At a Glance: Notre Dame puts you in charge of a borough of Paris in the 14th century, pursuing prestige and combating the Plague.
Notre Dame is a Euro-style game for 2-5 players, designed by Stefan Feld, and released in 2007. Each player controls a borough of Paris in the 14th century, all centered around the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Players will be focusing and investing attention to different sections of their borough to gain prestige and wealth, all while not entirely ignoring the health of the population, as the Plague threatens to spread beyond control. The game is separated into 3 periods of time—A, B, and C. Each player has a small deck of 9 action cards that approximately correspond to the 8 areas of their borough + the Notre Dame cathedral. On each turn, players draw 3 cards and choose 1 simultaneously. They then pass the other 2 cards to the other players and continue to draft their hand of 3 cards in this way. Then comes the main part of the game where everyone will play 2 of their cards and perform the actions that correspond to the different areas of the borough. This is signified by placing Influence cubes in the locations, and the more cubes that accumulate in each region, the bigger the returns. The different locations provide some variation of Influence, coins, Prestige points, or a reduction of the Plague. If you ever let the Plague track reach the maximum, your borough is overrun and you lose 2 Prestige points and an Influence cube. Aside from the areas in your borough, you may place Influence in Notre Dame itself along with a donation. In addition to scoring some Prestige, Notre Dame also scores at the end of each period. After the cards are played, players may hire one of the workers shown that round and perform their action. Lastly, the Plague tracks are moved based on how many rats are shown on the worker cards. After 3 periods (9 total rounds), the game is over and whoever has the most Prestige points is the winner.
Notre Dame has several things going on, but it is a lean game. What I mean is that there are limited resources, limited time, and it is impossible not to neglect some part(s) of your borough on your way to victory. That is what makes this game so great and mentally challenging. If you had time and resources to develop everything, the weighty importance of the decision-making would be eliminated. One aspect that is worth mentioning almost feels like a mini-game while you play, and that is the Carriage House. This lets you move a carriage around the city, picking up different messages that provide great bonuses if you collect colored sets of them. As you contemplate your possible roads to victory, you must be ever mindful of what your opponent is doing. On the surface it might seem like you are just developing your own little borough, in a world of your own, but there is vital player interaction that is occurring. At the cathedral you try to outdo your opponents, the carriages are a sort of race to get to the messages, and with the card drafting mechanism, you can take what your opponents might need, or give something unhelpful back. Throughout all this, the Plague is sneaky and will bite you if you’re not careful. All these aspects converge and tilt in different directions and force you to make interesting tactical choices.
The components are fine and do their job well, but that is not why I love this game. It is worth it to mention the Notre Dame tile though, which comes in 3 different shapes to fit different player counts and borough boards, which is cool. Also, the pieces that are wooden are good. They could have been plastic, but I’m glad they’re not. Stefan Feld excels at designing games that are elegantly strategic. Notre Dame feels deep, but it is not clunky or overwrought. This is an excellent game, and I especially recommend it if you are interested in heavier strategy or Euro-style games (I.e next step up from Catan).
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2PpXGju