Every now and then, a game comes along that just takes over your tabletop, and Noctiluca is one such experience. The game challenges up to four players with collecting little creatures called, you guessed it, Noctiluca from the water and placing them in jars, which you then turn in for rewards to ultimately collect the most points to win the game. That may sound simple, but it's the manner in which that process plays out that makes Noctiluca one of the most charming and entertaining games we've played in some time
That charm is apparent as soon as you open the box. The board itself is more muted in tone but still has a subtle warmth to it, and the shore and gameplay spaces on the board are easy to spot and well defined. Then comes a huge injection of vibrant color as you spread the six-sided dice (representing the Noctiluca) around the board and put them in amounts of five and four within the spaces.
Throw in a few jar cards for each player and that's it; you're ready to play. Once all assembled, there is just something so lively about the aesthetic, and that liveliness carries into the quick-paced gameplay as well. One explanation of the rules, and half a turn, and our crew was off and running, picking Noctiluca from the board and attempting to fill their jars to score more points while also planning out their next moves.
Each game takes about 30 minutes, and it will fly by. After we came to the end of the first round, one of our players was actually bummed when she thought the game was over, but thankfully there was another round to go. Part of that addictive recipe is how Noctiluca keeps players invested when it's not their turn, as you're constantly looking at what the other players draw since what they can't use might benefit you.
If someone can't use a Noctiluca in one of their jars, you pass the remaining ones around to each player, and they can pick one from what's left. You also have to play your strategy based upon what shores are left, as you can only pick Noctiluca in straight lines and according to a number you have to specify before your turn starts, so you're always looking to see which route will get you what you need.
Since the game features random dice allotments, each instance will feel different, and the Noctiluca card you draw right at the beginning introduces yet another way to score points other than just relying on completing jars. If you can match up more completed jars with your symbol on it, that will aid you in the final point totals, so you have multiple ways to amass points at the end of the game. We had a pretty close split in our games, so you'll want to take advantage of every opportunity to grab a point here and there.
Better still, the game comes with solo rules to play on your own, changing things up by putting the player in the role of rescuer, as you attempt to save as many Noctiluca as you can from the disrupted pool. Since it features many of the same mechanics from the core game, it's a perfect way to get acclimated with the gameplay before taking on a multiplayer match.
All told, Noctiluca is simply a pleasure, and by the end of our time with the game, Noctiluca had managed to convince a few of our friends to grab it for their own collection. Approachable gameplay, fast-paced turns, and a charming visual style all make this a must at any tabletop occasion.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Shem Phillips
Cover and Interior Art by Bree Lindsoe
Noctiluca is in stores now.