When I originally designed New Bedford, one of my goals was a fast game. So I limited the game to 4 players at most. This also made it easy to track building ownership around a square board. And, when I ran the numbers, it worked out very well for the number of buildings and whale tokens I could fit on a sheet of paper. [Perhaps you could argue that I subconsciously chose all the numbers precisely to fit the paper size, but either way it’s funny how often these little things seem to work out.]
And four players was fine. I rarely sat down to play with a group larger than four. But every once in a while, I found that it would be helpful to play with one more. It’s easy to see the advantage of adding an additional player, as it makes the game accessible to a lot of groups. Looking around at the games I liked and respected, many of them played up to five out of the box. So I began trying to figure out how to make a fifth player work.
As I previously discussed in Part 7, In the basic game, turn order is fixed, but the game length was set to give every player an equal chance at going first. With a fifth player, that balance goes out the window unless you make the game a few rounds longer, which I didn’t want to do. Other concerns were running out of whale tokens or buildings.
I really tried to avoid adding the “first player” space, as many games do, but a variable turn order was the only solution I had. And so, I added the “Wheelhouse” that allows a player to take the ship’s wheel, which serves as the first player marker. Yes, I know that’s a part of a ship, and not a building per se, but it immediately ties it to taking the ship’s wheel. I could have gone with Captain’s House, I suppose, but that was already in use.
It would have to be a town action, so it needed a bonus and regular action, and that gave me an opportunity to put my own spin on it. Instead of taking the ship’s wheel as the bonus action, taking the wheel is the basic action, and the bonus is taking $2. Let me restate this: the last player who takes the action spot in a round becomes the captain. This guarantees that one player can’t monopolize the space multiple rounds in a row (which would be inefficient anyway). The $2 can either be a nice bonus or a consolation if someone goes on to claim the wheel after you. And it introduces a small amount of money which I expect to be a little tighter with more players.
With the addition of a fifth player, I had an opportunity to look at some new actions that wouldn’t work with fewer players. I wanted buildings that increase interactivity by keying off of other players. Part of my motivation was to keep players involved, since it would be longer between turns. It was surprisingly difficult to find abilities that were unique, balanced, took advantage of the increased player counts, while keeping direct negative player interaction low.
A few of the new buildings were simple: a building that reduced the ability to block building action spaces, a building that could disable other player buildings. That became the College and Empty Lot, respectively. I needed another bonus building, and decided to add the Rectory, which is like a small version of the Seamen’s Bethel, but requires another player to own it. This keeps one player from being able to grab 10 easy points, while adding some strategy in timing.
I also wanted to carefully add the ability to take money from other players (with the Chemist’s Shop/Unpub Labs already providing the ability to take resources). To balance this between player counts, the Almshouse takes $3 from a single player. This ends up being one of the most inefficient ways of getting money, but the net gain against a single player is decent, and has the potential to impact carefully laid plans. The Firehouse went through several iterations, dealing with wood cost in buildings, but the final version is straightforward. It also scales better, since it becomes more difficult for all 5 players to build 3 or 4 buildings.
Of course, all of these extra buildings and Wheelhouse can also be used in games with as few as 3 players. And the buildings, in particular, can be mixed in with any other buildings as normal. But they won’t really make sense in a 2-player game. One odd consequence of a 5th player is that the 4-sided town board needed to change. A board add-on to keep the 90° angles while adding perimeter space was considered, but the final result will be a roughly pentagonal board. While less thematic than a grid of streets, it was the most effective way to add a 5th player, and the regular 2-4 player board will still be included in the box.
As a final note, this was definitely something that I felt was more appropriate as a stretch goal, because it wasn’t part of the core design. It adds extra mechanics, but only the few player tokens needed to accommodate the extra player–no new whale tokens or resources–and it’s not something that we felt was necessary to enjoy the game. In short, it’s not simply something that was simply held back as a marketing gimmick. It really couldn’t have been added without the support of so many backers.