Cargo Noir by Serge Laget has been judged the Best International Game in 2011 by the Boardgames Australia panel. Stare down your rivals to win bids for cargo, in a game with an enormously broad range of appeal: the plastic boats and Tintin-like graphics will attract youngsters, the intrigue and clever play make it engaging for adults, and the simple rules means that even nan and pops can play!
This was probably the strongest shortlist we have seen so far in the awards. Also in consideration were 7 Wonders – a widely acclaimed game that won the German award for Connoisseur Game of the Year 2011; Kingdom Builder – which won German Game of the Year 2012; Forbidden Island – an evolution of the game Pandemic which we awarded Best International Game in 2009; and Takenoko – possibly the cutest game on the planet. Cargo Noir came out on top by combining accessibility for the broad family audience with interesting game-play and great production values.
Cargo Noir has a very simple core idea: collect sets of goods that are all the same type, or else all of different types, and cash them in to buy assets of various types. This is implemented in a novel way that engenders a lot of interaction between the players and tense decisions.
Players represent crime families trading in contraband goods, although there is no explicit illegal activity depicted in the game, just sharp dealing. The main method of obtaining the goods is to send a fleet to a port that offers the mix of goods that you want to acquire and bid money for the right to buy the lot. If no-one else has sent a fleet in with a higher bid, then you will win the lot when it comes back to your turn. If you are outbid, your fleet can stay in port while you raise your bid, or else you pull out having lost valuable time.
This makes for a very fluid game where things happen every turn, but sometimes protracted bidding wars break out. The winner will usually be the person who judges what is just sufficient to bid to scare off any rivals from coming in to poach at a port where they are bidding.
Playing the game is easy – the rules are very straight-forward. Winning the game is a whole other level of difficulty!
Our judges said:
“Easy to play, and has all the fun of bidding and collecting”
“I love getting into the other players’ heads ”
“Looks great. Plays great.”
The game has been lavishly produced by Days of Wonder and looks absolutely wonderful: the board illustrations are of storm-lashed ports in beautiful cartoon style. Each player has a board showing their own crime family. The fleets are bright plastic boats, and the money is thick plastic gold coins. This actually facilitates play, as bids by a fleet are made by stacking the coins and placing the boat on top, so then you can check whether a rival has outbid you simply by pushing the stacks together to see which is taller.
All of the design shows a lot of attention to detail: the board is modular, with some ports flipped over and out of bounds when less than five players are involved; a bag is provided to draw the trade goods from, and there are options to develop your fleet and warehousing in addition to just banking assets.
This is a future classic: play it now!