With EuroQuest finished, I finally had some time to sit down and out together my thoughts on strategy in New Bedford. From the start, I wanted multiple strategies to be viable. There were several ideas that had to be eliminated or dramatically weakened because they could lead to unbeatable strategies. I was left with several strategies that could be planned independently, but still included interaction with the other players. No strategy relies on the others, but they still require a player to pay attention to everyone else’s moves. For those who prefer to find their own strategies, don’t read the rest of this post. For everyone else, keep reading.
Here are some of the possible paths through the game:
Whale early, whale often.
Focus on right whales with the Factory and Tryworks
Build useful buildings (like Inn, Tavern, and Bank) to earn money from other players
Focus on buildings and get the Church, Mansion, and Offices.
Build an engine (Schoolhouse plus Dry Dock, Workshop plus Market)
Focus on wood (Lumbermill and Forest) and sell for big money points
Some combination of the above
There are a few edge strategies, like focusing on wood that are feasible, by design. In theory, you could potentially get 25 points from just collecting wood, and selling it once, but that depends on being able to get the forest bonus as often as possible. A similar but slightly less powerful strategy exists with brick.
Part of the design process was creating interesting ways to make building “power-combos”. The School and Dry Dock complement each other by saving time, the Workshop and Market naturally pair up to make money, the Offices are helped by the Courthouse to support building, and the Lighthouse and Cooperage also have an interesting interaction. The cooperage typically isn’t worth using before you have at least 4 whales on a ship, so it takes some time to become useful. But one strategy that was tried recently uses the lighthouse to keep a single ship out as long as possible, and using the cooperage to pull in big money in the last few rounds. Again, difficult to accomplish, but possible.
One of the unique things about New Bedford is that even if you build an “engine”, it becomes available to every player. Stopping another player’s engine can be as important as setting up your own. Or you can skip building one, and use everyone else’s engines. So considering what other players will build, in addition to what actions they want to take, is one of the more subtle interactions.
But even though I considered all of the building combinations, that doesn’t mean I thought of every play style. I was surprised during playtesting, how often the tavern or cooperage was used to take just $4. In my own plays, I usually waited for more money, but I discovered I was personally underestimating the value of $4.
The most important element of almost every strategy is timing. As I noted in Part 6, it took me a while to realize how much of a role time plays in the game. Like many worker placement games, the best time to use an action in New Bedford is often the last possible opportunity. Determining when that moment is can be one of the more difficult parts of New Bedford. Because turn order and rotation is fixed, you know in which rounds you will have first choice of action, and when you won’t. This can be used to your advantage by locking up the most important action spaces in the rounds you will need them, especially the last round. But others will also be using that against you, so if your window of opportunity opens slightly early, there is a big risk that other players will take the action space before you have another chance, closing the window.
Consider the Lumber Mill, which can bring a large profit over the General Store. If you go first in the round before you need it, you either use it to guarantee that you make the extra money, or wait to grab more wood for even more money or risk losing half of the profit.
Timing is also where having the ability to buy wood and food before an action becomes important. This ability was originally intended to balance the start of the game, and the bad exchange rate makes it a bad option most of the time. But using this ability effectively changes the timing of the action. Instead of spending a turn gathering food before launching a ship, you can accelerate the process to ensure best placement on the whaling track. Similarly, if you are competing to build a bonus building, it may be worth it to buy the extra wood needed to ensure you can build the building.
The timing of launching ships deserves a special mention. Taking the best whaling position may motivate a player to wait until the next round to launch. But since ships continually move in, a player who waits and launches the same distance will have better selection until ships return. This makes whaling a trade between getting more time and getting better choice. More generally, launching too early can restrict a player to poor selection for a good portion of the game, but launching too late reduces the potential catch.
In short, you need to be aware of what each player needs to accomplish, how much time he needs, and who will have the first opportunity. Doing so will give you the advantage.