Game Night Verdicts #40 – Nova Luna

Accessibility is the mark of a good game. While it’s fun to master an intimidatingly complex design, most people are limited in how much time they can sink into such an endeavour. Not to mention the number of players they can rope into multiple plays until such a game finally clicks. It’s the job of good game design to minimize the effort it takes to get from opening the box to experiencing what the game really has to offer.

The crescent moon serves as a turn marker

In order to do just that, Nova Luna draws upon a trusted and reliable designer move. It adapts the proven design decisions of two well-regarded, published games: Habitats by Corné von Moorsel and Patchwork by Uwe Rosenberg. If you’re familiar with at least one of the two, you will be able to quickly enjoy this spiritual successor fully. But even without this prior knowledge Nova Luna does not waste time. That is due to the efficacy of the design work that build its predecessors.

Nova Luna, much like its godparents, is a tile-laying game. You pick a tile and then place it in front of you, following very simple rules. Once chosen, your tile has to be placed horizontally or vertically adjacent to at least one other tile already in front of you. The number on your tile will determine how long you will have to wait, until it’s your go again. This is easy to grasp and the nicely illustrated play aid in the shape of a moon phase calendar is easy to read and understand. Your waiting number is tracked with a wooden marker of your color, and whoever is in last place gets their turn.

Pleasantly colorful production

The game’s core appeal is found in the tasks that placed tiles present to you. They consist of the color and number of tiles that must be directly adjacent to it. Each tile functions as color resource for its neighbouring tiles, while also presenting new tasks to you. Once fulfilled you place a wooden marker of your colour on the task, and the game ends as soon as one player runs out of markers.

At first, this sounds disarmingly simple. Take a tile to fulfil a task, then pursue the next task in your tableau. This is easy to wrap your head around and rapidly propels you into playing the game. Although the phrasing in the rulebook makes it sound far more convoluted than it has any right to. But after a few turns, even the most inexperienced non-gamer will discover appealing new facets in this easy-going puzzler. Placing your tile, it turns out, has to be a carefully considered decision. Which task can be fulfilled with my new tile? Can I complete more than one task with this one tile? What about the tasks on the new tile itself? Before long ambition takes over, and carefully weighing all possible options becomes your main concern.

Puzzling in Nova Luna is exciting and interesting, because your tableau, solvable tasks and possible combinations continually change with each tile you place. This draws your interest towards your next turn, but also raises your expectations of how efficient a turn, you should aim for. Before long you want to pull off a turn that is more efficient, more shrewd and more successful than the last.

Easier tasks mean a longer downtime

This is where some players run into problems. The high number of possibilities that appear before you after even a few new tiles, requires a willingness to quickly make decisions. If you want to play Nova Luna on an expert level, you have to be willing to take your turn comparatively swiftly. Otherwise you run the risk of losing yourself in a seemingly endless loop of weighing your options and considering alternatives. Or you simply learn to curb your ambition, which can be unusual since games are often treated as safe spaces to let your ambition go unchecked. This, naturally, leads to problems.

If you can resist the lure of unchained ambition, Nova Luna quickly reveals its addictively joyful character. Each newly placed tile brings new tasks, that you usually complete only a few turns later. This recurring experience of overcoming the game’s challenges, keeps you motivated throughout. The most satisfying moments of playing Nova Luna aren’t found when a cleverly placed tile concludes multiple tasks at once.

The most rewarding moments of Nova Luna occur when you can confidently keep your attention on the tasks that are most beneficial to you, without getting sidetracked by the enticing tiles on the display. The easy-to-learn puzzle of Nova Luna awards planning ahead with the comforting satisfaction of a job well done. You practice being flexible, when the tile selection doesn’t offer the colors you were looking for. Nova Luna holds the most enjoyment for players who are willing to grow out of their own analysis paralysis.

Nova Luna’s biggest weakness is arguably how unassuming it seems. It’s not a game that you will remember for the flaring emotions it evokes. Nor will you discover new competitive sides to your friends and family. Instead it calmly leads you through a gaming challenge, that is a joy to tackle repeatedly. Before you know it, you’ll have discovered an aptitude for playing board games, you might not have expected in you. Because Nova Luna’s biggest strength is arguably how unassuming it seems.

This tableau has more than a dozen fulfilled tasks on it

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