15 November 2019
Totems, tents and tactics
In this worker-placement and resource-management game, players take on the role of a member of the Frostrivers tribe competing to become the next successor to the most revered elder of their community, Nētā-Tanka. Refreshingly, the competition does not involve any combat or confrontation between the potential successors. Instead, they have to prove they are suited for the role by performing generous acts, looking after the well-being of their clan and being an outstanding member of the society. What a lovely message all-around!
Nētā-Tanka has a bountiful supply of everything you’ve come to expect from worker placement games. There is a central tribe board with spots to visit, resources to collect and exchange, items to purchase, and special actions to gain. Every player also has their own clan board, where all their good deeds will be tracked as the game progresses. They can feed their clan by collecting mushrooms and meat, build a high totem pole and tents, or procure various items. Throughout the game, players are likely to dip into each of these categories, building them up to a certain extent or focusing more in one particular area.
While Nētā-Tanka has very traditional worker-placement gameplay, it has one mechanic that sets it aside from the rest: the links. Positioning two of your meeples in the spots next to each other creates a link between them, generating bonus resources or actions. Therefore, if all four meeples are linked, three extra actions are gained. While the bonus link actions are not as powerful as those that are generated by the proper spots on the board, having so many extra abilities will still bring a significant advantage. The resources picked up through the links may not be immediately useful, but as there are so many objectives to fulfil, they will not be wasted either.
While an exciting and fun mechanic, links also make the game more predictable and less varied at the same time. It is a grave mistake not to make a single link in a round. At the very least, each player should be creating one or two each turn as to not to lag behind their opponents. Therefore, players tend to clamp all their meeples in a certain area of the map. Of course, they can be blocked, although once the game’s more than generous special power of ‘cloning’ is unlocked, that becomes very hard to do. Typically, spending a meeple to block someone just limits the number of links you can create and so usually not worth doing.
In an attempt to tick off all mechanics that tend to be associated with worker placement games, Nētā-Tanka includes hidden objective cards, completing which earns players victory points. The presence of these cards is mystifying as they are almost completely irrelevant to the gameplay. The objectives are broad enough that players will be doing them anyway as the game progresses and so do not need further victory point encouragement. Furthermore, three victory points are very unlikely to change the course of the game and so the revelation of secret objectives falls flat. In the single-player mode, objectives are necessary, but the goals are different to those in the multiplayer.
Nētā-Tanka is a very competent and enjoyable worker-placement game. There is something very idyllic and calming in collecting mushrooms and wood to feed your clan and build huts. There aren’t any big end-of-game reveals and the competition between other players is non-confrontational. The biggest challenge is to sequence all your actions in the right order to gain the most out the links created by the meeple placement. Despite the presence of the links mechanic, there is very little revolutionary about Nētā-Tanka, but you will be entertained nonetheless.
PLAY IT? PROBABLY
Designer: Hervé Rigal
Artist: Quentin Regnes
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August 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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