District Noir is a 2 player only filler game, with plays lasting around 15 minutes. Yet, it feels like something more.
Art and Theme
The art is excellent and matches up with the theme very well. I really like the dark style, and yet the color splashed in the different card types makes them very easy to distinguish. The game, however, is as much of an abstract card game as UNO. The story has the players being criminal organizations competing for control of a neighborhood in New Jersey in the 50s, but really the theme could be anything.
There is a surprising amount of depth for the extremely simple mechanics. There’s only two options for players to take each turn: play a card or take five cards, and you only get to do the latter once a round. With only four rounds in the game, it is over before you know it. And yet, the tactical gameplay produced by these decisions is excellent.
The value of each card is not straight forward. The supporters seem good, earning you between 5 and 8 points, but that is for the whole group. If you end up losing their support, then they are worth 0 points each. The high value alliance cards are always good, but judging their value against the supporters can be difficult.
Betrayal cards are tricky, as they’re the only ones you’ll play that you don’t want to claim. With clever play you can lay one down when you know your opponent is about to scoop up some cards. But if you aren’t careful you might end up getting stuck with them yourself.
There are good levels of hand analysis, pushing your luck, bluffing, and reading your opponent. If your hand is full of betrayal cards, then you probably want to take cards early and leave the junk for your opponent. But do you take a mediocre group, or try to lay down your good cards first? Will it be too tempting for your opponent? If they grab it first, then you are stuck with all of the bad leftovers.
In addition to points, there are the three city cards. One player claiming all three will win the game, but that isn’t what usually happens. You’d need to make a big mistake in order to allow your opponent to win this way. More likely, they will be leveraged to force players into taking bad cards. Having two cities with the third still unclaimed gives you a lot of power. If there are a bunch of betrayals out and you have the third city in hand, you can play it, forcing your opponent to take all the negative points. This sort of play can win you the game on its own.
Just to make sure there is some variance and replayability, three cards are secretly removed from the game during setup. This often messes up the math for supporters. And if a city card is in there, that can really impact the way the game plays out.
My main criticism of the game is that it is too good for its length. You only play four rounds and then it is over. It is the perfect length for a filler game and I feel that it ends on time. You probably have a player that has earned their victory at this point and it wouldn’t make sense for the game to continue. And yet, the amount of depth of decision making feels larger than the play time allows, making me wish the mechanics were expanded into a 30 minute game. I need to play the game twice in a row just to get a satisfactory fill.
District Noir is a great abstract filler card game. The mechanics are light, yet the strategy feels like a more medium weight game. You may find yourself dissatisfied that the game has ended so quickly. But this can perhaps be remedied for you by playing multiple times back to back. Either way, the decision space in the game makes it worth the play when you’ve got 15 minutes to spare.
A somewhat thinky abstract card game that is a little shorter than it could have been.