I drag my nets in. ‘Not bad,’ I think to myself, but hauling in a good catch these days is the least of my problems.
I really want a Manor, but for that I need wood. So, do I cut down and clear one of my forests, or merely thin a few out. Let’s go with thinning out, I don’t need the land space at the moment so might as well keep it forested.
Money’s a bit thin on the ground too, but I’ll solve that by issuing a share. Now, all I have to do is await my turn and I can snap up that… Oh, that’s unfortunate, Mike has just nabbed my building! Still, there’s that old boy with the grimace on his face, I’m sure he’ll make a worthy addition to my harbour, won’t he?
- Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
- Artist: Patrick Soeder
- Publisher: Lookout Games
- Year Released: 2017
- Players: 1-5
- Playing Time: 20-100 minutes
- Ages: 12+
- Recommended Retail Price: £53.99
Nusfjord is a worker placement game with the goal of developing your patch of harbour and the surrounding landscape. Catch fish, gather wood, earn gold, build ships and buildings, and entice the odd elder to join your cause. Is this a good catch or just another fisherman’s tale… let’s take a look.
What’s in the box?
- 1 Action Board
- 1 Ships and Elders supply board
- 1 Banquet table
- 2 Building supply boards
- 1 Imitation tile
- 5 Harbour boards
- 5 Elder council boards
- 100 Fish tokens
- 50 Wood tokens
- 1 First player ship
- 132 Building cards divided into three decks – Herring, Mackerel, and Codfish – Mini Euro sleeve size
- 19 Ship tiles – 6 sloops, 6 cutters, and 7 schooners
- 15 First player tiles
- 50 Gold coins
- 9 Multiplication tiles
- 18 Elder cards – Mini Euro sleeve size
- 27 Forest tiles
- 5 Personal supply tiles
- 15 Worker disks
- 25 Share tiles
How does it play?
If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to go and serve some fish, and advance to, ‘So, what do I think?’
I’m not going to cover everything, so here goes…
A few things to mention about setup before I get into an example turn.
The Action board is double-sided – up to 2-players on one side, the rest on the other. Main difference is the number of workers that can be on certain action spaces. There’s also an imitation tile that sits at the bottom of the Action board and is only used in 4- or 5-player games. It is double sided allowing for more actions to be taken in the 5-player game.
Elders are always placed in the same position (except with 5-players, where the remaining 6 Elders are shuffled and one placed face down at the bottom of each stack), but the number of them depends on player count.
The number of fish initially placed on the banquet table is also dependent on player count, as are the number of each ship type.
There are 3 Building decks to choose from, each broken down into A, B, and C buildings. One of these decks is selected at the start of the game and used to populate the building supply boards.
Each player count has its own set of first player tiles. These are handed out to the appropriate player, as shown on the tile by the proposed seating plan… see the image below – a picture speaks a thousand words!
Okay, now here’s an overview of a round…
The game runs for 7 rounds and each round consists of 3 phases, fishing, work, and returning home.
The Fishing Phase
This phase is carried out by all players simultaneously.
Each player determines their haul size by looking at their fishing track, this is the lowest visible number, and takes that amount of fish tokens from the general supply.
These fish are then distributed as follows until you either run out or they’re discarded:
- Elders – 1 Fish on each Elder in your council.
- Shares in foreign possession – 1 fish on each share of your colour located on the action board or in someone else’s possession.
- Shares in personal supply – 1 fish on each issued share of your colour in your possession.
- Reserve – place fish in your reserve up to its limit of 8.
- General supply – any remaining fish are discarded to the general supply – you’ve been naughty and over-fished!
Beginning with the first player and continuing clockwise, each player places one worker on an action space and takes that action, or they pass. The action must be taken immediately. If a player passed, they may place a worker on their next turn, however, the phase ends after three turns.
Here’s a rundown of the action available.
- +1 gold – Take 1 gold from the general supply and place it in your personal supply.
- Transfer reserve – Move all goods in your reserve to your personal supply. This is often just fish, however, there are buildings that may allow you to place other items there.
- Serve Fish – Starting with the smallest empty plate on the Banquet table, spend exactly the amount of fish indicated to the plate, but of these, only place 1 on the plate and the rest are discarded to the general supply. You may serve more than one plate and receive 1 gold for each one.
- Build a building – Build a building from the building supply board or your hand, by first paying for it using the indicated resources and then moving it to your harbour board.
- Issue a share – Take one unissued share from your personal supply and place it on the newly issued shares space of the action board, share side up. Take 2 gold from the supply.
- Buy all shares – Take all shares from the newly issued shares space on the action board, paying the indicated cost for each one. This cost is reduced in later rounds.
- Deforest – Remove 1 forest from your Harbour board and gain 5 wood.
- Thin out – Take an amount of wood from the general supply equal to the amount of forests on your Harbour board.
- Reforest – Add 2 forests to your Harbour board. They must be stacked on top of each other and must be placed on a free double space.
- Build a ship – Build one ship, either a sloop, cutter, or schooner. This must be paid for as indicated on the ship tile. Place the ship tile on the left most available space of the fishing track on your Harbour board.
- Take an Elder – Take one Elder and move him to a free seat on your Elder council. You may immediately carry out the action shown on the Elder card… if there are fish on the banquet table to feed him, that is!
About Elders: As an action you may place a worker on an Elder in your council to carry out his action, but only if there are available fish on the banquet table. Take the fish from the largest plate containing one and place it on the Elder and carry out the action listed. When there are three fish on an Elder remove them and place one in your personal supply and discard the other two to the general supply.
About buildings: Each deck of buildings is broken into three, ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ buildings. ‘A’ buildings are very useful but return few VPs. ‘B’ buildings are a mix of usefulness and VPs. ‘C’ buildings return a lot of VPs, they’re also costly!
Imitation tile: Used with 4- and 5-players, the imitation tile allows you to copy an action already taken on the Action board. For 4-players, one worker may be placed on the tile and any action copied. For 5-players, the tile is flipped and divided into 3 spaces, one for each column on the action board. A single worker may be placed in one of these and an action in the relevant column copied.
This phase is played simultaneously.
All players collect their workers from action spaces and Elders. The first player token is passed anti-clockwise, placing it on the next highest space on the first player tiles. Any action on this space is then carried out, for example: Players draw 4 ‘C’ Building cards into their hand.
The game ends after 7 rounds have been completed.
Players then total up their score. Victory Points are awarded for Ships and Buildings, as indicated on the individual tile/card – some buildings score points dependent on conditions, such as having an amount of ships, or ‘X’ VPs per forest.
You also score 1 point per gold in your personal supply and 1 point for every issued share.
Negative VPs are scored for having spaces on your Harbour board and holding unissued shares in your supply.
The player with the highest score wins… there is no tie breaker, so you can share that victory!
So, what do I think?
In terms of production, I have to say that all the pieces are of a lovely quality. All the boards and tiles are nice, thick greyboard with a linen finish. The cards have a slight gloss finish to them, though not enough to cause unwanted reflection, which is good for me as our kitchen downlighters play havoc with gloss cards. And then there are wood and fish tokens… which are gorgeous!
I like wooden meeples and tokens, and I found I just couldn’t stop playing with those fish, though the wooden disk ‘workers’ are a bit of a let-down, why couldn’t they have been fishermen or something?
The artwork is going to come down to a question of taste. Let’s start with the box.
On the cover of the box is a great illustration, but it’s the colours, especially the red buildings, which make it ‘pop’. The image of a small fishing village really captures the theme of the game, unfortunately it isn’t quite as rosy once inside.
The art is functional. The forests look like forests. The Elders look like grumpy old people – shame they’re all male. The ships look like ships. The buildings don’t look like anything at all because the cards have no pictures. But it all works, and the graphic design is superb, being intuitive and crystal clear.
I like the way the artwork on the main boards flows together, but it all lacks the intensity of the box cover, coming across a little drab. The good thing, though, is that it doesn’t really distract from the gameplay and, as we shall see, everything fits the theme nicely.
A bit like the art, the theme is going to be bit Marmite, love it, or hate it. It certainly isn’t the most exciting of themes, but it does carry across the entire game and the majority of things you do can be reasoned into the grand scheme of things.
The bigger the fleet of ships, the more fish you catch. The fish go towards feeding the townsfolk – read Elders – then to supply those who hold shares in your company, including yourself. Then you fill up your reserve, which is only so big and so anything over your quota gets turned back.
So far, so good.
Then there are your actions: Issuing shares, buying shares, serving more fish to the dinner table, building ships and buildings, deforesting… and so on. All this fits in with the running and developing of a small fishing village, or so I would imagine.
The Elders give you the benefit of their worldly knowledge, or in other words they give you a bonus that relates to their years of experience – the builder helps remove forests to gain wood for building. The buildings themselves give bonuses relevant to their type – the sawmill grants more wood when you deforest, whilst the retirement home grants you gold for each elder. Okay, some of these are a little more abstract than others, but on the whole, they gel with the theme.
You don’t necessarily get drawn into the theme, though, whilst playing, it isn’t particularly absorbing in that regard, but you can see how it all ties together.
So, if running a fishing village sounds good to you, then you’ll like the theme, otherwise, think of it as just another resource management game and concentrate on the mechanisms.
In terms of how to play, this isn’t a complicated game at all, and the rules make it a doddle to learn.
You are taken through setup, which includes differences for player count, and then through the gameplay itself. There are a multitude of examples and pictures, and everything is simply and clearly explained – I wish more games were like this.
And then there’s the appendix. This lists all the Elders and buildings, expanding on the text of the cards and making it totally clear how they should be used. To be honest, though, most are self-explanatory.
Nusfjord is a simple game to play, but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth, and the more I played, the more surprised I was by how well it all came together.
There were a lot of boards involved and it did take up a fair amount of the table, but saying that, there was no wasted space. All the boards had a purpose and were in use throughout the game, and to honest, it did look surprisingly good sprawled across the table.
You have to keep an eye on those first player tiles. It tends to be instinctive for the next player clockwise to take the first player token at the end of a round, but here it goes in the opposite direction. The tiles track who should go first, but you need to make sure you’ve handed them out to the right person in the first place. We, sorry, I cocked it up first game and handed them out sequentially clockwise, and the wrong person went first at the start of each round!
Getting into things and how the gameplay works…
I liked that the first phase was simultaneous, and having this phase printed on the player boards helped with teaching the game – it really sped things up.
It’s an important part of the game, as it gives an indicator of how efficient you’re being: you want fish coming into your personal supply, either through Elders, your own shares, or shares you’ve purchased. Fish going into your reserve are also good, but if you’re throwing them away at the end, then you’re losing out. It’s a balancing act, and one worth keeping an eye on, especially if you’re giving fish away in shares to other people and not filling your reserve.
It’s easy to become too fixated on fish, especially if you’re new to the game. It isn’t all about hauling in great quantities of fish. It isn’t about stockpiling them in your personal supply either. Fish, like wood, are a commodity, and you want to turn them into things that will bring in the Victory Points. I’ll revisit this a little later.
The work phase is the meat of the game. Initially, it’s worth taking a look at what buildings are available, as this may determine your course of action for the next few turns. The choice of decks and the number of cards in each made every game feel a little different, and it needed to, as it’s the only variable from game to game.
The Elders are ever-present, though determined by player count, and so strategy hinges on the buildings, which is, after all, where the majority of the victory points will come from.
It’s the resources that enable you to get your hands on those buildings that makes things interesting. Many of the buildings require at least two different resources, so you need to start thinking where you’re going to get them from.
This is where I had to put the old grey matter to use, as things aren’t as simple as just swiping up the resources you need, not if you want to be efficient anyway. This made for an interesting early part of the game, as I found it was all about trying to work out the order in which you need to do things, so as to take the least amount of actions. It came down to a combination of Elders and Buildings.
Buildings that activate when you do something were very useful, such as the Seafaring Society – before you build a ship: +1 gold – and if I had the Shipping Office too – discount on ships – then I’d obviously start looking at increasing my fleet to earn victory points that way. But what if someone blocks the build a ship action? Well, if I can get my hands on the Constructor Elder, then I can use his build a ship action and if I can get the Harbour Master too, which allows me to exchange a ship for a bigger one, then I’m set up for a fine score!
You can see how the combination of Buildings and Elders works, and how you can use them to generate more resources rather than gaining them from standard action. But for starters, you’ll need the initial resources to buy things with and start the ball rolling. Need more fish, build ships; need wood, deforest, or thin out; need gold, take the gold action, or issue a share.
All the above come with consequences, though. Building more ships doesn’t guarantee you’ll end up with more fish. Unless you’ve issued and purchased your own shares, all you’ll do is fill up your reserve, and that will require an action to move to your supply, assuming someone hasn’t taken it already.
Thinning out will give you wood, but deforesting will give you more (usually). But this often reveals more building spaces and unless you can fill them again that means negative Victory Points at the end.
Gold is often the difficult one to get your hands on. Issuing a share gets you 2 gold, but then you’ll have to issue a fish to that share each fishing phase. Not usually a big deal, as fish tends not to be too problematic to get your hands on, it really depends on the strategy you’re employing.
Secondly, Elders have a hunger for fish! Yes, every time you want to use an Elder, you must feed him. This is part of the game where you have to pay attention to what everyone else is up to, because the fish needed to feed the Elders comes from a common supply, the banquet table – empty table, hungry Elders!
Taking the serve fish action does earn you gold, but it can play into other player’s hands. If I have lots of Elders, I need to keep the table topped up so I can use them, but it’ll cost me an action to do so. If some other kind soul does it for me, then I don’t have to waste an action, unless I need the gold that is. On the other side, if I do fill the table up, I need to make sure there’s enough there for me to use when it comes back to my turn… How much fish am I netting?
This interplay between the resources, the Elders and the Buildings is where it’s all at, but you must keep sight of the goal, and that’s Victory Points. The best way of stacking these up is with buildings, and the ones that give you VPs for meeting certain criteria, say have a haul size of 12, or 2VPs per Elder, are the way forward. Of course, this needs to fall in with your strategy, and as they tend to all be from deck ‘C’, knowing what’s in that deck is an advantage.
That’s a basic overview of what the game play involves and a few things to think about, now here’s some of the things I liked and maybe a few things I didn’t…
In terms of actions I found the number available gave good enough variation through each round, though I can see the game tightening up at higher player counts. Then the Elders would really come into play, as many allow you to take an action that may be blocked, just so long as you can feed them, of course.
I was in two minds about the Elders being a static setup and wondered if it would have been better having more but randomising the ones that could be used. This would probably slow the game down, though, as it is, you gain familiarity with them each game and only have to concentrate on the buildings rather, so in the end I though it a good idea. At 5-players the final 6 Elders are randomised, but you still know what’s available. I haven’t played at this count and wonder how the randomising of those last ones effect the game.
I also liked having the Elders stacked, taking one uncovered another, which might just play into someone else’s hands.
Things like this stopped the game from becoming a totally heads down, everyone play their own game, kind of affair. You have to watch what everyone else is up to and blocking or nabbing a card from under someone’s nose, is very much part of the game.
Other aspects of this include the buildings in play, obviously, and not so obviously the ones that come into hand. This happens in round 4 and you only have a couple of rounds to act on them, but it’s worth watching how others react when as they’ll usually adapt their strategy to make the most of a high scoring card – you may want to block them off from whatever their up to!
The Banquet table, as I’ve already mentioned, also brings an aspect of player interaction in, again, you have to try and make it work for you, not everyone else, and it’s a fun part of the game.
As I say, all the above help to stop it feeling a multi-player solitaire game, and some of the best moments came when we get those cards in hand. Suddenly realising that I had a way to lots of Victory Points in my hand added a bit of tension to things, especially if I needed to take certain actions to get the resources, or needed a few more ships to meet the criteria of the card – they can be expensive and you don’t want to play them unless you’re sure you can meet the criteria and get the points.
These cards, the ones that hand out VPs for having so many of something, were my favourite way to get points, and they also give you a direction for strategy… providing you can get them, that is. With experience you’ll get to know what ‘C’ Buildings will come up, and so you can try to tailor that into your early game, but there are no guarantees you’ll be able to purchase them.
The three decks each played slightly different too, so changing decks can shake the game up a little – there’s plenty of variation.
The game time was spot on. 7 rounds doesn’t seem like much, but here it was just right. Any shorter and I’d feel like I hadn’t achieved anything. Longer would make the game feel easier, as you’d overachieve if that makes sense.
It plays fast too, at least with our little group, though I could see it taking longer if someone is prone to over analysing things. There was the odd occasion, usually towards the end of the round when the actions available limited, that things slowed, but never to the point of wanting to go and put the kettle on!
In the end, there wasn’t really anything I disliked with the gameplay, and have so far enjoyed every minute of it. There’s nothing flamboyant with the proceedings, it’s just a very solid game.
Balance and scaling
I haven’t played Nusfjord at the 4- or 5-player count, but at 2 and 3 everything seems pretty hunky-dory.
The first player rotates around anti-clockwise, so the last player goes first next round, also, certain rounds indicate that new cards are added to the display or taken in hand, which rounds depend upon player count. Both go some way to mitigate the disadvantage of going last, and in the games I played player position didn’t appear to affect the outcome.
There didn’t seem to be any issues with scaling, but as I say, I only played at the lower player counts. Flipping the action board over for 3+ players increases the number of workers able to carry out certain actions, and it worked well. It only increased 5 of the 11 actions, mostly from a maximum of 1 worker to 2.
At 2- and 3-players there was always enough choice in actions to prevent from having to pass, though I can see the game getting a lot tighter at higher player counts.
Surprisingly, I thought the game played well at 2-players. I was expecting it to be too easy to get what you wanted and for it to become a VP haul, but it wasn’t. Only being able to place a single worker on most of the action spaces restricted the freedom and the game was reasonably tight. Saying that, I felt it was a greater challenge playing at 3, as there was more to keep an eye on and more chance of having things snatched away just before you were about to get them yourself.
In terms of game time, I found it to be on par with what’s indicated on the box, roughly 20-minutes per player. 1 and 2-player games were a little faster whilst 3-player was on the nose at an hour.
I wanted to play this game repeatedly, though not all shared my enthusiasm.
I like the balance between game duration and depth. It’s a medium to medium-lightweight game that plays pretty quick, so it will see more table time than something that takes over a whole evening, and the depth keeps it interesting, as there are many different ways to combine cards and I find it fascinating.
The three different building decks adds to the replayability too. Once you’ve discovered all there is in one deck then you can move to the next, or even combine aspects of two or three of them to offer something new.
So, I would say that there is definitely enough here to ensure you get your money’s worth, and if others don’t share your enthusiasm, then there’s always the solo game…
Can I play it… all on my own?
Interestingly, I don’t usually enjoy solo games where you’re just chasing a high score. I much prefer a narratively driven experience or a challenging AI to play against, but I honestly really enjoyed this one.
Setup is the same as for 2-players, but you use the solo first player tile and the Imitation tile comes into play.
You play red, but you also use the blue workers, and alternate, red one round and blue the next. The clever part here, though, is that during the returning home phase, you only remove the workers of the colour you used the previous turn. This leaves workers blocking certain actions, so it pays to think ahead.
Other than that, you’re playing the game just as you would normally, aiming to get as good a score as possible.
There’s also an advanced game, which uses the flip side of the action board (for 3+ players), and you now add the yellow workers in too, which means you have to think even further ahead or else end up blocking yourself in. Oh, and there’s a campaign too that I’ve yet to explore, which involves playing three games, one after another, and trying to get a combined score above 100.
It’s a great way to learn the ins and outs of the game, and it’s exploring the ways in which Elders and buildings can be combined with the actions that I found intriguing. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction to be gained when it all comes together, and it makes you feel rather clever and pleased with yourself.
The standard game offers a very similar experience to that of playing with others, at least at a 2- or 3-player game, in that you can mostly concentrate on the cards that are available and how best to bring them to your board. But the advanced game brings a little more to the table. You really have to plan a few rounds in advance, otherwise you’ll constantly find actions blocked when you really need them.
This doesn’t sound much, but when you’re constantly trying to improve on your score, especially when you’ve already racked up a pretty decent one, then every worker needs to count. It becomes a matter of efficiency, and I enjoy the process of thinking through the order in how things need to go.
I may get bored with it in time. I usually find that, with games like this, once you get a score that is so high that it only takes a mistake or two to mean you won’t get near it, it starts to lose its appeal, as I can’t be bothered to continue a game that I know won’t make the grade!
Okay. Nusfjord is a medium to medium-lightweight game, with the main mechanism being worker placement. It revolves around resource management, collecting the right resources to pay for other resources – fish, wood, and money to get Elders, buildings, and ships – which give you VPs and more… resources!
This all sound pretty standard, you’ll have heard it all before for many other games, so what makes this stand above the crowd?
Well, to be honest, nothing really.
Now, that sounds harsh, but everything here has been done before, there’s nothing new to shout about.
But it does do it all rather well. The rules are impeccable. The gameplay is pretty flawless and smooth. It has depth and simplicity all rolled into one. It’s quick to play. Easy to learn. And it does give the players a good degree of satisfaction, at least that’s what I thought.
So, you should rush out and buy this, yes?
Maybe, maybe not. There are a few things more to consider.
There’s the theme for one. developing a little fishing village isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, a bit like cod-liver oil, and the art may be considered a little drab.
As I say, there’s nothing really new here, nothing to make it stand out from the crowd, but I found it to be a good solid game for all that; I enjoyed it. I also had a good time playing solo and could knock a game off in around 10- to 15-minutes.
It’s definitely worth a punt, if you don’t mind the theme or the artwork, otherwise I’d say try before you buy, you might be pleasantly surprised!
Players: 1-5. I only played up to 3. 3 was a better experience than 2, though don’t rule it out as a 2-player game, especially if you are equally experienced.
Playing Time: Solo games were quick, 10 to 15 minutes, with 2-players coming in under 40-minutes and 3 at an hour. So, pretty close to advertised.
Ages: Kids – if they can cope with the complexity let ’em play!
Expect to pay: I picked up a bargain, £17.95 from Chaos Cards, but otherwise expect somewhere in the region of £40+
Official site – Lookout Games
Recommended video play through – Rhado Runs Through
BoardGameGeek page – HERE