22 June 2018
A worker placement game about the Norwegian fishing industry? Good cod
If you play many games, you’ll know by now whether you like Uwe Rosenberg’s designs, and if you don’t then Nusfjord isn’t going to change your mind. Move on: there’s probably something about dragons or zombies on the next page.
For the rest of us, Nusfjord is Rosenberg combining the pastoral themes of his recent tile-laying games with the intricate worker-placement mechanics he’s known for. The back of the box offers exciting times in the heyday of the fishing industry in Nusfjord, a picturesque village in northern Norway. Thrilling it isn’t, but don’t be put off.
On the table, Nusfjord is a mix of different boards, together representing the village and the players’ small fishing companies. You have seven turns to transform yours into the largest fishing company, by cleverly managing all the various resources the game offers you. And there are a lot. This is a big box full of cardboard and fish.
Each turn breaks down into three phases. In the first, your fleet goes out and returns with fish. In the second, you place three workers to acquire resources – gold most importantly, but also more and bigger boats, buildings with different functions, village elders with their various skills, wood, more fish, and even shares in other players’ companies. In the third, there’s jiggery-pokery with special events and moving the first-player marker, which goes counter-clockwise – counter-intuitive, but it means that the person who finishes one round starts the next, and so has an advantage for that round. It’s clever.
The whole game is clever. As you’d expect from a designer of Rosenberg’s calibre, Nusfjord combines complexity and intricacy with mechanics that are easily grasped but demand to be explored with repeated plays.
Nusfjord is designed for longevity. It comes with three 32-card decks of buildings (every building has a special ability or bonus), and each play only uses a subset of one deck. It’s not a legacy game but it almost feels like one: you’ll master a set of components and systems, only for the ground to shift under you.
As with Rosenberg’s puzzle trilogy, there are things in here that will make game designers coo with delight. Forest management is a comparatively minor part of the game but implemented so well; every turn you’ll be deciding whether to thin your forests, cut part of it down, or plant more, depending on whether you’re after short-term or long-term advantage.
My favourite is the banquet table. You can recruit elders to use their abilities, but you have to feed them fish from the village’s communal table first. No fish, and the elders won’t work. So someone – anyone – has to put fish onto the plates on the table, and hope nobody else plays an elder before their turn comes round again. It’s a lovely combination of resource management, push-your-luck and the tragedy of the commons.
Nusfjord is not a hard game to succeed at: you will catch fish, your company and the village will grow, and you’ll feel you’re doing well. This is not Agricola: it’s not a fight for survival and the systems don’t punish you. But learning how to out-fish the other players is a journey that will keep you entertained for many sessions.
A high-quality game in all senses, Nusfjord combines breadth and depth with elegance and charm.
Buy your copy here
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Artist: Patrick Soeder
Time: 20-100 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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