It still amazes me how many games are set in the 1500s. When I was first getting back into gaming I never would have thought that it would have been such an inspiring genre for designers. Sure, I could understand the appeal of flying through the inky void or building civilisations over the space of centuries, but boats and trading in the Med? I didn’t have a clue. While some folks don’t get on with such themes, I honestly don’t mind – a good game is a good game, after all. Hell, I’d even say I quite enjoy such games; Merchants and Marauders and Serenissima are fun to play.
And now another release, albeit a relatively simpler affair, joins the list: Mundus Novus. A brand new release from Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget, it’s a game primarily focused on point scoring through set collecting with a couple of twists. While it could have easily been quite a flat affair it actually ends up being pretty entertaining, especially with the right group.
Between two and six players take on the roles of merchant captains, ready to plunder the treasures and resources of the New World, hence Mundus Novus, see? Everything revolves around two decks of cards – resources and developments – that the players must collect in order to either bolster their abilities or grab as many points as possible. The trick comes in deciding when to take which course of action to take when offered to you – bolster your abilities through the development deck or go for a points grab? Make the wrong call at the wrong time and you could well be out of the running…
The game plays relatively simply, though I must admit I initially had a few issues with the rules. It wasn’t until after a few readthroughs and a couple of plays that I truly felt that I understood the process but now I get it, I’ve enjoyed it more and more with each play. More on that later, but first… how does it work?
Five Development cards are dealt out, each of which potentially offers you a way of improving your lot in the game. From getting money (Mundus Novus’ VP) to tinkering with the rules, they’re very valuable indeed. Probably the most important ones are the Caravels (posh word for ships) and the Warehouses – the former giving you more Resource cards, the latter allowing you to keep some from round to round. Actual captains from history are also represented, each of whom have a game changing ability.
The Resource cards act as the game’s currency, with each player getting five at the start of each round. Split into ten types of various rarity levels – common, uncommon and rare – you’ll need to trade with other players in order to make either sets of the same numbers or straights of a minimum of four cards. The straights are… well, straightforward; the longer your run, the more points you’ll be able to claim. One way of declaring victory is to be the first to 75 points, so making straights is a perfectly viable way to win. Managing to put together a straight of ten cards – 1 to 9 plus a gold – and you win the game automatically.
Making sets and handing them in is a little trickier to get your head around, but necessary to get your hands on those all important Developments. A set of three common cards will only allow you to take the first in the line, four lets you pick from the first three, while five of a kind gives you a free selection. Go up a level to the uncommons and rares and you get to play fewer cards to take what you like – a set of three 9s, for example, allows you to take whatever you please. Another resource, the Incan Gold, act as a wild cards, opening up your options yet further.
Of course, just having the cards that are dealt to you won’t be much use most of the time, so that’s where trading comes in. A player is declared as Trade Master (dependent on who has the lowest total value of caravels) and it’s down to them to decide how many cards from their hand will be traded – either 2,3 or 4. A further three cards are turned face up to represent a Market (cards that are available to all) and the trades begin. After that, the players’ chosen sets and straights are revealed, cards and points are doled out and the whole process starts again.
A couple of other things to consider: some Development cards have a symbol that, should it be first in the line, has an effect on that round. Perhaps Warehouses can’t be used or straights and sets are relatively valueless – so getting rid of those cards is important. Thankfully all Developments are valuable in some way, but leaving those effects in action for even a couple of rounds can really screw players over… you just have to make sure that you’re not on the receiving end.
Early plays will invariably be a little slow – there’s a lot of follow, after all – but once players get to grips with the various stages, Mundus Novus reveals itself to be a rather enjoyable little game. I can’t help but feel it’ll get left on the shelves of a fair few game stores thanks to its theme but to do so would be to miss out on a deeper experience than you might expect. With so many different areas to keep track of it’s surprisingly complex but never over complicated, and the different paths to victory keep players on their toes.
It’s not going to change the world, but Mundus Novus is an elegant design that deserves attention. Cathala and Laget both have a wide range of excellent games under their belts – they should both be very happy with the end result of this collaboration. If it hits your table, you will be too.
Mundus Novus was released by Asmodee in 2011 and is designed by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget. Between two and six players can play (though I feel it works best with three or four) and games take about an hour. You’ll be able to pick up a copy for around £15-18 – worth its weight in gold!