New Angeles

New Angeles

Picked this up a while back totally out of the blue. I haven’t been following board games as closely this year but someone mentioned a new game in FFG’s Android universe and I was all in.

The premise is pretty straightforward and aggressively, constantly confrontational: you’re playing one of six megacorps sucking the city of New Angeles dry, and you win the game if you end with more capital than your rival (which is drawn randomly and secretly). There’s also a strong possibility of a traitor role in the game: the Feds, who will take your poor city over if “threat” gets too high due to corporate shenanigans.

Well, so, yeah that happened. There’s a corp that gets paid for curing disease, so when it’s time to decide whether to face down a major disease outbreak or do something else, well, your incentive is to let the futuristic cyberplague spread. There’s a corp that gets paid for removing criminals, so yeah, crime runs rampant. And so on and so on. It is intensely, and maybe unpleasantly, cynical.

The two big design threads through the game are easily tracked back to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (hidden traitor, constant rolling crises, five suits of action cards each with a huge variety of game effects) and Archipelago (the board game not the freeformy RPG) (hidden everyone-loses traitor, regular “we must provide these resources” checks, lots of kicking the responsibility to do the right thing down the list of players until the last ones are faced with the most responsibility). As such, New Angeles also has some of the most difficult/problematic/unpleasant aspects of both those games as well: it’s pretty hard to beat the spoiler, it’s hard to know when you’ve cut your own throat while chasing your goals, and not understanding just how imperfect everyone’s information is. Which means everyone’s questioning everyone’s plays all the damned time.

If you take the game really seriously, it might not be a fun time. I tried really hard to hold onto my victory condition very lightly, and never really felt screwed or despondent, but at the same time I felt like we were all little emotional corks floating on very choppy water. Constantly coming up short, constantly having your plans foiled, constantly having to make the most of a bad situation.

That said, I think I liked it! But that’s a very conditional “like.” We were all in a pretty good head about it because we’ve had lots of experiences with both BSG and Archipelago. It helped to know what kind of experience we were in for.

My condition for being able to enjoy the game is to not take the profound cynicism too seriously. That’s kind of hard these days because it kind of feels like we’re living in a very similar corporate dystopia. Then again, not every game night is the right night to roll out Battlestar Galactica either, which feels a bit like this but way more depressing.

8 thoughts on “New Angeles”

  1. Had an interesting encounter with this at a local con. Early on I got shoved to the back of the pack because everyone else’s incentives happen to favor clobbering me. There is a funky feature where to be a “winner” you only have to beat one other player assigned to you at the start of the game. But when I looked at all my paths forward, they all wound up benefiting that player more than me. So with no real hope of a win, I decided to adopt a strategy of “burn them all, Ralphie!” which eventually lead to a traitor victory. Interestingly, the traitor turned out to be my assigned “you must score hire than this person” person.

    The owner of the game and host of the event swore that he would never ever play a board game with me again.

    Kinda reminded me of Supremacy in that when you equip a competitive game with a doomsday switch, it kinda seems inevitable that somebody is going to get backed into a corner, and flip it.

  2. That comes up in Archipelago as well. It’s very similar, maybe more similar than BSG because at least there, if the humans die the cylons win.

  3. I was really into this game, looking at it on the shelf. All of the Android games look so damn pretty in their boxes. But I was worried about the cynicism and bleakness of the cyberpunk theming, and it sounds as bad as I feared.

  4. Thanks for the write-up! I’ve had my eye on this game since release because it looks like it’ll be fun. Now it sounds ever slightly more promising and like something I might be able to get to the table with my BSG loving friends.

  5. It was certainly received with mixed reviews by my game group. We didn’t really know how long it would take to play the first time, so we only played through two demand phases and called it. I own it and I really liked it. I will try playing it again with a different group. Now that I know what to expect, I can suggest it to the right players.

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