Leaving aside the fun of going around yelling “rats!”, Notre Dame is a fun strategy game that doesn’t get enough attention. Set in Paris at the end of the 14th century, each player controls one family attempting to gain prestige. There are many paths to power, but beware…the black death is an ever-present threat! If you don’t take the effort to keep the rat population down, you may find your people dying of the plague..
Notre Dame is the 11th game in the Alea big box series, and was a 2007 Spiel des Jahres recommend.
Constructing the board takes only seconds; each player takes an identical mini-board representing his borough, each of which is placed adjacent to a center piece representing Notre Dame. There are three, four, and five sided cathedral pieces, making everything line up nicely; with two players, a modified four-player setup is used.
Each player has a deck of nine cards, which represent the actions he can take in the game; each one allows him to move one of his workers. He also starts with four workers, three coins, and his trusted friend. Each card sends a worker to a particular area, which allows you to take more workers, coins, or points, kill rats, or move your carriage around the board collecting messages (which are worth points and allow you to take workers, take coins, and kill rats). Finally, one card sends a person to donate to the cathedral (which scores you points based on how many coins you donate), and the trusted friend card lets you move him anywhere except to the cathedral.
The game is divided into three rounds; each round consists of three turns. Each turn, you draw three cards from your deck, choose one, and pass the other two to your left; you then keep one of the two cards you receive from the person on your right, and so on. Starting from the first player (marked with a hunchback figure), everyone plays one card; this happens twice. Thus, you’ll play two of the three cards you ended up with, discarding the third.
At the end of the turn, you have the opportunity to hire one of three people who can help you out. There are 15 person cards in the game; six come up in each of the three rounds, two per turn, while the other nine come up one time each. The Alea Treasure Chest expands this with another nine people who can be mixed up with the first nine. These people are always very helpful, and always worth hiring…but you do have to have one coin to hire someone, else you lose the opportunity..so be careful with your money!
After hiring, look to the bottom of the person cards and you’ll see between zero and four rats on each; you’ll need to move your rat marker up one spot for each rat. This rat marker keeps track of how many plague-infested rats inhabit your district; if it goes past 9, you suffer the black death (which in this case means you lose two points and a worker). Fortunately, for every worker you have in the hospital at the end of the turn, your rat marker goes down by one; this happens at the same time as you would take rats.
After the third turn, the cathedral is scored; it is worth some number of points (depending on the number of players), and that number is divided by the number of workers present, who each score accordingly before returning to your supply. The cards are then returned to their owners and reshuffled for the next round.
The nice thing about the game is that there are different ways to win. You can try to send lots of people to the residence, which gives you a point for every worker there whenever someone moves there, or you can go with the park, which for every two workers there gives you an extra point whenever you score points. Because the player on your right will see many of your available options before you do, which path you take will depend largely on what he does; should he choose a particular strategy, you should strongly consider a different one!
Overall, Notre Dame is an excellent game and is well worth picking up.