Dale Yu: Review of District Noir

District Noir

  • Designer: Nao Shimamura and Nobutake Dogen
  • Publisher: Spiral Editions
  • Players: 2
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Spiral Editions

district noir

In this two player game, two players fight over control of 1930s Hoboken, New Jersey.  There is a deck of 45 cards, most of which are support cards (5 to 8 each of the ranks 5 to 8).  There are also 3 special City cards.  Finally, there are Alliance cards (worth positive points) and Betrayal cards (worth negative points).  This entire deck is shuffled, and three cards are secretly removed from the deck; they will not be used at all this game.

Each player is dealt a hand of 5 cards.  The rest of the deck is placed in the center of the table, and then 2 cards are flipped face up in the center of the table, placed in a row.  The starting player is determined by a coin flip.

The game will be played over 4 rounds.  On a turn, a player can either Play a card to the end of the row of face up cards OR take 5 cards from the row, starting from the end card.  You may only choose the Take 5 Cards action once in a round.  If there are fewer than 5 cards in the row when you choose this action, simply take as many cards as are in the row.  When you take cards, organize them in front of you by type.  Once you have chosen to take cards, you can only play cards to the row for the rest of your actions in this round.  At the end of the round, you will have played a card to the row 5 times, and you will have chosen to take 5 cards once.


At the end of the round, both player hands will be empty.  Each player will get a new hand of 5 cards for the next round.  If any cards remain in the row on the table, they stay there to start the row for the next round.  The player who went last in the first round goes first in the second round.  The game continues through the end of the third round, when all the cards in this game will have been played.  However, the game can end immediately if a player manages to collect all 3 City cards.  That player automatically wins.


Otherwise, at the end of the game, scores are calculated:

  • Supporters, for each of the 4 types, the player who has a majority of the cards in play scores points equal to the number printed on the cards.  If there is a tie, no one scores for that type
  • Sets of supporters (5,6,7,8) each score 5 VP.
  • Alliance cards score positive points as printed on them
  • Betrayal cards score negative points as printed on them

The player with the highest score wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most 8-supporter cards.


My thoughts on the game

This is a nice little drafting game for two players.  There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in how you set up the cards on the line, and how/when you decide to take cards from the line.  It is important to remember that you’ll only take the 5 most recently played cards to the line; so the actual selection is sort of a moving target.  If you want something at the beginning of the line – but you don’t want to take fewer than 5 cards, you might want to try to seed the line with things your opponent is possibly more interested in; hoping that later on, he will take cards first, leaving your desired cards behind.

The timing of taking cards is more complex than it looks.  Sure, you have to try to take the cards that suit you best.  But, if you choose cards early, then your opponent knows that he will get to choose his cards without worrying about you diving in and snaking cards out from underneath him.  Maybe he’ll be able to sneak in cards that you really want; or maybe he’s just waiting to then play the cards that will seal a suit majority for himself.  Of course, if you wait too long; the cards you want will move out of the collection horizon and you might miss out on them for the round (or forever!).

As all the collected cards are open; you can always calculate where you stand in the different majority contests – and while you’d think this might slow down the game, there are really only five things to track in that regard, so it really doesn’t take too long.

I still don’t think I have a great feel for how to set up the cards in line to make my opponent take cards he wants with a huge -3 or -4 poison pill on it; but that’s the fun in playing this game.  You’re fighting over all the same cards, and those Alliance (positive) and Betrayal (negative) cards can markedly affect your final score.  Though I didn’t win, in a recent game, I only one one of the 4 suit majorities, but came within a point of winning as I had nearly all the positive Alliance cards (I also had 2 of the city cards, but sadly the third one was burned off the deck at the start).

Having the prospect of an instant win also makes things a bit spicy; and there is definitely risk/reward in this.  If you go for it, the first (two) city cards are essentially wasted on scoring as they aren’t worth anything else.  Will the third card even be in the deck?  How will you even manage to draft the third one as both you and your opponent know that you will win automatically if you draft it?  It can definitely make for an interesting third round if two of the city cards have already come out – and been collected by the same player…


The artwork is nicely done and very thematic. It definitely evokes a 1950s feel, very dark and artsy.  Not sure about the Hoboken angle; but then again, I’m not sure what sort of art would make me feel New Jersey-ish.  While I have not played the original, I have seen pics of the original and the new art direction is definitely more my style.  (And there is apparently a Polish version that is chocolate themed, and man, those cards appear to be almost unplayable to me)….

The game definitely plays in 10-15 minutes, and it has been a thought provoking game each time it comes out.  The decisions themselves are easy, but figuring out the timing of when to draw cards as well as the the decision on when to add cards to the line is actually quite difficult.  This is a game I definitely will continue to explore when I have the opportunity to play 2p games; which admittedly isn’t too often – but it’s nice to have an interesting selection of games for those rare occasions.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Mark Jackson (1 play): This is a solid design – which works exactly like Dale describes it. For me, I found myself wishing I was playing Freidemann Friese’s Famiglia instead.

Simon N.: I played this a couple of times at Essen Spiel and I think the enjoyment of the game is totally dependent upon having the right opponent. Luckily I did –  and our table banter and card play trying to get the other player to take a sub-optimal set of cards brought the game alive. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y., Simon N.
  • Neutral. Mark Jackson
  • 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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