Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday, 1 March 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Nagaraja

Game: Nagaraja

Publisher: Hurrican Games

Designer:  Bruno Cathala, Théo Rivière

Year: 2019


Twin temples devoted to two long-forgotten divinities - Ananta and Garuda - have been discovered in India. With rumours of hidden relics throughout the temples, you cautiously set off on a race to be the first to find the relics and unlock their powers. However, the legends also tell of three cursed relics and if you find those on your search you will be damned for all eternity.

Nagaraja should be releasing at the end of March 2019 in Europe and North America. If you're looking for a 2 player game that mixes hand management and push your luck, or if you're always on the lookout for the next fantastic looking game from artist Vincent Dutrait, or indeed the next game from Bruno Cathala, then read on to find out more.



Gameplay

The aim of Nagaraja is to discover 25 points worth of treasures before your opponent does, though be careful as 3 of the treasures are, while valuable, irritatingly cursed. Should you reveal all 3 cursed items at once then you will be instantly struck with the debilitating curse of losing the game! In order to find these treasures you'll need to lay tiles in order to set up a route from the 3 entrances of the temple to the 9 treasure vaults.

Each round you will choose either one or two cards to play in order to gain sticks to roll. The sticks come in 3 forms: brown sticks tend to roll high numbers, white sticks have medium numbers but also one snake symbol, while green sticks have only low numbers bu lots of snake symbols. You'll then roll your collection of sticks, the player who rolls highest will receive the previously revealed tile for the round and place it in their map. Before that happens players can take turns spending snakes in order to play the special abilities of the remaining cards in their hand. These special abilities vary from adding numbers to your roll, swapping and rotating treasures and tiles on either your or your opponents map or drawing additional cards.


After the tile for the round is placed the first player will change and the new first player will draw 3 cards and choose 1 to give to their opponent. During the game you may uncover bonus artifacts as you search the temple. These can be worth secret bonus points, but also can offer instant abilities to help counter your opponent. The game will continue until one player has 25 points worth of treasures or 3 cursed artifacts.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

Nagaraja combines hand management with dice rolling and tile laying into a unique 2-player experience. Each round you'll make the decision of how best to use your cards, whether that be for extra sticks to roll or saving them for their powers. Knowing that you'll only get 3 cards over every 2 rounds deciding when to ration your cards and when to splash out can be important. Unfortunately all this tactical decision making then gets left in the hand of fate as you "roll" the sticks. I appreciate that they were trying to do something different with the stick design, and I also appreciate that a standard D4 is a little tricky to roll and can be hard to read if you aren't used to polyhedral dice. But the sticks in Nagaraja might be the one solution that's worse than the traditional caltrop design.

Not only does rolling them feel awful, but luck can hit you so hard that it's almost unreal. The green dice have a 50% chance of rolling a snake and the white dice a 1/4. While the abilities from playing a card can be useful, a lot of them just feel like slaps in the face. "I use the naga on my white die to play this card to gain 3 pips", which is countered simply by your opponent happening to roll 3 pips on their white die in the first place! There is next to no mitigation for bad luck, and what little there is costs cards which are a rare resource in themselves. Attempting not to be broken by bad luck then costs you more resources which only leads to increased chances of losing in the future. And should your opponent have a gem that cancels your card then things can go south even faster!


In a directly confrontational 2-player game, such luck swings can simply make the game un-fun for one player. But winning is such a situation also feels hollow. The concepts in Nagaraja are all great, tile laying mixed with bidding with your limited income of cards all has potential. The cursed treasures add an element of push your luck as they are worth more than the average number of points so long as you don't find the third. They even let your opponent attack you if they can draw the card that lets them move your treasures around. Ultimately though the luck factor ruins the rest of the game for me so I can't recommend it.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

We went into Nagaraja knowing nothing about the game, but the unique Vincent Dutrait artwork on every card and the cool components initially had a lot of promise. I was a little disappointed to find the the green, white and brown sticks in this route-building game were not for laying out a route, but instead were some of the most hard to throw dice I've ever played with! With that said we still found a way to roll them that we felt was giving fair rolls, until, of course one player started to feel that luck was not on their side, and the dice hated them!

Luck really is one of the real barriers to our enjoyment of Nagaraja. Although it seems like the game should be balanced, our experience just didn't reflect that. On turns where we both played two cards of seemingly equal value, a difference in rolls meant that although we 'bid' the same, putting the same value on the tile to add to our boards, our outcomes were very different. The Nagas should give you the opportunity to mitigate some of this, but they can't affect a low roll and they also cost cards. Cards feel like such a precious resource, that using them so freely is very hard to make yourself do.


I enjoyed selecting tiles and planning a route, as well as manipulating my treasure positions, or tiles positions when I was sailing a little too close to the wind with two cursed treasures showing. But, to truly feel like this had influence I wanted to be more in control of my bidding. Surely if I'm willing to pay more for a tile, then I should be allowed to and that's a penalty for me in future turns? Instead I invest heavily, but then I roll badly, use cards to try and improve my roll, only to have these cancelled by my opponent and ultimately make no progress. I really wonder whether rolling the dice was just a mechanic too far. Without it the game might be too light and simple, but with it, I don't enjoy the game any more.

I like winning at games. I particularly like winning at 2-player games. I love beating my wife at games, because she is often the better player. I don't love beating her by 25 points to 5 points because I had all of the luck. Our experiences with Nagaraja might be outliers, but I'm not inclined to find out, because our initial experiences just weren't fun and I can't recommend it.


You Might Like...
  • Nagaraja has an interesting bidding mechanism, which really makes you analyse the value of your cards.
  • There are some interesting luck mitigation options when you have a 'bad roll' and roll the Naga dice face.
  • .The route building is a fan puzzle intertwined with some push your luck and memory elements.
You Might Not Like...
  • Dice luck is a definite foe in the game and there doesn't seem to quite enough mitigation.
  • Getting a good start early and gaining amulets can contribute to a runaway lead.
  • Rolling dice can often be fun, but throwing long sticks to try and get them to roll well can feel more like tossing a caber.

The Verdict
5/10 We really wish that the beautiful components in Nagaraja had been used in another game. The hand management and bidding do feel like new mechanisms in a 2-player game, but the level of luck in the game outweighed the fun of the innovation for us.


Nagaraja was a prototype review copy kindly provided to us by Hurrican Games.

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