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Norenberc, Navegador, and London

March 1, 2011

The Opinionated Gamers launched toward the end of January 2011 as a new home for the types of columns and reviews that were previously found on Boardgame News, but which would not be a part of the news features as it was folded into BoardGameGeek, namely the opinion-based articles. After just a little over a month, I've been remarkably impressed by the quality and quantity of the output of my fellow writers. Three pieces in particular that I wanted to highlight are: (a) Postcards from Berlin #45: Limits by Jeffrey Allers; (b) The Art of Design: Interview of Leo Colovini by Andrea Ligabue; and (c) A Guide to German Publishers: Part I and Part II by Patrick Korner. The first is as good as any of Jeffrey's earlier Postcards from Berlin on BGN, which is to say excellent. The writing is easily some of the very best out there in the hobby and the way the ideas are weaved together is so seamless and compelling that he makes it look far easier than it is. The second is a wonderfully in-depth interview, yet with a different outlook than you might be used to, and makes for a very entertaining read. Finally, Patrick's guide to publishers is a strikingly well-researched piece that is bound to be an indispensable article for anyone looking to learn about the fundamental building blocks of the industry.

In addition to drawing your attention to those three articles, among the many great columns that have already been written on The Opinionated Gamers, I thought I'd also share with you my three meager contributions thus far. The system for reviewing games on the site involves one person writing an in-depth review and anyone else familiar with the game appending a paragraph or so to the end with their additional commentary. I've managed to write up my thoughts on three games so far for the site, those being the titular Norenberc, Navegador, and London. Sadly I've missed the window for contributing to more reviews than I've made the window for, having missed out when I meant to write commentary for the reviews of Asara, 7 Wonders, Vinhos, and Furstenfeld. Since I wasn't a big fan of any of those, perhaps that dampened my motivation. Then again, as you'll see below, I take issue with the games I have written about in various ways as well. For each of these, my comments probably make more sense in the context of the review itself, so you may want to head to review on The Opinionated Gamers for the full story.

Norenberc (link to full review)

It is no Hansa Teutonica indeed. Andreas Steding came out of nowhere last year – at least for me – with the fantastic Hansa Teutonica (almost reminiscent of William Attia in 2005). It could all be about expectations though. I went in to Hansa T. (as I affectionately call it) with little to no expectations and ended up being very pleasantly surprised. A year later I went in to Norenberc with high hopes (the “Puerto Rico / Mammoth Hunters effect” if you will) and so perhaps I was destined for disappointment. As Valerie explains, Norenberc is completely different from Hansa Teutonica so their fans will likely overlap very little. Although I will note that a salient feature of both is that players score for a ton of different factors at the end of the game (okay only about six or so in each) and players can specialize or diversify as they please, which is a nice feature but makes it daunting to keep track of the possibilities. In the end, Hansa T. felt fresh and different, whereas Norenberc feels like a more classic stock market game of buying goods low and selling high. I rated it the oh-so-helpful “Neutral” below because I would be fine playing it again, but at this point don’t believe the game offers enough to distinguish itself to merit owning.

Navegador (link to full review)

Navegador ranks relatively highly in the hierarchy of Rondel games and yet it still pales in comparison to Imperial and Imperial 2030. I found the game less rough around the edges than Antike and far less boring than Hamburgum, but while this gives it a lofty relative position in the Gerdts pantheon, Navegador still leaves much to be desired.

First, contrary to popular opinion, there is only one path to victory and that is the path of least resistance. Of course there are five different scoring areas you can focus on (i.e., colonies, factories, exploration, churches, and shipyards), but if you dare focus on an area that an opponent or two is also pursuing then you’re both conceding a huge advantage to whoever is a solitary explorer. True, interaction with your fellow players is a good thing – a great thing I dare say – but the interaction in this game feels mechanical and off-putting. The game urges you more than just about any other to conform to a strategic path of your fellow player’s choosing, that being the path that they choose not to go down. In this way, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the problem that rears its head in Antike of the person who happens to least avoid conflict emerging victorious. It’s not the same sort of obvious turtling as in Antike or Twilight Imperium, but a slightly subtler force at work here. The syndrome of let’s you and him fight is still a problem in my mind even when in disguise.

Second, the fantastic, excellent, wonderful... incredibly overused Rondel is back. Five years after its debut and after constant use and re-use, the Rondel is beginning to look a little haggard. Given the designer’s obvious talents, I’d love to see something a bit more off the beaten path, and boy is this path beaten. I know Gerdts stated in a thread on BoardGameGeek that he experimented with alternative action selection mechanisms, but in the end turned back to the Rondel because of its clear advantages, which he goes on to list. Perhaps if the Rondel wasn’t your starting point that you considered diverging from then you wouldn’t always find yourself ending up back there. Yes, it’s an efficient way to organize the choice of actions and to plan them ahead. Yes, each action is easy and fast, with opportunity costs to consider, and you can see what other players could be doing next. But despite all that, it’s time to give the Rondel a break, at least for a bit, before it completely wears out its welcome.

Those two things being the case, Navegador is still an interesting exercise. It provides a well-crafted optimization puzzle that rewards both planning and flexibility. However, Navegador pales in comparison to the engaging experience of Imperial, which may be a more fragile system, but nonetheless rewards players with a far more memorable time. My memories from a couple games of Navegador are not bad, but they’re not exciting enough to make me particularly eager to go back for another trip around the Cape.

London (link to full review)

Three players is definitely the sweet spot for London. With two players there’s too much rinse and repeat repetition and with four players there is an intolerable amount of downtime between turns. The biggest issue I have with the game that I didn’t see mentioned above was the predictable cyclical nature of it. I don’t think this becomes entirely apparent until after three or four plays, but now I find myself seeking ways to break out of it just for the sake of seeing something new. You get cards (ideally by buying a district, or just take three cards if you can’t afford a district and don’t want to take a loan), then you play cards, then you run your city. Then you do it all again and again and again. To mix it up you might take cards twice if you don’t like the cards you got the first time, discard a few (down to the hand limit of 9), then play cards and run your city… exciting stuff. I’m overstating my point though because it actually is a game I like somewhat, but it’s getting a bit too repetitive and I fear it may suffer the same fate as St. Petersburg of getting old and stale too fast. The repetitiveness of the game is exaggerated with two players because the deck (which is the game clock) is the same size regardless of the number of players and thus you get more turns in a two-player game and more time to notice that you’re just doing the same few steps over and over.

As others have mentioned, the game is a remarkably solitaire experience (no matter how many players are involved). This is far beyond the supposedly solitaire nature of games like Princes of Florence or Agricola, which are not at all solitaire in my mind. This is truly a lonely sort of game. Consequently, adding a fourth player contributes absolutely nothing positive to the game and just makes it take longer between your turns, when you might as well get up and walk around the room to stretch your legs. Thus, three players is the ideal number in my experience and since the game might get old after only a handful of plays, I’d encourage you to make the most of those plays and make sure you sit down to them with the right number of people.