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Review: Nostra City

Posted by Eisley on 2nd November 2009

Nostra citYCold War : KGB v CIA is a superb two-player game containing tactical play, creative card use, push-your-luck play and opponent motive guessing.  So, when I heard the designers had created a new game (Nostra citY), I was immediately intrigued.

The game focuses on the trial of a mob boss.  The players are his mobsters and, together, they try to fix the trial so the boss is found innocent.  The most respected player by the boss will win the game.  Players collect turf, wiseguys and income with which they bribe the jury, hire more wiseguys, and so on.

Nosrta citY is a superb, semi-co-operative game for anyone wanting some thoughtful tactical play with a hint of double-crossing and paranoia.  The gameplay is quite unusual so I’ll explain three phases of a round so my comments make more sense.

PHASE 1 – BUSINESS
Players take turns choosing which turf/racket types will generate income and ALL players with these turf/racket types are then due income.  The current player draws an income card (cash) for each turf/racket involved, looks at the cards’ values and then distributes them – one card for each turf/racket.  Of course, the current player can keep the best cards and tell the others the cards were all rubbish.  (If you’ve played Junta, you’ll know this scenario, and the almost mandatory banter, well.)  An extra option is not to give players their income.  This is called ‘cheating’ a player and is totally acceptable; however, cheated players receive Vendetta cards instead which they can use later (usually to do something nasty to the mook who crosssed ’em earlier, see.)

Nostra citY boxPHASE 2 – MEETING
Four cards (wiseguys, turf/rackets, points) are auctioned off .  Players use their wiseguys to bid on any of the 4 cards.  The bids are secret – not just the amount bid but also on which card the cash is being bid – and revealed simultaneously.  Investigations are another type of card that may be auctioned which have bad on-going effects on ALL players unless the players bid the required amount of cash collectively to remove them.

PHASE 3 – TRIAL
Players can place money cards on a bribe pile.  Money can be inocent or guilty (shown by icons on the cards).  Twice during the game, this pile gets shuffled and revealed – Innocent money moves the boss’s  verdict towards innocent and guilty money moves it towards guilty.

WINNING
Earning respect (victory) points is difficult but there are various opportunities.  Every single point really counts too.  If the boss is found innocent at the end of the game, the player with the most respect wins.  If the boss is guilty, all players lose.  There is one exception: a player who has become an FBI snitch during the game (via Vendetta card) will win if the boss is found guilty.

OVERALL
Nostra citY played really well.  The income phase has the nice Junta-esque sharing mechanism and the auctions are quite tense.  Plus, the game has potential to balance itself as pl;ayers can gang-up on the leading player.   The innocent/guilty aspect adds a really nice co-operative element (as well as theme) but the game remains competitive, with the chance of a traitor too.  With 3 players, we didn’t cheat each other much (and there are three different ways you can be ‘cheated’).  As a result, few Vendetta cards got played and I’d hope/expect to see more next time. 

It took a while to understand how each phase worked and how to get the most out of our cards.  Your amount of actions is limited by the number of wiseguys you own, but it was good to see that doing fewer, stronger actions worked too as our 2nd place player finished with the same number of wiseguys that he started with.  At the end, we all said we would play it differently (and better) when we play it again, so it may take a round or two before you can really go to work.

Playing advice: Don’t make the boss too innocent in the first half of the game.  I was losing, with no chance of being an FBI snitch, so I wanted to make the boss guilty so no-one would win.  However, we’d already made the boss very innocent so it was hard to make him guilty later on.

Read my further thoughts in my Nostra City Replay article too at: https://thegameofgaming.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/replay-nostra-city/

James.

[Played with 3 players – Probably even better with 4 or 5 players]

Second Opinion: Read the thoughts of the other player (my friend Rick) at: http://www.gamesetupmatch.com/news.htm#10

Final note:  Before Spiel, the publisher Hazgaard only had rules in French online.  I asked if they had English rules.  They weren’t ready yet but, instead, they sent me the Word doc from the translator which was really nice of them.  Just wanted to recognise Hazgaard’s openness and kindness.

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