It’s been a busy few weeks for us, while working on getting extra copies of New Bedford ready and starting to arrange some play tests. It feels like there isn’t quite enough time to get everything done. It is fitting that time is also the subject of this week’s post.
At some point during testing, I realized that the number of actions is one of the most important limits in the game. You can choose to take more bricks or wood if you want to build, but you only get 24 actions for the whole game. The fixed numbers of workers and rounds, and the timer created by whaling all compete for those limited actions. So more than an ending condition or control structure, I realized that time acted more like an implicit resource.
One of the questions I often hear from new players familiar with other worker placement games is “How can I get more workers?” There is currently no way to add an extra worker and no plan to add that mechanic (although future expansions might need to increase the starting number, or could provide ways to temporarily gain a worker).
From a design perspective, I find games to be more interesting when you have few decisions and many options. Since the game naturally slows down as more actions are added, the limited number of actions helps keep the game quick. It also simplifies the game by giving the player one less thing to balance. The mechanic of paying for whales when ships return provides similar gameplay to feeding or paying a growing number of workers. Limiting the turns also means you have to choose what to focus on and ignore, since you won’t have enough time to do everything.
The closest thing to an extra worker in New Bedford is playing the Inn. The Inn lets you play your workers again at the end of the round, which is a net gain of 1 action, but also limits the two actions. The tradeoff is getting extra time for losing options.
I usually explain during playtesting that the Inn can act as many of the other buildings by combining town actions. In some cases, it is even better than a building because you can get the town action bonus. (Taking Forest and Farm is always at least as good as the Schoolhouse, taking Dockyard and Dock is at least as good as the Dry Dock) But the Inn had to exclude buildings. This is mostly because using two extra buildings would be too powerful. This exclusion also stops the player from using the Inn to continue your turn indefinitely (in a wishing for more wishes way). I think the restriction to town actions is made up for by being able to leave and re-enter a town action space to gain the bonus twice in a round.
A secondary effect of the Inn is that it gives you a good play when you can’t decide what to do. See what happens in the rest of the round, and then pick a strategy. But before you build the Inn, remember, that the player in front of you will have more opportunities to use it before you.