Sophia Wagner: Designer. Pegasus Spiele: Publisher (of the copy I played). 2-4 Players. Aged 12+. Game Time: 70-120 Minutes. Illustrations: Michael Menzel
NORIA comes with a 32 page Rules book, 16 pages in English and then flip the booklet over and open as you would a normal booklet for the 16 pages of German language instructions. I like this idea as it means you don't have several separate booklets helping to fill what is already a very full box of pieces.
NORIA is one of several floating islands that are suspended in the atmosphere above the clouds. Nine of the islands are on cards (about the size of postcards but of thicker card and not so glossy) whilst NORIA is on a folded board. There is a full picture of the island on the flip-side while the front side shows the island with its different sections that make up the game.
The main mechanic of the game is the three-wheel gear on which you collect the Discs that allow you to gather resources. Each round the gears turn so that the discs move over, across or onto the player's board; Discs on the board are active during the player's turn and can be used only if they meet this criteria. There is another stipulation about activating the Discs, only one from each wheel can be used in a turn. At first, with the starting setup, this shouldn't be a problem, but as the game progresses and you add Discs regularly there will be times when you want (need) to use two Discs on the same wheel. What Discs you place on the Gears and where you place them is a learning curve but thankfully (and hopefully) you will have to play the game several/many times before finding the best strategy for you.
Other players can cause you to pay more for moving up the Politician's pathways - it costs extra resources for each opponent ahead of you on the track - but otherwise there isn't a lot that can be done by opponents to change your decision making, it is a game that can work differently for each player. We have enjoyed the four or five times we have played for this review immensely and it is a game we will be happily playing for some time.
The 70 minute lowest time-to-play is perhaps pushing it a bit, in fact we have yet to get even close to ending a game, from start (setup) to finish, in less than the 120 minute high end of the estimated playing time shown on the box. To help with the setup it's a good idea to get some smallish zip-loc bags and keep all of the different tokens and chits separate - there are a lot of them; 18 different types. We also have four larger zip-locs where we keep each player's basic setup pieces - Factory Tokens, Factory Tableaus, Representative Cylinders.
NORIA is played over a number of Rounds, 16 (2 players) 15 (3 players) and 14 (4 players) with the Marker tokens being removed at the start of each Round. Along the route of Round markers there are Knowledge Cogs printed on the board. These cogs represent the costs of Moving Politician Cubes from their Chambers down to their Seats and Removin, one to your advantage a Political Cubes from other Chambers to prevent opponents gaining higher scores on the Political Track - it sounds complicated but basically you pay the correct number of Cogs and then move two Politicians, one to your advantage and one to disadvantage your opponents. You may also use the Cogs to rotate the wheels an extra turn, never rotating the top wheel that has only two spaces for tokens - we have found that, for us, it has been better to place a Town Disc in each of the spaces on the top wheel, thus giving you the option of a Town Action every turn.
The four political/town hall chambers are: Refinement, Settlement, Exploration and Research, then there are the modification chambers; Specialisation and Division. To score VPs it is imperative that you gain at least a foothold in each of these chambers. Player turns are thoughtful which is what makes the play-time stretch. It is possible to plan ahead as there is little that can be done by opponents to affect your turn, there are no Event cards or any cards at all to be held, handled or played - the nearest to cards in the game are the nine separate islands.
The Resources are Obsidian (black), Energy (pink), Mycelium (green) are used for a variety of purchases, such as new Tokens from the Market, Goods from Ships etc. The Journey (blue) lets you locate an island or move between islands already discovered. The City (brown) lets you visit the Market or use the Political track. The Tool (grey) allows you to flip the tokens on your wheels over to the side that gives them double-actions and the Bonus (beige) allows you to use Tokens that haven't been flipped (upgraded) twice. The rules state that players can activate three Discs in their turn, but continuing reading after the order list of player actions it seems to suggest that players only ever have three actions in their turn even if they use a Bonus Disc or they activate a Disc that is flipped to its doubling-side, using only a second flipped Disc once instead of twice, It reads like is not three Discs that can be activated but three actions, and that sometimes frustrates.
When players locate or visit islands they may be able to gain a ship or collect the various good's chits; Propellers, Sails, Compass, Lamps, Pistons. These Good's Chits arrive face down showing the resources required to flip them over into actual Goods that can be used to move up the Right-Side score track - they are placed in the warehouse spaces. Collecting Tokens, Chits and Discs is an important part of the game but unless you get your four representatives moving up the four Victory Paths (tracks) you will not score any points; your highest and lowest placed representatives score multiplied VPs - the multiplier being the next number on the Chamber tracks after the Politician cubes have been added/removed. The numbers on the four paths are NOT their score value - that is in the centre and relates to one or more of the track numbers - they are the cost paid in resources to move up the paths.
Ships are placed to the right of the player's Factory Tableaus, Goods to the left - there are cut-outs specifically for them. On the tableaus themselves the players have 7 Factories that they may place on islands they locate or visit (if there is still space) when they take Goods rather than Ships - there is a choice of Ship or Good/s until there are no Ships left or no spaces for Factories. Removing Factories from the Tableau in the correct order may reveal a cog (knowledge) in which case at the end of your turn you gain one knowledge for each cog that is visible.
This is an attractive game and the wheel mechanism is a neat idea and is quite stable; we have had no times when it has fallen apart or tipped over during play. The only problem we have had with it is the second/middle wheel, it would have been a better design if there were clear indicators on the lowest wheel as to where to position the second wheel. The top wheel turns 180 degrees each turn, the third wheel (the lowest) has three indicator points on the player board. On the second wheel there are four components (N, E, S, W) which may be seen as indicators as they can align with the North and South sections of the third wheel and East, West components (that look like screws) - the problem being that there are more 'screws' around the edge that if the East, West 'screws' are indeed indicators then having more 'screws' around the edge just complicates things as they aren't indicators.
The theme is rather a ramshackle as is any logic you try to apply. Ships never move but they can bring in extra resources when you activate an associated Disc on your wheels; you multiply the number of Pink, Black or Green ships by the chosen Pink, Black or Green Disc on the Gear to collect resources from supply. You use these resources to pay your way up the Refinement & Settlement Chamber tracks and to buy Goods to send representatives up the Exploration & Research Tracks. Goods to move Representatives along Political tracks to reach different scoring ladder steps doesn't really gel well logically, but on the other hand if you put logic to one side it does make for an interesting and playable game. Ships also bring in Goods but you need to pay resources to actually receive the Goods, as I said, logic isn't a mainstay strongpoint.
The £40.00 plus cost for NORIA is well acceptable for the amount of and quality of components in the box and the playability of the game.