Niña & Pinta
- Designer: Steve Kendall (with help from Phil Kendall and Gary Dicken)
- Publisher: Ragnar Brothers
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: ~2 hours
- Times played: 3 (once with solo game rules) with review copy provided by Ragnar Brothers
Niña & Pinta (N&P) is the newest release from the British Ragnar Brothers. Like another English “family”, the Thompson Twins, they aren’t all brothers, but at least two of them share the same last name… From their website: “Ragnar Brothers consists of three friends who ought to know better but can’t resist the urge to design boardgames. That’s Steve and Phil Kendall and myself Gary Dicken. It all started in the early 1980′s when we gathered with our reprobate friends to recreate American Civil and Second World War battles with 25mm Airfix figures and large pieces of chip board painted green. Ah! the good old days when entire weekends would disappear in a heady mix of artificial cannon smoke and beer fumes. These days we stick to designing board-games and card games – it keeps us off the streets.”
Their designs have generally been well received in the industry, and they are perhaps best known for the classic game History of the World. Other more recent releases include Canal Mania, Fire&Axe, and Kings and Castles. Though I learned about these games only after I started playing “Eurogames”, I would not necessarily lump them in with that group. Ragnar games tend to be a bit more complex that most Eurogames, and they often use direct conflict between players. And though N&P is not one of them, Ragnar games often provide the game board on a tea towel as opposed to cardboard stock.
The most recent release is termed to be the “first Quantum game”. This is a game of exploration of the New World where the great nations of Spain, England, France and Portugal send ships out to map the unknown and to bring home wealth to the Old World. This is a game where those ships will cross the divide and where no love is lost between Captains no matter which world it is! Explore, settle, fight if need be, and help your nation develop its Culture, Science, Religion and War-craft, to be the best in all worlds! But in this new World, there are actually three New worlds – supposedly separate from each other… Quantum physics tells us ‘the ability of quantum particles to occupy two states seemingly at once could be explained by both states co-existing in different universes’. So when you wave goodbye to your ship in your universe, someone else waves goodbye to their ship in a different parallel universe. But what would happen if these neighbouring universes, separated by the thinnest, gossamer barrier should somehow be breached and my ship sails into your world and searches for gold in competition to your ship?
The large board show the three different worlds, each named for one of Columbus’ famous ships: Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. Each of the three lands is identical in shape and each has 7 different areas. The map is built up in setup with tiles being drawn and placed on their respective spots in the three lands. Each player chooses to play as one of the traditional colonial powers: Spain, Portugal, England or France. The game is somewhat asymmetric as each of the four powers comes with its own special ability.
The game itself is played over six rounds; each of which having six phases. If you can’t remember all the details, you’ll find them on the back of your player screen. Spain starts the game first – as this is its special ability.
The first phase is mostly setup for the rest of the round. Players flip up a token that decides which world will get to increase population or which will allow building. Further, players all collect an amount of gold as listed on that token. Benefit tokens are drawn at random from the supply and placed on the board. The most significant thing that happens is that some of the three worlds in the game may be placed in a State of War (0, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 3 in the successive eras) – the decision of which world(s) are in War to be determined by the player who owns the most Military Benefits.
In the second phase, players load their ships (behind their screens) – coincidentally enough, each of the players has 3 ships, one named for each of the three worlds. The ships can be loaded with any number of settlers (and/or a single Captain) up to the seating capacity of the ship – this is normally 3 people, except for England which is allowed to place 4 in their ships. It will cost you one gold per settler or captain that is sailing away to the New Worlds.
In the third phase, the ships actually sail away. Starting with the first player for the round, one ship is sailed off at a time. The ship with the most crewmembers must sail first (if there is a tie, the player can choose which of the tied ships sails). The ship then has a number of options: Explore, Consolidate, or Attack.
- Explore – dock the ship at an unrevealed land tile. That tile is flipped over and there may be a one-time Discovery special action that occurs. The first land to be revealed in each world must be the Caribbean, and then all subsequent expansion must be adjacent to a previously revealed land tile. All crew members are placed on the land where the ship docked.
- Consolidate – The ship sails to a previously explored land and all its crew are placed on that land. There is a restriction of only 2 ships at any particular land tile. There are limitations that each player may only have one Captain per World, and each land tile may only have one Captain on it (from all the players combined). If it turns out that there is no space for the ship (given the 2 ships to a land limit), the ship just turns around and goes home.
- Attack – This can only happen if the world is in a State of War (per the setup in the first phase), with the exception that the French may attack once per Era in a world that is not at War. To attack, a ship containing a Captain and some settlers attacks existing settlers on a land tile. In the fight, one existing opponent settler is removed for each sailing/attacking settler of the active player.
After the ship takes one of the three possible choices, the player is then allowed to migrate his Settlers – where any one Settler is allowed to move to an adjacent land tile. Note that Captains may never migrate. Finally, the player may have to remove pieces in order to get down to the population limit for that land tile – the limit is based on the type of terrain of the particular tile.
To recap, in the third phase, each player will take three separate turns; in each, he will sail a ship to the World that matches the name of the ship, do something with that ship, and then migrate and reduce. The order of the ships is determined by the number of crew members on the ship (the fullest ships go first).
In the fourth phase, the colonial powers govern their new Worlds. Again in player order, each player chooses one of the three worlds to govern, and then does stuff in that world.
Revenue is collected for each settler, town and city that the player has there. Gold must be moved to a ship or a Stronghold (this is a Discovery bonus possibility) via connected occupied land tiles. If it cannot be transported to a storage location, it is lost.
Towns can be built IF the build token for that world has already been drawn. Then, a player must have a settler in the world that is part of a group of three occupied lands of different terrain types OR its part of a set of three occupied lands that share the same name across the three Worlds. If so, he pays 3 gold and converts the settler piece into a town piece. It is important to know that the gold used to build must have been collected from that World and stored either on the Ship or a Stronghold in that World.
If the City piece is available (there are only 7 in the game, one for each of the Land areas), you could build it for 9 gold – assuming you still have met one of the two criteria for placing a city. You could also upgrade a town to a city for the price difference of 6 gold – but again, you must still meet one of the two placing criteria. Further, if you are the first person to build a city in a particular world, you get to designate it as an Arts world, Science world or Religion world. There is also a maximum of three cities per world.
Finally, the ships sail back to the new World (carrying back any gold that are on the ship). The Captain in the World could come back as well – but he has to be able to get to the ship, moving through connected lands that you have settlements in.
As in phase three, play goes around the board three times; with each player governing each world once in the phase.
The fifth phase allows the player to select Benefit markers from the board. In the setup for the era, (n+3) benefits are placed faceup on the board. There is a base cost for benefits, and each player gets a chance to buy a Benefit tile from the selection on the board at this starting cost. Once all have had a chance, the price increases by one gold per tile and another round of buying occurs. This continues until all the Benefits are purchased or all players pass. The maximum cost for a Benefit tile is 7 Gold. If you choose not to buy a benefit, you place your marker on any available space on the Turn order chart – this determines turn order for the next round as well.
There are two types of Benefit tiles: circular Bonus benefits which generally provide immediate advantages and square Progress Benefits (Arts, Science, Religion, Military) which are used for end game scoring or for determining which worlds are at war each round. The power of the Bonus benefits can be quite strong, so choosing earlier in turn order can be quite advantageous.
The sixth phase isn’t really a phase – it’s just cleanup. Remove the unpurchased benefit tiles and remove the State of War tokens. Then back to Phase one of the next turn to set up again.
The game ends at the end of the sixth era. There are a number of different ways to score points
- Settlements on the map: Cities (3VP), Towns (2VP), Settlers (1VP) score
- Arts and Science Benefits: These benefits come in 5 different types. You score points based on the number of different types of each that you have. The base value for the first type is equal to the number of cities in the world of that type. Then each successive type is worth one more point. Thus, if there are 4 cities in the Science world, and you have 4 different types of Science benefits, you will score 4+5+6+7=22 points.
- Religion Benefits: Have the same base value as Arts and Sciences, but here, you can only count your Catholic OR Protestant benefits
- Military Benefits: The base value here is equal to the number of unbuilt cities (maximum of 3), but otherwise score like the other Benefit types
- Gold: Finally, each 5 Gold left over is worth 1 VP
Ties are broken by being earliest in the final Turn order chart on the board.
My thoughts on the game
Nina & Pinta is a superbly constructed game. I should probably preface my comments by saying that I think it’ll take 5 or more plays to really get a true feel for the depths of this game, and for a number of reasons, I’m writing this review with fewer plays than what I think would be needed. There are multiple levels of things to worry about in gameplay, and I still am trying to grasp how to best manage the game to score points.
But, before I get to the scoring – let’s start with the game play. The board itself having three related worlds is perfectly cramped in the four player game. There’s enough room to allow some open exploration in the first two eras, but once the land tiles are revealed, the game forces the players to prey upon each other to make space for new settlers.
With each ship, you are essentially limited to only two land tiles, which must be adjoining (because you can attack or explore in any one land, and then you may migrate only a single piece afterwards), so you need to plan your movement carefully. Sometimes, strategies need to span two or three eras due to the geographic limitation of any particular turn.
Playing order can be important in the different worlds – if you and another player are vying for similar territories, there are times you’d rather play after that other player (so that they cannot reply to your maneuver) OR you’d rather go earlier so that your current position on the board cannot be altered and that you have the first chance to change things up. The trick is then to try to figure out when your rival is going to go to that world so that you can time your boat to arrive at the desired time. Of course, given the timing rules of your own boats, you might be forced to send extra sailors on other ships in order to get the target ship in the right order on your turn.
The other monkeywrench in this calculation is that sometimes you can wait too long to sail. The restriction that a max of 2 ships can sail to a land can be a bear – and I have been frozen out of my desired destination because other people have gone there first. Additionally, the limitation of only one Captain per land can sometimes get you if you were counting on being able to leave a captain behind in a location to act as a connector for gold transport.
The format of the sailing phase allows players to look at the board opportunistically – they can sometimes concentrate their play to get a temporary setup to allow them to build a town or city on that very play, knowing full well that the board situation will change as quickly as the next player. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you want to go early in the round in a particular world (most often when there is no State of War there), and other times you’d rather go at the end of the round so that no one can alter the situation after your turn.
Building towns (and finding strongholds) early on in the game is a good first strategic point. It’s good to have permanent settlements to rely upon, because once you play the game, you’ll soon find that anything that can be removed from the New World will likely be removed by someone else needing that space. An early town or stronghold in the Caribbean or Isthmus lands can be a nice anchor to build upon in later turns. This, can in turn, feed upon itself because once you build multiple towns in a World, you should then hopefully be able to continually build there assuming you can get new Settlers in that World.
The need to bring new Settlers into a land is the main importance of the War Benefits. Getting to decide which worlds are at War can be a very powerful decision. Of course, all players will benefit from that decision, but being able to make sure that you can attack where you want is something that you’d rather be in control of. The flip side to this is that the War Benefits are probably going to have a low base value in scoring (based on the building seen in my initial games).
The whole Benefit system provides you with more intriguing choices. Costs quickly elevate, so you may be limited in the number of Benefit tiles that you can buy in any given round. Additionally, given the competition for them in each round, you do need to prioritize them to figure out which ones you want to buy early on. The two different types are equally strong – with some of the immediate action tiles being quite strong. In the final era, note that most of the immediate tiles are Cathedrals which will double scoring for all settlements in the land in which they are placed. The distribution of the tiles is also key – when you play with 4p, you see almost all of the tiles, and it is actually a bit easier to plan on what is coming. However, in 2p, there are fewer revealed each round, and this makes it a bit more unpredictable as to which ones will be available for you.
But now onto scoring – and let me tell you, this is a pretty complicated animal. The majority of the scoring comes from the Benefit tiles, and until you see it work once or twice, it’s hard to wrap your head around the rules. The fact that the base values for the Arts, Science and Religion benefits are tied to the number of cities in a particular world is a complex indeed. Remember that the first player to build a city in a world gets to decide which of the three bonus benefits it will score. Once that is set, this interaction can really change your behavior: both in where you want to build future cities on the board as well as which Benefit tiles you might choose. There is a nice chart that summarizes the scoring in the rulebook – and I do wish that this had been placed on one of the player aids or perhaps in some of the empty space on the board so that all players could readily see the chart. It would be helpful to see, at a quick glance, the point delta between two different tile choices without having to consult the rules. (Sure, it’s not too hard to do it in your head, and I have been able to do so, but I think that most players would still just prefer to have a simple chart in front of them.)
For instance, in my first game, two of the other players had loaded up on the Religion benefits, and Santa Maria was the world allocated to Religion. Of course, that is the World where I had 4 towns, and I was always in a decent setup to build a city – but I ended up choosing not to do so because the additional point for my City would be dwarfed by the VP benefit that my opponents would get from the increased Benefit tile scoring. Furthermore, there were times that I would selectively choose to leave some Settlements behind from attacks because I actually wanted them to consider building cities in a World which would then increase my own benefit scoring.
The one question that I still cannot pass judgement on is whether or not the asymmetrical start is balanced. Each of the four powers has an individualized special ability, and I haven’t had enough experience to see if they are equal in power. At first glance, the French ability to attack once in worlds that are not at War seems far greater than the other three. That being said, I have yet to see France win the game! Discussions with the game designer have also made me consider that the starting location in turn order is something that should also be taken into account when considering the relative strengths of the individual powers. My initial verdict is that none of the four powers is truly unbalancing, and I’ll put my trust in the game designer and playtesting to have proved the relative equality. (One other question that has arisen is whether or not the powers are balanced when fewer than 4 players play the game… In one game, we randomly drew countries, and Spain was left out. They are the country that goes first in the first round, and that initiative is supposed to be their “power”. However, without Spain in the game, the second country in turn order, Portugal, now ends up getting both special powers essentially.)
Gameplay is continually engaging. Though our game times have been long (3 hours for 4p and 2.5 hours for 3p in the second multiplayer game), rarely are there times when you’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Each of the 6 Eras is split up into many little phases and subphases – set up, ship loading, 3 rounds of saililng, 3 rounds of governing, multiple quick rounds of benefit buying, clean up. You’re active in each of these bits, and when someone else is sailing or governing, it often still affects you – so you are at least involved in watching what is happening on the board.
The game is very strategic, but there is a small amount of chance in the game that keeps things unpredictable. In the early game, the discovery of new tiles (with possible discovery bonuses, differing terrain types and differing population limits) continually causes you to reassess your strategy. The other main role that chance plays is in the order in which the Build/Grow tiles are revealed. You can spend a lot of energy setting up your areas of three or more lands in a particular world, but without the Build ability in that world, you don’t get a lot of benefit from it. Alternatively, once the Grow token is revealed for a certain world, the additional population limit in each land in that world suddenly makes early play in the World very valuable indeed as you might be able to get two or three Settlers into that world without having to expend any in an Attack to make room for those new Settlers.
The rules in my nearly final prototype are good (especially given the track record of previous Ragnar rulesets), though there are a few important rules that could perhaps be better emphasized – though it does appear that all the vital rules are located somewhere in the ruleset, just not necessarily where I wanted to look for them when trying to find clarification. There is a budding FAQ sections (well, actually, it’s only answers – the questions are actually unstated!), and there are two player aids on the back of the two player screens. There is a slight issue with the player aids in that they are pretty hard to read when they’re standing up being used as an actual screen. Further, the population limits are not clearly stated on the other screen as the limits for both the solo game and multiplayer game are represented in the same column, and this seems to be an un-necessary move as there is enough space on the chart to allow for separate columns for each type of game.
The components in my final production prototype are solid but not awesome. I would caution future purchasers to punch the tokens carefully. There were a few spots where the die cast cut was not complete, and accidental tearing of a token could be possible. Our other issue with the components with our game was that the settlers (legless meeple) and a captain (traditional meeple) were often confused with each other. There are a lot of subtle rules involving the captain, and being able to clearly see which pieces are captains is of paramount importance. In this prototype, we ended up making substitutions for the captains, using plain colored cubes instead to make sure that all players knew which piece was what.
The only other alteration we made to game play was to not place the storage triangle on the board. The graphic design of the game has been cleverly done to keep everything on the board surface. However, we found that we were jostling things around and risking un-necessary upset of our three Worlds as we were all reaching over them to get to the central storage triangle to get gold or whatnot. As we play on a large table, we simply stored all of that stuff on the outside of the board and then reduced the risk of a stray elbow or sleeve from moving everything on our three worlds.
The one downside is that the art design is a bit dodgy in places. There are some things which need clarification to new players – and some can significantly impact game play. In any teaching session, I would definitely make a point to clarify and distinguish these issues. First, the mixed terrain artwork can be extremely difficult to distinguish – especially on the Caribbean tile where there isn’t a lot of land mass to show the art. Second, the Benefit tokens that increase production on particular land types have no graphic reference to which tile they work on – so each time they come up, someone has to pull up the rules and figure it out. Another problem (for us) with the benefit tokens is that the artwork on the Town/City/Cathedral tokens can look quite alike, especially from across the table – and their functions are quite different! A simple small caption on those tokens would have cleared up any ambiguity in the set.
If you haven’t been able to tell, I’m very enamored with this game. While I generally don’t give ratings prior to three plays, this is a very strong candidate for an “I love it” for me, and that’s with the knowledge that I surely don’t fully understand it yet after my limited number of plays. I definitely am looking forward to the next play, though the longer game length may keep this from being a weekly event (and to be clear, that’s more a feature of the timing.preferences of my game group and our affinity for somewhat shorter games – and not a statement against N&P). This is one of the best complex games that I’ve played in a few years, and one I will enjoy exploring deeper in the coming months.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor