Imagine with me for a moment staring out over a bay. The breeze is biting and crisp as you watch the sunrise over the mountains that flank the water on both sides. The waves lap against the dock in rhythm like a brittle heartbeat. As you pull your coat up against the salty air you think to yourself “I wish I could crawl back in bed”. The cold and the sun pull you from your thoughts presently as the gulls begin to cry to each other overhead. Their shrill call like an alarm clock with no snooze button. Today there’s only one objective. Get out on the water and catch fish. Fish are the lifeblood of your community. Your quiet town has started to become busier over the past few years and you want to keep up. You have grand plans. You and your company are going to be remembered in the history books as the main influence in the development of Nusfjord, You’re going to make sure of it.
Today I come to you from Hurst, Texas…a hot and humid place with little in the way of natural beauty. I’m a mountains and cold ocean guy living in a flatland and hot grassy home. I’m here because of good jobs and low cost of living but sometimes I dream of a crisp ocean breeze or a snowy walk. All I really ever see outside are hot days and some rain on occasion but the beautiful thing about the tabletop gaming hobby is that it can transport you to new places an hour at a time.
I’m especially a fan of Uwe Rosenberg, if you’ve followed my channel for any amount of time you may be aware of that. I love Uwe’s games for a number of reasons, usually they feature little in the way of negative player interaction and they’re more like multiplayer solitaire in most ways. That’s not a bad thing for me, I love to have a shared experience where I don’t have to ruin someone’s plans to further my own. The other reason that I love Uwe’s games is that his themes are so peaceful and quaint. Uwe incorporates his past and his childhood into themes quite often and even when he’s not exploring his heritage he usually picks simple themes that portray a certain amount of serenity. I’m drawn to those serene settings. Maybe it’s because I long to live a fisherman’s simple life and escape my corporate business, or maybe it’s because Uwe’s themes expose me to a different style of life than I’ve ever seen. Either way when he releases a new title I take note. The game I want to talk about today however is one of his somewhat older titles and one that not many people talk about.
I want to talk about the game Nusfjord from Mayfair Games (which is now asmodee). Now as I said this game is from tabletop designer of some note Uwe Rosenberg. Nusfjord is an interesting game to me in many ways and I want to try to tell the story of what makes this game interesting and also why I have fun with it. I’ll talk about some of the nuts and bolts of Nusfjord because that’s what you do in game reviews but I also want to discuss some of the thematic elements that I feel make the game richer. To talk about Nusfjord we have to go allll the way to the Lofoten Archepeligo in Norway, and in that archipelago lies a small fishing town called Nusfjord. As you can see from the beautiful stock footage this area of the world is picturesque to say the least. For that reason I find the theme of this game so appealing.
Now discussing theme in a Euro game is always a bit of a risky proposition. The terms “pasted on” and “bland” are thrown around like fish at Pike’s Market. I think with tabletop games however the effectiveness and beauty of theme truly can be in the eye of the beholder. The tranquil and whimsical theme of a shipping company in a small Norweigan town trying to develop and produce economic growth is a draw for me. Once again I think it’s partially because right now I’m drawn to the simplistic and the calm things in life. There’s also an element in this game which feels special to me where you can invite elders to your table. The Elders provide you with their expertise and you feed them. The communal aspect of this element is wonderful and I love how it’s implemented.
So that being said thematically this game is similar to many of Uwe’s other games. You are an owner of a small business trying to develop the landscape around you, make use of special buildings and actions to gain the most gold and victory points and be crowned the best fishing entrepreneur in a small Norweigan community.
The way this happens mechanically is very straightforward. You have three workers or wooden discs that you can place on action spaces of a central board each round. Each time you place a worker you can take actions like clearing land and gaining wood or building ships to increase your fishing harvest. You can gain gold or even sell shares of your company with a simple but clean and interesting stock mechanism of the game.
Now if you’re a tabletop gamer worth your salt you’re very familiar with worker placement as a mechanism in board gaming. Even if you’re a fairly new tabletopper you have probably played games that use a form of worker placement or at least were influenced by worker placement. Games like Carcassonne for instance use mechanisms that are similar to worker placement even though they are not true worker placement. Uwe Rosenberg is a fan of designing with worker placement. Almost all of his very popular games with the exception of Bohnanza and Patchwork use worker placement as one of their driving forces.
What Uwe always does very well in my opinion is bring one or two new and fresh ideas to a sometimes very old concept. Agricola was a wonderful worker placement game, that featured tons of occupation and achievement cards that would greatly change gameplay. In addition to the cards players were tasked with feeding their families with a very strict system that caused you to have to really consider the efficiency of each move. At the time this game was released these were novel concepts with worker placement. With A Feast for Odin Uwe introduced a Tetris like resource generating puzzle that players worked their way through while deciding which strategy they wanted to take in a vast sandbox of options. It feels to me that Uwe influences trends in game design. Worker placement really seemed to take off after Agricola. There were a rash of Polyomino games after Patchwork. I don’t think Nusfjord will create trends with some of the mechanisms introduced but there are two aspects of the game that I greatly enjoy. I love the stock aspect of the game for mechanical reasons, and I adore the elder cards in Nusfjord for thematic reasons. I should explain.
First let’s discuss the elder cards. There is a worker placement space that will allow you to gain an elder card by feeding them and inviting them to your table. Each elder has a specialty that allows you to take a very powerful action. They become a worker placement space that only you can use. Mechanically this is a cool part of the game. You gain a powerful action that only you can take. Thematically, this is an amazing part of the game. I absolutely love the addition of the elder cards in Nusfjord for so many reasons.
As a business owner, or even as someone trying to make it through tough times in life, who are you most likely to lean on for advice? The people who have been there before. The idea of a citizen of a small town inviting a respected elder of the community to their home for dinner and meaningful conversation is a wonderful idea. I wish there was more of this in my town. I found myself day-dreaming about this as I played the game. I imagined an older gentleman or lady sitting across the table talking about their profession. I thought of this person telling you about how they used to do things, and learning from their specialties. You might be talking to a ship maker and learn from their stories how to cut costs on building your own ship by increasing efficiency or learning from a retired logger how to clear more of the forest with less labor. This was such a wonderful and comforting thought that you could gain an advantage in the game by being kind to the elderly in your village.
I also love this thematic element of the game because it emphasises the importance of quality time spent around a table talking with people and learning from their stories. I’ve found recently that many of the simple and mundane moments in my life spent with those I love or respect have created the most powerful and lasting memories for me. Time spent around a table playing a game or just talking with my friends over dinner. This thematic element is so powerful because I can draw ties between the type of memories that can be created while playing a game with friends and the elders at your table letting you in on some of their knowledge by telling their stories. This small aspect of the game made me so happy.
The second aspect of Nusfjord that I greatly enjoy is the stock mechanism. Every player starts the game with 5 shares of their company. Two of these shares are issued and will pay out each round. Three of their shares are unissued shares. If a player doesn’t issue these shares before the end of the game they will be negative points. A player can go to a space on the action board and issue their shares, doing this will give them gold which is great. The only problem is other players can buy shares in your company. Once shares are purchased you have to pay dividends each round in the form of fish. You pay yourself for your issued shares that you have in front of you, but you also have to pay other people who have purchased your shares from the board. This is such a little aspect of the game but one that I think is neat and gives you a choice you have to make. Do I keep my shares and avoid potentially giving others fish at the cost of losing 3 points? Or do I grab the gold, sell my shares and help others with some extra fish each round?
While some aspects of Nusfjord may offer you a tough decision, none of the elements feel stressful to me. There is no feeding phase, there will never be a time when you have to starve your villagers or lose elements of your settlement, the entire setting just feels calm and peaceful. I also think that this is a less intimidating game than Agricola or A Feast For Odin. This will probably be my go-to suggestion for anyone looking to experience a true Uwe Rosenberg big box game that hasn’t ever tried his titles before. He also included the solo variant that was introduced in A Feast For Odin where you leave workers that you have placed from one round to the next so that you block yourself which creates a more interesting solo puzzle. I love this version of the solo worker placement game. It isn’t as nice as a full automa mode but is much better than previous versions.
For all of these reasons I enjoyed Nusfjord and think it’s worthy of your time. If you enjoy Uwe Rosenberg games I think it’s worthy of your money as well. It doesn’t do anything drastically new or stray far from what Uwe has done in the past with a few exceptions but it does some new things and simplifies some old things. It’s easier to pick up than A Feast for Odin, more streamlined than Agricola, has less complexity than Ora et Labora but still provides depth and decisions. I’m a big fan of Nusfjord and will keep it in my collection.