Serge Laget


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Over the last few years the publisher DAYS OF WONDER has established a strong presence at the boardgames market, and it is especially the extraordinary design of the DAYS OF WONDER games which catches many a gamers' eye. Indeed, it's always a thrilling moment to hold a new DAYS OF WONDER game in your hand, because earlier released games suggest that the new gamebox once again will hold a great playing experience and a load of nicely designed playing components.

Today, the players are invited to take the position of shipowners who are sending out their small fleets to trade on the Seven Seas, but instead of staying on the side of law and order the players have decided that smuggling is far more profitable and so they are trading for forbidden goods like uranium, weapons or ivory.

The gameboard shows some ports all around the world, and the composition of the board is adapted corresponding to the number of players. Each of the ports shows a number of empty cargo boxes, and at the beginning of the game each of these boxes is filled with randomly drawn cargo tiles (nine kinds of smuggling goods exist, plus several jokers). Each of the players receives an overview board which shows an illustration of the organisation he is working for, and also six empty cargo boxes which can be filled with cargo tiles during the course of the game. In addition, the players receive a starting treasury of seven coins and a trading fleet of three ships, and with this basic outfit the players start off their careers to become successful bootleggers.

The game will run for a fixed amount of rounds, and the order in which the players take their turns each round remains fixed for the whole duration of the game. Beginning with a randomly chosen start player, the first round consists of the players sending out their ships to the different ports of call available in the game. On the one hand, a ship can be sent to one of the many ports offering cargo tiles, but alternatively ships can also be placed at the market or casino spaces of the central port of Macao. However, the actions associated with sending a ship to any destination will not be performed directly upon placement of a ship, but instead the players will have to wait until the beginning of their next turn in order to perform the actions with the ships.

In this aspect the normal ports of call differ greatly for the two locations available at Macao, because any amount of players can chose to send ships to Macao in order to perform actions there, whereas all other ports only open up a possibility to act if just one player has a ship left at that port. If this condition is met, the single player to have a ship at a port is allowed to collect all cargo tiles available at that port, and so it is easy to guess that quite a bit of competition will arise between the players because everybody wants to collect the cargo tiles especially at the bigger ports with many cargo boxes.

So, how is the conflict of interests resolved? Whenever a player wants to place a ship at a port (with the exception of Macao), the player also places an amount of coins of his choice under the ship. If no other ship is present at the port, the amount of coins placed is up to the player's discretion, but if there is another player's ship present the amount of coins must be higher in order to outbid the other player's ship. However, an outbid ship is not directly returned to its owner, but instead the owner of this ship must wait until the beginning of his next turn in order to take back his ship or to increase his own bid to use the port.

As indicated, only those players are allowed to collect a port's cargo whose ships have not been challenged by any other player, and so everybody has to wait at least for one round before cargo can be collected. However, major ports with valuable cargo may become rather contested, and so it may take several rounds of bidding before a winner is found. Still, due to the limited time frame of the game bidding and counterbidding costs valuable rounds in which ships could be used for other actions, and so the players always face the dilemma how much they should spend in order to deter other players from counterbidding.

The player who wins a port is entitled to take all cargo tiles from that port, and he may store up to six of these cargo tiles on his overview board (possibly exchanging some tiles which had been in storage from previous rounds). However, all remaining cargo tiles must be exchanged for victory points at the end of the player's current turn, and here the haul of victory points is determined by handing in identical and/or diversified sets of cargo tiles. However, the cargo is not directly exchanged for victory points, but instead a two-step procedure must be followed which means that the players first hand in their cargo tiles to receive a purchase allowance, and then the purchase allowance must be used to purchase one or more victory cards. 13 different victory cards exist in the game, and each of these cards has a purchase price and a victory points value. The cards show a range of desirable investments ranging from a Villa, a Yacht or a Nightclub up to a small Princedom, and the players try to purchase the most valuable of these cards because the combined victory points value of all victory cards owned by each player will be used to determine the winner at the end of the game.

Seven most valuable cards are unique, and so the values of these cards ensure that the game may not end in a draw. Only the six lower cards are available in larger quantities, but here ownership of the three lowest ranking cards will give the players additional playing benefits. So, a player may purchase up to two additional ships (for more actions), gain membership in a Syndicate which generates an income of two coins whenever the player withdraws because he is outbid, or increase his own storage capacities by purchasing additional warehouses.

As mentioned earlier, the port of Macao takes a special position in the game. Here ships either can be sent to the casino or the market, and at both places the players are allowed to act even if other players' ships are present. The casino means that the player will gain two coins for each of his ships placed there, whereas the market allows the player either to draw a random cargo tile from the stockpile, or to exchange one of his own cargo tiles for one of the cargo tiles available at the market slots which have been filled with random tiles at the beginning of the game.

The game ends all too soon when the fixed amount of rounds has been played, and the winner usually will be the player who made the most prudent bids upon the placement of his ships. A bid for a port must be high enough to deter hostile counterbids, and so it may be wise to go for smaller harbours in order to prevent the loss of an action because of a counterbid. Quite useful are the victory cards which provide playing benefits, but it is most advisable to purchase these early in order to gain maximum leverage for the rest of the game. However, buying these cheap cards in a larger quantity may result in the waste of a valuable purchase allowance, and so the players need to balance the usability of additional benefits against the possibility to purchase more valuable victory cards.

Before commenting on the game itself, one single point of criticism needs to be directed at the team of DAYS OF WONDER because Cargo Noir continues a somewhat sad tradition which could be experienced with other DAYS OF WONDER games: why are so many great DAYS OF WONDER games limited to five players? Judging from the development of the boardgames market in the past ten to twenty years, gaming once again has become a pastime activity not just for freaks and families but also for more general social meetings with friends. In this context the size of playing groups usually comes to four or six players (i.e. two or three couples), and so the larger audiences are cut off from enjoying these games with a full cast of all players. Games like Cargo Noir or Piratenbucht cry for the inclusion of a sixth player, and apart from the costs for the increase in playing materials it does not seem reasonable to open up the possibility to play these games only with five players.

Leaving this general observation aside, Cargo Noir presents itself as easy-to-understand auction game with a high replay value. In comparison, the rules are even lighter than other DAYS OF WONDER titles like Colosseum or Kleopatra und die Baumeister, because the streamlined auctioning mechanism which can operate without much padding is the clear centrepiece of the game. While such a coupling of auctions and actions is not totally new (one of the last games to use such a mechanism was Grand Cru from EGGERTSPIELE), Cargo Noir is the first game which has focused exclusively on this mechanism. However, this does not result in monotonous gameplay with each round repeating itself, but instead the constant contest and bidding for multiple ports results in a high degree of player interaction and speculation which keeps the game thrilling from the beginning to its end. As it is usual for a DAYS OF WONDER game, the artwork is absolutely flawless, and to my mind the whole product shows a high potential to become a modern classic due to its simple but elegant playing concept.

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany