DESIGNER: Alan Ernstein
PUBLISHER: Rio Grande Games
PLAYERS: 2 – 4
AGES: 14 and up
TIME: 90-120 minutes
TIMES PLAYED: 3, with I copy I received for review
The most excitement we have around here these days is when our CSA box arrives; we are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what varieties of produce we’ll be enjoying,
so you can imagine our excitement when a box from Rio Grande Games appeared on our doorstep. It arrived on a day when it felt like it was hot enough to be in the desert, so it was appropriate that it was Nevada City. (Yeah, it was probably only 80, but here on the coast of Massachusetts that passes for a heat wave.)
Nevada City is a worker placement game for 2 -4 players. You are a family working to settle Nevada City in the mid-1800’s. The family that does the best job of maintaining the family businesses while also settling the town will win the game.
The game comes with a 3 piece board; the center piece is always the same, and the side of the end boards varies based on the number of players. The board has some buildings preprinted on the board, while other building cards will be built by the players over the course of the game. The board also has storage for property tiles, contract cards and items related to the advanced game (more on that later). There are also cardboard resource tokens representing cattle, crops, silver and cardboard commodity tokens representing iron, lumber, brick spirits and entertainment.
Each player also has their own board; this is your homestead. Players start with a cattle ranch, a farm and a silver mine, and can add to these over the game. Players also get a cowboy pawn that goes on the victory point track, wooden circles that indicate building ownership and wooden towers that indicate worker actions.
Players also choose a family consisting of a patriarch, matriarch, son and daughter; each family has slightly different actions and starting tiles, although all start with the same number of actions.
Players are dealt two secret goal cards; they choose one to be scored by all players at the end of the game and return the other to the box unseen; an additional secret goal is placed directly in the secret goal pile as well.
Players are randomly dealt a starting building card from the start deck; the player who gets the sheriff building will be the start player.
There are 23 event cards in the game. 6 are included in every game, and an additional 12 are selected at random. In the first year of the game there will be an event card every action round; in future years there will be some rounds with no events – these are indicated by spaces on the board. Events can be good and can give players additional options or benefits, or they can be bad and force players to lose actions or spend money.
At the start of each round the Sheriff checks to see whether an Event Card is revealed.
After resolving the event the action round begins. Starting with the sheriff each player uses all of the actions of one of their characters. Characters have from one to three actions; all characters can do many actions, but some characters provide a boost or a resource, all indicated on the card.
Actions a player can take include:
Claim a Building: Use one action marker at City Hall, where you can select a building from the buildings for the current year and claim it. Place it on an empty space on the board, construction side up, and place your ownership marker on it.
Claim a Property: Use one action marker at City Hall, where you can select a new property (farm, mine or ranch); pay the cost printed on the tile and place it on your homestead.
Construct a Building: Place one action marker on a building you own that has not yet been built. That character brings any commodities printed on the character card automatically; they may also bring any number of commodities or money that are stored on your homestead mat.
As soon as all required tokens are on the building it is built. Return all tokens to the supply, and flip it over. The player gets the number of VPs printed on the board, and that building is now available for all players to use.
Produce a Resource: Use one action marker to activate a farm, mine or ranch. Each tile can be activated once per year. Any character can activate a tile; a character with that resource ability printed on their card can activate one or two additional tiles, if you have them. For example, in the picture below Pa could activate two crop tiles, since he has a bonus crop action on his card.
How many resources you produce is based on the Production Value Chart and how much money they earn you is based on the Market Chart, both of which are printed on the board. Most of the spaces are pre-determined, but each chart has 2 spots determined randomly by drawing cubes from a bag; each round all but one cube will appear. Some events may also affect both charts.
Use a Building: Use one action marker on an available space on a building to take the related action. Some buildings let you sell resources (cattle, crops and silver), while others let you get resources, choose a contract, or take other listed actions. Each character can only use a particular building once per year.
Work on or Complete a Contract: Contracts are cards that give you victory points in return for completing them. Cards are reserved based on their color and are taken by putting an action marker on a building with a contract space; you may then choose any of the 4 face up characters that match the color of the space you are on.
Contracts are placed in one of the three spots at the bottom of your homestead board, In order to work on the contract you place an action marker on the bottom of your board and place the requested resources on the card.
Once all required resources are provided you can activate the contract. Players take the VPs listed on the bottom of the card. Some contracts provide more points if a particular building is already built and may provide the owner of that building with 2 VPs as well. Completed contracts are placed in your general player area; most do not have any other effect, but some will provide you with an ongoing benefit.
Hire a Worker: Place an action marker to hire a worker by paying the cost of one of the available face-up workers. Place that worker in one of the 3 slots at the bottom of your homestead board and place the indicated number of action markers on it. That worker is now available to you later in this year.
Workers generally go away at the end of the year. However, twice per game you can pay to marry them off to your son or daughter by paying any 2 resources and 2 spirits; that worker then becomes part of your family for the rest of the game.
After each player has completed the actions of one character you check to see if any player still has actions. Lather, rinse, repeat until all players have used all available actions. Once that has happened, you move to the next year. Activate any end-of-year properties on buildings, reset the Production and Market Charts, remove any unmarried workers, and return action markers to the character cards. Reset the event cards and move on to the next year,
The game lasts for 4 years, although it can end earlier if there are no empty building spaces on the board at the end of a year. The secret goal cards are revealed and scored card by card, and the player with the most victory points wins the game. Ties are broken by the most remaining resources.
The game also comes with additional components that are for the advanced game; any and all can be used.
There are 4 family member cards – adopted sons and daughters. At the start of the game players can choose to replace one of their sons or daughters with the adopted child instead.
There are additional building cards, event cards, and an additional secret goal card.
There is a poker deck, which is used to take gamble action that can be taken at saloons to try to get more money. It is also used during the additional Troublemaker phase, at the end of each year, during which any unhired workers start shooting. Each card – workers and family members – has a gunslinging value. A card from the poker deck is flipped for the unhired worker and is added to his/her gunslinging value, and the same is done for the player. If the worker wins the player loses an action in the next round; if the player wins they gain a victory point.
The Production and Market Charts are determined randomly by drawing all cubes from a bag; there are 2 additional neutral cubes that can also be added.
TWO PLAYER RULES
There are a few changes with only two players. Some buildings are removed from the game, and some of the start buildings start on the board, with the Sheriff and the Assayer dealt randomly to the players.Two buildings come on to the board automatically during the course of each year, and some spaces on buildings are unavailable.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
I like the game. I’m a fan of worker placement games, and this adds a new twist with the way those workers are placed. You have some idea of what you want those workers to do for you, since you know what one of the secret goals is, but there are several you don’t know, so you need to diversify. Coming in first on all of those goal cards likely wouldn’t win you the game, though, so you need to get an effective engine going that maximizes your income so that you can get the resources and commodities to build buildings and complete contracts. I like the fact that the characters’ abilities are different, and that you have to use that information to identify a strategy. The way those abilities interact, and the fact that the contracts and buildings have interactions is interesting as well. There are a lot more contracts than buildings, so this doesn’t always come in to play, but it’s cool when it does. The contracts and buildings both vary in how hard they are to get into play, so you have options there, too. However, since the contracts come into play randomly it is possible that there will be times when it’s not possible to buy a contract since none of the colors match, which can be frustrating, since it removes an entire action. There is an action that lets you sweep the contracts, though, so it mitigates that somewhat.
Some people are not going to like the events, because they introduce a random element, and some of the events are punitive. Some of them can be frustrating and force you to change a plan or two, but I didn’t find them to be disabling. While you don’t know exactly what is going to come into play, after the first play you know what could happen and can keep that in mind when making plans; being prepared for anything seems to me to fit well with the theme of building a town in the Wild West, where anything can happen.
I like most of the components of the advanced game; having additional events and buildings makes the game more interesting, and the addition of the “adopted children”, where you can customize your family a little bit is good, especially if you choose your initial family later in the round. The poker game was neutral for me, it neither hurts nor harms the game, but was a bit random to waste an action on to get money, as they are better, sure-fire ways to do it. I did not like the gunslinger action; sure, it fits the theme, but it’s random and hard to plan for, and the risk/reward feels off – losing an action if you lose can be huge, but if you win you only get a victory point. The rules state that you can use any/all of the advanced game, but if you don’t use poker or gunslinger there are events you should not use as they are specifically related.
Learning the game from the rules was a little bit of a slog, due to the rules not being well-organized and with some areas of ambiguity. I think the intent of the rules layout was to give you some idea of the components and what they do before explaining the related actions, but this means you have to flip back and forth between multiple sections to find the answer to questions; I would prefer to have all of the information about an action in one place for easy reference as well as at a point where that information makes sense to you. In some cases the rules are perhaps over-detailed, but in other cases they are not specific enough. We were able to mostly figure things out as we got further into the rules or as we understood more about the game, and the rules for the basic framework were clear.
Also, there are a couple of errata that will make things easier for you if you play. The rules refer to grey cubes as being random, but the random cubes are actually white; the gray cubes are the silver. The rules also confuse the two charts in the description; both of these issues have been clarified by the publisher on Board Game Geek.
The playtime seems pretty accurate; our first game took a lot longer due to the rules explanation and time spent making clarifications, but the second and third games both took just under 2 hours.
The box is a standard size square game box. It has a plain, non-custom cardboard insert that we removed so we could keep some of the components in permanent bins for ease of set-up. The components are well-made and sturdy. The board is looooong and you need to be able to put cards along the long edges, so you need a large table (something we are in the market for, and this was a good reminder, but we were able to make it work.) Each player has a fancy gate that notes their color, and the wooden player pieces are good quality. The cardstock used for the cards seems like it will hold up well to repeated plays.
There are a couple of minor issues with the components; the VP track only goes to 50, and there is no marker to indicate when you’ve gone past it (we just used an ownership marker, and that worked fine) and a couple of places where a rule or a clarification should be printed on the component. For example, most buildings are built onto an empty space on the board, but some of the buildings in the advanced game are placed on top of one of the pre-printed buildings instead and replace them. However, neither the card or the building on the board indicate that, so it is incumbent on the players to remember.
All of those issues are fairly minor, though, and don’t detract from the fact that this is a good game with some interesting mechanics. Even though I have played it 3 times in fairly quick succession over the course of about a week, it has earned a spot on our shelf for games in regular rotation, and I look forward to playing it again.
Comments from other Opinionated Gamers
Dale Y: 1 play, 2p – It took me a few passes thru the rulebook to get a feel for the game, and we did have to refer to rules for a few things in our game. I don’t know whether this was due to the layout/organization of the rules or my lack of practice at actually playing games! I was glad to have been tipped off by Tery about the errata on BGG, because I often do not check online prior to playing a game. We would have surely been confused with the colored cubes issue without clarification.
The game itself plays smoothly. By the end of my first game, I felt like I finally understood how everything works – and I think that my next game will move much smoother (and i’ll be able to teach it coherently). As it was a first game, we only played with the basic rules, so I cannot comment on the advanced components – but I do like the fact that they are included in the box so that there is potential for varied and more complex games in the future.
Nevada City is an interesting take on the Worker Placement genre, and there are a number of different ideas here that stop it from feeling like any other WP game you’ve played recently. The overall variance is pretty high, so you have to be willing to accept swings of fate due to event cards, contracts, “random” hidden goals, etc. For me, that’s a lot to ask for in a two-hour game, but I know that I’m usually in the minority on that topic. FWIW, the designer states on BGG: “I would also suggest that the two harshest events, if you don’t know they are coming, are the City Tax and Property Tax. The government always seems to make things more difficult. You should take a careful look at them before you play the first time. I don’t usually use them the first time I teach the game.” I kinda wish this had been in the rules because it would prevent someone’s first game from being derailed by a harsh event – when you don’t even know enough about how the game works to try to recover adequately from it. So, if you’re reading this, take this as a word of warning!
I would like to see how it plays with 3p and 4p, and as I generally like WP games, this one makes it to the “save until after Coronavirus” pile for play again when regular gaming resumes.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Tery, Dale, John P
- Not for me…
Thanks. Very nice review of the game. I am glad you liked it. I should note that the game was designed for four originally, and the 2-player rules were added. Given the pandemic, I am glad that they are there since most people will be playing with two for awhile. I would love to get your opinion once you have played it with three or four.
Alan, I look forward to that, too!