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Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?


WBG Score: 9

Player Count: 1-4

You’ll like this if you like: Brass: Birmingham, Tiletum, Barrage.

Published by: Board&Dice


This is a review copy. See our review policy here


Nucleum was one of the big hitters at the Essen Speil of 2023. There were long lines to get the game, and I saw a lot of people with a copy under thier arm. Anything with Simone Luciani and Dávid Turczi's name on it will attract attention due to their extensive back catalogue of successes. Anachrony and Barrage being two noticable names in their collective CV's. I also think there is somehting incredible captivated about aterntive history. Nucleum is an Economic game set in the real-worl with one twist. Nuclear power was discoverd in the early 19th centurary. But this has been billed as a heavy game. It currently sits at over 4/5 on the weight scale on BGG. Thats a heavy game for sure. But how does it play? Let's get it to the table and see for our selves.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

How To Set Up Nucleum


Place the main board in the center, matching the side of the board you use to the player count. Put Coal Import Wagon tiles in coal production areas, following player count rules. Set up Thaler tokens, Uranium cubes, and Achievement tokens into a general supply then put the victory point Flag token under the "70" spot on the VP Track.


Seperate the base action tiles then shuffle the remaining 30 tiles. Add 10/15/25 based on 2/3/4 player count to the 20 base tiles. Shuffle this pile and split into three groups. Draw 5 for the market from one pile placing the others on the top of the side board and place the other two piles face-down next to this board. Return any unused tiles to the box.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Next, set up Contract tiles based on type, give each player an Initial Contract, and create stacks for Initial, Silver, Gold, and the three types of Purple Contract, (they are marked on the back one, two or three) then place them into their allocated spaces based on the main board returing the rest to the box. Then shuffle the Milestone tiles, assign one face-up to each space on the Milestone track returnig the rest to the box, then place three Nucleum tokens on indicated spaces near the Milestone track. Then draw one card at random from the set up deck and place Power Plant standees, Urban Building tiles, Nucleum tokens, Turbine Rubble tiles, Urban Rubble tiles, and Mining Rubble tiles as indicated by the card.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Now set up each players player board. Everyone must take components in your chosen color: Income markers, Urban Building tiles, Turbine tokens, Mine tiles, Worker meeples, Milestone markers, Victory Point marker, and Initial Contract. When packing up, put these all into one bag to make set up for your subsequent games a lot quicker. Next, place Income markers on the first spaces of income tracks. Put Urban Building tiles on matching level spaces face up. Position Turbine tokens on indicated spaces. Arrange Mine tiles on specified spaces. Distribute two Worker meeples to your supply and the rest to a reserve. Place three Milestone markers on indicated spaces, and keep three in reserve by the main board. Put Victory Point marker on the "0" space of the scoring track. Finally ,set up the initial Contract you received earlier on the bottommost Contract space.


Now, each player chooses one of the four Experiments, taking the Experiment-specific components, and place Starting Action tiles and Turbine Effect tile accordingly. Note, that for Experiment B, this will include two Special Action tiles that you must place below the Experiment Board. You can get access to these later with a specific technology upgrade.


Finally, set up the Endgame Condition markers on the main board and randomly select the first player and give them the First Player marker. Now, the game is ready to start, with the first player taking their turn.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

How To Play Nucleum


On your turn, you will choose one of the following three actions: Play an Action tile on your player board and resolve its actions, then complete one Contract if you wish. Or, play any Action tile on the main board's empty railway space, placing a Worker then perform actions based on color matches. Or, peform a recharge action to gain income and retrieve all Action tiles from your player board.


Players will take it in turns clockwise carrying out one of these three actions until two (or three in a two-player game) of the five endgame conditions are triggered. At which point final scoring takes place. Before we get into the actions lets look at the basics.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Gaining Resources

Thaler (money) and Achievement tokens come from and go to the common supply, while Workers come from and are used from your personal supply. You can spend one Worker to gain one Thaler, but not the other way around. If you need to gain a Worker and have none left in your reserve, you immediately gain one Thaler instead. This can all happen at any point as a free action.


Uranium is typically obtained when constructing a Mine. When you acquire Uranium, you must either place it on one of your Mines or use it to gain one Worker. You can always spend one Uranium to gain one Worker, but the reverse is not allowed. When you build a mine you will gain one Uraniiuk for each mine currently built that you own.

When you receive any income advancement (Thaler, Workers, Victory Points), shift the corresponding Income marker right by the specified number of spaces on your player board. If the Income marker is already on the last space of its income track, receive one VP for each advancement you couldn't gain.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

How The Board Works


The main board displays cities with differnet colors (green, white, orange, purple, and Praha which is multi-coloured). Cities have urban sites, mining sites, turbine spaces, and power plants. Urban sites host buildings, mining sites have mines storing Uranium, and power plants can have Nucleum and Turbines. Some spaces are blocked based on player count or contain Neutral Buildings placed during setup. Red spaces indicate higher construction costs.


Links connect cities through railway spaces when Action tiles are placed and turned into railways. Networks consist of connected cities with completed rail lines. A city is part of a network if it is adjacent to a railway or connected to a completed rail line with owned railways. At the tsrat of the game no one has a network so you can place your first building or tile anywhere you like. After that you must join up with part of your existing network when adding anything to the main board.


Coal production areas, Ruhr and Silesia, represent off-map coal-rich region anyone can use. Long-distance rails connect these areas to specific cities for coal import at a cost of one, two, or three Thaler, although you can gain discoutns for this from your player board. Coal, Uranium, and electricity are transported between cities using completed rail lines owned by any player.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Playing An Auction Tile


The main action in the game is to play an Action tile. You will do this by putting it on the leftmost empty space at the top of your board. The placed Action tiles will stay in place until a Recharge action is taken. You can then carry out both actions on the tile in any order. The tiles show the fivemain actions which will be detailed below. You can skip actions if you wish; nothing is mandatory. When using a Special Directive tile (Starting Action tile with a black background), you can choose and perform any one of the five main actions with a one Thaler discount. This is a nice option becasue you can do anythig you like at a discount but you can only carry out one action instead of two with this tile.


Before, between, or after actions, as a free action you can fulfill one Contract per turn. You can fulfill Contracts on your board or Purple Contracts on the side board. Purple Contracts don't get replaced as can be fulfilled pnce by all players. to fulfil a contract you simply must meet the requirements shown on the contract tile and you can then gain the benefits shown and flip the Contract face down. Freed Contract spots are available for new Contracts.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Placing A Railway Tile


The second main action in the game is to use an action tile to place a railway line. First, put an Action tile on an emplty link, using a Worker to mark ownership. Then, resolve any action(s) with a color match. Each end of the tiles have a colour. If you place the tile into a city or touching another tile and match the colour you can carry out the actions on this half of the tile. When you have carroied out the avtions of any matched colour, if the rail line is complete with tracks, flip the tiles over to the track side. If the track has two or more pieces in it all players hwo added track to this part of the line then scores a victory point bonus as shown on the bottom right of the board. This is differnet for each player count.


When you place a tile like this, the tile doesn't have to be in your network; placing a Railway tile extends or creates a new network. If you don't have a Worker when you do this, you can spend a Uranium to get one. Special Directive tiles can't be placed as railways. To place a tile on a red railway space, pay two Thaler; otherwise, you can't place it there. If other players gain matched actions when yu place a tile this way, they resolve them after you finish.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

The tiles show symbols for the five main actions in the game. I will now go through these actions. understanding these will give you a basis for understanidng the main game.


Main Actions: Urbanise


This action lets you place Urban Buildings on the map. First you must choose an Urban Building tile from your player board. Then pay the cost shown to the left of its row (two Thaler for the first row, three Thaler for the second, etc.).then place the chosen tile onto an empty urban site within one of your networks on the main board. You must put the tile onto a matching site shown by the differnet building types. Some site shave two icons. If there are two options for your tile in one city and one has two icons and th eother has one you must put the Building in a single-type space in the chosen city. Some locations have a discount icon where you can reduce the total payment by one or two Thaler. Level-IV Buildings have two icons. There columns icons as well as being considered Government buildings. You want to place the buildings onto the main board in order energise them to gain benefits and achievements tokens n the game and to score points for them at the end of the game.

Main Actions: Industrialise

Use this action to place Mines and Turbines on the map. First, choose a Mine or Turbine from your player board. Then pay the cost on the left of its row (one Worker for the first row, 2 Workers for the second, etc.). Then put the Mine or Turbine onto a corresponding space within one of your networks on the main board. The Turbines provide an ongoing special ability to produce additional Uranium used during an energise action, more on that below. When you place a mine you will gain Uranium equal to the total Mines on the board, including the new one. Adding this to the new Mine or others you own if you prefer. When you build both the Turbine and Mine from a rown on your board you will gain an additional perminant reward, such as to reduce to the cost of coal.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Main Actions: Develop


This action allows you to buy one Action tile from the market by paying the specified Thaler amount as shown below it (zero to 2two). You can then if you wish pay an additional two Thaler plus the cost below the tile to purchase a second tile. After buying one or two tiles, shift the remaining tiles right to close gaps and refill from the draw pile. If the draw pile is empty, replenish it from the setup piles.


Main Actions: Contract

Carrying out ths action allows you to choose a Silver or Gold Contract from the main board and add it to any empty Contract space on the right side of your player board. You will then receive the corresponding reward shown on that Contract space. Some of the Action tiles for this action show the icon twice, if this is the case, you can get the reward twice.


After taking a Contract, draw a new Contract of the same color (Silver or Gold) to refill the offer. If no more tiles of the required color are available, draw the other color. If neither color remains, leave the space empty. Drawing the last Contract from the last pile triggers an endgame condition.


Purple Contracts cannot be taken with the Contract Action. Treat them as everyones to try ans fulfil, but the first player to claim them from the side board prevents others from fulfilling them. Some contracts will alllow you to unlock level one, two or three technologies. To do this, simply chose th eone you want from the specific level or above and slide it. Technologies will either offer a one time bonus or ongoing bonus.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Main Actions: Energise


This is the most complex part of the game buy runs relitivley simply once you have done it once. You will take this action to Energise previously placed Buildings to gain the benefit, experience and end game points shpwn on the building tile.


To do this you must first choose a power plant (Riesa, Zittau, Glashütte, Grimma, or Plauen).

You must then be able to transport coal and/or Uranium to this power plant using completed rail lines equal to the amount needed on the building you want to energise.


For coal, you can import any amount you can afford based on the current cost. For Uranium, you can transport from your connected Mines to the power plant if the power plant has been upgraded to Nuclear, one for each Turbine (plus an additional amount for each extra Turbine) plus one for the plant itself. Pay must pay one Thaler to another player if using their Turbine. You will then receive Achievement tokens equal to the Building's requirement and any printed benefits and must then flip the building to show its energised side.


Recharge


If you find yourself in need of additional resources, have exhausted your action tiles, or simply sense it is the right moment, you have the option to take a recharge action on your turn. During the recharge, you'll receive Thaler, Workers, and Victory Points from your income tracks, determined by the current levels of both your income markers and the number of action tiles you've placed. Pay attention to the vertical lines running alongside the spaces for the action tiles, perforating the columns of the three income rows. When recharging, the benefits are derived from the line to the right of the rightmost action tile on your player board. Even if you've advanced your income tracks beyond this point, you won't accrue additional benefits beyond this specific point.


Next, you will place a Milestone marker on the Milestone track based on yoru current amount of achievement stars. If the Uranium marker is still here from set up you can then place it into any of the power plants to gain the benefit shown there. If a Milestone space on the main board becomes empty by doing this, perform a King’s Day Scoring action meaning the player with the highest currenlty placeed Milestone marker scores six points and the player with the second highest scores two. Then discard all collected Achievement tokens and finally retrieve all tiles from the top of your player board redy to be used again.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Endgame


The endgame occurs when two (three in a two-player game) of the following five conditions are met.


  1. The Action tile draw piles are empty.

  2. Both the Silver and Gold Contract draw stacks are empty.

  3. All players have recharged at least three times (no Milestone markers on the Milestone spaces).

  4. At least one player has unlocked all eight Technologies.

  5. At least one player has reached 70 VP.

At this point, ensure all players have had equal turns, ans if any player has remaining Achievement tokens, they can put a Milestone marker on the Milestone track during this stage, similar to the "Recharge" action. However, no additional effects or income are triggered, and the one-Milestone-per-player-per-tier limit still applies. Then final scoring takes place. Players will score points for what they achieved during the game plus points for each milestone condition they met based on the multiple shown on any placed Milestone makers on the milestone track. If you unlocked your ultimate goal technology you will now score this based on how well you did against this. This count be various things depenidng on which experient you chose at the begining of the game. Then score points for any left over resources, all energised buildings, and finally any income tracks you got to the final three spaces. Most points wins.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Is It Fun? Nucleum Board Game Review


When evaluating a game like this, two key considerations come to the forefront: 1) Is it good, and 2) Is it superior to similar games? This is important because individuals often lack the time or inclination to invest in multiple games of similar length and complexity. And fair enough. Nucleum frequently draws comparisons to Barrage and Brass, both due to mechanics and theme, with Barrage sharing the same designers. While they undeniably share similarities, is Nucleum a good game? Yes, it's excellent. Is it better than these counterparts? No. Brass stands out as a phenomenal game, potentially ranking among the best games ever made. However, Nucleum is noteworthy and deserving of your consideration.


Nucleum boasts numerous positive aspects, but for a more balanced perspective, let's delve into its shortcomings, which primarily reside in three areas: the rulebook, the art, and the tension in a two-player game. Let's explore each of these issues in detail.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Firstly, let's talk about the rulebook. While it's not inherently bad, it doesn't quite reach the level of user-friendliness expected for a game of this complexity. Learning the game from the rulebook was manageable, yet in the initial few plays, I found myself consulting it multiple times to clarify certain points. This is to be expected and the information was always there, but not always where I thought it should be. The layout is a bit awkward, and the order of explanations isn't as intuitive as one would hope. Some aspects, such as when certain things are scored, could be clearer. However, the excellent appendix at the end and a useful rundown of main icons on the back page are very useful, as the icons are not always immediately intuitive.


On to my second point, the overall art doesn't particularly resonate with me. While the box art is impressive, the board's predominant green hue isn't to my liking. The iconography initially presents some confusion, taking until the third game before it fully clicked for me. Admittedly, such a learning curve is not uncommon for a game of this weight. But I did feel the art did not help the process.


My third concern is a lot bigger. The lack of tension in a two-player game. It tends to feel like a multiplayer solitaire experience for a significant portion—about 80% of the game. Only in the final turns do considerations for the opponent become apparent, potentially leading to some areas you want to access being blocked moves based on their actions. In most two-player games, players often build near the top right or bottom left by the coal fields, keeping a respectful distance until necessary. In three or four-player games, a similar dynamic emerges, but it constitutes only about 30% of the game. Things become more engaging on this side of the board with more players a lot quicker. Four players is very enjoyable but perhaps a tad lengthy. Especially if you have a few new to the game. Therefore, three players seem to strike the right balance fo rme unless you plan with the same group over-and-over.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Another minor concern involves the box. While it includes inserts, there are no instructions on how to assemble them. The packaging features a QR code, but it only leads to a website about the game, not assembly guidance. Despite this, I managed to assemble it adequately, and it stores neatly as you can see above. However, when I include the player boards and main board, an issue arises as you can see below. Does this bother you? It certainly bothers me. I understand that larger boxes are more expensive to produce and ship, but in this case, a larger box would be more fitting.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

Ok, onto the good bits. And oh my, there are a lot. But first, combos!


This game has some amazing combo turns. Quickly into the game you will work out that to do well in this game you need to plan ahead. Turns can be quite simple on occasions, especially in the early phase. But later, thay can get very complicated with one thing triggering another. Understanding how to manipulate this to your favour is crucuial to not only doing well in the game, but to squeeze out all the joy it offers. Doing one thing, to then do another, to fulfil another thing, which gives you yet another benefit is a joyous thing. Nucleum brings this to the table in a big way.


In Brass, there's a deliberate mid-game point that I appreciate, yet it does interrupt the game's momentum. In contrast, Nucleum steadily intensifies as players' turns grow more powerful, and points accumulate rapidly. There's no room for complacency; maintaining the momentum is crucial. Deciding when to recharge resembles the strategic pit stops in Formula One racing—opt for a full tank and one-stop technique for a slower pace or run half full, necessitating two stops but allowing for greater speed. You will feel like as this as you plan when to recharge in the game. It's a wonderful thing. I also love how you can only gain the icnome based on how many actions you took. So, if you have built up uour income, youc annot then siply just recharge over and over to gain all those points and resrouces. The game very cleverly fixes this.


Nucleum Board Game Review: A Strategy Game Worth Playing?

In Nucleum, achieving top status in all three Income tracks is not really unattainable, demanding focus on two that you feel willhelp you the most. Attempting all three might lead to falling behind the others as you become too much of a generalist, and not enough of a specialist. The Money and workers Income rows contribute less to in-game points than the victory point track but provide essential in-game resources. So, if you focus on these two tracks you may feel you are falling behind. And probably wont trigger the 70 point end game trigger if another player is moving along the points Income track. But fear not. You may well catch up more than you think if you have done well in the other areas. Balancing this aspect of the game's strategy is delicately nuanced, allowing each player to imprint their personality on each session maing each game feel unique.


The setup in Nucleum also offers many variations with diverse board configurations, and scoring methods based on Milestone scorers and chosen Experiments. However, after several games, the two-player version may feel monotonous due to limited player interaction as optimal scoring strategies are identified and become more easilly deployed. Unless you are seeking a solo style experience, the two-player may lose appeal. In contrast, the game truly shines in three- and four-player mode and has yet not come close to looking like it will outstay its welcome.


While Nucleum ranks high for its variety, it falls slightly short compared to games like Brass. Despite this, there's room in my collection for both. I appreciate deep euro games with complex strategy, and Nucleum aligns with this. I envision playing it frequently in the future and would welcome expansions to enhance the two-player experience and overall variety. Additional experiment boards and action tiles could introduce intriguing options and heightened tension. I look forward to much more fun with this box in the future, now if only I could actually close the lid!

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