28th Dec2018

‘Newton’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

newton-box

In Newton, two to four players will travel Europe’s greatest universities, study and send their students out to work in order to score points. In doing so, they’ll prove themselves to be among the greatest minds of the 17th Century. Newton is a fast-paced, mid-weight eurogame for one to four players designed Simone Luciani and Nestore Mangone and published in the UK and America by CMON Games, who are perhaps best known for their big budget Kickstarters and impressive minis games.

At the beginning of each turn, players will hold a hand of cards that will all have a basic action symbol on the bottom and on occasion, a bonus symbol at the top. Each round, the players will take turns to place one card onto their player board and take the associated action. After five cards have been played, one card will be tucked under the edge of the player board. The purpose of this is because whenever a card is played and there are matching symbols earlier on the board, then the action will be strengthened accordingly.

There are five key action cards that include Work, Technology, Travel, Lessons and Study. There’s also a Joker action that will allow the player to replicate any action that was previously played, but without the benefit of being able to add any bonus strength to later actions in the round. The players opening hand will contain at least one card to represent each of these actions, but it’s also possible to purchase more cards throughout the game – with level two and three cards offering more powerful options and bonuses.

In addition to a study board for each player, Newton features two central boards upon which a number of tracks, pieces and tokens will be placed. Many of these will be randomised during setup and there are a number of locations that confer a benefit for any player who reaches them, as well as others that only provide an immediate effect to the person who finds them. The first board is a map of Europe’s famous universities that the players will move around using the Travel action. With each new location visited, coloured travel cubes will be placed, demonstrating how well travelled the players are.

The second is more of a technology tree and, unsurprisingly, is affected by the Technology action. Players will use their students to move further and further up each individual track, but since the tracks are one-way, it can be useful to deploy a second or third student at an additional cost. Work is an action that affects a specific track and allows a player to move their token as many spaces forwards as the value of the action (one, two or three spaces.) In doing so, the player will receive one coin for each space passed and may gain a benefit if they stop on the exact space that depicts it.

Lessons is an important one too, because although it is the only action that basically never allows you to gain money or points, it’s the only way of adding new cards to your hand. If you bear in mind that each round you’ll be placing a card under the edge of your board, then without Lessons you’ll soon run out of cards and be unable to take actions. The strength of the Lessons action allows access to three tiers of additional cards, with the third tier offering benefits like double strength actions and powerful bonus effects.

The final action, Study, is the fiddliest in my opinion but it also allows for powerful, focused point scoring opportunities. Studying essentially allows a player to fill up their bookshelf, but only if they have met certain requirements. These requirements can be linked to other actions (such as having to visit a certain ancient site on the map board) but in completing the bookshelves, the players can score quite a few points at the end of each turn. I couldn’t get a grip of the Study action based on how Newton’s manual described it alone, but online tutorial videos helped to clear it up.

There are a few other things about Newton to note that sit alongside or in line with the actions. Many things in the game either cost or generate money, which is kept in low denominations for simplicity, but is nonetheless important. There are also things like potions (which come in the form of collectible vials) that can be traded in place of requirements when Studying, for example. These ancillary features can affect a players chosen strategy quite dramatically, given that obtaining most of them (or not) during the early game can depend on the randomised setup.

Whilst Newton is by no means a point salad (which refers to a eurogame wherein the points flow freely and for doing almost anything) but it is a game that supports multiple strategies. Focusing on Study, for example, can be quite rewarding if you can setup your bookshelf early enough. Failure to do so can leave you lagging far behind, however. Travelling and advancing Technology can also be lucrative, especially if you can snatch as many of the bonuses up as possible – these things are powered by shrewed use of the Work action and drafting new cards at just the right time.

Visually, I found Newton to be a touch on the drab side, unfortunately. There’s a fair amount of decent quality components here (including the Study boards and the two main boards) and whilst the almost sepia coloured art on these boards does work, the cards and tokens that support them are less impressive. The cards are OK, basically, but the art is uninspiring (albeit functional) and the tokens are a very dull brown that makes them barely distinguishable on the board. The manual is well enough made, but as I mentioned earlier I did find a few areas of complex description in what is fundamentally a very simple game to play.

Newton is an interesting game that I think might have begun life as either a great idea for a theme that was slightly lost as the game around it formed, or vice versa, as a themeless concept that the designers had to link to something. Either way, it’s a stretch to link the action in game to the Age of Discovery era concept. What the player is left with is an interesting mix of drafting, deck destruction and action selection that kind of works because it becomes a study in point-scoring optimisation that I think The Great Minds that Newton pays homage to would have approved.

Newton is a medium to heavy addition to any gaming shelf and with the right audience and a few games to practice, it can be very rewarding. It is literally and figuratively a thinking players eurogame.

***½  3.5/5

Newton 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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