Nemo’s War (Holidays on the High Seas)

Holidays on the High Seas:

Playing board games isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a once a year thing. So it’s always fun when a company brings out a holiday expansion for a non-holiday themed game. There is nothing I love more than pulling out a game my friends know and throwing a snowball into the works. Sometimes, when it’s only one or two cards, you have to tweak the randomness a bit to make sure they come up, but that’s not the end of the world.

Holidays on the High Seas is a mini-expansion for Nemo’s War with only two cards. The first card is an alternate art version of (Test) Event 27, which is titled with an unconnected quote from Jules Verne: “The earth wants not new continents, but new men.” which matches up exceedingly well with the flavour text, from the conclusion of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: “May the contemplation of so many wonders extinguish for ever the spirit of vengeance! May the judge disappear, and the philosopher continue the peaceful exploration of the sea!”

Both of these quotes have a decidedly peaceful and “Christmasy” feel, and the art was easy enough to adapt. It is the same portrait of Nemo, with his turban replaced by a santa hat, with the ornament from his turban still affixed to the front.

The second card is (Play) Event P1: “The Christmas Miracle”. It is a great example of the writing in the game. The flavour text could easily be from 20,000 Leagues, but it isn’t. When a game is based on history or established literature, one of the hardest things is to make the game feel legitimate, and Nemo’s war does so excellently. In the case of this mini-expansion, I wish there was a bit more to it. The writers have shown they can match Verne’s style, but there could easily be more in the future with this small reference to Christmas in Chapter 18 of 20,000 Leagues:

“On the 25th of December the Nautilus sailed into the midst of the New Hebrides, […] We passed tolerably near to the Island of Aurou, that at noon looked like a mass of green woods, surmounted by a peak of great height.

That day being Christmas Day, Ned Land seemed to regret sorely the non-celebration of “Christmas,” the family fete of which Protestants are so fond.”

Nautilus Upgrades (Expansion Pack #1)

To say Nemo’s War is not a small game is, at the very least, an understatement. Without even counting the space needed around it, the map board is as big as my coffee table. So it somewhat amuses me that the expansions are so small.  

The first expansion is fairly straightforward. It contains 12 new Nautilus Upgrade cards, with new options for selecting them. In the base game, you may choose to purchase a starting upgrade, based on your Motive, and deal out four additional Upgrades at random. You are still able to do that with this expansion, allowing the sea to choose your fate as it were. However, it also provides new rules to build a mix of chosen and random Upgrades based on the difficulty level of play that you’ve chosen. For the record, of the Sailor, Officer, and Captain difficulties, I’ve only ever played Sailor.

I’m particularly fond of the Upgrade: Adventure’s League. The bonus to your Adventure card Test rolls is nice, but the name and flavour text brings to mind Alan Moore’s great League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, of which Nemo is a member. It adds in another level of perceived lore to the game.

Bold and Caring (Expansion Pack #2)

The second expansion, Bold and Caring, brings in a more significant change. It includes two new Motives, Humanist and Adventure, including new rules, cards, and tokens for each.

Adventure comes with nine Adventure Tokens. One of these is placed during a Lull turn, in the ocean corresponding to the doubles roll. When revealed with a Search action, the token then moves to the labelled ocean for the Nautilus to chase down. Once claimed, the tokens can be kept for points or discarded for a bonus.

Humanist is a huge shift in Nemo’s motive. With aggression carrying a high price. At the start of Act Three, you have the choice to change motivations based on how the game has played out for you to that point. If you change to Humanist at this point, any cubes placed on islands (usually through Inciting revolution there) are returned to their supply, and can be placed again, for the same effects, by undertaking Goodwill Missions. “Goodwill Missions” are just one of several peaceful wording changes that are strictly semantics and don’t really change how most of the game plays otherwise.

The expansion also comes with two new Nautilus Upgrade cards, Hospital Machines and Diving Apparatus, that can be purchased as a starting upgrade for Humanist and Adventure respectively, and the same selection of Epilogues that the original Motives provided.

Dramatis Personae (Expansion Pack #3)

The final expansion pack is Dramatis Personae. Dramatis Pesonæ comes from the Latin phrase, literally translated as “the masks of the drama”, it is a list of main characters in a work of fiction, which makes it a perfect name for a character-driven expansion.

The 10 card set is made up of two Test, two Play, five Keep, and a single Finalé card. Both Play cards end badly, with no pass condition on either of them, but (Play) Davy Jones’ Locker does have the possibility of a pass (or an even worse failure) by drawing additional Adventure cards. The two Test cards give a look at life aboard the Nautilus. If (Test) The Outbreak is failed you take a potentially game-losing penalty, but if you pass you only take a difficult penalty. the name of (Test) Schiffskriegsspiel confused me for a few minutes. It seems to be a rare (or fictional) naval variant to the original Kriegsspiel wargame developed by the Prussian military. Victory Point Games has a large wargaming selection, so I’ll trust their expertise over my limited German. Regardless, the flavour text on the card introduces us to the ship’s top soldier. The Five Keep cards also represent members of the Nautilus crew. 

Having the crew represented isn’t new, there are six Character Resource tiles representing notable characters from 20,000 Leagues. This is where I get confused. Two of the cards state they are “Character Resource cards” three of them seem like they logically are also Character Resources but don’t state it explicitly. The confusion is compounded by (Finalé H) Nemo’s Successors. This Finalé specifically states Character tiles but it leaves open a question on future cards. Different places refer to Character tiles, Characters, Character Resource tiles, and Character Resource cards (plus the three ambiguous ones). where does the line between literal wording and assumed meaning get drawn?

It feels like this specific Expansion Pack missed a pass by the editors. Besides the Character verbiage issue, there is an inconsistency in the contents. The website says there are 10 cards, however, the packaging and rules say there are 11, including what seems to be the Event 27 alternate art card that is now in Holidays on the High Seas. I did attempt to see if Victory Point Games has an FAQ, but the links to the rules sheet and discussion forum were not working when I tried.

This expansion brings the number of Adventure cards to over 60, so it also introduces rules, similar to the Nautilus Upgrade rules, to keep the original game balance. Namely, build your draw pile as normal, count off 25 cards for the Adventure Deck, and return any unused cards to the box.

All told, every one of these four of these expansions is a worthwhile addition to the game. I do hope there will be a clarified reprint of Dramatis Personae, but if not just make a decision. It’s a solo game, are you going to go all rules lawyer on yourself?

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[You can read all of our previous holiday game reviews HERE]

I like to end my holiday reviews with a bit of extra cheer, and with Nemo’s War having a nautical theme, I wanted to present a bit of Maritimes music. Long before Lindsay Sterling’s fiddle was in everyone’s ear, Canada had the enigmatic and energetic Ashley MacIsaac. Take a listen and enjoy the intro track to A Cape Breton Christmas.