Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday 16 June 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Newspeak

Game: Newspeak

Publisher: Inside the Box Games

Designer:  Anthony Howgego, Fiona Jackson, Rose Atkinson, Mark Stockton-Pitt

Year: 2019

Newspeak is the language of Oceania, a fictional totalitarian state and the setting of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. In the book, Newspeak is a language with restricted grammar and limited vocabulary - a communication style which the board game tries to replicate. Given a very limited vocabulary, you'll find that some will embellish whilst others will be stunted in their communication. Can you successfully communicate with your side without your location information being intercepted?


At the start of a game of Newspeak you will split into 2 teams, a team of rebels and a team of moderators. Each team needs to win 3 locations in order to win the game. A 3x3 grid of locations is laid out in the center of the board in their moderated form. The rebels are then given a set of code sheets each. The rebel leader chooses a code sheet to use and then the rebels have 2 minutes to converse with each other about which area to hack. Of course a regular conversation would be monitored too easily so the code sheets are used to translate code words into real words in order to try and secretly communicate a location. At the end of the 2 minutes all the rebels must dial in a location to attack.

The moderators then have 1 minute to discuss among themselves about where they think the rebels are attacking. While they don't know which of the code sheets the rebels are using, they do have access to a full list of all the code sheets and can try to deduce which code sheet the rebels used and thereby what words they were secretly communicating and where they will attack. They can defend 1 place against hacking each round and must choose this location at the end of their minute.

At the end of a round if the rebels were caught, or if they failed to gather at least half their team in one location then the rebels failed. The location that was defended is removed from the game. However, if they managed to get over half their team to the same location and it wasn't defended then the rebels win and get to flip the location over, leaving it in play in it's new hacked form.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Newspeak does a wonderful job of conveying theme through artwork. The oppressive government is "enhancing" what people see using augmented reality. This is shown when you successfully hack a place and suddenly all the wonderful food turns out to be empty shelves and 1 can of soup. It's all very "They Live" which is wonderful theme to draw upon. There is also a fair argument on both sides, people should see the truth vs the truth is bad for them and they are happy now. It's always helpful to be able to convince yourself you are the good guys, even when you probably aren't!

The gameplay makes for a solid party game, but does rely on people being willing to be a bit more social than many such games. Having a forced conversation as the rebels has made a few people feel uncomfortable in my experience which in turn is detrimental to the performance of the game. You then run the risk of people just barking out codewords instead of trying to weave them into sentences which makes it too easy for the moderators. Of course you have to draw the line somewhere, if you are too obvious then the moderators capture you, too obscure and your fellow rebels won't be on the same page. There is certainly an art to being the right level of obscure.

Newspeak brings a unique twist to the game with the moderators having two jobs to work out, firstly which codes did the rebels use, and secondly what were they trying to say anyway. Given that the game expects the rebels to fail occasionally even knowing the correct code list, being the moderators is no easy task. Fortunately then the game has a 'catch up mechanic' after winner an area the rebels can only move up or down 1 code book (the books are numbered for this reason) to help the moderators catch them. However when the mods win the rebels can choose any they like, giving them an edge on hiding again. Overall Newspeak brings a wonderful theme and some solid gameplay to the party game genre. Though beware that it can be a bit too 'social' for some players as there is essentially some light roleplaying for the rebels.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Newspeak is a very clever deduction game. For the moderators trying to link the words you are weaving into your description and then cross-checking it with the locations on the board to see what's viable, it can be really tough. The catch-up mechanism of only being able to shift gears by one code number is helpful, but only if the reveal has allowed you to identify the code being used in the previous round. It's certainly a challenging game, and so, even though it benefits from a slightly larger group, it's probably not one for a party.

The game can be very stressful, especially for introverted players. As the rebels, you're only given two minutes to think on your feet. With such random words that you need to use, it can be hard to think of anything coherent and clever to say and all you manage to say in the end is 'beagle, beagle, priest' which might be helpful, but isn't really in the spirit of the game. When you do come up with a clever story and you're on the same wavelength with your team, it's magical, but often rather obvious to the moderators. Striking the right balance between good for your team - who know how the vocabulary corresponds, and bad for the moderators can be very, very challenging under pressure. Saying enough, but not too much is a hard skill to master.

I really like how Newspeak works with a group of creative people. It's been fun for me to play on either side, because although I'm not a big fan of improvisation and being outgoing, I do like trying to puzzle together something really clever to say or making a smart deduction. It perhaps has a limited audience, but I'm hopeful we'll gather the right crowd who can really enjoy it.

You Might Like...
  • Newspeak is a very cool and cleverly designed game of deduction.
  • The theme is very well conveyed through both artwork and mechanics.
You Might Not Like...
  • If your group is introverted or can't think on their feet, then you might struggle as the rebels.
  • Your language is quite limited and the time limit really makes it hard to try and think outside the box.

The Verdict
7/10 Newspeak is a great addition to the social party game category. With some similarities to Codenames or Dixit, it's easy to get people around the table and wanting to play. However, you'll need an extroverted group with some improvisation ability to really make the game shine.

Newspeak was a pre-release review copy kindly provided to us by Inside the Box Games.

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