29th Nov2019

‘Expedition to Newdale’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

ex-newdale-box

I don’t know, sometimes you wait a long time for your next Alexander Pfister game and it turns out to be a disappointment (Blackout: Hong Kong) and sometimes you wait for what seems like a relatively short amount of time and two turn up at once, namely, Maracaibo and Expedition to Newdale. The subject of today’s review is the latter, with Expedition to Newdale being the latest game in Pfister’s Oh My Goods! series of games. Being a bit of a legacy game, Newdale plays over the course of eight episodes, each of which introduces new features and rules. Sound interesting? It certainly does!

Expedition to Newdale looks like a fairly standard eurogame at first glance, and unfortunately you might even go so far as to call it a bit bland. The game packs three double sided boards into the box, each of which folds out to show a particular region in the game. I wont spoil any of the story here beyond the first chapter, but it’s fair to say that some of the boards are used prior to the titular expedition, whilst others represent locations either on the way to the destination, or even beyond it… At least three of the maps look fairly similar, but the other three change pace from being largely green to include more varied terrain and to be fair, they all serve their purpose well enough.

Among the other components, things remain typically Germanic in how understated they are. The player pieces come in blue, white, grey and orange, which keeps things a little more sombre than you’d expect, and the many, many, many cards in the game are more or less all variants on beige, brown or cream in the main. The pictured buildings that feature on them have a mobile-phone game simplicity to them, but they are colourful and functional depicting their purpose and more importantly conveying the key information such as their cost and function clearly.

The instruction manual is fairly decent in the way it lays out the game, but there are certainly a few minor inaccuracies and issues with the language conversion, although I don’t think an experienced gamer is going to struggle to grasp the game, especially if they are returning from other Pfister games, or have played Oh My Goods! and its sequels before. The basic idea of Expedition to Newdale is to score the most victory points within the construct of the campaign chapter. The first of these tasks the players with gathering food resources for the upcoming expedition, whilst others might switch the focus to industrial production or military might, for example.

Regardless of what the specific chapter objective might be, the players can still score plenty of points for performing their own secret objectives and simply for playing the game in its simplest form – which involves constructing buildings and then generating goods from them. Building points are tracked immediately when built, whilst goods are stored on the card that produces them (wood on the woodcutter, coal on the coal mine, for example) and whilst every good has a value (as depicted on the card that produces it) there is no currency in the game. Instead, goods can simply be spent at the appropriate value whenever gold is needed to pay for something – or at the end of the game, each five gold worth of goods converts into a point.

The real meat of Expedition to Newdale is in building an engine that allows you to chain goods from one production to the next, increasing their value each time. The game relies on elements of both hand management and worker placement to drive things forward, and there are some interesting elements of risk and reward as a result. As an example, each card in hand can either be built or spent for the resource shown on its left side, with the latter being linked to the production phase of the worker placement element.

This comes into its own each turn in the form of numbered workers. The players simultaneously place their workers (numbered one and two initially) onto locations on the main board and their own player board, with the buildings that they might wish to activate being placement locations as well. Each building slot on the player board has three options below it – usually with low, medium and high production spaces. Each of these will show a plus or minus number of meeples, or no meeples, and this links to yet another mechanic that I’ll need to explain.

Each chapter begins with the drawing of a card that will dictate the base number of available workers for the round – with a number of workers in each of four colours (red, green, blue and yellow) being shown. Every building requires a certain number of workers in at least two colours to activate (in addition to the player placing their numbered token on it) and these meeple spaces add or take away from this requirement, and either allow the building to produce more goods (for having more workers) or less for operating inefficiently.

This mechanism is further complicated because although players can see the base number of workers before placing their numbered tokens, between four and six more workers will be drawn randomly from a bag after their own numbered tokens are placed. This can mean that going for a high production space that needs a lot of workers could essentially result in a bust, although there is a way around it, harking back to the cards in your hand. Whether your “base” production happens or not, a player who has activated a building can still feed cards into it if they have the matching symbol, or resources from another card. This is called chaining, and provides a bonus resource of the type produced when a card is spent, or a resource is moved (but only one bonus is gained per production.)

There are a few other spaces that the numbered tokens can be used for. For starters, it’s possible to unlock numbered tokens with a three or a four on them (for a total of four workers per player) and it’s possible to unlock a couple of spaces on your player board, expanding out the amount of spaces on the board you can travel between each building. The buildings on the board are kind of just for show, but there are benefits to occupying all the spaces with a certain symbol, or for reaching certain locations first – these are usually shown on the players secret objective card and become more important in the later chapters.

In classic Alexander Pfister style, Expedition to Newdale seems to bring all of these disparate ideas together in a really impressive way. I don’t feel the main board adds a lot, but the collecting of cards that have multiple uses is interesting, and I really love the production chaining and engine building aspects, which are made more fun by the jeopardy of having to hope for certain combinations of workers to be drawn. These factors combined can certainly result in some randomness that fans of this kind of game won’t like, but I think there are enough “different” ways to use a turn that this downside is slightly mitigated.

Overall, Expedition to Newdale succeeds in being an engaging enough euro game to last for its eight chapters. I do question whether it is the basic mechanics or the additional changes in each chapter that keep it flowing however, and I doubt that it will have enough long term appeal for me to want to play it beyond the campaign. That said, with so many games being released these days, I suspect many players will struggle to reach eight plays of a single game anyway. If you feel that’s about right for you, then you might as well have a slightly different experience each time, and unlike many legacy games, no pieces will be destroyed during or after a game.

***½  3.5/5

Expedition to Newdale 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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