Noble House

Fasa Corp (by way of Hatch Games Ltd, London), 1981, 2-5 players, 12 to adult. The game of Noble House is, I suppose, more or less based on the James Clavell novel of the same name - a tale of financial skullduggery in early 1960s Hong Kong. It's fairly basic stock and financial wheeling and dealing. Each turn players draw three "event" cards (turn order randomly determined each turn). Event cards serve a variety of functions- they can manipulate the stock market, earn players money, influence votes, mess with other player's actions, etc, etc. Next comes the stock phase where players can buy and sell stock in their own corporation, other players' corporations, banks or generic corporations. Such transactions cause prices to rise and fall on the stock market board. Next, players can declare "contracts". This is the basic method for earning money in the game. Hard assets must be allocated to fulfill the requirements of each contract (an airline asset, a railroad asset and a land asset, for example). These too can cause a rise in stock prices. At the end of this phase players collect the income from any contracts they have in play and pay maintenance costs on all of their assets (whether actively used in a contract or not).

Next comes the bank phase, where players may elect to borrow money from the bank (which can be influenced by other players, depending on who has drawn what bank vote cards from the event deck). Finally comes the asset phase where players can buy and sell assets. The big strategy (if you can call it that) relates to stock prices and contracts. Each contract has a "breaking point" based on the value of one's own corporate stock. IE, if your stock ever drops to such-and-so level, the contract breaks and you lose it (or, you simply pay a little money to prop up the value of your stock - it's such a total non-event). The game ends when the entire event deck has been drawn or one player gets voted out of the game by his own board of directors (a complex scenario, the details of which I won't bore you with here). Players then count up their cash, stocks and assets and he who has the most money wins.

I really don't have much good to say about this game as it goes wrong in just about every way a game can go wrong. Let's start with the playing pieces- absolute cheap crap. We're talking the chintziest kind of paper punch-out perforated playing pieces. Have fun spending the first 30 minutes of your gaming session just getting the pieces all ripped/torn/punched out. And don't get me started on those horrible little portfolios that you have to struggle to get your stock certificates jammed into. Oy! Now we move on to the rules. At first I had high hopes for them as they started out exactly the way rules are supposed to start out- they tell you the objective, they tell you what all the pieces are for and then they walk you through the turns so that you can get started playing as you read the rules. Better still (seemingly) the rules are quite short. Unfortunately, they are too short. They are woefully incomplete, inconclusive and in many cases totally contradictory.

Next problem: the event cards. They introduce way too much randomness to the game. Hey, how about a smaller event deck and draw one per turn? And speaking of turns, how can you have a turn/phase game where everyone gets to do the same turns and phases every round? Every good turn/phase game worth its salt makes players choose some, but not all, of the available turns/phases each round. Next problem: this game is interminably slow and long! We were playing with three players and it took us about 3 hours to get a third of the way through the event deck (before we bailed), which means it would probably have taken us 8-9 hours to complete the game. Now, I am not at all averse to playing good, long games but I absolutely will not play a bad, long game! Which brings me to my final rant- this game is just plain boring. The game mechanisms lack any real pizzazz or opportunity for serious strategic maneuvering. There's just not enough there to really grab you. Frankly, I've experienced more excitement balancing my checkbook... So, to summarize? YUCK!

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