A quick lesson in Quantum Theory
Nina and Pinta is a game which I came across and decided to play solely on the strength of the theme. Here’s what the designers had to say: “Quantum physics tells us ‘the ability of quantum particles to occupy two states seemingly at once could be explained by both states co-existing in different universes’. So when you wave goodbye to your ship in your universe, someone else waves goodbye to their ship in a different parallel universe. But what would happen if these neighboring universes, separated by the thinnest, gossamer barrier should somehow be breached and my ship sails into your world and searches for gold in competition to your ship? Play the game and find out…”
What a fantastic theme! I’ve always been interested in the possibility of multiple universes, and my mind is continually blown by the idea that one decision made by someone can branch off into 2 different universes where the alternate you made a different decision. This would mean that every time you decided to have the steak instead of the vegetarian option, or went to work instead of skiving off like a new age Ferris Bueller, an alternate universe is created. The alternate you could end up at the end of a completely different set of circumstances just by “you” making that one different decision. The salad you ate could transpire to be radioactive and turn you into a superhero. Or, the alternate you which went to work could have been fired because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and throwing coffee over the boss. The possibilities are almost endless!
I realise that I’m nerding out a little bit, but there is Kudos due to the Ragnar Brothers for trying something a little bit out of left field with Nina and Pinta, and given the huge hint on the front of the box, it will not be the last time they’re going to try it either.
An Age of setup
The preparation needed to actually have a game of Nina and Pinta is not to be taken lightly. It takes around 25 minutes to set it up to be ready go. The first time I played it, it was quite late at night and I was already committed before I’d realised what I’d let myself in for. I actually set the game up an hour before I was going to play on the second play through though knowing how long it was likely to take. I figured that maybe fortune would favour the prepared (I was wrong, but at least I didn’t have to set the game up again)
However, once it’s set up, the game is relatively easy to get into. The map is set up in 3 different directions and each section is named after the fabled ships of Christopher Columbus. Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. You get 5 different map tiles for each region on the map and will use one tile for each. This does give you some replay value straight off of the bat since you’re never actually sure what’s going to be under the tile until it has been explored, and there is always 2 other map tiles still in the box.
To start, you can either divide out one of the 4 available countries between you or choose them. This is a pretty big decision as there is a unique benefit to each country.
England being good ol’ Blighty gets the added bonus of being able to have 4 workers on each of their ships at the beginning of the game instead of 3. This can give you a good blast at spreading yourself out early on in the game and exploring more than the other players.
Portugal can secretly look underneath the map tiles to see what’s underneath them before the game starts to play. Obviously this tells them where to start aiming for depending on their strategy.
Spain (presumably because they funded the expedition) gets to go first on every turn unless the gameplay forces you out of the first position, and this can be a dominating bonus to pick.
Last but not least, France can make an attack in any world which is not in a state of war. This is an aggressive tactic but can be useful. Each player will then get 3 ships (one for each “world”), 2 screens, 3 captain meeples and a bunch of settler meeples to start the game with.
There is a little more to getting started, but to save boring you with the details the rules can be found here.
Exploration: The Columbus Way
At its core, Nina and Pinta is an exploration game. You always have to start by exploring The Caribbean, as this is the only port instantly available and the only place you can “land”. Once this has been explored though you can expand in any direction so long as the tile is connected.
The preparation phase of the game is all done behind a screen so nobody can see what you’re planning. Very cloak and dagger! Although, except for the first round I always found it was pretty obvious what the other players had planned.
During the preparation phase, you load up all 3 of your ships behind your personal screen with as many captains and settlers as you can afford (each meeple you use costs 1 gold). This means that you could only explore 2 of the 3 alternate worlds if you wish and you think it might help your cause. You need captains to uncover new land and settlers to stay there and ensure that the land is claimed as yours. That, and you also get a gold bonus for the amount of settlers you have in a later phase of a round. So there’s a monetary incentive too.
You then land your ship on the coast of the place you’re exploring and turn over the tile as long as you have a captain on your ship. Sometimes there are bonuses on the tiles and sometimes not, but the type of terrain on the other side of the tile is what decides how much each of your settlers are worth later on.
If you’re able to, you can also build villages on the tile (not straight away of course) but to do this you either need to be in control of the same region in all 3 worlds, or have 3 connected land tiles with different terrain types on them. These buildings count as a permanent settler and cannot be ousted by another player, giving you a foothold in a region should you need one
Once all of the exploration is done, there’s some housekeeping to ensure that not too many people are on the same land tile and then it’s a mad dash for the Benefit Tokens.
Big Big Benefits
This was the first point in the game that I realised that there was quite a serious balance issue. You almost scrimp through the first part of the round and then coast through to snagging yourself a hefty benefit. In the first couple of rounds, these benefits are free (!) but later on they cost you a paltry sum of gold to purchase. Considering what you get in return, they’re absolutely worth the investment.
There are 2 types of benefit; round ones which have a (sort of) instant benefit and square ones which can be traded in for victory points at the end of the game after some set collection.
Given that some of the “instant” benefits can give you bonuses like giving you a lot of gold or the opportunity to take 2 benefits the next time instead of 1, when we played NOBODY took any of the square ones. In hindsight, that was likely a good thing.
NO! No more Nina!
You know, I would love to talk about Nina and Pinta more than I have. I really would. But… Well, I really couldn’t stand it. The first time I played it, it was really late at night and we all managed to play a couple of rounds to get the hang of it. I wasn’t overly enamoured with Nina and Pinta then but I figured it was only fair to keep trying in case fatigue won out on the first attempt. Having had another go, I now know it wasn’t the fatigue.
The next time I played with some different people, and having an idea of how to play already, I was pretty well set for the next game. I took some preparation so that I didn’t have to sit through loads of setup, and this time I manged to get through 4 rounds before I threw in the towel.
Nina and Pinta and mind numbing Boredom
Whilst the premise of Nina and Pinta, and the idea that sold me on the playing the game in the first place is a good one, the execution of the idea just doesn’t really work. For me, it seemed a lot like we were all going through the motions playing the rounds in a crazy bid to get to the bonus tokens at the end of the round. It turns out that they’re ridiculously overpowered.
There are some things which I really liked about Nina and Pinta. The fact that all of the planning is done in secret is a nice touch. Also, the fact that you can’t do any building without being in control of the same land in all 3 worlds or without having the land being tipped in your favour and being 3 different types of land was a facet to make the game interesting.
However, it really wasn’t enough to save the game.
I have reviewed quite a sum of games in the time that I have been doing it and Nina and Pinta is the first game which I haven’t ever been able to bring myself to at least finish.
There is no one particular thing which I didn’t find too great about Nina and Pinta, and it would probably be much easier to be mean about it if there was- but the sum of Nina and Pinta just felt poorly executed despite how excited I was about the game. I think the biggest issue is that there is nothing of the promised theme applied to the game. The worker placement aspect of Nina and Pinta is fine, but the ship theme almost feels pasted on; it’s a worker placement game which could be about anything instead of the Nina and Pinta.
But even with a different theme, I’m still not sure I will go back and try something else from the Ragnar Brothers, and that’s a real shame.
Nina and Pinta really isn’t for me. I think I’d be much better suited to spending a couple of hours waxing my chest, or maybe listening to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua on repeat. Failing that I could also put on Justin Bieber’s greatest hit for the sake of punishing myself. However, all of these things could be for you, even though they’re not for me.
I’d still recommend checking Nina and Pinta out and deciding for yourself whether it’s something you’ll enjoy, but I can’t honestly say that it was something that worked for me. All in all, I have to give Nina and Pinta a pretty shoddy 3 sunken Spanish Galleons out of 10.
“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world…..”
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Nina and Pinta to see, you can do so here:
For more information on The Ragnar Brothers and what they’re up to you can find them here:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.