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Subject: Nusfjord – Some first impressions, mainly of the solo game. rss

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Simon
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Firstly, I should declare that I am a fairly uncritical Uwe-fan, and in contrast to gamers with more serious buying habits who might be deciding whether to buy this or another game, a game like this is an instabuy for me. The only big Uwe games I don't really like are the Patchwork series (I just find the tile mechanic really jarring).

I should also make clear I have only played the 1 and 2 player game, and mostly solo, in line with the heavily weighted ratio of my enthusiasm for games to my wife's. Lastly, I enjoy games mainly for their mechanics and don't mind if I win or lose or how high my score is, so perfectly balanced buildings or rules that mean the most-skilled player is likely to win are not absolutely critical to me - I am very happy, for example, with the luck of the draw that you have in Cave versus Cave.

I wanted to address a few concerns that others had voiced and I was initially worried about.


One of the two building supply boards

The art work (or lack of) on the buildings.
I was disappointed when I heard about this, as I just love the artwork on Uwe's other games, but as soon as the game arrived I started playing and haven't dwelt on the lack of images, if anything I have appreciated the clarity of the text on the buildings, which is a good size font with more space without an image. It has been quite nice playing without the game being interrupted by my wife asking "what does that say..." as she holds up a card or tile. The visual display across the boards is actually very busy, with lots of art on the boards rather than on the text-laden cards, which is the other way round to games like Agricola, where the board background is fairly plain but the cards or tiles hold the text and illustration. The boards have lots of illustrations and further images on the buildings would be just too much visually. I have good eyesight for reading any font size and I love the identity the illustrations give to cards in other games, so I do prefer illustrations on cards, but it certainly makes some sense to have imagery on the boards and mainly just text on cards, especially with the roll-out of energy-saving light bulbs making us squint to read small fonts of an evening.

The C (bonus) buildings coming out in round 4.
If you are competitive, to the extent that you feel it if you lose or your score is low, I can see how this might rankle, as it could affect your score and you might feel hard done-by if you get strong cards you could have planned for. If you just love revelling in the mechanics of the game, aim for a high score, but often enjoy games irrespective of your score, this is actually a really nice rule as it means you just focus on getting established with the A and B buildings, and then have the fresh excitement of your four card offer in round 4.

The balance in the C buildings.
I am really not in a position to analyse and assess this, but it seems some of the C buildings are more generous than others, and there is quite a lot of calculating each building’s benefit, measuring VP against cost. If anything, I think this adds to the game and I love the variety in the buildings and the excitement of getting a strong building, just as I like getting a strong card in pre-revision Agricola.

Shares and how well they work.
I was sceptical about shares, especially as I play 1 or 2p. In one 2p game we did end up just swapping shares, but what I did not realise is how useful they are as a way to generate gold and increase catch size. At first I worried that at low player counts and just 5 shares, the shares would be clunky, and they can feel like that, until you get stuck in to using them, and see how powerfully the sell and buy shares actions can affect your game, and how a good number of shares can be as effective as a large fleet. One of the great things about the game is you can take alternative routes, and in some games I have completely ignored shares and still done very well, but I would say more often I carefully choose when to sell and then try to buy a good number of shares back.

Replayability.
In each game you use roughly half a deck, so you soon get familiar with the buildings, and if I could only make one wish (now that I have upgraded the coins) it would be that the buildings were drawn from a bigger deck, but to attach replayability specifically to this is wrong as each game plays out very differently. The endless variety in the cards in Agricola contributes to its replayability, but that isn't the only source of replayability in a game. I actually quite like the familiarity in the buildings, as experience allows you to see different synergies. Who knows if there will be an expansion, but in the appendix the word "currently" is used a few times, indicating possibly that in the future there will be more cards. Whilst each deck becomes familiar after a handful of plays, the interactions between buildings is really deep and despite the air of familiarity, it will take endless plays to explore the various different interactions. Playing Agricola from the old EIK,Z,G1 and G2 decks which, I think, is 270 Minor Improvements I still deal out cards I have never seen before, but the better comparison for replayability would be Glass Road and Loyang, which both have huge replayability with more modest banks of cards/buildings.


The three resources, fish, wood and gold.

The coins.
The coins are just wrong, I have skinny pianist's fingers, but simply cannot pick them up, so I have replaced them. For me, having all resources in wood is really satisfying, so plastic or metal coin alternatives are a no-no, and I couldn't find small wooden discs, so in the end borrowed the golden yellow cubes from Merkator.


Upgraded coins and a storage solution

So with my gold coins upgraded and these initial concerns put to one side, what is the feel of the game?

Feel of the game.
It plays very quickly, but is really deep. The game I have played most in the last few months has been Cave versus Cave, because I like it, but mainly because I don't have much time, so I can shoe-horn a quick 20 minute solo game in here and there. Nusfjord is also very quick (I play all my games very slowly, but will play this solo in 30 minutes, plus under 5 mins either side setting up/tearing down) but Nusfjord is a fuller gaming experience. The quick set up and short play time make it feel lighter than Agricola or Fields of Arle, but I don't find it lacks their depth at all. There is plenty of AP and occasional brain-burn, at least as deep, if not deeper than Loyang or Glass Road. It also feels tight like Agricola does, though without the constant stress of potential starvation. Like Glass Road, this game solo can make your head literally explode, but whereas the lack of worker placement can make Glass Road a bit dry until you get immersed in the building interactions and resource conversion, the worker placement element makes Nusfjord great fun.

Resource conversion and harvesting aspect.
I have always enjoyed the resource conversion and the harvesting elements of Uwe's games, and it is true that in Nusfjord, with just three resources, it is less of a feast of resource conversion, and the fish haul doesn't have the same buzz as harvesting crops and animals breeding (unless, that is, your fish-catch is massive), but the focus on just three resources works well in Nusfjord, and there is still plenty of resource conversion in the game to scratch that itch.

Card offers and blocking.
I think Caverna is great fun, but I still find the 48 tile offer dizzying, and miss the suggested strategies that come from a hand of cards, and I am only really happy once I have (pretty randomly) come up with a strategy to follow. In Nusfjord, the 15 building initial offer is perfect - big enough to allow for new synergies each time, but easy enough to digest in one survey, especially as the buildings become familiar. I like that the buildings suggest a route (like in Agricola), but that there are also completely different parallel strategies you can take (as in Fields of Arle). Whilst there is no risk of starvation, there is occasionally the risk of blocking-rage, like in 2p Agricola. I just make sure I don't take an action my wife might want and it is all fine.


Player’s Harbour board

Hall of Fame?
This game seems very fresh to me and has a depth that comes out with more plays and more experimenting with different strategies. Agricola and Fields of Arle will probably always remain my favourite games, but I am pretty sure Nusfjord will continue to challenge Loyang and Le Havre Glass Road for third place (I also really love the epic sense of scale in Le Havre and the hedonism of Caverna, but playing a lot solo these two are lower down in my list). The bottom line is that I have played this game more compulsively than any new game I have had, partly because its quick play time allows it, partly because it is totally addictive. Right now, despite a lot of plays already, the point at which I stop playing this game repeatedly and go back to taking turns playing other games seems a way off.

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Mark Stanoch
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Thank you for your insights. I too play most of my games solo and I feel Fields of Arle excels in its solo experience. How would you rank Fields of Arle decision making to Nusfjord?
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Simon
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Right now, Fields of Arle and Nusfjord are my favourite solo games. The feel is different, but equally engaging; if FoA is like being driven in a stately Daimler, Nusfjord is taking a spin in a Porsche.

A lot is made of the openness of FoA (mainly in comparison to Agricola), but I think you have to look at decision making at different stages of a game. At the outset, FoA is quite open, but I find that once the game is underway, I generally have at least 5 actions I really need to take with my 4 workers, and it is only in the closing rounds that things loosen up again and I start thinking of different ways to optimise what I can do with remaining resources. That said, whilst I do find that once Fields of Arle is underway, it is often the game playing me rather than the other way round, Fields is clearly not as tight as Agricola, and so a big difference in feel is that Nusfjord is closer to the tightness of Agricola.

To talk about decision making in particular, I guess this is affected by the number of action spaces, the number of resources and the profile of the buildings.

Nusfjord has fewer action spaces, 11 rather than Arles' 15, but Nusfjord also has 6 elders to choose from, so the number of choices is comparable, even though Nusfjord is a “smaller” game.

FoA has more resources than Nusfjord, so one difference in the decision making is that in FoA you might be choosing between two parallel similar actions, for example to convert flax into linen goods, or instead to tan a hide, or take one selection of animals and resources or a different selection. By contrast, in Nusfjord, there are fewer resources, and each of the actions you choose from is quite different, which adds to the variety in the game.

In FoA, initially only a few buildings are accessible to you (in terms of the resources required), so at first you are considering a small number of buildings, possibly with a vague idea about other buildings later in the game, so the offer gives you a few nudges, but leaves lots of routes open. In Nusfjord many of the initial offer of 15 buildings will be accessible in the first few rounds. Different combos of these buildings will work together nicely and this suggests different strategies, so there is more direction from the buildings, more suggested routes, but still choices to make.

In FoA, with only 4 anytime buildings and the rest of the buildings giving immediate one-off benefits, generally later in the game, the number of times you experience Glass Road style brain-burn is limited - perhaps occasionally one of the expensive immediate buildings synergises perfectly. In Nusfjord, with more anytime buildings, and buildings more affordable generally, I find there are more amazing building interactions and consequent head-explosions.

I have played Nusfjord a lot recently and also broken stride for a couple of games of FoA. Faced with choosing between the two, Nusfjord is easier to get to the table as it is quicker. A few times when I could have fitted a game of Arles in, I have still played Nusfjord, thinking I might just play it twice in the time. Although quick, Nusfjord is such a great experience that I have often not played it the second time, not because it is not compulsive, but because the gaming itch has been well and truly scratched.
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Board Game Minimalist
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Fantastically thorough and thoughtful posts - Simon.

I tend to play 2 player with my wife, and, as a relative board gaming newbie, I am just exploring solo play.

The only Uwe game I've owned is Patchwork which I gave away as I found it too light (not that it pretends to be anything more than that).

I was wondering what your recommendation for a first Uwe game might be? I have to confess that the sheer quantity of components in some of his games and the requisite table space seem quite daunting. Which is why Nusfjord interested me as a potentially more digestible intro to Uwe.

Would appreciate your thoughts!
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Simon
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If you want table-light options, you are, sadly, ruling-out many of the big-hitters such as Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Fields of Arle, Caverna and A Feast for Odin.

I didn’t like Patchwork because of the Tetris element, but if you liked that aspect and only got rid of it just because it was light, Indian Summer & Cottage Garden might be worth a look, but I have never played them.

Nusfjord would certainly fit the bill - the number of components and amount of table space is less than the other games, and set up time and upkeep between rounds is quick. It is also fantastic with both 1 and 2 players.

Apart from Nusfjord, other Uwe games that take up less table space include All Creature Big and Small, Cave versus cave, At the gates of Loyang and Glass road.

I have not played All Creature Big and Small, which is for up to 2 players, but definitely plan to grab it when it hopefully gets a reprint soon (a reprint was discussed, including all the expansions), it has a lot of positive reviews as a lighter 2p experience.

Cave versus cave is, like ACBaS, for up to 2 players, and is very quick and light. I play it solo a lot when I want to play a game and only have 20 minutes. There is an element of randomness that some might not like, but this makes each game feel very different.

For a deeper experience than ACBaS or CvC, there is Loyang and Glass Road, both great solo and for 2 players (Loyang is particularly revered as a solo game).

You will be constrained by what you can actually get your hands on, but if you were going to buy a few games you won’t go wrong with Nusfjord, CvC for a quick light game, and then Loyang for something deeper, all are amazing games and very different to each other.

My experience was that I spent a long time considering which games to buy, but then gradually bought them all anyway as I got hooked, the order almost entirely governed by their availability.

Enjoy!
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Board Game Minimalist
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Thank you - that’s really useful. I might jump on Nusfjord while it’s available. Glass Road is another one on my list.

In terms of the heavier games - do you have any order of preference? Agricola vs Le Havre for example?

Really appreciate you sharing your thoughts!
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Simon
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Glass Road is amazing. It really took quite a while to appreciate its depth, it just didn't seem that engaging at first, but now I love it.

Agricola will always be the defining game for us, so in one sense it is in a league of its own. Le Havre is very different, but awesome in its own right. I am not sure Agricola is the best 2p game to start with for everyone, as the blocking can be absolutely brutal, which is not a problem if both players are happy just to play for fun and without fear of reprisals, but can cause issues if one or both are very competitive. Whilst blocking is definitely an issue in Le Havre as well, it is not as pronounced in my experience. We find that Le Havre is actually quite a long game, and longer than Agricola, which might not be what you want in an early purchase. Our longer play time for LH could be because we are more experienced in Agricola, and there is actually a shorter version of LH, but it misses out the special buildings which are a big source of variety. LH is certainly very different to Nusfjord.

Whilst Agricola is probably the ultimate game in our eyes, after that I love Fields of Arle best, it is just such a beautiful game, and is fantastic at 1 and 2p, but this game will definitely eat your table space.
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Again thank you so much for sharing your views - as a relative newbie I always appreciate the opinions of more experienced board gamers!

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