Dale Yu: Review of No Return

No Return: Es gibt kein Zurück!  (There’s No Turning Back!)

  • Designer: Marco Teubner
  • Publisher: moses
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by moses

moses is one of the game companies that I have often walked by at SPIEL, but have rarely stopped at because most of their games tend to be word or story based and generally entirely in German.  This year, No Return was the popular game on their stand, and this one is really a language independent abstract, so there aren’t any language issues. I was actually surprised to find out that they are making a move towards more multi-lingual releases, and in fact, many of their 2019 games have EN rules on the website!

In No Return, players are trying to time things just right so that they score the most points at the sudden end of the game.  The game consists of 132 tiles – 6 colors with 1-11 shown twice – that are placed in a drawing bag. My group has found that a set of extra Scrabble racks helps nicely as well. 

To start the game, each player draws 8 tiles out of the bag.  These are examined, and there is a one-time chance to take a mulligan and replace any number of drawn tiles with new ones from the bag.  All unwanted tiles here are left out of the bag until all players have had a chance to draw new ones. When this exchange is done, all the tiles are replaced in the bag.  From this point on, any discarded tiles are not returned to the bag but are instead removed from the game (thrown back into the box).

The game is played in two phases, though the players are on their own to decide when they transition from the first to the second phase.   Play goes around the board with players taking a turn. In the first phase, players can either exchange tiles or place tiles. If the player wants to exchange, up to four tiles are discarded into the box and a matching number of new tiles is drawn.  That ends the turn. If the player wants to place tiles, there are a few rules that you must follow: you can only play tiles of a single color; tiles placed must be of equal or lower value than previously placed tiles, and you may only have one column of each color in front of you.

At any point, a player can declare that he is transitioning into the second phase.  Once this happens, the decision cannot be undone. In the second phase, players now have two choices.  First, the player can still exchange up to four tiles. Second, the player can choose to clear previously laid tiles from the table.  Only tiles of one color can be cleared, and they must be cleared from smallest to largest value. In order to clear tiles, you must play tiles from your hand, of one color only (though does not have to be the same color as what you are clearing), whose sum adds up to at least the sum of the tiles you wish to clear.  Cleared tiles are placed facedown near you and they will score points at the end of the game. Tiles used from your hand are discarded to the box. Draw tiles to bring your hand back up to 8 tiles. If you have no tiles left to clear, your only option is to exchange tiles.

The game ends when the bag is empty of tiles.  The current round is completed so that all players have an equal number of turns.  Then scores are calculated. Players score positive points equal to the numbers on all their cleared tiles.  Players then take a penalty equal to the number on any tiles left face up in their display (i.e. not cleared at the end of the game).   The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie, the player with the fewest penalty points breaks the tie.

My thoughts on the game

This is a remarkably simple game, and one that I fully expect to get plenty of plays today on Thanksgiving with the family at home (most of which are not gamers).  There really aren’t many rules, and it’s the sort of game that you can pick up in just a few minutes. The tiles are great to hold in your hand, and the click-clacking of the tiles always causes people to come over to see what’s happening on the table.

At the outset, you’re really just hoping for high tiles so that you can start your color columns and leave yourself plenty of room to play downwards.  If luck favors you, you’ll draw tiles of matching color so that you can be a little more efficient in your playing of the tiles – only needing one turn to play tiles to the table.  Once your columns have started, you generally want lower numbered tiles, but you can be tempted to hold onto a 10 or 11 as it will be quite useful in the second phase of the game. 

But, when to switch from the First to the Second phase?  This is literally the one big decision in the game, and this simplicity is what makes the game so engaging.  You have to constantly be monitoring what other players are doing. How many tiles do they have in their stacks.  What is the likelihood that they could clear them off rapidly. How many times has the table gone for a discard and draw, because each of those turns takes tiles out of the bag….

Once you are in the second phase, then it’s a race to bear off your tiles for points – and each move is essentially worth double points because a tile on the table is worth negative its number while it is worth positive its value in your scoring pile….  You can try to rush the game as well by discarding and drawing instead of scoring; but watch out how often you do this because you still want to give yourself enough time to score all your tiles – as you have to go from lowest to highest in each column, the penalty is great even if you only have a few tiles left on the table!

Is the game perfect?  Sadly, no. First, I do wish that the red and pink were more distinct.  On more than one occasion, I’ve had players make plays with tiles of mismatched color.  Even in a brightly lit room, these two colors can look alike. Second, the game really could have used racks like those provided in Scrabble.  It’s just easier to organize and manipulate them on the rack – though this is not something that affects the game quite as much as the similar colors.

the 10s are red, the 6/4 are pink. this is maybe the best contrast I could get

That being said, it would not surprise me if this game ended up on the Spiel des Jahres short list.  With the way that I feel the jury has been moving, this one seems like it is right in the wheelhouse of the award.  Easy to play, quick to learn, nice components, etc. Sure, I’ve heard people say it just feels like Lost Cities but with tiles; but for me, that upgrade in components is one worth having. 

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Nathan Beeler: I like every other Lost Cities variant I’ve played more. That’s partly because of the size and color of the tiles, but it’s mostly because the game’s so simplified there’s nothing you can do if you continue to draw low or mismatched tiles.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! James Nathan
  • I like it. Dale Y, Craig M., Lucas H
  • Neutral.  John P, Jonathan F
  • Not for me…Nathan Beeler

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2019, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.