30th Mar2018

‘New Dawn’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

new-dawn-box

As the direct sequel to Artipia Games’ Among the Stars, the story of New Dawn continues the epic saga of intergalactic exploration, expansion and exploitation that the original began. In the original game, alien nations from all corners of the galaxy were forced to work together following a devastating interstellar war.

In New Dawn, the flames of war are beginning to flicker again, but science and trade remain just as important as might as each faction jockeys for position within the fragile alliance. Ultimately, the winner will be the one who has achieved the best mix of controlling powerful space stations and sending aid back to the alliance council.

New Dawn is played on a gargantuan, double sided board that features a standard layout on one side and a variant with a couple of marked zones on the other. The game supports two to four players and is fairly lengthy regardless of player count, with most games weighing in at something like one and a half to two hours.

Each player chooses a race from a selection of eight, then takes the associated technology cards and chooses a set of coloured pieces to represent them. A huge bag of space stations forms the majority of these and all but one of them will be placed onto designated spaces that form three tracks on each player board. The final one is placed onto the starting location on the board, which represents the alliance base.

Also onto the alliance base, each player places one of their mobile headquarters, whilst the other two are also added to the player board. Removing pieces from the player board and placing them onto the main board always provides a dual benefit – firstly it represents taking control of a station, whilst secondly it increases the resources that player will draw next turn.

Setting up New Dawn is a bit fiddly, which is partly because of how deep the game is. There is a fairly heavy focus on sorting decks and hands of cards manually, then placing them in specific locations. For example, all facility cards are divided into four groups (military, economic, science and hostile) and then by phase of the game (A and B.) There are also a number of benefit cards that come in orange and green flavour, which must be placed in coloured pairs at opposite ends of the board.

Add these factors to the housekeeping around player boards, upgrade cards, alliance cards and ambassadors which (like the board itself) is adjusted for player count and setup is no small feat. However, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait, because actually playing New Dawn is an incredibly rewarding experience.

The basic turn structure is fairly simple, although I did find myself referring to the reference guide often, simply because of how much happens in each round. Each turn opens with the player producing resources equivalent to the number of open spaces on their player board, then they draw four facilities cards (in any combination) from either the A or B deck, depending on the current game phase.

After this comes the real meat of the game, exploring and expanding the board. Players must explore, which is a simple case of placing one of the facility cards in their hand onto the board in a space adjacent to any of the existing facilities (it can be orthogonally or diagonally and controlled by any player.) That player may perform the action listed on the card assuming that it is possible to do so, although it is not always desirable to do so.

Players may then move one of their mobile headquarters and purchase a technology, if they have the means to do so. After that, each players takes three actions, one by one, in turn order. The number of actions is quite broad, but not all will be available to all players at all times. This makes the first two or three games that anyone plays quite slow, but it certainly speeds up with more experience.

Included among them, players can establish bases on unclaimed facilities by paying a cost and placing one of their pieces onto it. They can also simply claim a resource, or use an ambassador token to gain the benefit described on its associated card. Perhaps the two most interesting actions are purchasing a new mobile headquarters (which also allows all of them to be moved) or to seize control.

Seizing control does exactly what you might expect, albeit in a way that is perhaps more interesting than usual. In a nutshell, it becomes a dice rolling exercise based on some simple variants. When attacking a non-player facility, the attacker must roll a yellow die for their mobile headquarters, plus a white die for each adjacent mobile headquarters. If the numbers rolled total more than the numbers shown in the left and right hand corners of the facility being attacked, the attack is successful.

When attacking other players, both players roll dice for mobile headquarters present in the same way, but the defending player also receives a die for their base. In this way, strategic placement of mobile headquarters for both offensive and defensive reasons is key, because it is the key way of ensuring an advantage in combat situations. I should also say that military tokens also add strength to combat rolls, as do certain technologies and racial benefits.

After three actions per player, players may take a final action to end the round, which is to send aid to the alliance. This is achieved by paying the resources shown on one of the face up aid cards, which is then taken to add points during the final scoring. A cleanup phase then resets things like ambassador tokens and so on.

Whilst New Dawn features only fifteen actions per player, the large number of ancillary activities (like drawing cards and exploring) make the game feel much chunkier than it otherwise would. There is also a huge amount of variability in the game, thanks to the mix of race options and the technology, ambassador and facility cards. It’s impossible for any single deck of facility cards to be exhausted in any single game, let alone all four of them, so even well tested strategies will vary from time to time.

The exploration element is exciting, but that is partly because players are able to draw four cards per turn and can choose which one to play, the randomness is greatly reduced. Thematically, I like to think of this as the long range scanning capability that would likely be available to the alliance in order to enable its members to focus on what is most important to them.

Players will also likely fall into specific rhythms as they advance, as well. For example, depending on which race is chosen and what facility cards are in hand early, a certain path (military, for example) will appear sensible. Expanding the reach of a faction via either military might or peaceful expansion is equally viable, which makes New Dawn a very cool game to experiment with.

New Dawn also features an inevitable element of player interaction however, which will often result in at least one player losing something that was valuable to them. Not everyone loves this kind of interaction and it is certainly a possibility that an inexperienced player will end up leaving themselves seriously open to exploitation. That said, attacking player positions is not without risk, so it tends to be a relatively rare occurrence.

Somewhere between the incredible visual appeal, the deeply strategic gameplay and the rock-solid decision making, New Dawn massively overcompensates for any of the failings that I might have listed here. Yes, it is slow to set up, but that is because it wants to offer such a rich and variable experience – is that really a criticism? New Dawn is a hidden gem within the 4X genre that fans really shouldn’t miss and for those who haven’t considered this kind of game before, then you could do a lot worse than starting here.

**** 4/5

A review copy of New Dawn was provided by Artipia Games. The game is available at your friendly local game store now, or you can read more about it here.

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