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Nava First Impressions

Nava feature image components
Nava feature image components

So, this is something a little different for me. I’ve been asked to look at is a prototype for a little abstract 2-4 player abstract strategy game called Nava. Though what with the lockdown going on I’ve only been able to play the two-player variant. So, what is Nava? How do you win? What do I think? We’ll get there.

On The Grid

Nava is a game of disks, cubes and grids. Every player will have a stack of disks on the edge of the board and a little pile of potential cubes safely kept off to the side. Players will be moving stacks of disks in a straight line along the gridlines of the board. The taller the stack of disks, the further the stack can move. You can split your stacks to move shorter distances or you can combine any stacks to move further. Notice I didn’t say combine your stacks.

You can plonk one of your stacks on top of one of your opponent’s stacks and those disks are now yours. You can use their disks to make the new stack move further. You see, the way movement works is that whoever owns the disk on top of the stack, gets to choose how to move or split the stack. If a player is no longer in control of any stacks, they are eliminated, and their disks and cubes are removed from play.

Cubes! I’ve not mentioned how they work. Cubes are the other way you can win in Nava. Every time you move an entire stack from one junction on the board to another, you can place one of your cubes on the board. If you land on a cube, an opponent’s cube or one of your own, you take it off of the board and give it back to the owner.

How do you win? You are either the only player in control of the stacks on the board or you are the first player to get all of their cubes on the board. And that’s it. That’s whole game. It is really quick to pick up, and, if the prototype box I was sent is anything to go by, it is a nice portable size. We’re not talking trouser pocket size, but definitely pop into the corner pocket of a backpack sized.

All Your Disk Are Mine

As is the case with many of these games it’s the simplicity of the ruleset that give it a depth of strategy. The dual winning conditions are interesting. It's likely that different players will be drawn to different winning conditions. Personally, I always try to take all of my opponents’ disks, but I kept getting beaten when my better half managed to get all of her cubes onto the board. That said, in the games I have played, I have never felt that perusing one strategy has felt that I have excluded the other win condition. I have found it very possible to pivot between chasing either of the two goals as the situation changes,

What I quite liked is that you have to know when to delay or abandon your chosen tactic when called for. You might be very close to capturing all of a player’s disks but none of your towers can land on that last target disk exactly. So maybe you’re going to need to split a tower of disks that has mix of yours and your opponent’s disks. That could mean that the top disk of the ones you left behind is one of your opponent’s disks. So, they now have another tower to work with. Perhaps you the only way you can stop them from getting all of their cubes on the board is to sacrifice a few of your disks. It’s a bit of a thinker.

Because of the simple way movement works, it is possible to try and think a few moves ahead, to try and set a trap or two. I like that. The game lets you feel clever without being too taxing.

Nava board set up

Confined Spaces

As I said earlier, the game goes up to 4 players. The two and 4 player games both use the same square board with the three-player version using a hexagonal grid instead. Like I said, I’ve only been able to play the two-player game, but I have tried both boards. The hexagonal board feels a lot more restrictive. Each junction has six different paths leading from it, each stack has more possible directions to move in. Counter-intuitively that makes the board feel smaller as you can get to more places from each junction. Add to that there being less junctions on the board to begin with and you’ve got a much tighter play area.

My feeling is that with three and four players initially the board will feel very densely packed. But as players get eliminated and all of their components are removed from play, I can envision it getting a lot more open. I doubt you’ll get many all cubes down victories without a player being eliminated first. I may be wrong; this is just my thoughts and me trying out a few board configurations on my own.

Wrapping It Up

So, those are my thoughts on this neat little game. It is supposed to be coming to Kickstarter later this year. Personally, I am almost certainly going to back it. It takes less than 10 minutes for a two-player game. It's the kind of game I could see myself taking into the office to play with my colleagues over lunch or a coffee break. What I would like to see this produced with the disks using the same material used in the tiles found in Hive or Azul. It would give the game a nice premium feel to it.

Nava would be a good game to pull out and play with somebody who enjoys traditional games like chess, or their contemporary equivalents like Hive and Santorini. It’s not intimidating at all and it is a nice demonstration that there is more to the world of board games than chess and the monopoly man.