Norenberc and Cartagena session

Norenberc boxGoing to the games night this week was again a last minute decision, this time because I was recovering from a bad cold. Feeling quite OK and eager to get my Euros back from Matt, as he wasn't able to bring my pre-ordered copy of Caravelas from Essen, I decided to go. As I entered the room, Nigel said 'In the Nick of time, Michel...', because Big Nick had just phoned cancelling his game of Key Market with Susan and David. Fortunately, David had brought along Norenberc, from the designer of Hansa Teutonica. As he explained the rules I thought to myself it would be another dry set collection game, with VPs being awarded for different kinds of sets and majorities. Fortunately I was wrong.

The Game

In Norenberc, there are various guilds (bakers, paper makers, etc.), their craftsmen and the corresponding goods (bread, paper, etc.).  The goal is to hire the best craftsmen of each guild and to gather crests (from the guilds and special ones). By the end of the game VPs are awarded for various conditions. For example, each craftsman is worth a certain number and for each guild the player with the highest sum gets 5VP (2nd placed 3VP, 3rd placed 1V). Additionally, each player gets VPs for the number of different crests they have. There are also special professionals who give bonuses at the end of the game (e.g. extra VP or an extra crest) or immediately (e.g. the thief allows to steal goods from another player).

Goods are needed to hire people and money is needed to buy goods. Money can be obtained by selling goods or hiring people late: you get one coin for each action that has been taken previously in that round in the guildhall from which you're hiring. And how are actions recorded? By using the usual worker placement mechanism. Each player starts with 4 workers and then all players decide secretly in which guildhalls they will enact their workers (to buy or sell products or hire people). Some people, when hired, allow a player to immediately get an extra worker. The worker stays until the end of the round in the guildhall where it was used and this enables one to quickly see how much income a hiring will generate, namely the number of workers present.

A second kind of majority control is needed to obtain guild crests:  at the end of each round, whoever has the majority of goods of a guild receives the corresponding crest, and also one craftsman. There are only as many rounds as there are guilds (4 in a 3-player game), hence only a few chances to get a guild's crest. Getting multiple crests of the same guild doesn't bring any extra VPs. In other words, you should on average get a different guild crest each round or else you'll lose VPs badly, i.e. you should diversify in each round the majority of goods you hold. Furthermore, in each round a person becomes cheaper to hire (one less good required), finally being 'evicted' from the guildhall after some rounds, a mechanism similar to St. Petersburg.

The Review

By now you must have the same the same feeling I had as the game was explained to me: this is all very deja vu, a mixture of familiar mechanisms, the old boring 'place workers to transform money into resources and transform resources into something else that will give VPs' kind of game. I was fearing it would drag on like Caylus, or be a bad pot-pourri like Endeavour, two games I don't particularly enjoy.  However, I quite liked Noremberc. Why?

First, it's not a very long game, even for slow thinkers like me, because there are only a handful of rounds, in each round you only take as many actions as the workers you have, and for each action you have only 3 options (buy, sell, hire). All this provides enough challenge (go to the right guildhalls in the right order, time your hirings, watch what the others are doing to avoid fighting for the same majority in each round, etc.) but is not too complex to get into analysis-paralysis mode. Of course, there were still times where I held up the game (but Susan and David were too polite to point that out, contrary to some other more bantering-prone club members), especially when the craftsman or good I wanted had just been acquired by the previous player. It requires thinking on your feet to get a viable Plan B quickly, something I struggle with.

Second, the various mechanisms work well together and it all makes sense for the theme: building a powerhouse of craftsmen from all guilds. Of course, you have to take 'makes sense' with a large pinch of salt, it's a German Eurogame after all. For example, I wish in real life you could hire bakers for a loaf of bread. But overall, it's a tightly knit game, with some counter-balancing mechanisms. For example, whoever has the majority of a good, and gets the corresponding crest at the end of a round, must return one of those goods to the guildhall, thus making it more difficult for someone to hold on to their goods majority for several rounds. Nevertheless, David managed to do exactly that: he had the boots majority in the first 3 rounds. Susan got it in the last round through a precisely timed hiring of the thief, which enabled her to snatch 2 boots from David and turn the tables around.

Third, the game is tense throughout, but with a peak at the end, like all good games: whoever has the majority of a good in the last round, gains two instead of one craftsmen of the corresponding guild, which can completely change who gets the 5VP for the best craftsmen in that guild. The tension comes from the scarcity of goods and money (leading to weary fights for majority) and from having to make simultaneous decisions on where to place workers (leading to quick tactical changes when different players choose the same guildhall). Despite being very tactical, one can outline some strategies at the beginning of each round, based on the distribution of goods among the players and guildhalls and the people available for hiring. One key strategy is to try to obtain extra workers as fast as possible. I was lucky that many of the special professionals that provide extra workers came out in the first round and I could grab them  largely unchallenged by Susan and David.

Norenberc score

By the second round I had 7 actions per round, which came very handy to buy more goods, hire more craftsmen, and ultimately win the game (with 39VP, against David's 31 and Susan's 29), in spite of practically running out of money and goods (and hence options) in the last round. But due to the extra workers, I could first hire a craftsman and get extra money, and then spend it on the loafs necessary to get the bread majority. This gave me two crests and two extra bakers, and hence several VPs. The photo shows my final situation.

Overall, a challenging but not too complex game that cleverly and smoothly combines some familiar mechanisms into a swift gameplay. I dare say that it can satisfy both those who'd like a medium weight economic game and those who'd like an introduction to the worker placement and the economic resource management types of games. I certainly look forward to playing again this game and, after also enjoying Hansa Teutonica, I'm piqued to try further games by Andreas Steding.

The Dessert

Cartagena 2010 box coverWe then played Cartagena (David brought the beautiful 2010 reprint), one of my most played and favourite games (see 'Games I like' on the sidebar). David was kind enough to move ahead and occupy several places with the same symbol, making it easy for me to use the cards I accumulated throughout the game to move my pirates from well behind quickly into the boat.

This was one of my shortest game nights ever (I left before 10pm), but it was highly enjoyable, with one new game and an old familiar one, both very good in their own genres.

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