It’s funny. If you went back in time ten or so more years ago and asked me what table top games I play you would find the list comprising of pulp fantasy. gritty space knights, and other over the top fun. And yet nowadays so much of my gaming space if given over to farming simulators, train simulators, and now I’m sat here talking about an historic whaling simulator. That being ….
Now Nantucket is a very small two player game that can be described as city building, or could be seen as a fishing simulator. I would argue that it is neither though it is indeed fun. You start by building a two out of two cards with enough variation that you can create a fair amount of variety between your towns each game. You then pick heads or tails and off you go. On the far left are actions you can undertake each round like building a new building, which gives you new actions to choose from going forward, or sending out a whaling ship. Over the game you will try to build up your fortune in money and property until you end with more than the other person. This can be done in a fairly quick turn around of half an hour or so which is benefiting the small size and small price tag on the game.
Now the buildings will be useful for points at the end of the game and you can use your opponents for their actions meaning that this tends to overshadow the whaling aspect which is not what I think they wanted. The whaling involves you stacking your coins in a pile and sending them out to sea. Every round you will toss your coins and read off the best result. So long as that best result has not already been read this round. The highest value ship always goes first. You then take the winning coins from your ship and any winnings you may have and carry on with the game returning to your ship at the end of each round until you have all of it back to port. Normally you can only do one ship of four coins and the coins at sea are untouchable until you claim a winning with them at the end of the round. But the game has enough buildings spread over the sheets to mean that each of these rules could be broken in your game.
The main aspect of the whaling is locking your money away. The higher value a ship you send out the more likely you are to win big. But as I said while that money is out to sea you can’t use it to build buildings which unlock new abilities for you and your opponent. There are also the special buildings at the end of the rows which don’t give actions but more points at the end of the game. Some of these are fairly straight forward but many add a gamble to them giving you high points but only if certain objectives have been completed. Thus despite not having any dice (which is appropriate for a “dice hate me game”) this feels like a high luck based game where you are constantly pushing your luck on the toss of coins or being able to meet certain objectives, between you and your opponent, by the end of the game.
The theme, for anyone worried about the principle of whaling, is very light here but that’s kind of to be expected for such a small game. I like that we’ve saved space in the box by making your token dentoing which buildings you own also be the money with it being heads or tails depending on which player has bought it. The money coming from what you have just paid for said building. However I’m not sure the money is always as clear as it can be in this regard. I know nothing of the time period and thus the money could be painstakingly researched but when you’re first playing it it can be a bit confusing. The copper coins are worth more than the silver. One of you is heads and the other tails despite the copper coin having a tails on its heads side. While historically inaccurate I feel like this could have been solved with a gold and silver piece and and a heads and a tails on either side of the coin. Heck your player tokens show to bearded white dudes meaning that if you have gone a round or two without buying anything, or just suffer from a poor memory, you might not be able to remember which one you are. Again considering how light the theme is here I don’t think the token is really helping get me in the frame of mind of salty, old, sea dog and thus I would have preferred something a bit more obvious.
That’s not to say I don’t like the game. It’s a really fun, light little city building game that feels different from all the rest and the theme does help with that. It’s quick enough that it doesn’t out stay its welcome and in fact often begs for another go. It’s easy to learn and the rules for once feel complete despite their tiny size. The only times I have run into trouble with this game was from not reading the rules and finding that something is very clearly stated in the tiny booklet. Now the small size and small price might make this an instant buy for everyone and I will be keeping my copy but I’m not sure it’s a great fit for everyone. It’s two player only and yet it feels like if you added a few inches to the box and about five more quid this could work fine as a three to four player game at least. It should be noted that Nantucket has a bigger brother. New Bedford, from the same designer/ publisher, which is a one to four player game about whaling just north of Nantucket in the titular town of New Bedford. Now I’ve not played that one, as I’m less likely to take a higher priced punt on a game about whaling without knowing more about it, so I can’t comment but I wonder if that is more the game I am after or if the result lies between the two. Of course if that is the case it would lose the low price point and tiny size which some would find more appealing.