Nova Luna: a double helping of 'new'
You know, once in a blue moon, something comes along that challenges all your preconceptions. Something that makes you look back and try to remember a time before something that feels so obvious even existed.
That happened to me last weekend when my family and I were looking through the stock shelf to find a game to play-test.
"Here we go, kids!" I said while pulling a copy of Nova Luna from the shelf and doing my best to pretend that I hadn't been itching to open this game since I'd first seen it. "This looks interesting. Let's give it a try."
The box was instantly torn from my hands. The wrapper was removed in a flash, and out came an array of thick cardboard pop-out sheets covered in beautiful, intricate images. In the blink of an eye, the table was covered in popped-out cards and the 'moon counter' was hastily being assembled.
I attempted to read the instructions aloud, but I was apparently unsuccessful in avoiding family confusion and was soon relieved of my role. My heart sank as I wondered if this game was going to be a little too complicated. After all, there was no die, no spinner, nothing familiar that moved the pieces around the board, and none of us had any idea what to do. We all scratched our heads and listened to the instructions one more time. Still nothing clicked. Well, we said, there's nothing for it. We'll just start playing and see how we go.
Ten seconds later, we had it. Well, the basics anyway. It really couldn't be easier, but you have to see it to understand. If I had to sum it up as simply as possible, it would be thus: The person who is last on the board goes next. They can choose to select and move the moon counter to any of the three tiles next to it, and the number on that tile tells them how far to move their counter on the moon track. If they choose a small number and they are still last on the board, they get to go again. If they choose a large number, their counter moves very far forward and it can be ages before they can get another go. Simple, right?
Not so fast! This is where the strategy kicks in. The cards must be laid out in a pattern in front of you. To complete the challenges shown on a card, it must be placed in a spot that links that card to enough cards of the required colours. Think Candy Crush on a tabletop. Cards with small numbers have hard challenges requiring lots of cards, but cards with large numbers have easy challenges requiring only two or three cards. There's always a trade-off in this game. Every decision has a price. Go for easy challenges and get less turns (and therefore less cards) or try to take as many turns as possible by going for the hard ones and hope to arrange the cards you get into meaningful patterns. If you play your cards right, you might just win! But be careful, because nothing can be taken for granted in Nova Luna.
So far, you have two games happening: the moving around the board while trying to stay in last place, and the Candy Crush-style card layout happening in front of you. Picking up a card of a particular colour is one thing, but working out where to put it in your arrangement to maximise the number of completed challenges is something else altogether. It's a real puzzle! We all found it completely irresistible to lean over and help each other in finding the best placement. No, wait! They're the competition! But you can't help yourself, and pretty soon, you're all sitting around discussing the best placements for each other quite openly and honestly (most of the time).
Strategy...strategy... You could try to sabotage your opponents this way, but we found that by helping each other, we all shared the joy if a person won, because we each had a hand in helping them.
Oh, I almost forgot! Winning. The object of the game is to run out of little coloured dots. Each time you complete a challenge on one of your cards, you put a dot on it to mark it as 'completed'. Everybody starts with the same number of dots. Keep an eye on how many dots your competition has, but remember, it's not over until it's over. Even the player in last place can have a miraculous spurt near the end and make it to the win!
If you like strategy games but want them to be easy to wrap your head around, Nova Luna is the game you've been waiting for. Sure, you can play with a simple strategy and have fun, but this game allows for infinite depths of strategy which, if used, can make you feel like you've really achieved something. But if your family aren't big fans of in-depth strategy, this game won't be too daunting either. After the end of the game, I felt like I'd just played a good game of chess, while the less strategy-inclined feel like they'd just played a fun game of Trouble. It just works at all levels. We all had tons of fun, so we threw out our afternoon plan and played again.
There's one more thing about this game that you should know if you are considering buying it: it has a solo mode. That means that if you have an afternoon or evening alone, you can play it all by yourself as a fun puzzle. Get those jigsaws back on the shelf and pull out Nova Luna!
The next morning, the kids had the chess set out for a couple of games. Apparently, the strategy bug had bitten them.
Well, I have to say it. Nova Luna is my new favourite game by a long shot. Its completely new and refreshing gameplay challenges and inspires the mind. It may look hard to learn, but it isn't at all, and playing for just a couple of turns is enough to help you grasp the concept of the entire game. By the end of your first game, you would have devised your own winning strategies. We're sure that Nova Luna will have a pride of place on the family game shelf... just as soon as we can convince ourselves to take it off the table.