Noria is the debut title from Sophia Wagner, winner of the Spiel des Jahres fellowship in 2015. It's an ambitious first published game, but the fact that the designer caught the attention of the Spiel des Jahres team certainly appears to have given Noria a great start with plenty of Essen hype in 2017. It's also (somewhat regrettably) still notable when you see a big game coming from a female designer.
Noria is an engine building Euro game set in a steampunk universe, created specifically for this game. The floating islands, quirky flying machines and, of course, your spinning wheel of cogs that is central to the mechanics of the game, create a great look for the game.
With the designer's next big game, The Boldest, debuting at Essen 2018, what better time to look back at Noria? The blend of mechanics, beautiful art and intrigue about a new designer coming out with new mechanisms got us really excited about the game, so let's see how it stands up to our own anticipation.
In Noria you'll get points by investing in the four projects, common to all players. The lower value projects require you to invest resources to increase your contribution to the projects, whilst the higher value projects require you to contribute simple and complex goods which you have produced in your factories. You are in control of how heavily you invest but both you and your opponents can exert political influence to alter the multiplier effect of each project.
Each turn you'll perform up to four actions from your rotating wheel - activating up to one token in each level of the wheel. On each turn, each layer of the wheel will rotate one space meaning you'll have a different selection of actions available. Some action tokens give you goods, others allow you to move up in projects or travel around the sky islands to obtain factories or goods ships. Other tokens allow you to improve your action wheel either by purchasing new tokens or upgrading tokens so that they can be used twice on a turn.
Overall, you are trying to build an engine that gives you a good balance of actions for the strategy you want to achieve and also works spatially so that you get these actions a useful sequence over the course of your turns. The game takes a fixed number of rounds and then you do a final scoring.
Fiona’s Final Thoughts
I really like how Noria encourages you to pick a strategy and work towards it from the start by customising your wheel. Sometimes I write this, but when we actually play we find that we play with a very similar strategy, but with Noria we have had some really close games by following extremely different path. In our last game I was trying to a bit of everything whilst Amy just produced the black Obsidian in vast quantities and won by a small margin.
It looks like there are a lot of rounds when you first set-up the board, but the game actually proceeds really quickly since most turns can be performed simultaneously by all players. I found that in the first couple of games, the game was almost running away too quickly and we took a step back and decided to explain our actions out loud, just so that the game felt a bit less frantic. I really like a game to have a fixed number of rounds as it allows me to plan so that the end doesn't catch me by surprise.
Overall, Noria looks great, has high component quality and offers something unique with its moving parts that are key to the mechanisms of the game. It's definitely a heavier game than it looks, but the choices aren't overwhelming and it plays at a good pace, at least with two experienced players. I really enjoy the spatial puzzle mixed with the engine building and have been enjoying Noria more with every play. Given enough opportunity to hit the table I think it could be a top ten or twenty game for me in the future.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
For me, Noria is an interesting game with a nice level of strategy. Deciding how to customise your dial, when to bribe, when to upgrade tokens and when to commit to producing advanced goods, all give you a good amount of depth to the game. The gameplay can unfortunately feel a little unstructured, as the only action that in any way is affected by turn order is the exploration one, otherwise you can all take your turns at once, which leads to not paying full attention to what your opponents are doing. It does however lead to a game with a good pace once all players have similar experience levels.
I really enjoy that there are mechanisms in the game that force your strategies to interact. When spending knowledge to bribe politicians, you are directly affecting the point value of different resources. Every time you bribe, one resource track gets a cube moved down, increasing the score multiplier for that resource, at the same time another track will lose a (non-bribed) cube, permanently reducing its potential.
Committing to tracks to bribe early can result in huge gains, though your opponents may see this as a chance to change strategy and jump on your bandwagon. Trying to bribe multiply times in one turn will cost an exponential amount of knowledge, but can be well worth it to pull off a surprise change in the value of a resource before your opponents can respond.
Fiona and Amy can also be found at the Game Shelf, with weekly reviews from a couple’s perspective