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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Tuesday 22 December 2020

Panning for... Silver?:- Nevada City

Game: Nevada City

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Designer:  Alan D. Ernstein

Year: 2020

Nevada City is a 2-4 player worker placement game in which you'll use the four members of your family to mine silver, farm cattle and earn money in order to buy materials and land rights needed to build the various buildings in town. Not only do buildings earn you points, but can be part of your income too, they each have new worker placement spots and when other players use them they'll be paying you for the privilege! If you find you don't have enough workers in a round you can always hire some workers, if you like them you can even marry them into the family to use them in future rounds. Different members of your family (and workers) come with different skill sets, though often he more skilled a worker is the less actions they have.

Each round of Nevada City represents a year of time. At the start of a year a number of events are laid out, new workers become available and new building plans become ready to acquire. After revealing the first event card the first player will choose one family member/worker to act who will have anywhere between one and three action tokens on them. Each action token lets you perform one action, this might be adding resources to a farm tile your your personal board, completing contracts for points by spending the resources required or acquiring building rights by visiting the town hall. Many characters have skills, such as mining, which let them perform certain actions more efficiently, or provide resources for free when they build a building. One your chosen character has used their last action point it becomes the next player's turn. After all players have used their first character the next event will be revealed and players begin using their second character.

This will continue until all players have run out of characters with action tokens on them. At which point a new year begins with all characters regaining their action tokens and a chance to spend some resources to marry hired workers into the family. A new year brings new buildings which are typically better than the starting ones and a chance to the games' production/demand rates which determine the efficiency of farming/mining goods and their relative value when sold. The game will continue for four years (five in a two player game) at which point players will take their in game score and add points for how well they did on the end-game categories that were selected at the start of the game..

Hiring a new worker will give you precious new action tokens. If you like him, why not marry him to your daughter, no need to ask her!
Nevada city has some really interesting mechanics in it, the balance in worker skill with the number of action points they have is a great concept, making some characters effective workers, while others might make great 'errand boys' taking all the goods to market and then using the profits to buy building materials. Worker placement with ownership of buildings can work well to create a circular economy, though in the two player variant the bank builds half the buildings which means you can usually avoid paying anyone but the bank if you try. Symbology is well used in the game to make everything clear, though the overall art style is a little drab for my tastes, it turns out the wild west was mostly dirt roads and wooden shacks I guess. This may be more a side effect of an English woman not having the same draw to the Wild West as Americans might have. The game does have some great nods to the theme especially in the advanced mode which introduces gunfights and gambling to the game.

But these advanced variants really just play into the problem I have with this game, which is the randomness. Gambling and shootouts both involved drawing of "poker" cards from a deck, so while you can slightly stack they odds they are largely about luck. The event cards are horrendously random, giving huge advantages to players who waited that extra turn to do an action. Conversely they can be incredibly penalizing, which character's actions being stolen away to put out a fire, not too bad if you left your three action unskilled worker till last, but if you saved your best till last then you may regret it. Never allow yourself to be low on money either as the game can throw random taxes at you, and if you can't play it you have to immediately send action tokens to the bank to borrow cash. Best pay it back that turn too or those tokens will stay locked there! All of this culminates in a worker placement game where you can't plan ahead very well. Which is intensely frustrating when you are given a ton of mechanics which would reward doing that. I genuinely think that the game would be largely improved by removing the event cards fro the game.

As the town grows more and more action spots appear, just be prepared to pay the building owner for their services.

I do have a few other qualms about the game, firstly the rulebook wasn't the easiest read. Aside from standard issues there was a certain amount of vitriol rising in me when I read the rules about marriage. The fact that the banning of homosexuality was the one rule that needed to be written in bold and italics wasn't something I enjoyed reading. Not only does this rule add little to the game except "historical accuracy". In this day and age the rule really should have just said "there is a limit to 6 members of your family, after which you cannot marry any additional workers". The main issue I took with the game was how bland it felt. The idea of the multiple action workers was nice, but in practice it added so much time to the game. Imagine a worker placement game where you start with ~8 workers and can use one worker (and some money) to hire three more. It's possible to have a frankly ridiculous amount of actions in this game, and since each player uses one character at a time some rounds can be lightning fast while others drag on and on. Nevada City seems to have mastered a recipe for producing maximum amounts of AP and downtime.


Overall it's not fair to say that Nevada City is a bad game. It has some interesting ideas and does manage to deliver on them. It's a little random for my tastes, and while the theme is often present it somehow feels a bit dry. Mostly the problem is that for everything in it's favour the game has an equal and opposite flaw canceling out the praise that the game would otherwise be due. This creates a gaming experiences which is not unpleasant, but is entirely forgettable.


Nevada City was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk 

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