The New Science: A 1970’s refrigerator covered with post-it notes

In The New Science players take control of five notable scientists of the Age of Enlightenment to take part in the scientific revolution as they race to complete research, perform experiments and hopefully publish (or perish) in order to earn prestige among their peers and advance in the scientific community.

Each scientist in this worker-placement game has specific abilities, strengths and weaknesses, making the scope of strategy in the game wider as players determine the best way to collaborate with and then compete against the other scientists. Remember, the walls of the ivory tower are thin and many scientists will be willing to ride the coattails of your discoveries. Don’t rest on your laurels too long or they may scoop you on a new discovery whilst standing on your shoulders. But also don’t burn yourself out – rest is pivotal to this game and sometimes you need to light a pipe, sit back and ponder the greatness of the world…and your current standing at the university.

Basics:

  • Designer: Dirk Knemeyer
  • Year Released: 2013
  • Category: Science, Appliance Manufacturing, Refrigerators
  • Game Mechanic: Worker Placement, Area Control
  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Suggested Age: 12+
  • Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
  • Did anyone else notice that the overwhelming color choice of the game is oddly similar to the color of the rating of “7” on board game geek? I suspect subliminal messaging…

How do I play?

The game-play and board can be split into three phases:

  1. Allocate Energy (left side of the board)
  2. Action Resolution (center of the board, mostly and right side)
  3. Cleanup (player mats)
Empty action allocation spaces....#alwaysalone
Empty action allocation spaces….#alwaysalone

In Allocate Energy the players will each take turns, according to the established turn order, allocating one energy cube (“worker”) to the left side of the board. These will determine what the player will spend their time doing during this turn of the academic process. They can allocate energy to Rest in order to gain a modifier for their research, experimentation and publish actions (players start with the full complement of 3 “points” of rest – or as we called them “all-nighters” – you can only go so many nights without sleep before the midnight oil burns away) as well as gaining better position in the turn order; there is the option of placing an energy cube on the round’s current Happening Card which will provide an instantaneous effect to the entire group (EVENT), an ongoing effect/action for one player (KEEP), or an instantaneous effect on/by one player (PLAY); Influence in one of four realms can be increased (Government, Industry, Religion and Science); and Discovery Actions can be played – they are as follows:

Research: A player may take a research action representing their scientist “hitting the books” and working out what that future potential discovery is all about. This sets the groundwork for future Experiments and eventual publication and advancement to more complicated discoveries. The points dedicated to research in one field is cummultive – the energy cube counts as 1 then any additional modifiers on the allocation space and player mat are applied then, if the amount is not enough to successfully research, a Rest modifier may be used but you reduce the amount of Rest you have for future actions… [Shit. The rulebook explains this a helluva lot better.]

IMG_1557Experiment: If a player wants to experiment on a previously researched discovery (because, seriously you can’t just experiment without knowing what went on previously) they place energy on the experiment option and then announce what discovery they are going to experiment on. The rules for experimentation are essentially the same as research. Place energy, add modifiers from allocation space and player mat but THEN they roll the die. If you roll a 1, the experiment fails with no questions asked. If they roll another number they add it to the total. If the total is still not enough then they can add Rest points. At this point the player HAS KNOWLEDGE OF THAT FIELD AND ARE ELIGIBLE TO ADVANCE TO THE NEXT LEVEL OF DISCOVERY!!! They don’t have to publish to do this. But if they want the prestige points, they need to publish. Also there are two numbers (5/4 or 7/6 or whatever) designating that the first person to research must have the higher number to succeed while any experiments coming after have a slightly easier time.

Publish: Publishing is the main choke-point of the game. In order to gain prestige you must publish. In order to do so requires a certain number of publish points (similar to research points and experiment points) but also requires a certain amount of influence in religion, science, government and/or industry. If successful, the player is awarded prestige for publishing on that discovery and moves up on the prestige track. However, now all other players have knowledge of the discovery and can use that to move up higher on the Discovery tree.

During Action Resolution the players resolve their actions as described above working left to right, top to bottom on the Action Allocation portion of the board. This is critical in that it not only matters what you place but where you place it compared to other scientists.

Then you Cleanup by removing all the energy cubes back to the player mats, reveal a new Happening Card and remove any discovery cubes from discoveries currently published (the only cube left should be the cube of the player who published…everyone else GO HOME!)

How do I win?

IMG_1554
Smile dammit! You won, Kircher, don’t look so happy…

The New Science is a worker placement game but instead of placing “workers” you decide where and when to expend your precious, precious energy in order to collect influence, gather resources and resolve the necessary amounts to research, experiment and then publish certain scientific discoveries.  Through proper allocation of your energy and strategic publishing of your discoveries you gain prestige.

However, no scientist is an island and in order to win the most prestige, pacing yourself is key. And that requires rest. Rest is the most understated but arguably the most important element of the game.  And that is where the complexity of the game lies. That, and attempting to guess where your fellow scientists are planning to work and how you can use that work to your advantage. But in the end, the most work published and the most influence garnered will likely win you the game.

What did you think?

Despite the intimidating look of the board, this is a easy game to play. The rulebook is a mere seven pages and, honestly, the game play is so simple to learn and understand that I would, mechanics-wise, place this firmly in the gateway camp for competitive worker placement games. However, the design, artwork and presentation of the theme leaves too much to be desired for it to get a recommendation. Don’t get me wrong, a minimalist board is fine, but…damn, just damn. Conquistador Games did a wonderful job with Tomorrow by providing a board that gave you everything the player needed and not a drop more, leaving the rest to game-play and mechanics and people flocked to the board to play! But The New Science board is so ugly. Functional and extremely easy to use but ugly. And it is the primary reason I had a hard time getting people to play this game. One look and they were running to King of Tokyo for some color.

IMG_1556
Just starting a two player game. Took some time to ramp up.

That said, the depth of strategy is engaging, requiring players to seriously consider what paths they want to take to victory early in the game with little room for error. Again, another difficulty in teaching this game was that the strategy was not immediately obvious to players. Was it a race to the top? Was there an optimal output engine to put your scientist above the rest? Was it a competition over choice scientific realms? Players couldn’t grasp the theme of the game which would push them through the process. It is important to note that this opinion is springing from an individual who teaching new games to emerging gamers rather than experienced ones.

This is not to say the game was a wash, by any stretch of the imagination. The set-up and gameplay is delightfully simple and quick. I also enjoyed the elements of luck provided in the game. While some reviewers dislike the dice roll during experimentation, I totally got it. There is a huge amount of randomness in even the most carefully moderated scientific experiments. Contamination, botched calculations, overwork, personal issues, drug abuse and funding all can play a role in the success of an experiment. Also the Happening Cards were well received and the added randomness gave the game some replay-ability and some much needed personality – at times they absolutely stymied my plans, sometimes repeatedly and it was beautiful! This led to laughter, gloating and some actual player interaction. They saved the game for me. Without something eliciting a reaction from players, I would not be able to pick this one up again.

The discovery tree was also fun to climb (despite looking horribly dull) and the variable abilities of the different scientists were perfectly balanced during the games I played – with no clear advantage over the others in terms of long term strategy – but definitely changing the tactics employed during their turns. The game was well-timed out with the ascension to the top of the tree matching the end of the cards nearly every time. OOOO! It was a little thing but I think it goes far in demonstrating how much time went into the design of the mechanics and flow of the game.

A couple of Happenings Cards. I love these cards.
A couple of Happenings Cards. I love these cards.

Speaking of flow…the game was slow to ramp up with 2-3 players but picked up nicely during the mid-game and fell into an exhilarating race at the end. But this was purely mechanical. That feeling of tenseness? Straight from the mechanics. That push to publish and place myself in a position to produce/publish in the most advantageous areas? Straight from the mechanics. Nothing came from the theme. And therein lies the problem. If the goal was to present a tense – at times cutthroat – environment that was still dry and boring as hell, then bravo! Mission accomplished. But science is not like that and if the goal was to capture the essence of scientific discovery, competition and camaraderie, then the theme falls far short.

Even playing this game with actual scientists; people trained in the scientific method, people who work in industry, academia and the avocational realms of science all stated that the atmosphere of the game was missing the mark. The language, the actual science, was spot on but the presentation was off. The interplay of the theme and mechanics was not captivating enough.

Bottom Line: Experienced gamers will jump right into this one if they can get around the theme. New and emerging gamers may be able to jump right into this one if they can get around the theme. Everything worked well except the presentation of the theme. Too off-putting and required too much work to convince people to try the game out and learn that it is an amazingly tense, fun game to play. That pretty much mitigated the ease of set-up and simple rules.  I liked it when I should have loved it.

Would you rather?

Would you rather play The New Science or Compounded? The theme of scientific discovery and science is sorely lacking in board games and I want to see more. For that I appreciate both these titles. However, given the choice, I would play Compounded and choose to offer it as an example where the scientific theme is better aligned to through an additional amount of social play and negotiation rather than just pure competition. In Compounded it is that element of negotiation and banter that actually feels like rival chemists competing and playing off of each other’s strengths. That is what The New Science is lacking – feeling like an actual scientist.

Would you rather play The New Science or any other worker placement game? As far as worker placement games go, almost any other well-known title would be chosen. For beginners, I would go with Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep. For emerging gamers, Viticulture or Yedo. For experienced gamers, Troyes or The Manhattan Project.

So…ummm…when would you decide to table The New Science? I. Don’t. Know. That is what is killing me here. I love having it in my collection because it is filling a niche that isn’t nearly filled enough…but if I want head to head I would pick something with better theme. If I want science I would pick some that applies the theme better. If I want to play a worker-placement, there are a slew of better ones. Dammit, DIRK! You make me feel so conflicted.

Closing Verse:

“The Scientific Method has no door.
But even with a thousand roads,
Experiments are held at the whim,
of the roll of a single die”

So where can I hang up my daughter's picture of a llama and my "Tasty Panda Chinese Wok" menu?
So where can I hang up my daughter’s picture of a llama and my “Tasty Panda Chinese Wok” menu?

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