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Replay: Nostra City

Posted by Eisley on 9th December 2009

Nostra City originally grabbed my interest because it’s by the designers of Cold War (CIA v KGB).  The theme was great, the rules sounded good and I enjoyed it when I played it at Spiel (initial review here).  I’ve played it a few times since then and I still really like it for several reasons.  (If you don’t know how the game is played, I suggest reading my initial review before this article.)

WHY I LIKE IT
First of all, each game feels quite different.  The cards that come up for auctions can really alter the shape of the game depending upon their mix.  If there are lots of wiseguys early on, players may be more likely to cheat each other out of income because it will be scarce.  If there’re lots of more racket/turf cards early on, income will be high and players may bid differently and have more options when making the boss more innocent or guilty.

Nostra City does allow a player to pursue several different strategies too.  You can focus on earning respect points through the game rather than building your mob; or, focus on winning specific end game points like the 2 points for having the most Vendetta cards; or, aiming for income in order to dominate auctions.  It can be difficult to stick to these strategies if the cards to facilitate them don’t appear for auction though.  Whilst a player always needs money, turf and wiseguys, we have seen it is possible to win with almost no expansion of your original mob.

I like how the respect (victory) points are really valuable.  They are by no means abundant, earning each point takes effort and every point counts.  When cards appear for auction that give respect points, it’s a real decision whether to bid for them or not.  In many games, earning extra points during the game are often only minor bonuses.

The snitch is an interesting aspect.  A player drawing one of the two snitch cards from the Vendetta deck wins if the boss is found guilty (highest respect breaks ties between snitches).  In terms of respect, this works fine because you’re still trying to gain respect.  However, drawing the snitch card in the last round or two can be really difficult as it leaves you little time to try to make the boss guilty, unless another snitch is already at work.  One key thing I’ve learned is not to make the boss too innocent too early just in case  you want to make him guilty later because (a) you become the snitch, or (b) you’re trying to make everyone lose (so long as there’s no snitch).

A FEW IMPROVEMENTS
Overall, Nostra City is a tough, tightly resourced and very enjoyable game.  However, I think there are a few areas that could be polished.  First, Nostra City isn’t generous with resources but it can be very difficult (almost unfair) if the cards come out in an odd order.  In one game, only one turf/racket card was available for auction during the first half of the game.  This meant one player had a much better income than the others.  I have wondered if this could be prevented with a small tweak.  Maybe the player in last place selects the 4 cards for auction from of a selection of 6 or 8 rather than it being completely random.  Alternatively, maybe some structure is required for the auction cards, i.e. 2 respect cards max, or first 2 rounds must include at least one turf and one wiseguy.

Also, playing with fewer players seems to mean less chance of interaction.  For example, if one player’s racket/turf types do not overlap with other players then this can disadvantage them.  With fewer players, maybe the number of different types of rackets/income should be fewer too, i.e. use turf/racket cards of only 3 colours and 2 icons (rather than the usual 4 colours and 3 icons) for a 3 player game.  This would cause more overlapping to reach a similar rate as a game with 5 players.  This would only require a few extra turf/racket cards in the box.  Also, fewer money cards should be used with fewer players too so the FBI raid card comes up as frequently as a 5 player game. 

Finally, a few of the wiseguys seem more a lot more powerful/useful than others, but these can change depending upon the number of players (i.e. the wiseguy who gets an unclaimed auction card can be less valuable in a 5-player game when most auction cards are claimed every round.

SUMMARY
As it stands, I think Nostra City is more fun with 4 or 5 players due to higher interaction, even if it’s more difficult because there are still only 4 cards for auction each turn.  More players means more targets, more chance of racket/turf cards overlapping, more vendetta card usage, and more competition during auctioning.  Playing with 3 players is still really good though.  I’d like rules for a 2-player game too – it may need to be without snitches though.

Nostra City isn’t a game for new board gamers as it has unusual mechanics and the rules aren’t always crystal clear.  However, it is a great game for gamers, it plays relatively quickly (especially after the first game) and has some great interaction.  I found all players have agreed that it took a play to really get into how to work the systems, and all wanted to play it more.

James.

[Played with 3 and 4 players]

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