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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Thursday 30 May 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Noctiluca

Game:  Noctiluca

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Designer: Shem Phillips

Year: 2019

Noctiluca is the latest game from Shem Phillips, designer of the very well loved North Sea saga games, and West Kingdom range under his own brand Garphill Games. With too many designs to self-publish, this game is coming from Z-Man games and is an abstract game for 1-4 players.

Noctiluca, commonly known as sea sparkle, are a bio-luminescent sea creature, desired by healers. In the board game, these are represented by many coloured dice, which you are collecting to order for different healers who will reward you handsomely. With a limited number of divers available each turn, only the best and most accurate will fulfill the required mixtures that the healers need.

Noctiluca takes place over the course of two rounds in which each player will place an even number of diver workers out around the edge of the board. Players take turns placing one worker and choosing a single number. The number is the face value of all of the dice you must pick up from a single straight line radiating from the pawn you placed. By taking all dice of the same colour you will carefully select a mixture of coloured dice, which hopefully match some of the open slots on two face-up potion cards you are holding. Any dice that don't match with empty slots you have are passed on to the next player around the table. When you complete potions you will take a point token matching the potion type and then draft a new potion from the face-up stack. After two rounds, end game points are scored for all point tokens, any points on potion cards (generally the harder ones with more slots) and additional points are scored for every slot you completed that matches your secret colour assigned a the start of the game. Most points wins!

There nature of the game means that you have the most difficult choices at the start of a round. When all of the dice are available to you, even the quickest player can become slowed down by analysis paralysis because of all of the numbers and colours all over the board. Over time, you develop a way of assessing your options, but figuring out which plays give you the most of what you need whilst not giving away too much to others players can be really challenging. By contrast, your later turns are a breeze where there's much less on the board and a very specific set of things you want. If you need two purples then you're just looking for a line that has two purples with the same face value, and then checking that you won't get a whole load of extra dice you don't need. You can start to plan your turn in advance, especially in a two-player game, but don't be surprised if you're cursing the other player when they either take the spot you need or don't take the spot but take some of the dice that were core to your next move. It's more difficult to be deliberately mean, but very easy to do it by accident, and because it's only an accident, the bad feelings are more disappointment then actual hatred!

Noctiluca certainly gives me a feeling of 'why has no-one ever done this before?'. It has such simple components that you can imagine how easy the game was to prototype and it really is a good use of dice in a game where rolling them has nothing to do with any luck that you'll have in the game. Noctiluca is a true abstract game in that you really aren't subjected to much luck at all - everyone is playing with the same board and the rolls of the dice may cause either a game where very few dice are taken each turn, or one where each turn yields five or six dice, but it's the same opportunity for everyone, barring turn order.

Whilst the game looks quite good on the table, I feel like the board artwork itself lets the game down. The board looks very faded out which just doesn't match with the colourful dice and the amazing underwater world that could've been depicted. Perhaps this choice was made to keep the board simple - since you can spend a lot of time staring at it trying to get your head around dice combinations - a skill that needs a trained eye! I just think that with the lovely delicate artwork on the potions, something nicer could've been done with the board.

Noctiluca really scratches an itch for me. It's a really tense and stimulating puzzle to figure out your best move on every turn and watch as other players slowly weaken the board state for you. It's a puzzle that I find difficult but not impossible and I'm lucky that Amy feels the same way. However, there are some people I game with that would simply be paralysed by the choices and find it too hard to spot good moves. If you have friends who struggle with games like Potion Explosion, or slightly less so, something like Azul then Noctiluca will likely frustrate them, but otherwise I think it's a great family game that's simple enough for all kinds of players. For the Yellow Meeple it's a 7/10.

Noctiluca was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £33.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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