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Weekend Play Report - Ex Novo, and the joy of mapmaking games

Routing to recreation.

Hello, Dicebreaker readers. Welcome back to another week of board game and RPG news. Let’s kick it off with a discussion of the games that made it to our tables this weekend.

The familiar itch to draw some maps struck me, but rather than just doodle a continent on a sheet of paper and fill it with trees and mountains, I turned to Ex Novo for a solo session of civilisation building.

For the unfamiliar, Ex Novo delivers a mapmaking experience for up to four players centered around telling the broad but incomplete history of a settlement and its immediate surroundings. The scale can range from hamlets to metropolitan sprawl and encompasses any genre the group feels like tackling. Creators Martin Nerukar and Konstantinos Dimopoulos designed the book with prompts galore, giving players plenty of creative lead when populating their map with resources, landmarks, natural features and - most importantly - the political forces shaping the growth of their city.

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Three phases start the group at planning the geography, then moves through the arrival and initial founding of the settlement. The meat of the game watches it grow and change over a set timeline that dictates just how much game everyone wants to play. Events can introduce new resources, emperil lives with disasters or riots or shake up the distribution of power within established factions. At the end, the city lives on beyond the game and could provide ample roleplay space for a homebrew campaign or other game.

I played solo, shouldering the burden of leading my coastal city of Fugio through its growing pains. Founded by three merchant families fleeing an all-encompassing war, they initially pushed out settlements of amphibian folk from the ruins of a temple to make space for their budding mercantile village. Not a great start, one must say.

Almost immediately, the peasant class revolted as the three families consolidated wealth and power around them and established a tiered caste system. The blue-collar Bossonites eventually won representation in one part of the city and remained a thorn in every ruler’s side throughout the rest of the game.

The back half of my game was marred with tragedy: a fire destroyed two whole districts and enflamed bigoted sentiment among everyone in Fugia. This wasn’t helped when a plague broke out mere decades later, forcing Le Tre Famiglie to quarantine another two districts, effectively halving the size of Fugio in half a century. Many blamed the Bossonites or Famiglie sympathisers; everyone blamed the Frog Folk.

Ex Novo RPG artwork

My last turn saw something spectacular and terrifying put all of that squabbling into perspective. The volcano that had appeared a century past seemed ready to erupt again, but instead of lava the progenitor god of the Frog Folk, wreathed in flame, emerged and trundled through the bay. New islands formed in its wake, and it disappeared into the jungle peninsula, leaving Fugio utterly gobsmacked.

And that’s where Ex Novo ended, leaving me with countless questions and a burning desire to find out what happened to the seemingly cursed town with a frog god on its doorstep. That’s the strength of a good mapmaking game - leaving players wanting to explore the world they just created together. Whether a group wants a break from the normal campaign, or a GM wants to invest everyone in a new world immediately, Ex Novo - or its dungeon counterpart Ex Umbra - come with a sterling recommendation.

What did you play this weekend, Dicebreaker readers? Let us know in the comments, and share your Ex Novo or other mapmaking game memories.

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