Again it goes down into the unknown. Actually, we should be done for today. The underwater rover doesn’t have that many reserves anymore either. It still has enough to return without any problems. But every further minute down here the comfortable bolster is quickly fading. But what the remote-controlled drone has discovered is breathtaking. Actually, it’s routine. Before a new underwater tunnel is built, the construction site is carefully examined. After all, the tunnel must be on solid ground. Several tons of water will pressurize it every square inch. But in the sediment of the construction site a ruined column was found. And this discovery must now be examined. The museums of the Underwater Cities are very anxious for new discoveries and that is why there is a kind of gold-digger flair at the bottom of the sea.
Undewater Cities had its debut at SPIEL ’18. The expert board game by Vladimír Suchý, which was published by Delicious Games, quickly advanced from an insider tip to a must-have board game of the last game year. In the middle of the year the announcement was made that there would be an expansion to the board game. We had grabbed the expansion Underwater Cities – New Discoveries in Essen for SPIEL’19 and now had it on the board game table. You can read about how the expansion turned out in our review of Underwater Cities – New Discoveries.
Have fun reading it!
Underwater Cities – New Discoveries
The name is program
The most positive news right at the beginning: Those who buy the expansion do not have to worry about how to store it. All new game components fit into the basic game without any problems. However, this does not mean that the expansion box is not full to bursting. And of course it only fits if you like me haven’t sleeved the cards and don’t have extra Premium Plastic Resource Tokens or something like that.
When I first held the expansion in my hands, I noticed how weighty it was. That was largely due to the new player tableaus, of course. The thin player tableaus from the Underwater Cities base game have had their day with the expansion. Eight dual-layer boards are in the New Discoveries expansion and these eight boards are also double-sided. This gives the addicted player a total of 16 player tableaus.
Well, just between you and me: The first 8 tableaus correspond to the tableaus from the basic game and do not bring any added value to the game. However, our dome-shaped cities, farms and tunnels now no longer slip when we unluckily hit the table. As long as they are not upgraded. The stacked drops still tend to slide over the tableau despite the punched out player tableaus.
However, there are still 8 tableaus left and they are dedicated to the New Discoveries expansion. Because the actual expansion basically consists of individual modules that can be combined with each other. Somehow at least. And for some modules you need exactly these tableaus.
Let’s just take the time to take a closer look at the different components
We’re going further down.
Let’s put the tableaus aside for now and have a look at what else we find in the box.
52 new cards are offered to us. These new cards give us new possibilities and of course we shuffle them into the old deck directly. After all 18 new cards for the first epoch, 15 cards for the second epoch and 11 for the third epoch find a new home and fit into the flow of the game without any problems. They even improve the flow of the game. The new cards are useful additions that can be better integrated into a particular strategy or engine. Even the special cards get new types of cards through the expansion.
However, the new cards of the expansion have a small flaw. I can clearly recognize from the back of the cards whether the card is from the basic game Underwater Cities or from the expansion New Discoveries. The reason for this is the color, it doesn’t quite match. This doesn’t matter playfully, since the cards are distributed randomly anyway.
Quick, quick, we don’t have time
Underwater Cities is, as you know, a board game that takes up quite a bit of game time. So that the playing time is not quite so extensive, the expansion now comes with the so-called Quickstart tiles, with which I then play only 9 rounds instead of 10 rounds. By using the randomly selected tiles at the beginning of the game I get enough resources or even buildings to immediately start in round two.
But how useful are these tiles for me? As a frequent player and Underwater Cities veteran, these tokens only reduce the total playing time by a small amount, almost nothing worth mentioning. Besides, as a frequent player, they clearly take away my freedom to use a certain strategy. This increases the asymmetry in the game structure, but I already have this in Underwater Cities, because the card distribution is random.
For newcomers I like to leave out the quick start, because they simply need the first round to find their way around the game. This means that these tokens actually stay in the box more often than they are used.
A helping hand in New Discoveries
What doesn’t stay in the box are the new assistants. These have completely replaced the original assistants. The advantage: Besides the unique card action, almost everyone gives a long-lasting effect for the game. Some assistants give me a bonus when I use a certain field, others are also active in the production phase. This means that an assistant card might stay in the game until the end of the game and is not exchanged so quickly because its added value is not so high.
Also the effort to bring them into the game is quite low: At the beginning of the game just give each player two cards at random, choose one card and discard the rest.
We go to the museum at New Discoveries
While the already mentioned parts can be easily inserted into the basic game. Comes with the museum tableau now the first module from the expansion, which changes the game. To be able to play this module, one of the new player tableaus is required.
Because on these there is now the possibility to unlock hidden museum tiles when building structures. These tiles give me a bonus and are supposed to represent treasures we found under water. But in the second step I can place them in the museum and get another bonus there.
Here the range is from drawing cards, over another production possibility, up to lapidary victory points. It’s important when you can unlock and place the tiles, because it’s important: Whoever places his tile first, simply has more choices and better bonuses.
A little more tension
Technically, the museum module is nothing spectacular. Because instead of the bonus printed on the players tableau I get a random bonus and choose another bonus from the museum tableau. So, the bottom line is just more bonuses for me.
But that’s just the mechanical side. However, when you play, the mechanics turn into a playing emotion. Of course I have a race against it, even if it’s a slow race. But this makes me plan ahead. Do I use the farm where there is no city yet and then go empty in production or do I wait and see and take the risk that a player in front of me will lay his tile in the museum?
Sure, this is no adrenaline rush, we are still in the Euro-Game business. But it brings an additional thinking element into the game and suddenly I have to look at what my players are doing on their tableaus. A small and subtle change from my point of view, which made me grumble a few times when the museum bonus was snatched away from me.
Those who have the choice are spoilt
The last two modules are quite unspectacular on the bottom line. In addition to the already known metropolises there are now green metropolises. These are used for the so-called Metropolis-Choice. For this you need the last remaining player tableaus. These are not only included especially for the new mode, they are also highly asymmetrical and make sure that I as a player have to try out new strategies. So that I’m not quite at the mercy of chance, I can choose my metropolises from a selection of metropolises, which I can then connect to my tableau.
The desired asymmetry I understand in this module, but nothing changes the actual Underwater Cities game feeling. Sure, I adapt my strategy, but I personally don’t notice the big break with the original strategies.
Into the submarine and quickly to your destination
The other module is called Metropolis Race. At the beginning of the game the players only get one metropolis for their tableau. The other metropolises remain empty for the time being. Only when I manage to connect one of the empty metropolises, I am allowed to grab one of the outlying metropolises and put it on my tableau.
Here I have exactly the same as with the museum module: I’ll race my other competitors. What looks exciting at first glance, is unfortunately not so at the second. Because in the module only the blue and new green metropolises are put into the selection pool. The brown metropolises, which give me a lot of points at the end of the game, are already on my tableau from the beginning, so that the race for the metropolises is a bit more tame than it could be.
Personally, I would have liked it better here if the brown metropolises had been available as well. Because then the thrill would have been much higher than it is now. For example, if both players are playing for the tunnel ranking and only one can grab the tile, it’s simply more exciting. Now it’s more of a, “Okay, if I can’t have the bonus, I’ll just get the other one.”
Up or down with Underwater Cities – New Discoveries?
The New Discoveries expansion has the same problems as any expansion that has modules. Some modules are better, but others are not as good. What is really good, of course, are the new and improved player tableaus. But these are only indirectly related to the actual game.
I really liked the new cards, because they fit so well into the game. The new assistants with more functionality – Top from my point of view! The museum module and Metropolis-Choice play cleanly and give the game new impulses. This forces me to break out of my usual Underwater Cities strategy.
What I just don’t like is the Metropolis-Race. I can’t get warm with this module because it doesn’t offer me enough. Whether I get one or the other bonus remains the same, because even in the standard game I can’t influence which cities are on my tableau.
I would also have liked it very much if the New Discoveries expansion had simply included a set of standard resource tokens. At least there is an additional set of buildings.
The bottom line for me is that the expansion is well done and it is fun to use the individual modules. Because the actual game is already very well playable, there is no need for an expansion to repair any bugs. And thus the expansion simply gives me more possibilities to modify the basic game slightly. And even newcomers can let loose on the expansion right away, because the expansion doesn’t affect the basic mechanics.
According to Delicious Games, the only expansion will remain New Discoveries, they have no further plans for new expansions at the moment.