09 May 2019
The tabletop appliance of science
Sir Isaac Newton, it’s safe to say, was a man who could handle some pretty complex concepts. Several complex concepts at the same time, in fact. He was a smart cookie, old Izzy was. So it’s only right that the Eurogame that bears his name should give its players a lot to get their own brains around. So much so, it’s likely to get your head spinning the first time you play it.
The loosely-fitted theme casts each player as an 18th-century scientist competing to earn the most prestige. They can do this in a number of ways: travelling around Europe, sending their students to innovate new technologies, studying, attending lessons and, erm, earning money.
All this requires a lot of cardboard on the table. One board depicts a tangle of routes around Europe, while another bears the work track, for reaping coins, and the technology track, which boasts a branching, flow-charty array of one-way routes towards scientific discovery. On these you’ll randomly place a variety of tokens during setup, which grant a multitude of bonuses when your meeple passes over, or lands on them. Then each player has their own study board on which they will have to place little tiles depicting bookshelves to complete rows and columns on a grid, thereby earning victory points, while also playing down their action cards onto their ‘desk’.
This final aspect is the game’s core mechanic and is by far its most satisfying. Blending elements of hand- and engine-building, it allows players to add cards to their hand which, when played to their desk, grant them both one of five basic actions (work, travel, study and so on) and also provide a unique bonus from each card. The value, or strength, of each action is determined by the number of relevant symbols on display on the player’s desk – a cog for ‘technology’, say. You can build these up through some judicious discarding, because at the end of each of the game’s first five (of six) rounds you’ll be forced to chuck out one of your played cards, losing its bonus but adding its basic action value to your desk.
Elsewhere, you’ll be shoving meeples from point to point around the two central boards and positioning tiles in a manner that will very familiar to fans of Uwe Rosenberg’s recent output. It’s all smartly balanced by designers Simone Luciani (Lorenzo Il Magnifico) and Nestore Mangone although, once you’ve finally got your head around all those bitty components and actions, you’ll quickly realise that the surest way to success is to focus on your studying as soon as possible and set yourself up for a steady stream of victory-point income at the end of each round.
After all, nobody’s going to be able to take it from you. There is so little player interaction in Newton that you can play it solo with hardly any rules adjustment. The absence of take-that will be off-putting to those who like a bit of cut and thrust to their gameplay, and it can feel like each player is just sat in their point-scoring silo. But with so much going on each turn and everything so clockwork-calibrated, there’s every chance you’ll be too busy thinking to notice.
PLAY IT? – YES
A heavyweight Eurogame that demands a lot of your processing power, but rewards you with multi-layered depth. Though if you’re fussed about player interaction, it might not be for you.
Designer: Simone Luciani, Nestore Mangone
Artist: Klemens Franz
Time: 90-120 minutes
This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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