Tom vs Bruce: Nemo’s War

Part II: The Adventure Begins

Bruce: I start in the Western Pacific because that is the historically accurate starting position. I decided to randomly choose Nemos initial commitment (suggested by the rules), and it came up Explore. My plans — Im sorry, Kapitan Nemos plans — are to capture a few ships to get a quick upgrade. The Explore goal gives me bonus points for Wonders, which are special types of Treasures you get when you search an ocean. There is an upgrade called Arcane Library which allows you to search even empty oceans with no Treasure. This is important because once you search an ocean and get the Treasure, you dont replace it until you roll doubles that correspond to that oceans number at the beginning of a turn. Since the odds of that are about 3% for a given ocean, thats a great bonus if youre trolling for Wonders. Arcane Library will cost me the salvage points from three captured ships. Here we go.

Tom: Great, Bruce is using math. That’s tantamount to cheating. I start in the Mediterranean because I figure it’s easier to clear out some stuff up here and then not have to fuss with it later. Because until someone invents the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean is a dead end. And good for me for starting here, because I uncover a valuable treasure that I can discard for a free re-roll. Thanks, Mediterranean!

Bruce: I start off Stalking the ships Im targeting, which limits me to one attack per week for now. As Kapitan Nemo, you can do various things during your turn, but when attacking the ships in an ocean you have two options. Once is to Attack a ship of your choice. If you sink it, you then get to move on to the next ship, and then the next one, until you are either unsuccessful, sink all the ships in that ocean, or capture a ship (whereupon you must stop). Since I am planning on capturing some ships, that would limit me to one attack per week anyway, so Im going to do the other attack option, which is to Stalk. Stalking gets me a +1 modifier to my dice roll, but limits me to one target per week. That works out perfectly.

Tom: What a slowpoke. I just attack willy-nilly. Early on, there are plenty of choice targets without having to worry overmuch about warships. The imperialist powers gradually fold more warships into the mix as time goes on and as your notoriety rises. But until then, I see no need for skulking about. On week six, I have a run-in with a shark that leads to Ned Land escaping, but he saves us from the shark in the process. Which is fine by me, because prancing singing mugging Kirk Douglas has forever ruined my mental image of Ned Land.

Bruce: By the tenth week Ive managed to run into a giant squid which I barely defeated but which yielded two Treasures, and also got lost at sea and thus lost two weeks (an event which pushed the turn marker ahead without my being able to do anything). But Ive also captured three ships, sunk two, and am now positioned in the Eastern Pacific, looking to get a fourth prize vessel.

Which I do — a mail ship with a defense value of 7, probably carrying parcels to San Francisco. I relieve them of these. But now my Refit Box is full (can only have four ships in it at a time), and it consumes a full weeks action to refit (plus 1d3 additional weeks), so I have to wait until next turn at least before I can buy my upgrade. In the meantime, I clear the Eastern Pacific of a cargo ship and a frigate.

Tom: When I was a kid, my mother wouldn’t let me watch the 20,000 Leagues under the Sea movie because of the giant squid scene. She was afraid I was going to be traumatized by the sight of a giant squid ripping men apart. That’s what she imagined happening in that scene. Which I suppose is accurate historically, but you’re never going to see that in a Disney movie broadcast Sunday night on ABC’s Wide World of Disney. So I got dragged out to see The Sting. True story. To this day, I can’t stand The Sting because I remember sitting there in the theater wishing I was home watching a giant squid ripping men apart. Two years later, my mother would take me to see Jaws. “Remember, sweetie,” she reminded me beforehand, “It’s just a trained shark.” Not only was she wrong, but it didn’t help. I spent most of Jaws with my eyes shut tight, hearing horrible sounds and asking my mother what was happening.

So, where was I? Oh, right, Nemo’s War. I’m lousy with treasures from a couple of events, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. You might say I’m rich.

Bruce: A weird occurrence on week 11. The event Public Opinion comes up, which instructs me to place one ship in every ocean, even if it means exceeding an oceans ship limit. But there are only four ships left in the Available Ships Box. Should I place them in oceans randomly? Or should I try to fill the oceans that still have room? The rules are as silent as Nemos countenance. Since there are exactly four ships, and four oceans that arent full, I decide to fill up those oceans preferentially because that puts me in danger of losing the game by Imperial Victory, which happens when the oceans are all full of ships at the end of a turn. I figure that in a solitaire game, when in doubt you should always make it harder on yourself.

Tom: I just want to note that Bruce has gone outside the scope of the rules. If he wins, this game should get an asterisk.

Bruce: Now that the oceans are almost full, I need to clear them, and I stalk a ship here in the Eastern Pacific which turns out to be an ironclad. Ouch. But it misses me, and I sink it.

On week 12, Im in an interesting position because there are no more ships in the Available Ships Box. The worlds shipyards are exhausted! Normally, I would use this turn to refit. But those ships in my Salvage Box would go back into the Available Ships, and be placed back on the board. Instead, Ill hold onto them and give myself a respite to search the seas for treasure.

Tom: Okay, now if Bruce wins, the game should get two asterisks.

Bruce: I hung onto my captured ships for a while, eventually using one of them for an upgrade called Seek Adventure. This is a renewable one in which you get to trade a salvaged ship for a draw from the event deck, except you get to choose whether you use the card or not. Because Ive started with the Explore motivation, I get double victory points for certain event cards, and this upgrade lets me cycle through the deck searching for them. Instead, I come up with The Coral Realm, which I can use to replenish my crew, except that I am already at max crew. Later on I run into an event called A Mass Execution, in which I have to increase my Notoriety by the roll of one die. I roll a six, which is the worst possible result.

Notoriety is another mechanism which drives the game forward, as each time you attack a ship, you move up the Notoriety track, triggering things like additional reinforcements or bonuses to attacks against you. The worlds governments eventually get wise to your marauding ways.

Tom: Notoriety is the 19th Century equivalent of the United Nations.

Bruce: Ive found a problem with my seek adventure strategy: its going to cost me 1d3 weeks every time I cycle through a card. Plus, that is going to get me to the end of the game faster, because near the end of the deck is a game-ending card called The Maelstrom. I know because I put it there. There are only 20 event cards in the deck, anyway. So wasting an average of two weeks per extra event card doesnt sound like a great tradeoff.

Another problem with my Arcane Library plan: I didnt count how many Treasures there are and what their average value is. Because my expected value is only two-thirds of the average value of a Treasure, since on a roll of 1 or 2 I dont find anything, unless the average value of a Treasure is 3 (not likely), Im probably better off sinking ships for now and clearing the existing Treasures first, and for that Im better off with a Strengthened Prow, which gives me +1 to every attack roll. Plus, I dont know how many Wonders there are relative to Treasures, which throws off my expected calculations even more.

You just bought all that, didnt you? You think Im sitting around calculating how many Treasures there are, and what my odds of getting 3 VP by the route are versus sinking an ironclad. Ok, I admit it did cross my mind. But Nemos War shouldnt be an optimization exercise, since (a) the game is about reacting to the swings of fortune, and (b) you cant optimize rolling snake eyes. I may be analytical to a fault, but I still really enjoy a good romp through a compelling game setting, and despite the jokes weve made about the writing, Vernes book has the essence of a good story. That essence is the scaffold that you use to make your own narrative, and it works. I have absolutely no problem telling you that I get a kick out of moving to the North Atlantic, taking a hull hit from a frigate, and then stumbling upon The Underwater Coalfield which only works in the North or South Atlantic, and being able to use it to gain 2 hull points … but having the Explore motivation and having to decide whether using it for 2 hull was worth giving up 9 VP (4 VP for the doubled Adventure category, and 5 VP because its a Science card). The short answer is no, it wasnt. But that there is the perfect combination of exposition and agency, and if you like games, you know exactly what Im talking about.

And I want a Strengthened Prow because at heart, I just want to sink some more ships.

Tom: On week 26, I discover treasure in the Indian Ocean. It’s a “gain 4 notoriety” treasure. Worst treasure ever. Then, on week 27, I draw the Attack of the Giant Squid event. Take that, Mom! I risk the crew and the hull for a bonus to pass the event, but roll a miserable little three on 2d6. I don’t want to take the crew and hull hit, and I don’t want to miss out on the squid’s treasure, so I spend the special treasure I found in the Mediterranean at the start of the game to reroll. I handily pass the reroll and score two treasures, one of which is a special event telling me to draw two more treasures. This was a squid with deep pockets. Did I mention that I’m rich? Because I sure am.

Up next: 52 Weeks Later