Neta-Tanka is a 2-4 player worker placement game from La Boite de Jeu. You are a member of the Frostrivers tribe, aspiring to become the clan's next leader. To do so, you must prove your qualities by feeding your people, building tents, fashioning items, and constructing your totem pole.
The winner is the player who can amass the most generosity points through these actions, becoming the new Neta-Tanka.
Set-up & Gameplay
To set-up, players place the game board in the centre of the table, along with the totem pole board corresponding to the player count. Each player takes a player board and meeples in their chosen colour. They then place their respective totem pole makers on the totem pole board.
Next, players draw five cards from each of the Net-Tanka and Handicraft decks, placing them down face-up. Place the resources (bone, wood, hide, meat, mushrooms and generosity) in a supply beside the board and seed the Forest and Tanning areas with their respective resources. You may also place the nine link tokens on the blank link space on the board, as well as the two buffalo tokens. Create a deck of canoe tiles corresponding with the player count (4/6/9 for 2/3/4 players) and add one of the four final canoe tiles to the bottom of this deck. Place the 'visiting nomad' and round marker on the track and space near the canoe. Players may then take the resources marked on their player board according to the opening turn order, as well as one objective card.
Neta-Tanka proceeds over a series of rounds in-which players place their workers onto various spaces on the board. After placing their pieces, each player (in turn order) may resolve any actions on the spaces their workers occupy. However, where this game differs from other worker placement games is in the 'links' between action spaces. Players may claim a link in between two spots where they have placed their workers this turn. This offers them additional resources or actions that can be used to gain points.
Each area of the board focuses on a different method of generating generosity. The hunting area promotes capturing bison and harvesting them for meat and hide, while the forest area promotes gathering wood and constructing your totem pole.
There are also smaller subsections where you can turn resources into handicrafts, or instead build tents and feed your people. Each action grants its own method to leverage your resources, and it's up to you to decide which path to take.
At the end of the game, players will count their points from all of their exploits, and the player with the most generosity points is the winner.
Final Thoughts on Neta-Tanka
Neta-Tanka is an interesting take on the worker placement mechanic. Its method of offering rewards for specialising in a given area promotes focusing on certain areas each turn. Players can often carve a niche knowing that anything they produce will result in points. Blocking other players can be fruitful in some worker placement games, but in Neta-Tanka it often leads to both players receiving less rewards. This, in-turn, leaves the other players free to scoop up the spoils. It tends to work best when you are the first player, staking claim to an area before anyone can move in. However, it is often wisest to make use of each area of the board, gathering points wherever the best opportunity exists.
The link mechanic is a unique mechanical offering, and a great way of forging an advantage. By focusing on one area per round, you can feasibly acquire up to four extra actions a turn depending on how many players are in the game. You may not be able to diversify your efforts in one turn but being able to do the same action multiple times is powerful. For example, adding multiple resources to your totem pole or finishing off multiple tents in one turn can boost your score immensely. The problem is that you then need to plan accordingly. Being blocked out of an area you need to occupy can be disastrous if you run out of time.
There are opportunities to get ahead without links. The 'Consult the Neta-Tanka' spot allows you to give up on food to acquire powerful Neta-Tanka cards. These are either worth points at the end of the game or give you multiple additional actions in one without having to use your workers elsewhere. They're very costly, but often worth it if the right card shows up for consideration. In addition, the 'Make an Offering' spot allows you to trade in generosity points for multiple effects. These can be mundane such as purchasing resources, up to claiming links without needing workers in the area.
There are also plenty of modules to diversify your games. The map board is double-sided, giving you two maps to play on. The winter side alternates the link spaces which mitigates the ease of stacking up multiples of the same action. This makes it a perfect next step once you're comfortable with the game's mechanics.
There are plenty of cards in each deck, and plenty of goal cards to give you different strategies to aim for each game. The canoe boards also provide you with plenty of options, with four different end-of-game boards to use. Of note, the deluxe version of the game also carries an expansion with it. The Mountain board offers an additional worker placement spot where you can spend resources to gain points or actions. It also gives access to the vaguely named 'special resource' which counts as either wood or hide during crafting. Using this resource in crafting any item grants an additional three points during end-game scoring.
Component quality is at a premium here. The retail version of the game matches up well with the deluxe version. The only differences are the lack of shaped resources and the screen-printed workers. Stickers would have been ideal for these but are by no means essential. Cards are of a good quality and are laid out well enough to aid in understanding the game's iconography. The standout component is the player boards. Each is vibrantly coloured, with cutouts to hold all of your resources firmly in place.
The component trays are the one area which lets down the production for me. Each resource has its own place, and the removable boxes aid in game set-up. The only downside is that the resource tray is made of flimsy cardboard, so be careful if you'll be storing the game vertically.
All in all, Neta-Tanka doesn't reinvent the wheel in any significant way. What it does is present a solid offering into the worker placement genre, making slight tweaks to differentiate itself. A lot of the mechanics are familiar, though the linking mechanic makes the game diverse enough. It delves into a theme not often seen, and it ties this into its mechanics wonderfully.
Flavour-wise, it almost reminds me of Tokaido: a relaxed approach to worker placement. It's refreshing to have a game focus on generosity rather than blocking. This happens too much in most games like this. I don't think Neta-Tanka is in danger of dethroning established titles like Caverna or Viticulture. However, I think to dismiss it completely would be a mistake.
Neta-Tanka is at least worthy of consideration, if only for its beautiful presentation and slight adaptions of worker placement.