Cargo Noir: A Game Review

After my last couple of blog posts, I’d like to go ahead and do something lighter.  How about a game review?  People seem to like them, and I haven’t done any in a while.

CARGO NOIR by DAYS OF WONDER

Days of Wonder is a European game company that produces some quality stuff.  Perhaps it’s because tabletop gaming is a more mainstream hobby in Europe (or so I’ve been led to believe) that makes them really put the effort into their games.  Previously, I’ve enjoyed Small World and Battlelore from DoW.  Small World remains popular with me because it is very easy to teach, plays quickly, and is very fun.  It also looks very pretty.

Cargo Noir is another very pretty game.  The components are minimal: a modular board, some cards, some ships, and some coins.  But the ships and coins are plastic, and my wife tells me the detailed molds for the ships required a lot of work.  While the game could work just as well with cardboard chits representing ships, there is something about holding a little plastic ship in your hands that is appealing.  Presentation counts.

Even without the crackerjack presentation, Cargo Noir is an excellent game.  The theme is that all players are smuggling cartels trying to earn the most for their illicit cargo.  Cargo ranges from cigars and art to weapons and uranium.  Each turn, players have a number of actions based on how large their fleet is.  They can bid on ports for goods, go to the black market, or go to the casinos.  The basic rules of the game are so simple that it takes only a few minutes to explain, but this simplicity is what makes the game work.

Players must balance their goals with their money, must know when to stick to their guns, and when to back off.  And yet, the game is swift.  The modular board changes based on the number of players.  The more players, the more ports of call that are open.  The ensures that there are always enough choices to keep things interesting while still putting players at odds.  It’s just very well balanced.

I can’t recommend the game without mentioning a few things though.  First of all, this is a game about criminal activity.  Though it’s not violent or graphic, and it could just as easily be rethemed to a more traditional shipping style game, it’s still a game about smuggling.  If the idea of buying a yacht from your profit selling uranium would bother you, skip the game.

It also has some very nice artwork.  Bright, colorful, and very cartoony.  However, because of the theme, the different cartels are all broad stereotypes.  The Casa Nostra is every Italian gangster cliche in one picture.  And Tres Sombreros are exactly what you would expect.  On the one hand, I don’t find this bothersome because how else would you depict criminals?  And the art is so lively, it’s intended in jest.  But if you’re sensitive about this idea, don’t buy this game.

Finally, the presentation of the game is wonderful, but it does raise the price.  As a guy who really likes games, it seems reasonably priced.  But for a casual gamer, the price tag might be a bit much.  But then again, it’s easy to find deals on the internet.

Those warnings out of the way, Cargo Noir is  lively bidding game with a lot to like in it.  It’s especially nice that it plays well with two players.  So, aside from some presentation and theme issues (which really are very minor), I can safely recommend Cargo Noir as a game worth buying.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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One Comment

  1. Vin Detta
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    *Finally, a game that mimics real life.

    *Hey wiseguy Martinez,

    I’ve read several of your posts. You seem to really love games, and you are creative, and you have an idea of what gamers enjoy. Have you ever considered creating your own game? If not, why? You have all the attributes of a game maker. In fact, hawking game ideas is a lot like hawking books. You might get rejections, but if you try and try again, and if you are lucky: BAM! A factory shoots up in your name. Giant Robot Squid Monster Heros and Villians take a three-dimensional game life, loved by people who love games and A. Lee Martinez–all in your Alien glory. So whatchya say wiseguy? Do you see your newly invented game in my future? Or are me and the boys gonna have to rough you up a bit?

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