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Nemo's War Ship's Log: IV

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

The Third Second Edition: The Journey's End

My perspective by Alan Emrich

Eventually, Chris Taylor and Ian O’Toole were again approached to meet the customer demand for additional content. With Chris demurring after discussing ideas, I set forth once more to design additional content. Ian offered his assistance if the products were small in scope.

Small was exactly the vision – small expansion packs (as we had been working on for Dawn of the Zeds), each with a theme. There was a Big Picture vision where this combination of small expansions would take the game. All were envisioned to be as smoothly integrated as possible. The eleven small expansions designed for Nemo’s War were:

A sample booster pack
  1. Nautilus Upgrades (a slew of new Upgrade cards, some of which violated Chris Taylor's desire to see all such upgrades as some sort of part or feature of the Nautilus itself, but each adding an important gameplay variation to the game which greatly expanded its replayability)

  2. Bold and Caring (two new Nemo Motives, the “nice” ones, with one specially designed to reduce the conflict aspect of the game for those still resisting that aspect of play)

  3. Dramatis Personae (extending the storylines of the crew, introducing new characters about the Nautilus, and generally putting the player “more aboard” the ship)

  4. Pennants of Power (two new Nemo Movies, the “naughty” ones, with the oft-requested Piracy Motive as one of them)

  5. New Depths (Adventure cards including a new Finale)

  6. Seafarers of the Nautilus (with crew attribute tokens which have proven to be very popular among players)

  7. Further Adventures (Adventure cards including a new Finale)

  8. Nadeen Dakkar (Nemo’s estranged son joins the adventure)

  9. Additional Scenes (Adventure cards including a new Finale)

  10. The Imperialists (the competitive game)

  11. Age of Science (Adventure cards including a new Finale

The Little Game Company published these first three expansions as small “booster packs.” They proved extremely popular. While we were working on the next set, Victory Point Games was acquired by Tabletop Tycoon. Again, the Coxwain said, "Aye aye," and, heeding these new orders, steered the Nautilus into some initially choppy seas.

Time Takes its Toll

The Nemo as Santa card

The VPG crew for Nemo’s War found itself reassigned to address Tabletop Tycoon projects, with the effect being an immediate “abandon ship” order for the Nautilus. The second Second edition, meanwhile, underwent a reprinting in a larger square box (making it, I suppose, the second-and-a-half Second Edition).

When attention returned to Nemo’s War, it only was to produce a Christmas promotional card. Although the new publisher envisioned only an art change (the “Nemo Santa” card, pictured above), I brought my mind to the character’s actual Christmas Eve aboard the Nautilus. I created a new Adventure card, The Christmas Miracle, where Captain Nemo and Engineer Xu work on rudimentary electric lights (Thomas Edison would perfect this a few years later). Ian O’Toole was not available for these two cards, so VPG’s vaunted artist, Clark Miller, created a compatible look for them that worked beautifully.

Something more substantive for players - The Christmas Miracle card

By the time the publisher was ready to set sail again, all but one member of the original VPG team were no longer with Tabletop Tycoon. I was brought back as a contract designer/developer, and artist Clark Miller was contracted for the illustrations. The publisher charted a new course, suspending the individual expansion packs. All of that material was rejiggered to create an “everything expansion” dubbed The Final Voyage.

The documentation was a HUGE effort to get just right

Clark and I got busy and produced just that. After the joy of creative fervor adding content, the hardest part came last – redrafting the manuals. Instead of eleven small instruction sheets, here was the opportunity to smoothly incorporate all of those instructions, the second Second Edition’s FAQ, and improve the presentation to include more “helpful tips” sidebars (for those who prefer reading a game’s documentation rather than searching the internet). The documentation took a long, long time to get shipshape, including splitting the material over two books, adding the much-desired new scoring/victory level, and various appendices and setup variations to alter the game’s difficulty level. The Dean of board wargaming, Jim Dunnigan, once remarked that “writing rules is more drudgery than glory.” This definitive Nemo’s War documentation was proof of that truism. Still, we hope you found all our efforts to bring them to you worth it.

Specific Remembrances

Some specific things that should be recounted here and noted for posterity are included in this final chapter.

Add Versus: Unfortunately, the Versus Game was developed during the great pandemic lockdown blight of 2020 and 2021. Finding players to sit across the table and shake out the versus game became a sad challenge. Still, we decided that it was better to include it, even if it might be a source of errata in the future.

The stakes rise vs. British Ship Tokens

Balancing “kiss” and “kick” cards: As players know, the Adventure cards are filled with what game designers call kisses and kicks. They can flat-out help or hinder your mission, striking with the suddenness of a pie in the face. This was intended to make the game’s fortunes somewhat “swingy,” but even the wildest swing at a decisive moment should not be game-breaking. Players must seize these sudden opportunities and endure their sudden tribulations. The trick has always been to design the totality of the Adventure card universe so that the ratio of kisses to kicks, and the degree to which they affect play, is harmonious with play balance. Although a larger universe of Adventure cards could see them come up with more extreme outcome combinations, on average, things should work out about right in terms of kisses and kicks delivered during play.

The great kisses among the newest Adventure cards include Magnetic Mines, Nemo’s Secret Base, Admirals Ye and Nelson, Two Decks of Cards, Gas Turbines, and Point Nemo. Their great kicks include Required Repairs, Easter Island, The Outbreak, The War Office Act, Family Matters, and Q-ships Deployed.

Dealing with Deck Camping: Canny players discovered that Deck Camping (i.e., going through the Adventure Deck and cherry-picking through its events) was a disproportionately beneficial way to score victory points and, especially, find the Magnetic Mines card. With the addition of several new Adventure cards, including the Crisis of Confidence card, which depletes the now fixed number of cards in the Adventure Deck, Deck Camping is no longer an optimal strategy for all Motives. It remains necessarily useful for some Motives, but not all.

Storylines too good to exclude: While researching each version of the Second Edition, some fascinating discoveries virtually begged to be included in Nemo’s War, such as…

  • The Dynamite Fiend was much believed to be the cause of the sinking of the SS Boston

  • The Ghost Ship, Mary Celeste, which was a mystery even Sherlock Holmes failed to solve

  • The reference to Auguste Dupin (Imperialists’ Catspaw), who was fiction’s great detective of the day in stories by Edgar Allen Poe

  • The Korean Incident -- yes, that really happened during the time of Captain Nemo

  • The Chinese Treasure Fleet was also a reality that the Nautilus was made to discover

  • Bat Guano – at this time, the world’s fertilizer needs relied heavily on bat guano, and it was rapidly depleting (don’t worry; science and chemistry would eventually save the day and improve the product with fossil fuels as a result)

  • Loch Ness presented an interesting narrative about how its waters create eerie effects

  • Easter Island was, along with the slave trade, the saddest story of the day, the island being utterly and tragically debauched

  • Nadar was one of this period’s great international personalities, as was reporter Henry Stanley

  • French “tallow butter” (Oleomargarine) proved so awful that the government fobbed it off on the French Navy and sent it off to sea

  • The Aether was much debated in this dawning age of science – what elements constituted the vastness of outer space?

  • The Sydney International Exhibition also occurred at this time, generating a great deal of press for its many everyday man-made wonders

  • For those who don’t know, Point Nemo (as it is known today) is also the approximate location for the arrival of Cthulhu into our world (in Lovecraft’s fiction)

What’s Left on the Warehouse Floor

Thank you, Jules Verne!

Everything I had prepared for Nemo’s War is in the Journey’s End (i.e., the third Second Edition). Including the Christmas card promo and a Journey to the Center of the Earth adventure invented as a personal thanks to Jules Verne for all the fun that we’ve had with this game.

The last thing I had left for Nemo's War was a single new mechanic (explained below). I have also organized my notes for a “look back” novel retelling the 20,000 Leagues story from about 20 years later.

Professor Aronnax is now retired from teaching and has time to further research and compose this novel. Together with his daughter, newly minted from college (a French student with her degree in English), it pulls together a more complete telling with the advantage of hindsight and interviews. I have several notes made for that novel while creating additional material for Nemo’s War. Here is a sample:

“Captain Nemo was, rightly, obsessed with energy sources for the Nautilus. Despite his boast, not everything could be run by electricity and magnets alone. Burning kerosene, methane gas, coal, and even wood contributed to the ship’s light and heat, especially when submerged. Thus, we generally traveled on the ocean’s surface. The ship’s plentiful, thick windows could provide light and its hatches opened for fresh air. The air was a constant background concern.
Of great interest to Conseil and myself were the air exchangers packed with amphibious phylum Porifera. Like lungs, these sponges breathed in the ship’s polluted air and exhaled filtered oxygenated air, a symbiosis keeping both the crew and sponges alive.”

As for the barely-designed and undeveloped game mechanic, I shall leave it here with you.

The idea is that the two types of Nautilus attacks (Bold and Stalk) now become a matrix of four types as each can be performed in a Scrape or Ram manner. A Scrape attack utilizes the top armor of the Nautilus to scrape open the wooden bottom of an opposing ship. Even “armored” ships of that day only featured side and/or deck armor, not bottom armor, as no one could have predicted such attacks from below a ship’s waterline (see The Dark Ages of Ship Design article in the Nemo’s War documentation).

The Scrape attack represents the standard attacks featured in Nemo’s War. No changes are made to Stalk-Scrape (i.e., the Nautilus a +1 Attack DRM) or Bold-Scrape attacks (i.e., allowing multiple attacks for +1 Notoriety each).

So, what are the two new attack types (and their effects) that a player might choose?

  • Stalk-Ram: The Nautilus receives a +2 Attack DRM. If the Nautilus’ attack dice total was an odd number, the Nautilus suffers 1 (additional) Hit. If the Nautilus’ attack roll was 4+5 (i.e., 9 total, an odd number), the Nautilus suffers 1 (additional) Hit during its Stalk-Ram Attack.

  • Bold-Ram: The Nautilus receives a +1 Attack DRM to each (of the potentially multiple) Attacks conducted during this Action and each also inflicts 1 (additional) Hit upon the Nautilus. During a Bold attack, you can freely switch between Bold-Scrape and Bold-Ram attacks, declared before each Attack dice roll.

SAILOR: During a Ram Attack, any die roll of 6 among the Attack dice negates the 1 (additional) Hit on the Nautilus. When suffering Ram Attack damage, you may apply it to any Ship’s Resource you desire (including sacrificing a Crew member tile or card, or an acquired Nautilus Upgrade card).

OFFICER: During a Ram Attack, any die roll of 6 among the Attack dice negates the 1 (additional) Hit on the Nautilus. Damage is applied in the usual random manner.

CAPTAIN: No modification.

Have fun trying that out! I hope it works well in actual gameplay testing!!

While sifting through the forgotten files for Nemo’s War, I also found my notes for a prequel game. Looking over it anew while researching this article, the game concept seems very clever (if I do say so myself). The player readies the Nautilus (building the ship and onboarding crew) while winnowing down Nemo’s launch Motive (for which there were two new Motives I hoped to add, still undesigned: Utopian and Anti-Slavery, bringing the total to ten). Many of the player’s decisions when designing/constructing the Nautilus impact:

  • The Ships Resources (Nemo, Crew, and Hull; plus ship upgrades) versus

  • The size of the Nautilus (the bigger it is, the more stuff it can hold, but the more likely it will gain Notoriety; and smaller is faster and more maneuverable in combat) and

  • Engine capabilities (a new gameplay element) which sets the limits for Maximum Actions, Maximum Saved Actions, free moves during Lull turns, free moves during non-Lull turns, and a speed modifier for various TESTS (including combat), plus susceptibility to breakdowns (requiring Repair time)

There are many more elements, including the ship’s features for survival, aggression, science, research, and quality of life aboard. There is also the need to acquire the best possible Ships Crew Tiles available for that Motive (and there were many potential crew members).

It also introduces a completely new scoring system for continued play through Nemo’s War which is extremely fast and simple. It is based upon establishing a set of ten “Legacy cards” in the prequel game that are “purchased” during the play of Nemo’s War (at the cost of various acquired Victory Points), depending upon how you are outfitted for your destined journey. The Legacy cards acquired during play determined your success in Nemo’s War.

That still-unnamed prequel game remains just a compelling list of notes and ideas. Without putting the band back together to create it, it will probably never see a prototype version.

Thanks for All the Fish

So that is my telling of the story behind Nemo’s War through to mid-2022. I humbly submit these reflections about this great game and hope you found them interesting! Like yours in playing Nemo’s War, my participation in making it was a great joy, and I am very happy that we took this voyage together. - Alan Emrich

Post Script

This link is to a podcast with Alan Emrich with Nemo's War as its focal point.

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Alan Emrich
Alan Emrich
Jun 11, 2022

Do let me know if you get a chance to try the Ramming Tactic in a future game. I am interested to see how it is received and what playtesting might reveal. 🐏

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