Happy Friday! We’re on day 4 of one new game a day on the online board gaming site Board Game Arena. I have been learning and playing a new game each day and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the recent additions. I will provide a recap of many of the new games next week, but first I want to write about two specific additions from this Tuesday.
The great news is that Board Game Arena added Welcome To which I wrote about in my Roll and Write post earlier this year, and it’s sequel Welcome to New Las Vegas to the service. Having Welcome To in a clean user friendly online format is great news. I recommended this game as one that folks could play remotely with friends using the physical game and printing additional player sheets online, but this online implementation just makes it that much easier to play the game with friends and family.
Since I had already learned this game, I dove into it’s sequel to see what new bells and whistles they had added to one of my favorite games. And the initial experience was… frustrating, to say the least. You know how some movies are perfect, and yet Hollywood chooses to make a sequel and completely misunderstands what made the original great? This was the feeling I got with Welcome to New Last Vegas. My general impression was that they had added too many rules and systems making what was a simple game with the original into a convoluted mess with the sequel.
To explain, it might make sense to briefly recap the original. In May I wrote:
In Welcome To players are building neighborhoods by filling in house numbers on one of three streets. Each turn there are three numbers to choose from three different stacks of cards and each stack also has a corresponding power, cleverly printed on the back of each card. In this way the face up card is the number you can play and the remaining deck’s top card indicates the power. The goal of the game is to build neighborhoods, groups of houses that all have a house number filled in and a fence on the left and right side of the group. This is easier said than done however, as numbers have to be sequential like a real street however the distribution of the numbers 1-15 are not even in the deck. You can’t always rely on getting the next number you need on a street so there is a push and pull on when to skip a number.. The various powers let you spruce up the neighborhoods by adding parks and pools for extra points, increase the real estate value for neighborhoods of a certain size, or bend the rules to repeat house numbers or manipulate a house number up or down.
The core of Welcome to New Las Vegas is the same. Players have three choices each turn and are now filling in casinos with numbers instead of houses. Gone are the neighborhoods and instead there are various ways to score points. So much so that what was once a single sheet game now has a separate score sheet and player sheet to keep track. Which is certainly an ominous indication of the increased complexity. Players are now trying to build sequences of odd or even sequential numbers in 4 streets instead of the original 3. In addition players can build Hotels by completing avenues, e.g. the vertical column of casinos on multiple streets. So here players are thinking in multiple dimensions. This is confused further by having several unbuilt casinos that need to be constructed in one turn in order to be able to write a number in them in a future turn.
From here things get even more complicated. There is now a spatial puzzle to play by driving a limousine around these various streets and avenues picking up bonuses in front of certain hotels, with a risk/reward mechanic whereby if you don’t make it back to the airport spot where the limousine starts you lose points. There is a golf course you can expand on the top street of the board that rewards you for building casinos next to each other without skipping any spaces. There is a mayor inauguration track that you can contribute to with players getting points for having contributed more than any other player. This track can also have spaces cashed in to bend the rules. There are shows, similar to pools from the previous game where you can circle a show if you use that effect and number on a casino that has a a star on it and receive increasing points depending on how many shows you put on.
All of this is topped of with the cherry on a sundae that is the money system in the game. Several of those activities mentioned above require you to circle a money icon to use. Constructing casinos, putting on shows, extending casinos to duplicate a number you’ve already written. At the end of the game if you have not accrued enough money to pay for these actions you can get dinged for 20 points, which is usually enough to knock someone out of first place.
So at first… I absolutely hated this. Who had thought all this systems overhead was a good idea? I walked away from my first place of the game ready to write it off and just return to the original. And to be fair, I will always start with the original with new players. It would be cruel to throw anyone into the deep end of Welcome to New Las Vegas without the basics of its predecessor. But then I played another round, and I read the rules again. And I lost… by less. And then I played a third round and focused a few strategies based on the goal cards from that game. Somewhere along the line everything clicked into place. What they have created is a very complex system of risk and reward. When you play Welcome to New Las Vegas you are actually playing several tiny games at once, pulling the different levers that the game offers you to give you more flexibility, but at a cost. This can result in the game feeling very scattered and fragmented in the first few plays. But once you get used to the systems, it does exactly what it set out to do. It does not create a better game necessarily, but there is more to explore if you can make it past the rough learning curve.
Regardless of what flavor of Welcome To you prefer, these are two great games and its great to be able to easily play them online.