Who knew there were so many films featuring Captain Nemo, going all the way back to 1916 and the height of the silent film era? Well, now you know what was playing in the background all day, without a repeat, while playing Nemo’s War.
Nemo’s War is unusual for me. I play a fair number of solo games for The Rat Hole, but this was one of the largest and most complex I’ve played in a very long time. That is, in no way, a complaint. It just represented a necessary change in my thought process.
Nemo’s War is also somewhat unusual in its design. It can be played as a fully-cooperative or semi-cooperative multi-player game, or as a solo game. That’s not unusual, in fact, it’s a pretty normal combination. What makes it unusual, is that it was designed as a solo game first and then multiplayer modes added after. That difference may not seem important, but in terms of how the game flows, it really is. The fact is, once you understand the game, it flows extremely well.
The INITIAL setup was a greater than usual pain, but the box insert is laid out well enough that subsequent setups go fairly quickly. There are numerous types of tokens, including nine colours of ship tokens that need to be separated (which all stay separated in the box afterwards) and placed in different spots on and around the board. Next, you build your Draw Pile by adding one of six random Finalé cards, and four specific Special cards that increase the difficulty level of play at specific points. Pick a Motive that determines some end game things, set up some random Nautilus Upgrade cards, and you’re good to go.
Once the game starts, the player draws the first card of the Draw Pile, which is always the Prologue card that says where the Nautilus starts the game. This is a step that could be done during setup but having a prologue card also establishes the loose narrative structure of Nemo’s journies in the game.
The game ACTUALLY starts on the second Adventure Card. That card, and most of the subsequent cards, will be either a Test, Keep, or Play card. Test cards require you to roll higher than the difficulty printed on the card, including any bonuses you may have. Play cards also happen immediately, but usually result in some other action being taken that must be resolved before moving on. For example you may have to place a ship token at The Nautilus’ location and immediately do battle with it. A Keep card is kept (shocking, I know) until a certain condition is met during the game, Each Keep card tells what happens with that card if it is or isn’t used by the end of the game. All that is referred to as the Event Phase.
Next comes the Placement Phase. In Act One (starting with the Prologue Card) you roll two white dice. A Hidden Ship token is placed in the corresponding oceans on the map, and the difference between the two dice determines how many Action Points you have that turn (yes, that means doubles will get you zero Action Points). In Act Two (the next of the Special cards that were seeded into the Draw Pile during setup), a third black die is added and only used for Ship placement. In Act Three, a third white die is added with all four being used for Ship placement and any two of the white dice for Action Points.
Lastly, you have the Action Phase. To be somewhat redundant, this is when most of the action happens. The Nautilus can move around the map, fight other ships, and collect treasure. The player can also take actions like repairing the Nautilus, resting her crew, or inciting revolutions against colonial oppression. All of these things work in a similar manner as the Test cards I talked about earlier.
The game is won if the player can get resolve the Finalé card for that game. The score is tabulated, and the result, combined with Nemo’s chosen Motivation, will direct the player into a book of Epilogues to discover how Nemo’s story will end.
Overall, the game is great. There has been a careful balance struck between historical accuracy and the wondrous world of Jules Verne. The game is challenging, but not unwinnable, with most defeats coming at the hands of the player’s choices as often as from the dice.
The rulebook is large, and it needs to be. There are reference tables on the map board, but I didn’t always see them until much into my second game, at least. The end result was that my first game and a half or so went excessively long. I have no doubt some of that was user error on my part, but it serves as a good reminder to pay better attention.
Nemo’s War isn’t a “hard” game, but it is complex to learn and challenging (in a positive way) to play.
BONUS: Here’s is a short video about that 1916 silent film of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: