Dale Yu: Review of Narabi

Narabi

  • Designer: Daniel Fehr
  • Publisher: Z-Man
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Times: 10-15 minutes
  • Times played: 6, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA

Narabi is a pocket sized cooperative game where players work together to “Create tranquility out of disorder”.  There are 15 stone cards, with ten of them numbered from 0-9 – and 15 limit cards, each with a rule printed on them.  There are also 15 card sleeves in the game, and to set up each game, a restriction card is randomly paired up with a stone card and placed in a sleeve so that you can read the restriction text on one side and see the stone on the other.  Try not to read the restriction text as you place the cards in the sleeves.

The card sleeves are then shuffled with the stone side up and then the cards are dealt out evenly to the players (card count is modified to 12 for 4p). Players place the cards, in the order they were dealt, in front of them  – try to form a circle of stone cards amongst all players. You may look at the restriction text on the cards in front of you, but you cannot show or tell them to other players.

The goal of the game is to work together to get the numerical stones in order – either clockwise or counterclockwise – in as few moves as possible.  The player who was dealt the “0” stone goes first and then play goes clockwise. On a turn, you MUST switch one of your stones with one of your teammates – while following the restriction printed on the back of your stone card.  Someone should keep track of the number of moves made on the score card. The restrictions might tell you that you have to switch with a white stone, or a stone with a higher number on it, or a stone from your 2nd neighbor to the left, etc.

There are, of course, rules about table talk.  The simplest rule is that you always look at your own stone cards but you cannot share this information with your teammates.  You can always strategize with the team so long as you don’t make mention of specific restrictions. You are allowed to ask yes-and-no questions such as can you switch these cards on your turn – which might help you glean what a rule would be, but they can only answer yes-or-no and cannot tell you specifically what the rule is.

The game ends when either the team has made 24 moves and not gotten the stones in order – in this case, everyone loses.  Or the game ends with the stones are in numerical order around the circle, at which point your score is however many moves the team took.  Obviously, a lower score is better.

My thoughts on the game

Well, I had very high hopes for this one as I had heard a lot of positive comments about this over the winter.  I’ve played it three times now, and it’s been fun. But I wonder if this should be termed more an activity than a game.  Sure, by all definitions of “game”, it’s a game. There is a goal. You win by reaching the goal in the allotted actions, otherwise you lose.  So far, my groups have not even come close to losing, our highest score has been 15. One game was over in 3 moves due to exceedingly lucky deal.  Because of that, it doesn’t even really seem like you can compare scores from game to game.

Now, that’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed all of my plays.  I have. And, having discovered the advanced version where players aren’t allowed to talk at all – I have even liked the game more.  No longer do I have to worry about whether or not I have asked a valid and safe question based on the rules… (which I hate because if I pose an illegal question, it’s not like I can take back those words and not have my partners learn the information that I was not supposed to share…)  Without talking, I can only point at cards, raise my eyebrows, and then see if my teammate nods or shakes his head in answer. Now – no one can spill the beans about what rule might be on the reverse of the cards.

The game doesn’t take too long to set up now – we simply leave the rule cards in the sleeves after each game, shuffle the sleeves and the rock cards separately and then slide the rocks into random sleeves to start play.  As I said, thus far, our games have lasted no longer than 15 moves, and it hasn’t taken more than about 10 minutes per game at most.

The cards are nice quality, and the sleeves have held up to repeated plays. My only beef is that the six and the nine do not have any index lines. It’s a little confusing at times. I am very close to just taking a sharpie to these cards…

For a cooperative game, this is high on my list.  It’s easy to learn, there is a fair amount of challenge, and it plays in a short amount of time.  Sure, because of its brevity, you’re not going to get the same sense of accomplishment as beating Ghost Stories, but it’s good for what it tries to do.  This would also fit my now burgeoning set of games in the “Restaurant” series – games that are small enough to carry around in my pocket, small enough to fit on a restaurant table and quick enough to play in the time between ordering and eating.  A perfect fit for that as well.

JF’s  thoughts on the game

Narabi was one of my highlights of the Essen ‘18 season.  I played it 4-5 times and enjoyed each play. Part of it is the people you play with, as usual.  If you slide a card across to someone as part of a swap and they look at it, you can see the light bulb go on as they understand why you did what you did, rather than what they wanted you to do, which you could not do.  I do see it as a social game, in that I did not try it face up and logic it out. In addition, I think a very quick solve is going to be due to luck of card placement, rather than skill of the players. Some configurations are fundamentally harder than others and it is not clear at the start which one it is.  

I have pondered the physical production a bit, as the game is short and the remaking of the deck for each play is sort of fiddly.  If the game stands up, I might use top-loaders with numbers on them and then just slide the restriction cards into the numbered toploaders in a random order.  Overall, I am looking forward to owning a copy and playing it as an opener or closer because it is very hard to play just once.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (2 plays): I agree that the scoring makes no sense; one setup might be solvable in four moves with perfect play while another might require a minimum of eight, so how can you compare the two? We decided the only use of the “score” track was to set a limit on the game, and completing the game is a win and not completing it is a loss, with no way to compare wins.

Considering how short and simple the game is, this isn’t really a problem, but it would be nice if whoever developed this had spent some time thinking about it instead of just slapping the silly score track on it. I don’t see any way of giving fixed setups (with scoring ranges given for each one) without a non-player to set the game up. I suppose one could, with a lot of effort, come up with a difficulty score for each rule/number combination and add those together at the end of the game to compare to the game score, but that still wouldn’t account for the initial ordering. (And now I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than the developer did, so I’ll stop.)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Jonathan, Eric M.
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P, Dan Blum, Craig V, James Nathan
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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