I've played Cargo Noir twice now - once with two others who weren't gamers, and once with four others who were gamers.
With a group of three non-gamers, it was a pleasant 30-minute exploration of set collection and bidding. It introduced these new players to the concepts of these mechanisms, and was a nice way to spend time together.
With a group of five, all of whom were gamers, it was a frustrating hour to take us to slightly more than the halfway point until cries of "enough" stopped the game.
I should have suspected something when the playtime on the box read 30-90 minutes. Whenever I see this, it means that there will be great variability due to some game factor, and in this case, it was the number of players.
Here is the underlying problem with the game. Rather than use our modern design methods of breaking up a turn so that everyone can be involved more frequently, this game has each player taking a series of actions before the next player does anything.
In addition, the board situation changes rapidly, so it is difficult for a player to plan out a turn. Players are collecting sets of tiles, and have to do some mathematics about different ways to combine sets of tiles, but they don't know what sets they will get until their turn begins...and then have to do the math while everyone else stares at the player.
With only three players, turns came around quickly, as you were the active player 33% of the time. As there weren't as many players involved, the world didn't change as dramatically, so players could do a little more planning between turns.
With five players, turns took much more time, and you were the active player only 20% of the time. The world changed more between turns, so turns took longer.
Now, a complicating factor was that the non-gamers tended to play more quickly without worrying about maximizing every play. More serious gamers played more slowly, which slowed the game down even more.
The game is not that deep - while the production is beautiful and detailed, the depth of the game is more of a light set collection game. That is fine for a 30-minute experience, but after that, the game overstays its welcome as it drags on toward the 90-minute mark. For Sale and High Society are great games for a 30-minute playtime, but if they ran over that, many people would get frustrated.
The problem: As with all new games, when this game comes out at game night, everyone will want to try it, so will play at the 5-player maximum, Players will quickly find themselves bored for 80% of the game as they can't really plan, and then will feel under pressure to deal with the new situation on their turn.
This points to several design problems. It should have been capped at 4 players to reduce both the percentage of time you sat out of the time and the amount that the game changes between turns. Players should have been given something to do during their turn so they didn't feel completely idle until their turn came around, or the actions in the turn could have been broken up so that players were involved more frequently. I think it's a better match for non-gamers in general; serious board gamers have already played this game in different and shorter forms.
This is a problem that many games have - just because they can handle 5 or 6 players doesn't make it an enjoyable experience. I'm looking at you, Tales of the Arabian Nights!
If you have 5 people that want to play Cargo Noir, play it twice in three-person groups, having one person stick around to teach it the second time. It will be a much more enjoyable experience for all.
Stay off my lawn, you noisy kids!
Grumpy Old Man Nicholson