|Interaction||Components & Design|
Okay, not really. Even the Nova Luna rulebook doesn’t go to much effort to explain the game’s lunar theme. Nova Luna is an abstract tile placement game, the moon is just there for the graphic design. Which is fine, I like abstract games and I like pretty games, so the combination is a win for me.
What the Moon does to you – how to play Nova Luna
Nova Luna is not at all a complex game. There are only two mechanisms you need to understand: how to get the tiles you need, and what you do with them when you have them. Since the second part includes how you win the game, why don’t we start with that?
Nova Luna tiles have three properties, a price, a color, and a number of tasks. There is only one rule to place a tile: it must touch at least one tile in your personal play area. Much more interesting are the rules how you should place your tiles if you want to win. That’s where a tile’s tasks and color come in.
A task shows up to four bubbles, all in the same color or in different colors. To complete a task, all you have to do is put tiles in colors matching the task adjacent to the tile with the task. If you need multiple tiles of the same color for a task, then not all those tiles have to be adjacent to the tile with the task. It’s enough that one of those tiles is, and the others form a chain of that color behind it. When you complete a task, you cover it with one of your player tokens. First player to use up their tokens wins the game.
The tiles you use to complete a task are not used up in any way. The same tile can be used for different tasks, from the same tile or from different ones. Tiles can even contribute to each others tasks. In fact, if you want to win, they should.
How do you get those tiles, though? That’s a mechanism that just can’t hide its origin in Uwe Rosenberg’s brain. Eleven tiles are spread around the Moon Wheel, where each player also has one of their tokens. The player who’s token is furthest in the back there takes the next turn. They pick one of the next three tiles from the moon standee and move the moon to the space they just emptied. Then they move their player token forward a number of spaces equal to the tile’s price. If they are still the last player on the wheel they get another turn after placing that tile, otherwise the new last player goes next.
Empty spots around the Moon Wheel are not automatically refilled. Instead, when a player starts their turn and there are only one or two tiles left, they may decide to refill the wheel. The refill may not be in their best interest,a tile they want might not be one of the next three after the refill, so in our test games we frequently ran the wheel dry before we filled it up again.
That’s all. Beautifully simple, right?
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Our Verdict
The box describes Nova Luna as a game by Uwe Rosenberg, based on an idea by Corné van Morseel. It’s easy to see where the two ideas meet. How you take the tiles is one thing, and the similarity to the turn order mechanism in Uwe’s Patchwork is pretty obvious. What you do with the tile once you have it is a different thing you may know from Corné’s Habitats.
But the two parts come together to a beautiful whole. Which tiles you can take, which tiles are useful for you, and how many free turns you give your opponents when you take an expensive tile, all that makes a very interesting core decision every turn.
Especially which tile you want is a strategic decision. It’s not just about completing a task right now. You want to set things up in a way that you can easily complete tasks later. Set up color chains, leave holes in the right spot, put a matching tile there when you get it. This level of strategic play works better with two players, where you can see that a matching tile is coming up and be sure it’ll still be there on your next turn. In three or four players, you rarely get the tile you have your eyes on because the moon will go around the wheel too quickly – but there are plenty of tiles to fill any given gap, so at least early in the game it still makes sense to plan.
A pleasant surprise about Nova Luna was how much player interaction it has for a game where every player builds their own tableau to build, thanks to the Moon Wheel. In other games where you pick things from a shared pool, you have to take something to keep it away from other players, even if it doesn’t help you. In Nova Luna it’s often enough to move past that tile, because your opponent won’t be able to get back to it, at least not on their next turn.
Nova Luna lets you think that deeply about every move, but it doesn’t force you to. That’s what makes it a great candidate for the Spiel des Jahres. You can play your own game, only watch your own tasks, and have enough to think about. But with some experience, or with the right opponents, a deeper level of decision making is there, just waiting for you.