New Angeles

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It’s the year .. uhh It’s the future! Technology has evolved to the point where humans no longer need to work and everything could be made plentiful with android labour. Unfortunately, this development didn’t result the the post scarcity utopia one would hope for. Something went wrong along the way, and the city of New Angeles is embroiled in some sort of late stage capitalist hell where mega-corporations run the show. Sounds bleak, but do I have good news for you – you happen to be the CEO/President/Owner/Director/Chairman/ .. PR representative .. of one of the 6 large mega-corporations that are more or less in charge of New Angeles. The site of the Space Elevator that connects Earth to the Moon, New Angeles has quickly become the bustling centre of the corporate world, not to mention a nest of organised crime, and harbour of the growing underground Human First movement. Of course the goal for you – the CEO of a mega-corporation, is to increase your company’s worth – making sure you out-perform your rival.

4-6 Players | 2-4 Hours | Designed by James Kniffen

New Angeles is produced by Fantasy Flight Games and has everything you would expect from them – great visual design, well polished rules and the classic cardboard valley insert. It is a political game that has married the perfect combination of theme and gameplay – heartless mega-corporations that are forced to begrudgingly co-operate on welfare projects so that the city that provides them with their vast wealth doesn’t collapse, putting them all out of business. The way the game forces you into the mindset of a soulless corporation can be very surprising, you will find yourself saying something like ‘Well, I’m keen to provide healthcare for these dying masses of citizens, but what’s in it for me?’ and you realise you have been thoroughly drawn into this game.

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Running a corporate empire is made more challenging by having to deal with annoying Human First activists who want rights for humans, and Org-Crime mob-bosses stealing your Android manufactured goods.

How Does it Work?

New Angeles is a relatively straightforward game, which is more or less a framework around which political discussion and negotiation can take place. The rules may seem long and complex at first glance, but once you’ve gone through one round, it becomes obvious that most of the rules regard upkeep and amount to a flowchart to follow through to do so.

The game consists of 6 rounds, broken into sets of two. Each of these three ‘acts’ of the game represent an overall crisis that the players need to work together to overcome, by meeting targets for production of certain resources. Rounds will vary from 3-5 turns, and in each turn, the lead player will propose some action to be executed that turn. Actions vary from cleaning up disease through to calming the masses, and can even just be proposals to straight up make money for the player and a few allies.

Once an action is proposed, each other player is given the opportunity to present a counter action, and then players vote on which action to execute. This is where the meat of politics and negotiating comes into play – as it is usually beneficial for the player whose action is chosen, they will negotiate for their proposal to succeed. The winning player gets to carry out the action to their liking, and then the turn is over.

At the beginning of the game each player is given a card, telling you which other player you need to have more money than at the end in order to win. In this way, multiple people can share victory, but there will always be at least one loser. And of course, the twist – one player may be The Federalist – a corporate traitor loyal to the government, who secretly wants regulation to return and ruin the fun for everyone. When things go wrong, the threat of the Federalist winning (and all other players losing) increases, so players need to co-operate to some degree to prevent this from happening.

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A Globalsec friendly enforcer shoos away the riff raff.

What do I think?

As a game, New Angeles relies heavily on the players to make the experience. When your group adds in a little bit of role-play, some jokes about robot racism, and references to your shareholders not being likely to receive this news well, the game truly shines. I’ve played the game twice now, and I really enjoyed both games, but it was on the second play-through I noticed most of ‘The Bad Stuff’.

The Good Stuff

  • New Angeles possibly has the most engaging negotiation of any game I’ve played. The game design is great at fostering deal making, and it’s very entertaining for everyone to watch deals being made and make snide comments on the intentions of other players.
  • Having multiple winners is a great feature, and it keeps everyone guessing to the end who might win.
  • The game does a very good job of forcing players to behave like soulless corporations who only care about money.
  • The theming is perfect for the gameplay, a great marriage of both.
  • Amazing artwork, a great addition to the Android universe with lots of stuff to look at.
  • The increasing sensation of doom/threat is well done, as the game progresses it seems like catastrophe is closing in from all angles.
  • The traitor is a good addition, and it’s reasonably easy to hide because you can believably act in self interest in lots of cases.

The Bad Stuff

  • Apart from negotiating, there’s just not much to do. If you don’t derive enjoyment from negotiating deals, you won’t have fun with this game.
  • It’s possible for negotiations to stall with a poor outcome for everyone if interests are not aligned. Sometimes someone is forced to ‘take one for the team’, which feels annoying for that player. Compare this to Chinatown (another negotiation heavy game), where it is almost always possible to come up with a deal that provides obvious net value to both players. In New Angeles there is little but money (and of course promises) to negotiate with.
  • Players are pigeon-holed into being able to provide specific types of actions. When problems compound, this leads to the players that have the cards targeted at fixing those issues being in quite powerful positions. In the games I’ve played, this has left some players a bit out of the game. With little to contribute, they don’t get to interact much and their score suffers because of luck (which is frustrating).
  • As described in the previous point, game difficulty doesn’t ramp up, but rather previous issues just carry over, so you are generally dealing with increasing versions of the same thing each round.
  • The game could get stale quickly. There is small variability between rounds / games. After two games everything seems more or less rote.
  • Expanding the previous point – the game becomes less interesting with experience (this is a common problem in games) because the obfuscation that gave a sense of mystery is reduced. Rather than experience uncovering deeper strategies to explore, it merely allows players to lay out probabilities of what’s going to happen next and prioritise which things to mitigate. This is a similar issue to my main gripe with Pandemic – once you’ve played it a few times, optimal play becomes obvious and this makes ‘running the city’ quite boring, and has the side effect of making it easier to ascertain players intentions when they do obviously suboptimal things.
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Producing just enough resources to keep the population of New Angeles happy is a delicate matter. Why should I help when you won’t?

While I’m keen to play more New Angeles, I think it’s a game that is better to play sparingly and with breaks in between. Something like once a year would probably be perfect, long enough to forget details but not so long you need to learn to play again. Despite saying that, New Angeles is a truly excellent game that you hardly hear about in the boardgaming community – I feel it is massively under-rated. Do you love yelling at people? Accusing people of being the traitor? Trying to negotiate complex three way two stage deals that rely on future non binding promises being honestly fulfilled? If so, and if you’ve got a group of lively friends who would be into a bit of thematic role-play as CEOs/Presidents/Owners/Directors/Chairmans/ .. PR representatives .. , then definitely give New Angeles a go.

 

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