Spice it up! with New Bedford

The first brisk north wind that whips south of I-20 down toward the Atchafalaya Basin ushers in the favorite of the true Cajun’s four seasons. After a short winter, short spring, and very long summer, it is finally time for Gumbo season (or as Northerners would call it, “Fall”.)

But for some of us familiar with the history of the Acadian migration, otherwise known as Le Grand Derangement, the first time the temperature dips below 72 in the morning dredges up memories that do not emanate from our brains, but instead, are encased in our bones and DNA and well up from our hearts. We do not ever remember the smell of the Atlantic Ocean or the taste of its sea salt on our cracked lips, but somehow, something primitive emerges. We tug on our coats and turn our eyes northward, and wonder, even unconsciously, whether our beloved Acadie seashore feels the same chill.

Cajuns in Louisiana that descend from the Acadian soil have sea salt in their veins. Likewise, many other “Cajuns” (called that because after 200 years of intermarriage between French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German and Irish settlers with those who were expelled from the Acadian colony in Nova Scotia, you become Cajun yourself especially if your mom and your grandma speak Cajun French!) share that same saline infused blood.

Many of the prairie Cajuns where I come from have no roots in Acadie. Some were French courir-de-bois (“runners of the woods”) who meandered their way down to a French settlement in Louisiana. Many were French soldiers, pushed by British troops further and further down the Mississippi River until reaching the fort near Washington, Louisiana, or in New Orleans and then settling up and down the bayous of present day Acadiana. Some were Spanish or Portuguese or Italian sailors or sailmakers or the sons and daughters of minor nobles in their homelands, bereft of inheritance under Old World law who came to the New World on the great wooden ships of Europe to make their own fortune.

The sea calls to those of us in Acadiana, and we answer by plying the waters in search of the best bounty — the tasty variety like shrimp or redfish or crab, or the black, slick money making kind that is propelled upwards in the hundreds of rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico.

We are connected to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But deep down inside, somewhere two hundred years in the making, does the natural reaction to the first sign of Fall mean that our bones still yearn for those cold Atlantic waters?

If your game group is anything like mine, your friends love worker placement games, but tire of the same old trading in the Mediterranean theme. Your group wants more theme. Is there a game that gives us a great theme, beautiful components, and satiates our need for salt air?

Let’s Spice it up! With New Bedford.

Lots of beautiful pieces in a small package. 
New Bedford is the 2016 release from Greater Than Games (Dice Hate Me Games). It was designed by Nathaniel Levan, with art from Nolan Nasser. It plays from 2-4 players, and plays in about an hour and a half.
 Players compete trying to score the most victory points by building out the town of New Bedford, a former center of the whaling industry in the mid-1800s. They also score points by building ships and sending them out to stalk the great whales of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Money counts for VPs, too, but the heart of the game is in developing your section of the town and collecting whale tokens for your two ships.
Lots of ships plying the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The game plays in twelve rounds, and with only two workers, it is an easy transition from other genres of board games into this worker placement. On the lightness scale, I would call it a little lighter (and with just as much theme) as my favorite WP game, Viticulture. Each round, players place their workers on various “buildings” that represent the different actions, like collecting resources (brick, wood, “biscuits”) or building buildings or preparing and launching your ships.

 At the end of each round, two important steps happen out on the whaling board that comes with the game.  First, ships move closer to the dock, and any ship that ‘returns’ must ‘pay the lay’ for the whales on the ships. This represents the history of captains paying their crew for the production. Next, the ships that are out on the ocean get a chance to pull whale tiles from a bag, and store them on their ships. There is a chance at three different types of whales, all with different icons, costs and rewards. There is also a chance at pulling an empty sea token, which cannot be used by the captain — unless you build a special building or two that bends the rules.

Right whales, bow whales, and the very expensive but point dominating sperm whale.
After twelve rounds, and a few more whaling expeditions, the points are tallied. Players get one point for every building, extra VPs for the special victory point buildings, the points for the whales that made it into their warehouse, and of course, a point for every five coins. The winner is the builder/captain with the most points.

The production on the base game is stunning. It has absolutely gorgeous art on every square inch of the game. Even the backs of the boards and tiles have beautiful artwork or historical information or even quotes from Moby Dick. There was a lot of care built into the art and graphic design — as we have come to expect from Dice Hate Me games. Each town location has design that looks like a historical place, and the designer notes show that Nathaniel did a lot of research on the town and the real locations there, and tried to represent them well in the game.

Gorgeous artwork.
The bits and pieces are fun. They are all made out of wood (except for the cardboard money, which has unique graphics on both sides) and accurately represent the pieces. The bricks are red and really look like little bricks, and the wood is represented by a little stack of lumber. The ships come in two different sizes for distinguishing them. (The sizes are fine, but the colors frankly stink. The green and the blue are so close to each other even for someone who is not color blind like me that in a room that has less light than the sterile operating room at your local Parish hospital, it is VERY hard to distinguish them especially if they are next to each other on the whaling track.)

I love the game play. With only two workers, turns go by very quick, and twelve rounds seems just too short!  I haven’t played a game yet where each player just wanted “one more turn,” which is usually the sign of a great worker placement game. The base game comes with around twenty tiles, and there are suggestions on BGG for how to use the tiles in different starting formats to make the game repayable. (Plus there is an expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016), that I will try and review later, that adds tons more tiles, a fifth player expansion, and even event cards that can really spice up the game.)

Teaching new sailors how to hoist the mizzen mast. 
I also like some of the unique twists on worker placement games. Each player has a chance to add more locations for the workers to visit. If you build a location on your side of town, the location is not strictly limited to your use, but like in some other games, there is a bonus if another player uses your building, who has to pay you a $1. Also, the town and harbor sections allow for unlimited workers — but all give some kind of added bonus if you are the first worker at that spot.

But, each player’s town section add-ons are limited to one worker per space, so there are some juicy decisions on each turn as to where a player will put that first worker. Take the bonus spot that is your second choice only because you need the bonus? Or risk that the location will still be available with your second worker? Build the building and use the resources, or spend the resources on whaling or other buildings and just drop a few coins to the other player to use that building? All great decisions, made even more tense as we get closer to round 12.

The town of New Bedford is starting to expand with the new found wealth of the whaling companies. 
I love that there is not just one way of winning this game. Do you go with a straight building strategy, or do you focus solely on whaling early and often? Do you mix a little town development with some mid game whaling to steal some of the big whales with a little luck? Or do you focus on resources so that you combo buildings with VPs from them? There are lots of ways to win, and it is fun to watch the other sections of the board and guess which way the other players will go.

As you can see, I love this game. (I love it even more with the expansion). I think it is the perfect game to introduce the worker placement concept to new players, but has plenty of strategy and deep decisions for more experienced players. I am a big fan of games that really develop the theme in the game, and each of the mechanisms that the designer uses seems to fit the game. There is even a historical nod to the decline of the whaling industry — when players remove tokens from the bag, empty sea tokens normally go back in each round, which means that the pool of available whale tokens gets smaller and smaller each round, which represents the effect that overfishing the Atlantic had on reducing the whale population.

If your game group is looking for a quick to learn, quick to play worker placement game with very little down time and great strategy, then I would head down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of New Bedford. The leaves are falling, there is a chill in the air, and I can smell the roux cooking on the stove. I think I will add a little sausage and tasso to the pot, and enjoy my gumbo with a great game and a silent prayer of thanks to my nautical ancestors.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.


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