Type: Euro / Worker Placement

Time to play: 100-120 minutes (Teaching: 20-25 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Player (2 – 4 Players)

As per the picture I was lucky enough to playtest this game, but quite late in the process of it heading to kickstarter – however, those couple of games were enough for me to think that there was something there and something to enjoy amongst my more heavy game minded friends. This theory was further endorsed by Heavy Cardboard’s review of it prior to the kickstarter. So, here I am almost 9 months later putting my own thoughts down on the post kickstarter version.

I talk as if there were huge changes, but there weren’t massive movements between the copy I played and the final one. The main ask from play testers at my stage was to help with the rule book (a few suggestions were taken on and a few weren’t – all with good reason). However, I will focus this review on the experience as a player of the completed and new game.

For me then a lot of a review is what is this game trying to achieve and why is this game interesting to a new player, who frankly has a lot of choices available these days. Well Noggin the Nog or “Tales of the Northlands; The Sagas of Noggin the Nog” to give it the somewhat grander proper title, is a game that throws a player into a rich history of BBC cartoons from many years ago. It’s an odd setting for a game but very exciting and for those who remember the show the game has been created by a true fan who has stayed close to much of the rich theme available.

Every part of this game draws you in to the adventures of this small tribe of characters, and the ever present threat of Nogbad (the evil character of the game) is a meaningful way of evoking the episode by episode efforts of Nogbad to disrupt Noggin’s plans.

For a player with none of this history though, the game can be stripped back to a semi-co-operative worker placement with a clever time mechanic. The semi co-op part is an ever present threat from Nogbad that will bring the game to a loss for all players – this is basically a turn limiter mechanic, but can definitely add a tension to all players and a drive to move the game on. The game is won (by a player) if the little sagas of Noggin are completed – this is also one of the largest ways to score points. The alignment between player goals and team goals therefore is strong and supports this semi co-op drive.

It’s a worker placement because fundamentally each turn will require you to place workers in spaces on the board and gain resources / take actions. This worker placement differentiates itself by asking that a player places more meeples (from a limited stock) if they want to do an action they already have a meeple on. This clever mechanic which costs one meeple for the first time the action is taken, two for the second and a further three for the third time, means that you really have to weigh up the use of your limited worker pieces.

As well as the limitation of your pieces though, you must consider the time. Time in this game is a mechanic for handing over between player turns. A player therefore can take as many actions as they can afford until they are at the front of the time track. Once there, they must surrender their turn to the player now at the back. This mechanic adds season and the passing of the years to the game. Clever and very different, it pushes players to work out what they can achieve and in an efficient path.

The only downside of monitoring these two key dynamics is that this can cause players to want to reverse parts of their turns or indeed be paralysed by thought as trying to hold these two variables can be challenging. Limited resources in every part of the map also means that it’s almost impossible to plan ahead. By the time it’s your turn, the mine or woods or market could offer very different options to what you thought they would!

This is a little bit of a theme for me with this game – it’s easy to get paralysed. Pass turns when you don’t have enough players to act. Get stuck on the sames space on the time track as another player (losing efficiency). This is a punishing game if you are not a heavy gamer and that warning has some dissonance with the light theming of a child’s cartoon. The same criticism has been made of Root in the past, and it doesn’t make either game bad – it just means that this is my warning to players who might think this is a lighter game.

The complexity also does impact the feeling that this game is quite as streamlined as I would like. I wrote recently about Architects of the West Kingdom; the game is peeled back to almost the essential only. Here though the rich and very “true to original” theme holds together a few mechanics which if you are less familiar with the history may seem irrelevant.

For me, focused just as a gamer without the background, the main challenge I have is the inventions. The inventions follow the same mechanic and same action space as the sagas and don’t drive the plot forward. You might be thinking, okay but then why even go for them at all? Well because the player with the most gets 40 points! That is regularly as much as I have scored during the game…. Now the second most gets 30 points, so the marginal score is not that bad, but if you don’t get any of these you are just not going to win the game – literally not. For me, this feels like an area where I am forced to repeat a mechanic I am already familiar with but not to advance the plot, just to grab a card and register my desire to win the game.

I am perhaps focusing in too much on this aspect of the game, and I am certain that I will get some comments about the money invention or others that impact the game. For me though, this was at the margin and I may house rule that we just play without inventions. I actually really like this game without them, and there is such a wonderful combination of player and team objectives with the saga that I still value having added this game to my collection.

Overall then – I find this game extremely clever, the mechanics are inspirational and thematic elements add to the game. However, like some great books, I feel it might need more editing to just play in a sharper way that allows me to really get the most from this one.

Last notes,

  • If you are a fan of the old show, this is a must for the authenticity
  • If you don’t like heavy games, this isn’t the one to bridge into the group!
  • If you win, try and the sagas will vary the nature / style of game