If it’s noir related, I’m probably going to enjoy it, and that was absolutely the case for District Noir from Pandasaurus and designers Nao Shimamura and Nobutake Dogen. This game sees players engaged in an all-out battle for the control of District Noir, a highly contested area in Hoboken, New Jersey.
What’s in the box?
District Noir comes with 47 cards (26 support, 7 alliance, 9 betrayal, 3 city), and 2 double-sided summary cards. The only other components are a double sided faction token, and the rulebook.
I am a huge fan of the illustrations and graphic design; they immediately set the noirish-50s vibes and the haziness of the backgrounds makes it feel like there’s smoke around and you’re in an alley somewhere about to get up to some shenanigans. The cards were large, which was a nice change from the usual size, and I liked the different “groups” in the cards. The three location cards represent the docks, the police station, and the city hall.
If you obtain all three of those cards throughout play, you immediately win. The player token isn’t a piece of cardboard either. It’s a legit token with weight, and those little touches are what make a game distinctive from every other one like it.
How’s it play?
It’s a pretty short game but there are a lot of moments for decision making and plotting. Each of the two players start with five cards in their starting hand, with the rest of the deck in the middle of the play area. Two cards are drawn and placed face up in the center of the table. Each game is four rounds, with six turns per player each round, and players take turns performing one of two possible actions. Either you play a card to the end of the row, or you take five cards starting with the last card in the current row, which can happen only once per round.
If your hand is empty, you have to take the second action and take five cards from the center starting with the last card in the row. Whenever you do take cards, you sort them by the type. Once the deck is empty and the final round ends, you calculate your score to determine who wins. For each type of the different groups of supporters, the player who has the majority of those cards scores victory points equal to the number on that support type.
Each set of four different supporters also earns the owner five additional victory points. Then, alliance card points are added, and betrayal cards are subtracted. If there is a tie, the player with the majority of value 8 support cards wins. Again, if you’ve gotten all three city cards, you’ve won.
Before I jump into my thoughts, District Noir actually has quite a history! The original Japanese game is called Throne and Grail, where the two players were trying to get to the holy grail so the factions included farmers, knights, nobles, and monks. There was a second Polish version all about chocolate with the chocolate bars including different types of toppings. The version I played was actually made by French company Spiral Editions. All this to say that the District Noir version has zero markings or notes about who the factions are!
A game with a distinct theme should include that theme through the entire game, and I was disappointed that we don’t get any kind of background or even name for the four factions. My friend and I decided that there was the boxer who worked for a mafia leader (Mr. 8), the 5s were another leader, and of course we got a femme fatale type figure. The alliance (green) cards could be snitches, and there is totally some lore behind how we get control of the city, police station, and the docks. Also if we have docks, shouldn’t we have dockworkers?
Now while none of that is truly a hindrance to District Noir, it did take away from the immersion of the theme, and I was sad about it. Gameplay itself was a lot of fun. I talk about games and knowing I’ll replay them, and my friend and I played this one three times through before we moved onto another game that I have a review coming up for soon.
Taking turns to place cards and strategizing at which point to pick up the five was also fun and did cause quite a ruckus when we realized we had both played (hah) ourselves in trying to play one another. In every game we played, the location cards ended up split across the both of us so neither got to immediately win.
Since you do place some cards in the box at the start, there’s always a chance that one or more location cards will be in the box and not in the deck at all but you don’t get to know until the end!
I know that we’re going to keep playing it, just after I make up an elaborate story for who we are and why we’re fighting. Maybe 5 and 8 are married besties. Who knows.
You can grab District Noir now at your FLGS or directly from Pandasaurus.
Images and review copy courtesy of Pandasaurus
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