Moes Game Table: 1500 - The New World from DVG Review
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games
Game Designer: Dan Verssen
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Age of discovery
Last March Dan Verssen Games ran a small Kickstarter project to fund a game that is a little unique for DVG, a game called 1500: The New World. It’s always great to see a publisher expand their portfolio with something different from their normal fare, so let’s take a look at how it turned out.
Expand, exploit, get wiped out
1500 is a low-complexity area control game set in the Americas, circa 1500-1695, that takes place over the course of six rounds. The goal of the game is to simply outscore everyone else by using cards in hand to build colonies and link them together as regional and resource monopolies for bonus points. Game times average in the 45 minutes to hour range with a full table and quicker for smaller groups, although the game really does need at least three players to make things a bit more interesting.
Component wise, 1500 is nicely produced with a very fitting old-world style map look to the board which breaks the Americas down into five regions with fifteen distinct locations. The cards are equally snazzy and solid, as we’ve come to expect from DVG. The counters are thick and color coded for each player, although the art on them is a bit bland but functional. Rule wise, the game is a very straightforward affair to jump into. The rule book clocks in at 17 pages but only 8 are dedicated to rules and each is in a large, easy to read format with the balance covering card effects and examples of play.
All actions are handled through card play during each player’s turn and everyone starts with a hand that is dependent on player count; the first 3 players receive four cards while 4 players and above get 5. Cards are used for either its stated effect or discarded to build a new colony in an open region, struggle any existing colony, or to repair one of your colonies that is struggling. You can also play cards to advance along the royal support track, allowing you to get as many as 8 cards into your hand each turn.
Effects on the cards allow players to take different actions such as building multiple colonies or replacing an opponent’s colonies with their own, which is how you quickly expand your imperial aspirations. For each colony placed or opponents colony struggled you score one point and an extra two points for each regional or resource monopoly you control. There are reactionary cards that can be used out of turn to deny the current player from using their chosen card and using them at the right time can help mitigate some things but the effects of these aren’t as wide ranging or altering as one would hope.
A player can take over a sizable chunk of the board on their turn, but don’t lose heart as this is but a fleeting state. By the end of the next player’s turn, the board complexion will almost completely change in that current player’s favor. This repeats during your turn and throughout all six turns of the game. Nothing is perpetual in the game aside from the constant flux of control among the various nation states that the players represent.
Scores will go up and scores will come down in this teeter-totter scoring race to the finish. While this seems exciting at first, it fails to really draw you in. It’s not a punch-counterpunch sort of seesaw battle but a chaotically changing game state that offers little in the way of strategic forethought and planning. There is limited recourse in protecting your budding empire, which is also locked into luck of the draw. Nearly everything is reactionary and repetitive, eliminating any sense of tension or ownership of gains each turn.
What compounds this is that hands aren’t refreshed until the next round, leaving little in the way of defense for a player other than to hold cards in hand. The only way to realistically do this is to run up the royal support track immediately in order to have 7 or 8 cards dealt during your turn. Doing so would potentially give you the means to respond to assaults on your holdings but doing so minimizes your growth and scoring each turn while relying heavily on being fortunate enough to draw appropriate reaction cards. Between the luck of the draw and limited response from players being attacked, the game doesn’t feel as balanced as it could be.
DVG adds solitaire play through multiple nation AI decks representing England, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands. Using them requires very little alteration of the rules and the AI decks do provide a decent challenge to beat when playing solo. Each brings its own flavor and plays slightly different but their goal remains the same, to ruin your day. This provides a good extra value and is the way I prefer to play it most. They can also be used to flesh out a table in multiplayer, although I’ve not had the chance to do so yet myself.
Overall, the game is very simple which makes for good accessibility but tends to play out nearly identical each time, with the leading scorer the sole target and that often tends to be the first player. While that sounds like common sense in any game, the difference here is that it’s the only way to score. You cannot build without first clearing out someone else’s colonies because there aren’t enough to go around.
This creates a tumultuous pattern of build/destroy/build each round and with no ideal way to protect your holdings they are going to be gone in short order. There’s no continuity from turn to turn in 1500, just anarchy, which is true to the period. However, aside from the thematic touches of resource exploitation and colonization, there’s little else covered mechanically from this phase in history and I feel like that sells the game a bit short. I would have liked to have seen a way of both protecting and further exploiting the resources I’ve latched onto aside from being points in a turn. Possibly expending resources or cards to add varying levels of defense to your colonies through hiring natives from the lands you’re colonizing would offer more compelling and strategic game play. It definitely feels like there was a development gaffe here and this potential was either overlooked or missed. I’ve enjoyed many of DVGs games over the years but aside from solitaire play, 1500unfortunately isn’t one of them.
Falls short on its premise
At first glance, you’d expect 1500 to be a civilization building game, after all its subtitle is The New Worldright? What we get instead is a very simple area control game about creating colonies and regional and resource monopolies, only to see them torn to shreds each turn. The play is both chaotic and random, with giant pendulum swings of momentum that leave room for only short-term strategies and a heavy reliance on luck of the draw. As such, scoring in 1500 is highly volatile and nothing you build is safe nor sacred and will most likely not exist come your next turn. Build it up and tear it down is the name of the game. With some further development, I do think this game could be better.
If your group approaches the game with the understanding that this is a highly random game that’s light on strategy and heavy on take that, they may find it a different change of pace as a filler. However, its run time is longer than the average filler and is unfortunately not as compelling as I would have liked.
Company Website: http://www.dvg.com/
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Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.