Saturday, 14 July 2012

Mundus Novus

Plays: 6Px1.

The Game

Mundus Novus was developed based on the card trading mechanism in Mare Nostrum. The basic idea is every round everyone is dealt 5 goods cards, and then they do trading, trying to collect sets of similar cards or different cards. They use these cards to earn victory points or claim development cards (special ability cards), and any cards left over are discarded before the next round starts. The game ends when a player reaches 75VP or when a player collects all 10 different types of goods cards.

Every round a Trade Master announces how many cards everyone must trade (between two and four). Everyone simultaneously picks these cards and reveals them as his offer. Whoever has the highest valued cards starts trading by picking one offered card from someone else. That someone else then continues the trade by picking another player’s card, and so on. Cards are numbered 1 to 9, and there are jokers too. Sets of different cards (jokers disallowed), and jokers by themselves can be spent to earn VP’s. Sets of at least three cards of the same value can be used to claim development card. The higher the number of cards and card value, the more options you have. The development cards give all sorts of special abilities. Ships let you get more cards every round. Warehouses let you keep some cards for the next round. Some cards let you convert the values of your cards, some cards let you make money from other players’ ships, etc. Since the basic number of cards received every round is only five, it is important to make use of development cards.

There are two rows of cards at the centre of the table (well, columns in this particular game we played). The left column are the five development cards available to be claimed. With a weak card combination, e.g. three of 2’s, you can only claim the first development card. With a medium card combination, e.g. three of 5’s or four of 1’s, you can pick any from among the first three development cards. With a strong card combination, e.g. three of 8’s or five of 3’s, you can pick any development card from the pool.

The column or three goods cards are a swapping area to be used during the trading phase. If you don’t like any goods card offered by other players, you can still take a goods card belonging to another player, move it into this swapping area, and then take a goods card you want from the swapping area.

Sometimes the development cards pool triggers events affecting everybody. Most are bad, e.g. ship owners losing cards and warehouse owners being unable to keep cards. Players have some control over whether an event occurs though. An event only occurs if its icon is on the first development card on the table. If you want to avoid the event, take the card. The next development card will slide down to take the place of the first development card, so you can see what’s coming too.

The Play

I did a six-player game, with a mix of players who have and have not played before. The early game felt rather futile, with only five cards to work with. Putting together five different cards won’t earn you much money, so you might as well try to put together a set of similar cards in order to claim a development card, which will help you in the long run. The early game seems to be a no-brainer - you should go for developments. What types of development you go for will define your strengths. I went for a heavy shipping approach, because having ships meant I received more cards every round. Every round a pool of cards are turned face up depending on how many ships the players own in total, and then depending on the players’ ship values, they take turns claiming cards from the pool. I had many ships and their values were big, so I was often last to claim cards, which meant I got mostly lousy cards. Perhaps my shipping strategy was a bit too unsophisticated.

Every round upon looking at my starting hand of five cards, the first decision was whether to shoot for many different cards so that I could earn many VP’s, or shoot for many similar cards so that I could get a good development card. Sometimes it was a bit of both. What was important was to try to not waste cards, because unusable cards must be discarded.

I really like the artwork of this game.

The highest valued goods card is 9.

Fighting for the Trade Master privilege can be useful, although it means you need to be willing to part with high valued cards. Being Trade Master allows you to start the trading, to decide who buys developments first, and also to dictate how many cards are to be traded in the next round. Being able to dictate the number of cards to trade means you can pick a number most suitable for your hand. You can intentionally go for a higher number (max is 4), to break up good hands others may have. Or go for a smaller number so that everyone has limited trading capability.

Some players went for the VP path, i.e. trying to accumulate as many VP’s as possible every round to reach 75VP and end the game. From the beginning I tended towards the instant win victory, thus my approach of getting as many ships as I could. I actually could have switched to the VP path, since having many cards meant I could make larger sets of different cards. The game is quite naughty, tempting you from both directions. One other interesting decision is when do you switch from engine-building to scoring, i.e. when do you stop emphasising claiming development cards and try to go all out for VP’s. In the case of going for the 10 different cards instant win, you probably can do development for longer, since the instant win is a one-shot thing and not an accumulated thing.

Going for the instant win was nerve-wracking, because towards late gate I was sure I was too far behind the VP-earners to be able to switch approach, so it was a race against them as well as against other fellow moon-shooters. VP’s were hidden, so I could not be sure how close the VP-earners were to 75VP. Eventually it was Allen who pulled off the instant win. He had ships, but not as many as me. He had warehouses though, which I didn’t have. That let him keep cards. He also had a development card that let him convert one card to a different value. Together these let him make his set of ten.

The Thoughts

I had only heard of lukewarm responses to Mundus Novus, but it turned out to be better than I expected. Overall it is quite simple. It is fun to put together effective combinations of development cards. Set-collection itself is fun. There is also an interesting timing aspect to your strategy execution. How long do you try to keep your options open? When do you decide which victory condition to focus on? When do you switch from engine-building to VP-earning? I think this is a game that can be comfortably played on auto-pilot. The steps are simple and turns are quick. Some actions are done simultaneously, and even when you are waiting for others to take their turns, you need to remain conscious of the cards on the table to prepare your next move. Deciding what to do with your cards is tactical. Picking developments is strategic. You need to pay attention to what developments others are going for, because some developments affect the potency of others.


Damien (leoskyangel) said...

Read the rulebook post-ESSEN. It left me confused and feels a little complicated (by a small margin) for a card game especially for a set collection game. It also sounds like the game progress is a little slow and will take forever to finish.

Anyway, did you encounter any problems when reading the rulebook or did someone taught you the game? I'd love to give this game another try as I'm on the lookout for a decent and new card game out there.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I was taught the game, so it felt quite straight-forward. I guess having a teacher lay out the cards and make examples using them helps a lot.

The game did take a little longer than I expected, but I think it's because we had some new players. I think once you have a reasonable grasp of the rules and strategies, the game will be quite brisk. One good thing is many things can be done in parallel so you don't need to be idle.

I think the game does need a higher player count to be interesting. I'm guessing at least 4P.