Newton Review: Have Books, Will Travel

Simone Luciani took cover under the shade of an apple tree to ponder life, the universe, and game design. While deep in thought, an apple fell from a branch of the tree onto Luciani’s head. “Eureka,” he exclaimed! And at that moment, Newton, published by Cranio Creation and CMON was born.

A game of Newton in progress (solitaire game)

Newton is a medium weight, competitive eurogame designed by Nestore Mangone and Simone Luciani, one of our favorite Italian board game designers. It plays 1-4 players in about 90 minutes.

In Newton, you play the role of a young scientist seeking to follow in the footsteps of Isaac Newton and the other great minds of Europe during the scientific revolution of the 17th and early-18th century.

How to Play Newton

A game of Newton is played over the course of 6 rounds. At the end of the 6th round, the player with the most points is declared the victor.

During each round, players will take turns placing an Action card on their desk (part of their player board) and take the corresponding action.

Animation demonstrating how action cards are played

There are 5 open spots for cards on your desk, so a round lasts for a total of 5 turns in which 5 actions are performed.

At the end of the round, one of the Action cards is retained and permanently added to your tableau by placing it underneath your player board. This enhances your actions in subsequent rounds and acts as a timer for the game.

Animation demonstrating how action cards are tucked under your player board at the end of a round

So, what are the actions you can take?

There are 5 basic actions. Each player begins with one card of each type of action plus one joker card, which can be used as a wild action.

The starting action cards for each player

Lessons Action

The Lessons action, represented by the mortarboard (graduation cap), allows you to purchase additional Action cards from the market.

The Lesson Action card

There are three tiers of cards available for purchase at the market in a multiplayer game, and the accessibility of the different tiers depends on how powerful of a Lesson action you are taking on your turn.

The three tiers of Lesson cards purchasable from the market

Explanation: Powering Up Your Actions

There are several ways you “power-up” your actions. The first way, is by playing multiple action cards of the same type in a round.

For instance, on my first turn I play a Lesson Action card. I may purchase a new Lesson card, only from the pile that has a single mortarboard on its back.

On my second turn, I play another Lesson Action card. I’m now able to purchase from the pile of action cards with two mortarboards depicted on its back. The mortarboard symbols work together and I’m able to take a more powerful action.

An action may also be powered-up when after completing a round you retaining a card of that symbol and tuck it under your board, or by earning a Development tile of the same type.

In other words, the power of your action is dependent on how many symbols of a certain type are displayed on your player board when you take that action.

Work Action

There are three main tracks to progress upon along the two main boards.

The first of the three tracks is the Work track, located at top of one of the two central boards.

The work track at the top of one of the main boards

In order to progress on the Work track, you must play a Work Action card, the one with right angle / ruler symbol depicted on it.

The Work Action card

For every ruler symbol on your player board, you are able to move one space on the Work track. Along the way, you will be collecting money, the primary benefit of this track.

There is also a Specialization Tile, Invention Tile, and Master Space along this track. At the very end, there is an Objective Tile (all to be explained later).

In order to reap the benefits of these special spots, you must end your turn on them. At times, this will force you to forfeit extra movement you were permitted to take in order to obtain the reward.

Technology Action

Sitting just below the Work track is the Technology track.

You begin the game with a single student worker at the start of the track path.

Starter student workers on the Technology track

Movement is undertaken much like it is on the Work track—by playing a Technology Action card. These cards are denoted by the cog symbol. Each cog on your board permits a single movement on the track.

Technology Action Card

The Technology track itself is a series of diverging paths. A single student may only travel down one of these paths, and may not go backwards at any point. Choose wisely.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both”

—Robert Frost, definitely talking about the Technology track in Newton

Along these paths, you will be taking several circular bonus tokens, which give you benefits such as earning money, potion tokens, and victory points.

Top view of the Technology track

There is also an Invention tile on the path with the final destination being an Objective tile. There is Master Space along the right most path, should you choose to go down it.

Unlike the Work track, these paths are very short, taking approximately 6-8 actions to make it to the end of a path.

You are also able to unlock additional student workers to move along alternative paths by paying 5 money. These workers start at the beginning of the paths.

Travel Action

The Travel track behaves much like the others, but with more directional decisions in a given turn.

Travel Action Card

These actions are taken by playing Travel Action cards, denoted with a compass symbol.

You are able to make one movement per compass symbol, assuming you are able to pay the cost along your chosen route, picking up any circular bonus token along the way.

The Travel track board

There are several places you may stop on the Travel Map.

Like the other tracks, there is a single Master Space. It’s located toward the bottom of the map. There is also single Objective Tile at the top right of the map.

Unique to the map are the City, University, and Ancient Land locations. When you finish your turn on these locations, remove a travel cube from your player board and place it on that spot.

Animation of placing  a travel cube on an ancient land

The City tiles earn you instant benefits, whereas the Ancient Land and Universities enable you to earn points with the Study action.

Path of travel vibes on ancient lands and university tiles

Study Action

Now that you understand how Study cubes work in regards to the map (see above), let’s discuss the Study Action.

In order to take this action, play a Study Action card. Intuitively, these are the cards with the book symbol on the lower half (not to be confused with cards with books on the top portion of the card).

Depending on the power of your Study Action, you will be able to take Bookshelf tiles from the bottom-left portion of your player board and assign them to a spot at the top of your board.

There are three rows where you can place these tiles. The top-most requires a single Study Action symbol on your Desk. The next two rows require a more powerful action, either two or three Study Action symbols.

In addition to needing to play a powerful enough Study Action, there are additional requirements depending on which square you’d like to cover.

Some of the symbols that you can cover with a Bookshelf tile, correspond to specific Universities or Ancient Land locations on the Travel map. You must have placed one of your Travel cubes on that particular location before you may activate it on your Bookshelf.

The other squares on your Bookshelf, have different books on them, in various quantities and colors. You may have noticed some of these symbols on the top portion of the Action Cards you’ve been playing. In order to place a Bookshelf tile on a square with books, you must have the correct books on your Desk, among your tableau at the time of your Study action.

You earn points when you complete rows or columns on your Bookshelf. You’ll see the point values denoted with the star symbol.

The Study action is a very powerful means of scoring victory points. At the end of each round, you earn points for the rows and columns you’ve completed, with these earning compounding each round.

Special Tiles and Spaces

Now that I’ve covered the most important concepts, I want to just briefly cover several of the tiles I’ve previously mentioned that you’ll encounter on the various tracks.

Specialization Tiles

These larger square tiles will either earn you some form of income (money, potion tokens, victory points) or will earn you a development tile to power up your actions.

Invention Tiles

Invention Tiles can earn you a variety of things if you finish your turn on them (they’re primarily on the Technology track and there’s one on the Work track).

Sometimes it will earn you multiple items, like 5 money and a new student worker or 6 victory points and a potion token.

Other times, earnings are conditional and dependent on another factor. For example, “Receive 2 VPs and perform a Technology Basic Action of value 1 for each Ancient Land you have visited”.

Objective Tiles

The Objective tiles sit at the end of the Work track and at the end of each path of the Technology track.

They’re worth victory points at the end of the game, often variable and based on different conditions. For instance, “Receive 4 VPs for each of your Students which reached the end of a path of the Technology track during the game”.

Example Objectetive Tile and Book Requirements

In order to reach these tiles, you must satisfy the book requirements printed in front of them, much like you must satisfy the requirements to place book tiles on your player board.

Master Spaces and Master Cards

There is one Master Space on each track on the communal main boards. These spaces are what enable you to activate your Master Cards. It is also possible to trigger a Master Card when you’ve placed the 9th bookshelf tile on your player board.

Example Master Space

At the beginning of the game, the players draft 4 of these cards. They each give some benefit, either gaining you instant resources, or giving you an ongoing power. Most also earn you end-game victory points.

Example Master Cards

Review & Critique

The theme, although appealing (at least to me), is weak and seemingly pasted-on. That being said, I’m personally of the opinion that although a strong and well-integrated theme can certainly elevate a game, the lack of one, will rarely detract from my enjoyment of a game. In eurogames, mechanics are king and Newton is regal enough. We can’t all design games like Vital Lacerda after all.

There are essences of Luciani’s other games in Newton. The point-to-point movement, the engine building of your card-based tableau, and the Master cards all have a touch of something from Lorenzo Il Magnifico and The Voyages of Marco Polo. Yet, this game doesn’t simply feel like a mash-up of the two when you actually sit down to play it.

The card driven systems of playing actions is refreshing and rich with decisions. Do I travel on the map for the future ability to place a tile on my bookshelf or forfeit my ability to claim a new card? Although playing this card now might result in a monster turn, it forces me to remove a card from the game at the end of the round that I really wanted to keep. If I don’t do this move now, I risk my opponent taking the circular bonus tile I’ll need very soon. Playing five cards is simple and juicy.

Some people criticize the game as being multiplayer solitaire. This is true for the most part, but Newton also isn’t entirely devoid of player interaction, and I actually prefer to play it at the maximum player count. That being said, there’s a puzzle to be experienced in Newton, and it can work with or without other players. It’s multiplayer solitaire nature is actually one of the advantages to the game in my opinion. It enables a rather satisfying solo gaming experience if so desired.

Like other solo modes, Newton’s is of the variety where you obtain a certain score. If you score between 0 and 40, you’re illiterate. If you score 120+ you’re a science legend. It works well, and although I like playing it solo (an experience I’m coming to terms with as a new father), there are other solo mode varieties I prefer. A simple system of replicating other players with an AI, such as the use of an automa deck, is usually more satisfying as long as the overhead is minimal.

Another criticism you might stumble upon if you’re reading the BGG forums, is the possible overpowered nature of a book strategy (Study Action). And although I think laying books is very powerful due to their compounding nature, I think it’s been a bit overstated online. I’ve certainly played games where other strategies have prevailed. I think this may be the case of less-skilled players seeing the most overt strategy perform well.

The box art of Newton stands out on my shelf. The all-red box with faux-gold adornments and green Apple on the front is beautiful in its simplicity.

You’re the apple of my eye, Sir Isaac Newton.

Newton box cover

Inside the box is your typical lackluster, eurogame-beige. Despite not having the Ian O’Toole art that all the games I back on Kickstarter seem to have, the design is functional and clear in its expression. I found the iconography to be straightforward, hardly ever needing to reference the rulebook.

Where production does fall flat a bit is in its component quality. The game being published by CMON, I instantly compare it to Lorenzo Il Magnifico. Lorenzo has extra chunky cardboard, a nice finish, and clear inking. I found the Newton boards to be a little thinner than I’d like. This might be a result of my side by side comparison, as they aren’t as thin as the Great Western Trail or Terraforming Mars player boards. You’ve elevated my standards CMON! Keep adding miniatures to everything why don’t you! The finish on the board feels a bit powdery, almost newspaper like and the ink is a bit muted. It doesn’t rub off, but I don’t enjoy the feel.

Conclusion

I may be in the minority, but I like Newton better than one of the designer’s other more celebrated games, Lorenzo Il Magnifico. It’s a solid game and I recommend it to anyone who appreciates eurogames, or wants a good optimization puzzle to solo. I look forward to upcoming expansion set to released at the 2019 Internationale Spieltage SPIEL in Essen

Overall Rating

4.5/5

Purchase Newton on Amazon

Categories Board Game Reviews

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