At the Christmas party I went to this past weekend, I finally managed to play New England, the new game by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum that won Games magazines Game of the Year for 2004.
I played three three-player games and each of us playing won one of the games. The rules and the mechanics are simple and easy to understand, so by the third or fourth round of the first game, all of us playing had a good understanding of what to do.
Each player in the game represents a family who has settled in New England with the pilgrims. The object of the game is to earn the most victory points by developing his or her family's farms. In each round of the game, a number of land tiles and development cards are up for bid. The land tiles let you expand your family's farmland, while the development cards let you develop land or acquire pilgrims (which earn you more money), barns (which let you store development cards for later use), and ships (which let you have more options when buying cards).
In the bidding right, there are ten tiles, numbered between one and ten. Each player takes one of the bidding tiles which determines both the order players get to buy land tiles and development cards and the price they pay for the tiles and cards they buy. So, a player who takes the "10" bidding tile is guaranteed to get first choice when making purchases, but will pay 10 shillings for everything they buy. A player who takes the "1" bidding tile is guaranteed to get last choice when making purchases, but will pay only 1 shilling for everything they buy. Since each player only gets 4 shillings of income each round (unless they have pilgrims), a lack money can become an issue if you start taking larger bidding tiles to get the land tiles or development cards you really want.
Each player can only purchase up to a total of two development cards and land tiles each round and a player can only buy a land tile or a development card that can be used right away (unless you have a barn). Land tiles and development cards that are not purchased during a round are discarded from the game. This makes the game interesting since you need to build up your farm so when the development card you need to earn a lot of points is up for bid, you can make use of it. In the three games we played, the barns, which let you store development cards for later use, did not get used very much. I think as I play more games and get a better sense of strategy, barns will become more important.
With a three player game, the board was crowded, but not so crowded that we had a hard time placing new land times. I expect that this will be much more vicious four player game because the board will be more crowded and getting the land tiles or development cards you want will be much more difficult.
New England is a very enjoyable game. It took us about one hour to play each game and there was not a lot of downtime during the game, it felt like I was doing something most of the game and not sitting around waiting for other players to take their turns. I'm looking forward to playing this game again and hope to see what the game is like with four players.