For our inaugural, first ever review, we have decided to tackle one of the titans of board gaming, Uwe Rosenberg! He is one of the hobby’s most famous designers, with designs like the seminal Agricola, which basically set the bar for all worker placement games after it, and Bohnanza, which is a game that taught us that even games with bad art and worse puns can hide layers of clever strategy. In recent years, Uwe Rosenberg has also basically become the granddaddy of all tetris games, with his release of the polyomino heaven that is Patchwork, the madness that is A Feast for Odin and several others.
So, when tackling a designer that has several famous designs, and who is the master of both worker placement and polyominoes, we obviously felt it would be great to take a look at a game that is neither famous, nor are there any workers or polyominoes anywhere to be seen.
Nova Luna is a 2-4 player pattern building game that is actually a reworking of the ideas found in the 2016 game Habitats by Corné van Moorsel. It is a very simple affair, where every player will grab 16-20 discs depending on the number of players and where the goal is quite simply to rid yourself of all of them before your opponents.
In the middle of the table lies this moon clock wheel thing. You’ll seed the slots around it with tiles from the stacks you shuffled during setup, and after placing the moon at the last slot and a disc from each player on the time track, you’re good to go.
Each turn of Nova Luna is always taken by the player who is furthest behind on the time track. When it is your turn, you’ll simply choose one of the three pieces in front of the moon, place it in front of you in your evergrowing tapestry of tiles, and then move your time tracker the number of spaces indicated on the tile. This system will be very familiar for those who have played Patchwork, and it means players who grab “cheap” pieces might actually take several turns in a row if their opponents have all taken expensive ones.
What are you actually doing with these tiles you say? Well, on each tile there are usually 1-3 (sometimes none) tasks that you will try to fulfill in order to rid yourself of a disc. Each task demands that you have those coloured tiles adjacent to the one in question.
So this 7-cost tile right here, if you managed to lay a yellow and a red tile adjacent to it, you’d fulfill one task and lay a disc on it, and if you joined them with a blue tile later, that would actually complete both of the remaining tasks and rid you of another couple of discs. So far, so good. Where things get just spicy enough for the game to be exciting is how all same-coloured tiles touching form groups that are essentially adjacent to each other and everything around them.
Say I had this chain of blue tiles and later grabbed a tile with a 4-blue task, I could plonk that down anywhere around it, and immediately fulfill that task. This essentially forms the crux of the game, as you will try to form groups that fulfill multiple tasks at the same time, racing to be the first one to rid yourself of your pieces.
Cheap pieces will have fewer tasks or ones that are harder to fulfill, maybe demanding two groups of 3 like-coloured tiles, which is doable, but might be very hard to make work with the rest of the puzzle. So it is a constant push and pull between grabbing large tiles that could let you rid yourself of discs easily, while the small ones are more efficient if you can just snag the right ones.
In conclusion, this game is a blast! Or, maybe not quite blast, it is a bit more subdued than that. Pop? Like a small firecracker explosion maybe? Ooh, or one of those air packets they use to pad packages!
And like popping air bubbles, this game is just consistently satisfying. Every single turn of the game, you will either 1) Get a new plan, 2) Get progress on a plan, 3) Fulfill a plan, or, if you are good, 4) All at once multiple times over. And it is that potential of everything working that drives the game, and the satisfying frustration when it doesn’t, because you can always see something better you should have done earlier. It is just constantly throwing small victories in your face that even if you don’t win, you will have had at least a few really good moments during the 20 minutes or so the game takes. Did I mention the game is quick? If a game doesn’t quite work out, you can just shuffle the tiles up and play again, and even though it is puzzly, it doesn’t tax your brain too badly, so you can easily play 2-3 games in a row.
Still, it is not the deepest thing in the world. If you have played a few board games before, you will likely have seen most of this game within a play or two. While you will still make fun decisions, the game will feel somewhat samey after a while. This means the role this will have in your collection will likely either be a comfort game, something you pull out when you just need something pleasant, a game to pass some time in-between other games, or as a welcoming game to play with friends and family who don’t necessarily play a ton of hobby-games.
It also occupies a similar niche as some great games that have come out in the last few years. Games like Calico, or one of my personal favorites, Azul. While mechanically quite different, they all let you have fun with navigating some collective market of tiles and make that work with your own personal puzzle. And while Nova Luna looks nice enough, it doesn’t hold a candle to the coziness of Calico or the classiness of Azul. In contrast to Azul specifically, Nova Luna also lacks, and I’m gonna get technical here for a sec, “stupid sh*t happening and everyone laughing at your face”. Personally, I’m a huge fan of this genre, so I am very happy with owning Nova Luna, and would recommend it if it sounds appealing. But also, if you haven’t yet had the chance to play especially Azul, I would check that out first.