It’s always an event when Days of Wonder releases a game. They don’t release more than one big new game a year, and they always spend a month or two building up the buzz before unveiling the final product. The first time this happened after I really got into the hobby was when Small World came out in 2009. Mystery Express was their big title for 2010, and while it turned out to be more of a disappointment to a lot of people, there was still a lot of hype around its release.
2011’s big release is Cargo Noir, coming from Days of Wonder and designer Serge Laget. Illustrations were done by Miguel Coimbra. The game is for 2-5 players ages 8 and up, and takes around an hour to play. The game is set in the 50s and is all about smuggling goods. You’ll be sailing to various ports, buying goods and then trading them to build up your fleet and earn VPs. At first glance, this doesn’t really seem like a game that will appeal to me – there’s an auction mechanic, which is really not my thing. However, it’s a Days of Wonder title, and the theme seems kind of interesting, so I’ll give it a look.
The board is made up of nine modular pieces. These are the ports in the game. Macao is in the center, surrounded by Tanger, Rotterdam, Cape Town, Rio, Panama, Bombay, Hong Kong and New York. The game also comes with 131 Cargo tokens, 14 each of the 9 good types (alcohol, weapons, art, cars, cigars, ivory, jewels, gold and uranium) with 5 wild tokens. There’s a bag from which these will be drawn. There are 54 victory cards, including 24 “smuggler’s edge” and 30 “victory spoils” cards. There are five different family sheets, one for each player. There are 25 plastic ships, five for each player. Finally, there are 60 coins, one turn marker, and one first player marker.
When setting up the board, some of the ports will be closed. Tanger will only be open for the 5 player game. Rotterdam and Rio are closed for 2-3 players. Bombay is closed with 2 or 4 players. The rest of the ports will be open in every game. It’s always nice when the board is variable for different numbers of players from the start, instead of just cramming a variant in at the end of the rules. Goods are drawn to fill Macao and the ports (wild tokens equal to the number of players are mixed in). Each player gets a family, three ships, and seven gold. Smuggler’s Edge and Victory Spoils cards are separated into different decks, and the game is started by the player who most recently visited a real port. Much like in Small World, the first player will advance the turn marker every time he takes a turn.
There are three phases of a player turn: resolve ship actions, trade cargo, and send ships to new destinations. In the first turn, you’ll skip the first two phases and move straight to the third phase. So that’s what I’m going to do right now. In this phase, you’ll simply move your ships around to the different destinations, though the effects of their destinations won’t come into play until the next turn. You could send your ship to the casino in Macao, where you’ll gain 2 gold. You could go to the black market of Macao, where you can draw a random good from the bag or swap on of your own with those currently on the market. You could move to any of the ports around the board and bid on the goods there. To do this, place your ship on a pile of coins (which must be at least one more than the pile of any other ship there).
So, in phase one, you’ll resolve those ship actions. Take your two coins from the casino; take your random or swapped good from the black market; purchase all cargo in the port (as long as your bid is the only one there) and refill the cargo; add more coins if you were outbid; or abandon your bid. If you abandon, you recover your coins and your ship, and may not go back there this turn.
In phase two, you can trade in your cargo for victory cards. These cards must be claimed by turning in combinations of goods. Some of these victory cards also give you special actions (smuggler’s edge). You have a certain amount of warehouse space on your family sheet, and you must spend anything that doesn’t fit, or you lose it.
Keep playing for a set number of turns (10 with 4-5 players, 11 with 2-3), and the game is over. The player with the most points wins. And there it is. It looks fairly simple to grasp, and it’s not a terribly complicated auction mechanic. I can never figure out what to bid in these things, and with eight possible places to bid, I don’t know how well I would do. However, it has all the hallmarks of a DOW game – simple rules, stylish art, good looking components. I think this game will be better received than Mystery Express was. I never played ME, but it did seem that there were too many hoops to jump through to find the culprit. And who knows, maybe it will be the game that makes the auction mechanic more accessible to people like me. I’m definitely interested to give it a shot.
That’s it for tonight. Gotta brace for Snowmageddon. Thanks for reading!