Via Nebula is an upcoming game by Martin Wallace and from Asmodee North America and Space Cowboys. The artwork by Vincent Joubert is bright and colorful, applying a beautiful overlay to Wallace’s usual level of thoughtful strategy game. From the cute pigs to the teetering architecture to the caricature characters, Via Nebula is visually pleasing even as you stew over which of the few but meaningful actions to choose.
The game is releasing soon, but it’s even sooner for retailers who take advantage of Asmodee’s early-release program: Order at least six, and you’ll receive them two weeks before the street date, allowing you to release copies to your customers early! If you order twelve copies, you’ll also receive thirteen exclusive figures that replace the End of Game card, which provides 2 points to the player who triggers the game’s end.
Playing Via Nebula
Points come from a few places in Via Nebula, but the primary objective will be completing contract cards, which cost resources and turn into buildings on the board. The board consists of a grid of hexagons (hexes), with each hex representing fog, meadow, petrified forest, or ruins. There are also some forbidden spaces, which do nothing but get in the way.
Exploitation tiles represent caches of resources and start randomly out on the board on the empty meadow spaces. Each player starts with five building pieces, two craftsman pieces, three building site tiles, twelve meadow tiles, and two private contract cards. Some public contract cards are always face up for players to build and claim throughout the game.
Wooden Parts and Craftsman
On each player’s turn, that player has two action points and six actions to spend them on. A popular first action is to move a craftsman token to one of the exploitation tiles, removing the tile from the board and placing the depicted resources (nice wooden bits) onto the space with the craftsman. That doesn’t grant the player ownership of the resources, but having a craftsman on the board helps with exploring later. The removed exploitation tile is gained by the player, yielding points at the end of the game.
The other way to gain presence on the board is to place a building site. These tiles are half-hexagons, so two players can share a hex space with each other—orientation doesn’t matter, so when considering spaces’ adjacency later, it doesn’t matter which side of a hex a building site is on. Building sites can only be built on ruins spaces on the board, but you don’t have to worry about building adjacent to anything else.
The third and fourth actions are exploring. Exploring a fog space means taking one of the player’s meadow tiles and placing it onto that fog. Exploring a petrified forest works similarly, but it’s more difficult: It costs two actions (a whole turn) instead of one. Exploration turns inaccessible hexes into spaces that are accessible to everyone, which is relevant for transporting resources (below). Where a player can explore is limited by that player’s presence on the board (craftsman and building sites), but any space adjacent to an empty meadow space is also eligible. It doesn’t always feel good to explore when it means helping someone else transport goods, but for every three meadow tiles a player has “spent” exploring at the end of the game, the player will earn 2 more points.
Transporter 5: Empty Meadows
Transporting resources is where all the other pieces of the game start to come together. There are three elements to a transport taking place: the starting point (an exploitation site), the end point (one of your building sites), and the path (empty meadow spaces). You may take any one resource from any one exploitation site, regardless of whose craftsman is there, if any. (As mentioned earlier, unlocking an exploitation tile doesn’t mean it’s yours.) However, you have to have a building site to move the resource to, and there has to be an uninterrupted path of empty meadow spaces along the way. That means no exploitation spaces, no ruins, no fog, and so on. Exploration will be key to creating these clear paths. Once the last resource has been transported from an exploitation site, any craftsman there will return to its player, and the space will become an empty meadow space. When you transport a resource, place it on the building site you transported it to.
The last action is where the plan comes together: completing a contract and building a building. Each contract card depicts a building, including its resource cost, point value, and special ability. You can complete one of your private contracts or any public contract. Place completed contracts face down for their points at the end of the game, and replace from the deck any public contract. To complete a contract, you’ll need all the resources depicted, and you’ll need them all on one building tile. That lets you retrieve your building tile and replace it with one of your wooden building pieces. You only have three building tiles, so you can’t be building in too many places at once. In addition, when you complete a contract, any unused resources on that building tile move to your storage area, which count as negative points at the end of the game, so you really want to focus each building site on a specific contract as much as possible. When completing a contract, you’ll also benefit from its special ability, adding some twists and turns throughout the puzzle of Via Nebula.
Once a player has built that player’s fifth building, the end of the game is triggered, and the triggering player takes the End of Game card (or the promo miniature from participating retailers!), earning 2 extra points. Each other player takes a final turn, and points are calculated between completed contracts, points for exploring (“spending” meadow tiles), exploitation tiles, and negative points for unused resources. The player with the most points wins!
Via Nebula is a great medium- to light-weight game that really lets player engage in the puzzle the game presents them. Most of the randomness comes from the other players’ actions, meaning there’s plenty of room for strategy. The private contracts provide a bit of secrecy, and those combined with the variable setup of the exploitation tiles mean every game will play out differently. Add in the fact that the board has both a beginner side and an advanced side, and the game will never start out the same way twice.
Oh, and the artwork speaks for itself.