Back in 2008, I was brand new to the hobby and had just moved to a new town. I was quick to find the local game stores (all of which were much closer proximity to me than the last place I had lived), and the first game I bought was
Notre Dame is a 2007 game from designer Stefan Feld that was published as part of the alea Big Box Series. It’s for 2-5 players and takes 45-75 minutes. This is a very early game from Feld, only a couple of years into his career. So why am I talking about a ten-year old game on this blog that is quite clearly a card-carrying member of The Cult of the New? Because Ravensburger (parent company of alea) is releasing a 10-Year Anniversary Edition later this year (March is what I heard). So let’s take a look at it.
The basic game of Notre Dame comes with 5 game board sections, 3 Notre Dame tiles, 45 action cards, 15 person cards, 70 influence cubes, 5 rat cubes (black), 5 trusted friend pawns, 5 carriages, a bell-ringer standee, 20 message tokens, 25 gold coins, and 84 prestige tokens. The 10th Anniversary edition also includes the New Persons expansion (including nine new characters), as well as a new New Persons expansion (nine more characters). There’s also an expansion for Castles of Burgundy, because that makes sense.
To start the game, choose the Notre Dame tile for your player count (there’s a triangular tile for 3, a square for 2 or 4, and a pentagon for 5), then place the board sections so that there’s one per side. Each player takes a carriage, trusted friend, four message tokens, nine-card action deck, and 14 influence cubes in their color, as well as a rat cube. The carriage is placed in the center of your game section, and the four message tokens are randomly assigned to the appropriate sections. The rat cube is placed on 0 of your rat track. Take four of the influence cubes into your personal supply, and make a general supply with the others. Each player starts the game with three coins. The start player gets the bell-ringer.
A game of Notre Dame will be played over the course of nine rounds, divided into three three-round ages (A, B and C). At the start of each round, you will deal out two of the six brown person cards, as well as one of the nine gray person cards. The gray persons have a letter on their back, and will only be seen once per game. The brown persons have no letter, and will be reshuffled when they run out. These people can be hired at the end of the round, and will also tell you how bad the rats will be.
Also at the start of each round, players will draw the top three cards of their action deck and choose one to keep. The other two are passed to your left. You’ll choose one of those, and pass the remaining card to your left. This will give you three cards, only one of which will be yours (except in a two-player game, where you will have two of your original cards).
Beginning with the bell-ringer, each player will take a turn playing one of their cards and taking the action depicted. Then, each player will play a second. The third card will not be played, and should be sandwiched in between the played cards to make sure no one but you knows what it was. There are nine possible action cards, and therefore nine possible actions:
- Cloister School: Take a cube from your personal supply and place it in the cloister school borough. Then take cubes from your general supply equal to the number of cubes you have at the cloister school and add them to your personal supply. So playing the first cube will get you one more cube, but playing a second later will get you two more. Cubes are always taken from your personal supply, so you’ll want to keep well supplied.
- Bank: This plays similarly to the Cloister School, except that you get money equal to the number of cubes at the Bank.
- Residence: This one is the same idea, but you get prestige tokens (VPs) equal to the number of cubes at the Residence.
- Carriage House: You’ll add a cube to the Carriage House and move one message space per cube there. If there’s a message token where you land, you may take it and earn the depicted reward. However, you must collect one message of every color before you can collect a second.
- Hotel: Here, you may take a gold coin or a prestige point or move your rat cube back one space. This will be the case if you have 1-3 cubes there. If you have 4-6, you can either do the same action twice or do two different actions.
- Hospital: Each time a cube is placed here, you move your rat cube back one space. Also, it will reduce the rat effect at the end of the round.
- Park: Like the Hospital, placing a cube here will reduce your rats by one. Every two cubes here will give you an extra point every time you do something that earns points.
- Trusted Friend: Your trusted friend acts as an extra cube. You can move him around to anywhere in your borough (not Notre Dame). Each time you play the Trusted Friend, he’ll move somewhere else – you can’t leave him in one spot. Feel free to name him – I call mine Jacques.
- Notre Dame: Send a cube here and pay 1-2-3 coins to get 1-3-6 prestige points. If you go here, you must pay.
If you ever run out of cubes from your personal supply, you can just move cubes around on the board for different actions. This won’t help you with stacking, but it can get you out of a pinch.
Once all players have taken their two actions, everyone may choose to spend one coin to hire one of the people made available at the start of the round. You don’t have to. A person will be available to everyone to hire, even if hired by someone else.
Finally, you end the round by seeing how badly you were hit by The Plague. Count up the rats on the person cards and advance your rat cube that many spaces. The Hospital reduces this by one for every cube there. If you ever would move your rat beyond space 9 (the last space on the track), leave it there, lose two points, and remove one influence cube from the sector with the most. DO NOT NEGLECT THE RATS.
At the end of each age, you’ll score Notre Dame, dividing up the number of points shown between the cubes that are present there. Then you return the Notre Dame cubes to the players’ general supply, return all action cards and keep playing. After the third Age, the game ends and the player with the most points is the winner.
I’ve never done a full review of Notre Dame, which is a shame because it’s a great game. It’s early Feld, but you can see the stirrings of what would later be known as his signature style – lots of different things to do and strategies to pursue, a unique look to the setup, and of course, pain. Here, the pain comes in the form of the rats, and it’s very easy to overlook them. DO NOT OVERLOOK THEM.
One of the most interesting parts of this game is how the cubes stack to give you better options. The Cloister School seems silly at first – you mean I have to spend a cube to get a cube? – but once you get a few cubes in there, you will know why it exists. The economy of cubes is very tight, and if you can’t get yourself more, you’ll never get those big combos working.
I’m very glad Notre Dame has a reprint coming. I doubt I’ll get it as my original is still in fine shape, but it may be worth seeking out the extra Persons expansions to add a little more variety to the game. If you’ve never played Notre Dame, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. Thanks for reading!