2-player gamesBoard Games

District Noir Review

District Noir Book Cover District Noir
Drafting, Set Collection
Pandasaurus Games
Nobutake Dogen, Nao Shimamura
Przemysław Fornal, Vincent Roché, Hinami Tsukuda

In District Noir, you’re the leader of a criminal syndicate, looking to gain power over the city.  But you’re not the only one – your opponent is working to do the same, and it’s an all-out battle for control over the titular district.  By gaining support from various factions, forming alliances, and sabotaging your opponent, you’ll secure your place as the biggest crime boss in District Noir!

That framing is great and the art style is awesome!
It really is! But to be clear, even with the cool setup, what we’ve got here is a very quick hand-management drafting game.

District Noir is played over the course of four rounds.  Each round, players will take turns adding cards to the end of the row, building up a line of Support, Alliance, and Sabotage cards.  Support cards, which make up the majority of the deck, are the suits that give the most points, and the player who has the most of a given suit at the end of the game will collect points based on how many cards of that suit there are in the game (since suits with higher card counts are harder to control than those of lower counts).  Alliance cards give straight points, while Sabotage cards subtract points.

There is a final card type – City cards.  These represent key locations in the city, and if at any point a player controls all 3, they immediately win the game.  Otherwise, though, City cards are valueless.

Once per round, each player will draft cards from the line, claiming them for their own.  To do so, they take exactly 5 cards (or less, if less than 5 are available) from the end of the row both players have been contributing to, adding all cards taken to their tableau.  Players can decide to spend their turn taking cards at any time during the round, but since this action can only be taken once per round, a big part of the strategy of District Noir is knowing when to play cards versus when to take them.  And once a player has taken cards, the only action they can do for the rest of the round is to play cards from their hand until the round is over.

That’s too good to pass up

What this does is create a fascinating little game of chicken.  Both players want to claim the 5 most valuable cards they can at any given time.  As such, you’ll undoubtedly be adding cards to the line in an effort to set up something worth claiming.  But of course, your opponent is doing the exact same thing, so as the valuable cards begin stacking up, the tension rises as well to see who will be the first to decide to grab them.

And that’s where the Sabotage cards really come into play!
Exactly! They’re basically land mines.

Since collected cards in District Noir are open information, you’ll have a sense of what cards will be of particular value to your opponent.  So when you start to see a stack of them building at the end of the row, that’s the time to toss in a Sabotage card, which forces your opponent to decide whether it’s worth grabbing the cards they want at the expense of negative points from the cards you’ve added.  Each player will have to strike a careful balance between seeding cards they want, baiting their opponent into taking cards that hurt, and figuring out when is the right moment to swoop in and grab cards for themselves.  And remember, if you have no cards left in your hand, you have to take from the row, so waiting too long will sometimes leave you at your opponent’s mercy.

That City card *could* win you the game, but unless you get them all, that’s a lot of negative points to absorb…

District Noir is a very simple game, when it comes right down to it, but it has a lot of positive qualities.  First of all, the aesthetic is great.  The silhouetted figures contrast perfectly against the vibrant colors of the suits, and fit the theme perfectly.  It’s also a brief game, which suits its nature well – this is a knife fight, meant to be short and tight, and you can easily bang out an entire game inside of 15 minutes which, when considered with its small box and minimalist components (just the deck of cards and the first player token) makes it a great travel game for 2.  On the downside, the brevity and lack of real depth might put off some gamer pairs, but for those looking for a short game with just enough strategy to keep you engaged without interrupting your conversation, then we definitely recommend you check out District Noir!

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