It’s hard to believe that it has been over 100 years since famed French author Jules Verne wrote the sci-fi novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This book is widely acclaimed as being one of the premier adventure novels and arguably one of Verne’s greatest works. It follows the adventure of Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus.
Fast-forwarding to 2017 we saw the release of Nemo’s War: Second Edition from Victory Point Games. This solo game drops one player in charge of the crew of the Nautilus as it embarks on one of four different goals. Are you ready for an adventure?
The first choice in Nemo’s War is what kind of adventure do you want to go on. Captain Nemo can have one of four different motivations that will shape your strategy for the game: Science, Exploration, anti-Imperialism, or War.
Each round starts with you drawing an adventure card. This may require you to make a test to achieve the pass condition. Tests involve rolling two six-sided dice and hoping to hit a certain number. Usually, you can risk one or more of your subs three resources: Nemo, Crew, or Hull. Pass the test and you may get a reward. Fail the test and you’ll not only activate any fail condition, but also lose the resource(s) you risked.
Once you’ve finished resolving the adventure card, dice are rolled to see how many actions you have this round and what new ships are added to the oceans. Then you can take any actions you like. For one action point you can move, search for treasure, incite a revolution, or attack ships. Two actions can be spent drawing another adventure card, repairing hull, resting your crew, or upgrading your sub.
As the game progresses, you’ll also need to manage your notoriety. This comes from adventure cards, sinking ships, or crappy dice rolls. As your notoriety increases, the world begins to take notice of you and more powerful warships are added to the pool. Become too notorious and you lose the game.
Your ultimate goal is to survive until the finale card is drawn. If you manage to last that long, you total up your final score based on the various things you did during the game: Treasure collected, ships sunk, test passed, and others all contribute to your final score, which will have a modifier based on the motivation you chose at the start of the game. Score high enough and you’ll get the best ending.
If you read my recently released Top 10 Solo Games list you note that I don’t usually play very many solo games. But due to the Covid19 pandemic canceling all game nights—if you are reading this on a future date please let there not be a question as to which pandemic—solo games have worked admirably to fill the void. While there are variant rules in the back of the rulebook to bring other players into Nemo’s War, I’d only recommend this as a strictly solo game.
Yet in that role, it’s pretty exceptional. Nemo’s War is a thematic adventure game with bucketloads of replay value. From the onset of the game you’ll need to choose your motivation. Are you an explorer wanting to have as many adventures as possible? Maybe you are a warmonger who wants to sink ships left and right with your steam torpedoes. This choice not only drives your decisions of the game but alters the final score. A war focused Nemo will gain points for ships sunk, while an exploration Nemo might lose points for that. This alone gives Nemo’s War a lot of replay value.
One thing I found interesting about the game was how it handled the multitude of dice rolls. Make no mistake, you’ll be chucking a lot of six-sided dice in Nemo’s War. Yet the game doesn’t feel like a random dice chucker or a slave to the rolls. Instead, the dice feel like a way the designer was able to add a good amount of tension to the game. Between gambling your ship’s resources, to reaping the rewards of a passed test, throws of the dice can have you holding your breath in anticipation. Despite the frequency of them, every roll in Nemo’s War feels like it matters. The game also gives you a lot of ways to mitigate the luck of the rolls, be it crew members, ship resources, or upgrades to the Nautilus.
As much as I’m enjoying Nemo’s War, there are a couple of minor stumbling blocks for the game I found. First, the rulebook seemed to take a page out of Batman: Gotham City Chronicles (and not in a good way) by being overly thorough. It tried way too hard to describe every game term in the most technical way that it almost makes it a barrier to learning. I found my eyes glossing over as I read bolded teams with numerical citations and eventually hopped online to find a video. Which is too bad because the game is actually fairly simple and flows really well. However, once I understood the basics of the gameplay, the rulebook was great as a reference tool.
The other area that got really fiddly was the final scoring. There are about 10 different things that contribute to your final score and the game has you calculate them using a small track and pile of tokens. This was far from ideal and I think a pad of paper probably would have worked better. In an ideal world Victory Point Games would just create a scoring app to do the heavy lifting for the player.
Finally, the game’s lush production values and the stories on the cards also go a long way to making Nemo’s War an incredibly thematic game. The game board is decked out in period-appropriate artwork and design by BGQ favorite Ian O’Toole. I give high marks to Victory Point Games to bringing the theme home on this one.
I think even when life gets back to normal and we can fire up game nights here at BGQ HQ, I’ll still be busting out Nemo’s War when I have some time by myself. I’ve gravitated back to this one quite a few times lately and have already started to seek out the mini-expansions from the original Kickstarter. Once you wrap your head around how to play, Nemo’s War is a rewarding, thematic game that will have you trying to secure the best ending for each of Nemo’s motivations. Other than a rulebook that maybe could have been laid out differently and the fiddly final scoring, I have nothing but good things to say about this solo title. If you have even a passing interest in tabletop gaming by yourself, then you should own a copy of Nemo’s War.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – An engaging romp through the world created by Jules Verne that offers a good amount of replay value.
• Final scoring is a bit fiddly
• Rulebook can be intimidating for new players