When I think of drafting games, the first game that always comes to my mind is 7 Wonders. It could be because it was the first drafting game I ever played, but also because it’s just a great game. But for new gamers, 7 Wonders can be difficult to pick-up when playing for the first few times. So, I’m always on the lookout for a lighter gateway drafting game.
This brings us to today’s review Noctiluca from Z-Man Games. This is a dice drafting game where players are collecting dice to fill jars and gain victory points. Is Noctiluca the lighter drafting game I’ve been looking for? Read on!
Noctiluca is a dice drafting game for 1-4 players which plays in about 30 minutes and is best with 2-3 players.
The game starts with dice randomly placed on the board spaces, with player pawns on the edge spaces of the board. Each player begins with 2 jar cards and a random, secret “favorite color.”
Play begins with the first player choosing a path on the game board, and selects a number 1-6. The active player then collects all the dice of that number on the path they choose. They try to fill their two face-up jar cards with the corresponding colored die. If a jar(s) is filled, then that player takes the corresponding color point token and selects new jar card(s) to replace any they filled.
If the active player collects dice that they cannot use, they will pass any surplus dice to the next player clockwise (and so on), which they can use to fill up their jars.
After all 12 player pawns are removed from the shore spaces, the round ends and then round 2 begins. All dice are removed from the board and a new round is setup. Once the 12 player pawns are again removed the game ends and final scoring begins.
Players must first count the number of score token they collected. If a player has a majority of a token color, they gain the remaining tokens of that stack but will receive the grey side value of 1. Players total their final score from point tokens, jar cards, and their hidden color bonus. The player with the most points wins.
You can see from the overview that Noctiluca is a very easy game to pick up and play. The rules are not complex, and it could make a nice gateway game for new players to dip their toes into the world of gaming. The hardest thing for most to grasp is the end scoring, but it’s not difficult especially after 1-2 plays.
One negative is that Noctiluca is very light on the drafting mechanic. I mean, it’s a drafting game, but selecting numbers on dice and then collecting them is as just about as light as you can get. Noctiluca is so light that this will likely not be my new gateway drafting game for newbies. It doesn’t really give you a sense of what drafting is and will not prepare you for better drafting games like Sushi Go, Kingdomino, or 7 Wonders.
I will say even though Noctiluca is light on drafting it has a surprising amount of strategy to it. You need to be very careful and not to give advantages to other players on your turn, otherwise, they can possibly gain better score tokens or jar cards at the end of your turn. So, you really need to be conscious when selecting your board path and numbers, because if you have too many dice you can’t use that doesn’t mean the other players can’t as well.
I have said this before but the theme is not a big deal to me, yet I want to warn readers that Noctiluca has a thin theme. Players are supposed to be diving into a pool and collecting these mysterious noctiluca (dice) for their restorative powers. You really don’t get that sense when playing – you collect dice and fill jars and that’s it. So, players looking for a thematic experience will not find that with Noctiluca.
I will say that Noctiluca production values of the board, dice, cards, artwork are excellent and help to give the game a great ascetic quality. My son and I brought Noctiluca to an open game night at our FLGS and we had many people stop and stare. Almost everyone commented on how Noctiluca was a great looking game and I couldn’t agree more.
The last thing to note that after playing Noctiluca many times it, unfortunately, feels like the same experience over again. I even tried the solo game to try to mix it up and while challenging, it really didn’t change the game experience much for me. There just isn’t much with the mechanics to add much variety in gameplay, So, be aware that this one can feel repetitive after a few plays.
While Noctiluca might not be the lighter drafting game I was looking for to prep new gamers for 7 Wonders and the like. It still was an easy game to learn, had a nice amount of strategy, and overall has excellent production values. Noctiluca is still a great game for families and a gateway game for any newbies who want to take some first steps into the world of board gaming.
Unfortunately, Noctiluca is a very light drafting game that new players will likely not mind, but seasoned gamers might find too simple and repetitive. I don’t get hung up on thin or no themes, but players looking for a thematic experience will not find it with Noctiluca.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A very light drafting game that is easy to learn and has great production values.
• Light on the drafting concept
• Theme is thin
• Can feel repetitive