Going in I was unsure as to whether this would truly appeal, but after just one play I was hooked on its brilliant brand of simple but effective mechanics, stunning looks, and magical competitive nature.
Nomads is a game about the stories that are told around the campfire. That classic image of travellers huddled under a blanket of stars, as smoke plumes lazily into the air from the campfire’s glow is one that resonates as something pretty special through the pages of time, and here we have a game that attempts to capture a taste of the essence of what magic lies within such a moment.
But, does it succeed?
Let us find out…
Nomads is a game based within the world of, Legends of Luma, however, I know absolutely nothing of this world, and, played without having built any knowledge of it, so let us just quickly skip past that bit.
What Nomads is to myself, a new face in the neighbourhood if you will, is a really very, very cool, immensely playable card collection game with a few added bells and whistles for flavour. Players take on the role of characters gathered at the campfire, as the Nomads begin to spin their stories, legends and songs, long into the sandy eyed night.
Each player must attempt to collect shreds of the tales woven, and songs sung, by moving around the fire during the night. This is done by moving a stack of character discs either clockwise or anti-clockwise around the central flames, and dropping one disc per space moved. Any players whose character disc sits atop a stack after moving collects a story tile from those piled before them, any not atop the stack have momentarily nodded off during the recounted tales. When a number of tiles have been gathered they can then be spent on a legend, or, a song depending on your preference at the time. Each story tile carries a symbol that relates to a particular legend, and each legend tile requires a specific number of story tiles to be exchanged for them. Simple.
Legends can be upgraded for more victory points by adding further tiles of the same type as play commences. Every time a full moon appears from the clouds (there are moon tiles in the mix as well, and four depicts a full moon), a scoring round takes place where the current leader takes the lion’s share of moon tiles for end game scoring.
Winners are determined by victory points amassed after four rounds, points are deducted for unplayed tiles, and gained for additional moon pieces. It is genuinely a very simple game. So where is the magic?
The real beauty for myself with Nomads came from a very nice sense of gentle competition. The game is actually highly competitive by nature, with everyone often vying for the same story fragments, players moving each other’s character discs to scupper opponent’s tactics, and a little nudge of tension as the moon nears fullness and the mid-play scoring round nears. However, despite this, the whole game always feels incredibly mellow to play, even when the little moments of anxiety do arise, they are generally deep in the shadows of the overall relaxing vibe this game exudes.
What this leaves us with is a game that allows for competition, and even moments of take that action, but never raises temperatures around the table. It could perhaps be down to the theme itself being quite serene and cosy, or maybe the fact that the artwork is utterly sumptuous and really captures the vibe with its colours of autumnal twilight around the campfire, or possibly it is simply due to the actual act of playing the game being so wonderfully simple and engaging, but whatever the reason, Nomads is a game that brings a serenity to the table that few others manage.
Elsewhere, the game itself plays like a dream. Always a good selling point when it comes to games. Nomads is a very straightforward affair with lovely little layers of strategy, and a theme that shines through. Each character has a unique little power they can utilise during their turn, which nicely sets them apart from one another, there are a good range of legends to chase and the mechanic for picking these up is simple, but brilliantly effective. Nomads also has a very nice flow to play. At times there are little pauses as a player tries to work out where to drop discs, but these are always short and relatively rare. Despite not being inundated with choices to make on a turn (there are basically two), at no point in our multiple plays did the game become a chore. Thanks to a constantly shifting play area, that then demands a constant shift in individual strategy, the game stays fresh and exciting beyond the first few runs.
Another very cool little element comes during the five-player game. In Nomads there are multiple legends to collect and upgrade, but, there are only four songs, and a song once taken cannot be upgraded or swapped, as the game states, once you get that song stuck in your head… This is decent in a three or four player game, however, in a five player game with only four songs available to score points from it leads to some very interesting moments of decision making and scrambling for points as the songs dwindle.
The Nomads artwork and board are must mentions. The art style truly shines bright. The detail captured is truly beautiful when on the table, the game just spills gentle colour and vivid dreamlike looks from every pore, then when you throw in the 3D fire that stands in the centre, the whole thing just looks to be bursting with life. It is easily one of the most eye-pleasing games I’ve yet come across. The use of colour is perfectly understated to capture the feel of twilight, that in turn allows further room for the theme to breathe and opens elevated opportunity for immersion. Just, hats off to everyone that worked on the art direction here, as it really does blossom.
What’s Not So Good?
Although the theme is captured beautifully in the artwork, it is a little bit shallow in the actual game. Truth be known, Nomads does require a little effort to truly get lost in the idea that you are around a campfire listening to stories and songs. For me this is down to the actual lack of depth regarding any of these legends and singalongs. The reality is that a legend is simply depicted as an image upon a card with a number value as to its worth. Each story card within a legend will have a different image, but in terms of an actual story, well, there’s not much to tell. Similar with the songs, where each song is the same card depicting a lute or whatever ancient instrument it is, and a score value. This doesn’t hamper the actual playing of the game, or even devalue it, but at the same time it means only a certain level of immersion within the theme can be reached. For a game that I believe comes from a world with plenty of tales to tell, I would have liked a bit more substance with my stories.
Now to the box, which in an otherwise dreamy place, is a bit of a nightmare. It could be down to my forgetfulness, but the design that is like sliding a box lid over an upright base (imagine you stand a game on its side on the shelf, and then the lid lifts off straight up) has seen me send this game spilling across the floor on more than one occasion, with the most recent being as I write this review. I’m all for innovative ideas and new approaches to old things, but, let’s face it, a traditional box works wonders and keeps everything off the floor when dopey old folk (such as myself) forget about the new fangled idea.
Beyond that though there is little to complain about here.
Where’s The Appeal?
I think Nomads is the sort of game that will appeal to anyone seeking some gentle competition in their games against a beautiful backdrop. It is a nice, light-weight game that will see you playing from start to finish in around thirty to forty minutes, and then likely setting up for another round. The theme is stronger in looks than in play, but still has room for players that want to get lost in the campfire smoke, and I found myself nicely lost in the setting.
The challenge of capturing the cards you seek, trying to not be left with any tiles at the end, scuppering opponents, and best using character powers, really makes this a game with many strings to its bow too. But thankfully it is never bogged down in the process. It’s the sort of game that will engage you even when other players are acting, and this means during a game you probably won’t really notice any downtime. There are moments of excitement, tension, celebration and despair in Nomads, but importantly, these are always under a blanket of fun and laughter. It’s just that sort of game.
Nomads is also one of those delightful games that can be played free from the rulebook in a very short amount of time. In terms of flow of play and elevated enjoyment, this is always a bonus in my mind.
One For The Kids?
A definitive yes! The game recommends being for 8+, but I think the mechanics are so simple in action that children younger than that will find plenty to enjoy here.
I played this one with my seventeen-year-old son, Dylan, and my twelve-year-old daughter, Holly.
Holly, said, “I really enjoyed Nomads! I like the art a lot, and I like the special abilities each character has because they were really easy to use and helped me on my turns. I would definitely play this game a lot!”
Nomads is a game that really stays with you after playing. Going in I was unsure as to whether this would truly appeal, but after just one play I was hooked on its brilliant brand of simple but effective mechanics, stunning looks, and magical competitive nature. Here we have a game that makes you stop and stare, but then delivers in gameplay. This is style and substance in a solid marriage. I left every game feeling positive regardless of the outcome, which in my case is generally having lost by some margin, and going forward whenever the prospect of a few games has arisen, I’ve always found myself keen to tackle another bout of stories around the campfire and trying to stay awake.
There are niggles, mostly in that the actual stories and songs are pretty much puddle deep, and you could probably be collecting anything and the game would work. It could be a pickpocketing game where players pinch goods from the pockets of those at the campfire and it would play the same. But, I’m still left happy after a few rounds of Nomads, and that is what’s important.
If you are seeking a game that plays in good time, offers lovely little strategic elements, a healthy dose of friendly competition, and looks divine, then add Nomads to your collection.
Now, where are my marshmallows?
Designer – Gary Kim
Players – 2 to 5
Playtime – Approx. 40 minutes