29th Mar2019

‘NEOM’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

neom-box

NEOM claims to be the game that allows players to “create the city of tomorrow” but I can’t stop myself from thinking that it’s an irrelevant claim. Unless the specific thing that future cities will feature is a perfectly square layout that positions neat rows and columns of buildings joined by slightly inconvenient road layouts. With an opening like this, you might think that I don’t like NEOM, but that’s not true, I simply feel that it features an almost entirely irrelevant theme – this could have been a game about building a medieval town, a martian colony or just about anything else.

In some regards, NEOM does little to differentiate itself at a gameplay level either. Each turn, the players will essentially draft stacks of tiles turn by turn, placing them into their city with a view to generating cash or resources and ultimately points. There are several turns in each of what NEOM calls generations, with each turn relating to a premade stack of tiles. There are three generations to a game, and each one has its own set of tiles – if you know the territory for this kind of game, you’ll already have guessed that each generation of tiles is more complex than the previous set, giving the game a natural curve.

At the beginning of the game, players will receive a number of cornerstone tiles, which act as a kind of buffer for later on. Once the draft element of each turn is complete, the players have access to three very straightforward options. Firstly, the player can simply place the tile that they chose this turn, but they may also either place a cornerstone tile or sell the tile that was just drafted. The optimal strategy in NEOM is to place a tile each turn (and cornerstone tiles seem to be better earlier rather than later) so you’ll want to sell tiles fairly rarely. This is helped by the fact that numerous tiles will generate income on their own.

neom-1

In addition to income (which is essentially cash) NEOM also features what appears at first to be a relatively complex resource tree. There are several basic resources (called Goods) that can be developed into Processed Goods and then Luxury Goods in turn. In general, it takes access to two basic goods to generate one Processed Good, then three Processed Goods to generate a Luxury Good. The prerequisite for placing any tile (like your car factory or skyscraper) will be shown in the top left corner of the tile and can include cash or goods, whilst any ouput (which might be a Luxury Good, cash or points) will be shown in the bottom left.

Thanks to the large, clear tiles, NEOM makes these input and output features as clear as day, so any confusion that might have been caused by the daunting number of resources will quickly evaporate. Your first game of NEOM should be played turn by turn, which allows the players to learn in a very organic way. Relative to the complexity of scoring and the number of possible outcomes, I found NEOM to be one of the easiest games to teach that I think I’ve ever played. It’s almost completely straightforward.

That square layout which I seemed to criticise earlier comes into its own when placing tiles. Also, because every road ends in the centre of two to four sides of the tile, aligning tiles to their neighbours is very easy, thanks to a super distinct colour scheme. Tiles do need to connect to the central tile via the road network, but it doesn’t matter if some roads end up as dead ends. Each player board (all of which are different) has a couple of trade route exits at each edge, allowing players to access resources that they don’t have by purchasing them. These layout considerations are not overly complex, but they do add something to the gameplay in NEOM that I really liked.

Whilst I really enjoyed building out my cities in NEOM, experimenting with different mixtures of residential, commercial, industrial and unique buildings, it isn’t perfect. The uniqueness of the resource tree is fantastic and unusual, especially considering the simple way in which it is presented, but the overall aesthetic and gameplay could be compared to almost any other building game, with Suburbia and Quadropolis in particular springing to mind. There’s also very little interaction in NEOM, with just one tile per generation providing a “disaster” event, which can be used to negatively affect the opponents of the player who uses it.

In closing, I find NEOM to be of a standard with other city building games that I’ve played, but with little to differentiate it over and above them. It is certainly simpler to play than most, I’d say, but only marginally so. Similarly, it shares the same fairly complex scoring of other games that ask players to count the inter-dependencies and multipliers between different kinds of buildings. NEOM is quicker even than Quadropolis though, making it a game that can be picked up and played easily and perhaps even multiple times in a single sitting. Overall, it’s a solid effort and a good addition to your collection, especially if city building games are your thing.

***½  3.5/5

NEOM is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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