Ok, so I don’t review many solitaire games. There are a handful that I do enjoy, but for the most part, I like my games social. That said, and to completely spoil this review from the get-go, I think Nemo’s War is a truly excellent single player experience from end to hair-pullingly-difficult end.
Rob: Wow, yeah, I had no idea this one would be such a winner for you. I knew that I wanted it the moment I looked at it, but you’re usually so fussy about solo games. But I’m happy you like it, so let’s take a look at what this game has submerged beneath…
Now, in all fairness, Nemo’s War is not necessarily a solitaire game, despite the fact that it’s how we primarily have played it, and we’ll talk more about that in a bit. But for the moment, to describe the experience of gameplay, that’s the view we’re going to take. Just a heads-up.
Nemo’s War is, at first, an intimidatingly sweeping game. This second edition, successfully Kickstarted by Victory Point Games, is beautifully produced and sits huge on the table, just daring you to question the gravity of its design.
Andrew: When I first got it to the table, Nemo’s War looked (ugh) vast – I was immediately concerned that it would be overly complex, to the point of being difficult to engage. But while there are certainly lots of little rules and systems to keep track of, Nemo’s War’s physical design does a fantastic job of giving you nearly all the information you’ll need at a glance.
Broadly, Nemo’s War features a campaign that features the events of the literary classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You will encounter a different scene from the novel each turn, drawn from a randomly-constructed deck. Each of these event cards is unique, representing either a danger that the crew must face, a natural wonder to be navigated, warships for the Nautilus to sink, or treasure to be recovered.
Rob: Like you just said, these cards are all unique, and since you only use a randomized subset of those cards, there is plenty of variety for you to explore even though there is a finite number of event cards. And it’s really impossible to predict what’s coming, which makes the tension even higher.
Your mission in Nemo’s War is simple – survive to the end of the event deck before the crew, the ship, or the spirit of Nemo himself gives out. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to modify and upgrade the Nautilus, gather treasure, explore, and sink enemy ships. Now, how much any of these activities contribute to your final score depend on Nemo’s ‘motive’ – there are 4 potential scoring systems, one of which you’ll pick at the beginning of the game. This motivation rewards you more or less for certain activities (for example, the Science motivation earns more points for discoveries and treasures, while the Anti-Imperialism motive earns the most points by liberating islands and beating back warships).
Rob: For real. Nemo’s motive give you something to shoot for, as well as establishing certain game-end conditions, so they can guide your gameplay a bit – you might favor attacking ships or exploring extra events, etc. But yeah, sometimes it’s hard enough just to survive.
Nearly every challenge in Nemo’s War is resolved with a roll of the dice, and higher numbers always favor you. Whether you are sinking a ship or killing a shark with a knife, you will roll some dice, possibly add a modifier (or penalty), and hope you’ve beaten the target number. Nearly every challenge will let you ‘exert’ one or more of your 3 resources (Hull, Crew, and Nemo himself) to get a bonus. But these exertions are a gamble – you lose nothing should your attempt succeed, but if you fail, whatever resource you exerted will drop, leaving you with ever-dwindling hull integrity, crew cohesion, and sane leadership.
Nemo’s War draws a tremendous number of thematic beats from the legendary novel. The event cards are obviously inspired by specific scenes and lines, but even the way combat is resolved, with the otherwise-weaponless Nautilus ramming through the hull of various ships, fits into the narrative of the source material.
Andrew: That said, I absolutely love how you can, over the course of the game, potentially upgrade the Nautilus. By harvesting salvage from ships you sink, you can add all kinds of thematic improvements to the vessel, potentially turning it into a truly monstrous craft.
Notoriety is a value which tracks how the world sees Nemo’s actions – sinking ships and certain events will increase it, and the more seriously the world’s nations take you, the more devastating the resistance you will encounter. Too-high Notoriety will also end the game in a loss, depending on Nemo’s motivation for that session.
Once you have worked your way through the event deck, for better or worse, and if you haven’t lost due to one of the several game-ending conditions, you will tally up your score (as modified by Nemo’s motive), and you will bask in your glorious victory…or possibly lose in the epilogue, if your score isn’t high enough.
Nemo’s War is a deeper solitaire experience than most. While there are certainly several options per turn and there is almost always a feeling of being slightly behind where you need to be, the mechanics are accessible and engaging…as long as you’re on board for gambling with your resources and potentially shrieking in blind fury as your dice fail on what SHOULD BE an easy roll.
Andrew: For me, Nemo’s War hits a lot of the beats I enjoy about games like Pandemic – that sense of rising tension and ever-tightening board conditions. I love trying to stay ahead of the disaster, despite how easy it can be to fall way behind.
Rob: For me, it’s more like this big puzzle – each turn, after you resolve your events, you need to decide what you’re going to do with your limited actions, and, yeah, cringe in controlled horror every time you roll your dice. But in, like, a really fun way.
Rob: Totally. The board is huge for a solitaire game, but it’s fantastic because it delivers so many rules reminders and necessary information right on the board. After my first couple of plays, I didn’t even feel like I needed the instructions anymore – it’s all right there. Aside from the rules for constructing the event deck; I wish they had fit that in somewhere.
Andrew: Ugh, nit-pick. The art is great, too. Scenes from the novel are depicted intriguingly, the graphic layout of the board and the cards (not to mention the iconography) is intuitive, and I love this interpretation of the Nautilus.
As we said toward the beginning, Nemo’s War is not strictly a solitaire game, though we think it was clearly designed to be one. Included in this edition are rules for dividing roles and responsibilities between multiple players and moving the Captain role around the table, turning Nemo’s War into a cooperative (or semi-cooperative) game.
Andrew: That said, I’ve played Nemo’s War ‘faux-op’ a couple of times, with me and Jess simply making decisions together (rather than dividing who makes which decision formally), and I found it equally satisfying an experience as playing it alone.
With a game like Nemo’s War, you have to be ready for what you’re getting into. It’s a tough game, with lots of dice rolling, small victories, and bitter losses. You’ll have to make decisions every turn, and on some turns it may feel like there are no good decisions to be had. On the other hand, those small victories can really start to add up, and Nemo’s War never feels unfair (besides that general feeling of unfairness native to nearly all ‘you against the board’ games, where there are simply too many threats and not enough resources).
Rob: Absolutely. Nemo’s War is up there with my favorite solitaire games. Sure, it takes longer and needs more real estate than something like Samurai Spirit or Onirim, but the experience it provides is satisfying and engaging.
For players interested in its particular type of gameplay and challenge, Nemo’s War is an excellent title. This second edition printing is beautifully produced and well designed, making for a truly enjoyable adventure. We highly recommend checking it out!
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(Gameosity received a review copy of Nemo’s War. We were not otherwise compensated.)