by two points every time an action card effects the district they are in, meaning rampant illness can really start to become a problem. Those two threat points might not seem like much, but over time they become deadly.

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The next thing to consider are miniatures who get placed on the board. Human First supporters in a district mean the unrest will increase by two rather than one, jumping straight up to full strikes when an andoid makes a district produce. These guys also make it so that if unrest increases while a district is already protesting or having full-blown strikes then an outage occurs instead. Ogrine Crime goons mean a district won’t produce its primary resource. Finally, the hulking Prisec Security guards stop an enemy from occupying a zone, forcing them to move on to the next one. Some security action card effects let you place a Prisec mini and remove enemies entirely rather than just moving them around.

Speaking of moving around, that’s something else to be aware of. Districts can’t have duplicate miniatures, outages or illness tokens, so if one needs to be placed in a location that already contains it then it must be moved to the next district, as shown by the arrows on the board. If they get pushed out of the final district then they travel to The Root, instantly increasing threat by another two.

Each round ends with the event phase where a card is drawn from the event deck and resolved from top to bottom. The upper portion of the card contains conditions that can increase the threat level based on the current state of New Angeles, such as the threat rising due to outages or the number of Human First supporters currently residing in the city. Helpfully the back of events provide an indicator of what that card is going to do, giving players a chance to mitigate the damage by removing potential problems when attempting to push their action cards through. The rest of the card shows where new tokens and miniatures have to be placed around the city, tossing even more in for players to consider as they negotiate the next set of deals.

The very bottom of the event card shows how many asset cards should be laid out for the next round, dictating how many turns there will be. This is an interesting concept within New Angeles; rather than simply having a set amount of turns per round it’s the amount of asset cards that control how long a round will last. It’s an interesting idea because it can cause some quick, panicked rounds thanks to there just being something like three assets and thus little time to meet demands, or it can provide much longer rounds where players have a chance to get demands and such out of the way and focus on earning capital.

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When you bring everything together it’s a very interesting mixture of co-operative and competitive gameplay. Not only are you not necessarily competing against everyone else but you also have to always be aware of keeping the population of New Angeles happy and combating upcoming threat cards, creating an intriguing balance between purely selfish gain using your corporation’s strengths and selfless moments where you play a card for the benefit of everyone. It rewards smart manipulation of the board and of the other players who are all aware that you’re out for number one. They know that, and so you have to put them in a position where your gain is also the most sensible move to make.

This also comes with some obvious flaws. There will be a lot of times where an offer on the table is so obviously the right choice that it can feel like you’re just going through the motions. Likewise, there will be times when you literally have nothing in your hand of any consequence and know that taking your turn is almost pointless unless you’re willing to offer players a lot of stuff to get your useless card selected just to claim the asset.

It can also be a very irritating game because sometimes you’ll be battling the tide with little hope of getting anything done. A clever player can sway their opponents and think many moves ahead in order to pitch things in their favor, but even then your influence is quite limited and that means you can find the board state simply never being close to what you need. The investment cards are a prime example of this since they act as probably the biggest way of getting capital but are also hugely reliant on luck. You get to draw two and pick one, sure, but so many times myself or another player would get stuck with a card that was never going to score very much because the board didn’t support it and no amount of political shennagins could change it. I mean, if you have an investment that rewards you protests and strikes but the next event card indicates that protests and strikes will bump up the threat level then you’ll likely find yourself trying to work against everyone else.

Being a game from FFG there’s nothing much wrong with the production values with the exception of the generic box insert and some of the rules. Once you’ve got the game running it looks lovely thanks to the large, quite colorful board covered in tokens and reasonably detailed miniatures. I’ve really got very little in the way of complaints here, although my particular box did arrive with the side unglued, which I assume was just a one-off production error.

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Summing up my feelings about New Angeles is surprisingly tough, mostly because of how variable my experiences were with it based upon the people sitting at the table and how unlucky I got with the board. Some games were brilliant with people who would verbally sparring on almost every turn with relatively even footing when it came to investment cards. Other games were fairly mundane due luck benefiting one or two players over the others, the numerous tokens on the board never really moving around to favor everyone equally.

However, ultimately my pervading feeling about New Angeles is one of pleasure. While I can’t say it’s one of the best games I’ve played all year it’s certainly going to find an appreciative audience who love its theme and political bickering, provided of course that said audience is not made up of people who hold grudges because New Angeles has the potential to break up more families than Monopoly.

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