A call to arms rings out through the land. The mists of the Nebula valley have started to subside and the once terrible beasts that stalked the ruins have vanished. Fortune, glory, and awe await to be seized by the horns and driven into the ground.
Via Nebula could be described as an allegory for colonialism and settling the new world. Shining atop this subtle parallelism is a light-weight Euro game of building cities and cutting through the choking mists to connect to the valley’s natural resources. It’s a game about optimization and planning, but it’s not heavy or suffocating like those dense white thickets.
Up to four players take on the role of settlers attempting to prop up this forgotten land and forge a new destiny. On your turn you receive two actions allowing you to exploit a pre-seeded resource token, dispel the mist in a single space, or place down the foundation of a building.
The map is made up of hexagons and tied together with beautiful artwork. The entire package is simply stunning and is emphasized with the cutest resource tokens—including the often fought over pink piglets. Players may place one of their two craftsmen on an exploitation token which causes it to pop and place these little resources on the map. Interestingly enough, once you make a set available any player can start transporting them across open ground to their building sites and take advantage. This is where Via Nebula’s central identity of cooperation amidst competition arises.
In addition to opening up resources that other player’s may use, when you push back the fog and lay down clear tiles you are creating public routes that anyone can transport through. This piggy-backing on actions gives birth to an element of unique strategy where you’re attempting to maximize efficiency by predicting and responding to your opponents.
Tension is achieved through the goal of placing buildings as fast as possible. Players may throw down building sites which they will want to keep in proximity of the aforementioned resource piles scattered about. During your turn, you can transport goods across unobstructed pathways to your sites. A city may be erected once you meet the resource requirements listed on one of the available public contract cards or one of the private contracts you begin the game with in your hand.
Getting your buildings out and claiming contracts awards you with a large amount of points as well as a special ability which you may utilize the moment the city is built. These interesting effects include abilities such as letting you swap out resources on another site, exploring the mist for free, or taking another action. The choice of contracts to fulfill and the fact that public ones can be claimed right from under your nose adds a touch of depth and spice to the game which keeps play interesting.
This action of tossing out your buildings for points and power-ups is the primary strategic vector. The first to finish receives an additional two points which fuels the ramp up and speed consideration superbly. Suspense and pressure are kept light but are substantial enough to boost the natural enjoyment.
There’s a slick puzzle-factor embedded into the abrasive teamwork element in that you cannot retrieve your craftsmen on the map until the space they occupy is devoid of resources. Since you’re limited to just two, having one tied down on the map edge on a space of clay that no one wants can be quite punitive. This adds bulk to the strategic planning element and undercuts it with that brilliant frail cooperation aspect.
As a whole this game slots in nicely as a comparable to the well-received Five Tribes while avoiding its negative penchant for inducing analysis paralysis. It’s a step above family weight but it’s never cumbersome or brain burning. It’s about wide-open choices and then being tied down with your decisions and making them work optimally. There’s a real sense of gazing on the horizon and surveying the land as you dig in and begin to fight for supremacy.
Via Nebula is engaging and delightful. It’s certain to be a hit with a wide range of hobby gamers and the excellent gameplay is tied together with gorgeous presentation. Pick it up if you need something a little heavier than your average family game, but looking for something that won’t drag you into the night before figuring out who won.
What’s your favorite game that features cooperation in a unique way? Would you rather go it alone or lean on fellow players to achieve your goal? Let us know in the comments below!
All images courtesy of Space Cowboys