Notre Dame Review

Notre Dame game in play

A great little game that I bought by fluke last year is Notre Dame.

In Notre Dame, each player controls a section of the city, and they are attempting to help build the cathedral of Notre Dame - while avoiding being overrun by rats!  The game consists of thee rounds, with each round having three turns.  Each turn, a player will draw three of his nine cards and select one - passing the others to the player on his left.  Then, from what is passed to him, he selects another one and passes.  Finally, he accepts a third card.  These cards represent actions that a player can perform, but he will only perform two of the three.  These actions can allow you to remove rats, gain victory points, earn money, move your carriage, unlock more of your influence markers, and build Notre Dame.  At the end of each turn, each player has the opportunity to hire a special helper, who can assist in moving your influence markers, gaining victory points, and dealing with rats.  After this, rats frantically charge at the players, avoiding clubs, boots and gunfire on the way to bite your ankles, and anyone that is overrun with rats loses two victory points and an influence (perhaps I made that sound a bit more exciting than it really is).  Finally, if the round is over (not just the turn), then players score victory points based on who assisted in Notre Dame and get their starting action cards back.  At the end of the third round, the game is over!

The first thing that I enjoy about Notre Dame is the action card drafting.  I have played a few games with a drafting mechanic in them, but I believe that Notre Dame does it at least as well as any other game I've played (including 7 Wonders).  I really enjoy the fact that what actions you are able to perform are based on both what you draw and what other players pass to you.  This forces you to adjust your strategy based on other players.  For example, if you are passed a lot of carriage cards (I generally pass these), then it might be a good idea to go ahead and start implementing a carriage strategy.  At the same time, you can look and see what the opponents on your left are doing, and you can decide to keep cards simply to prevent them from having them.  (Though, this strategy obviously does not focus on earning your own victory points, and so it is less than ideal.)

Notre Dame draft cards
The available action cards - and the Hunchback
But, do you know why it might be important to adjust your strategy based on what you draw?  Well, it's because of this part of the game that I didn't tell you about before - as you continue performing the same action, you become better at it.  Which I also think is brilliant.  If you perform the action to gain victory points, then you gain a point.  That's less than impressive.  However, if you do it again, then you gain two points.  If you do it again you gain three points (assuming that you have left your previous influence markers on it).  In fact, each of the action spaces gives you a reward that is related to the number of influence that you have on that space.  And so, the game rewards you for having a strategy and sticking with it.  I'm ok with games rewarding you for performing a single action repeatedly - but I think that it works amazingly well in Notre Dame because you really have no control over whether you will be able to perform an action repeatedly.  It all depends on what cards are passed to you.  And so, if you get to perform the victory point action nine times (throughout the game), you can point and laugh at your opponents who passed you those cards!

And, though your actions improve by doing them repeatedly, Notre Dame also forces you to do multiple different actions.  How?  Well, there are nine cards in each round, none of which repeat.  And, you will be performing six actions each round.  Even if you draft every copy of a given action, you will only be able to perform it three times - and so, you have to do something else, too.  (Which is good, because I really don't think that you would have a chance at winning if you did any of the actions 18 times.  Except for maybe the victory point action; but you would run out of influence that you could place on it!)

board setup for Notre Dame
The board configuration changes based on number of players
My final pro for Notre Dame is that I like the rat mechanic.  You gain no points from killing rats.  None.  Instead, you don't lose points.  Two of the actions deal specifically with killing rats - but as a bonus, one lets you kill rats as you earn them, and the other lets you gain extra victory points.  The space that lets you kill rats as you earn them can be incredibly useful at preventing rats from overrunning your board - but if you focus on this, then you're not earning points.  And, you've been stacking all of your influence on a place that won't help you earn points in the future, either.  But, being overrun by rats is bad.  Not bad enough that it will cost you the game, but bad enough to make you try to avoid it.  I think that Notre Dame has found the magic balance between having rats be important enough to force you to pay attention, yet trivial enough that you don't have to spend the whole game obsessing about them.

If I had to name a con for Notre Dame, it would be that there are not many special helpers (the cards that you hire at the end of the round).  Each game, you will see all of them, and you will see six of them repeatedly in the same game.  More of these would allow the game to have more variety from one play to the next.  Yet, with that said, I think that the special helpers are well balanced, and the game gets a different feel based on who you play with and how they choose to draft cards each time, so this con is really very minor.  (Also, the Notre Dame mini-expansion provides you with more of these.)

Overall, I give Notre Dame a 9.5/10.  I love this game.  It is easily one of my surprise favorite games, and has quickly jumped up to be one of my favorite "euro-style" games, on the same level as games like Puerto Rico.

If you like Notre Dame, you may also be interested in Biblios, Pillars of the Earth, and Le Havre.


  1. All hail Feld!

    Seriously, though, Notre Dame is really great. And if you want more variety in the helper cards, you can always pick up the Alea Treasure Chest, which has a whole new set of 9 new gray helpers. If you have more than a couple of the games that have expansions in it (Puerto Rico, San Juan, The Princes of Florence, Witch's Brew, In the Year of the Dragon, Louis XIV, and Notre Dame), it's a really nice investment.

  2. So, I actually have picked up the Treasure Chest, I just haven't actually played any of the games with their respective expansions. Curse of always playing new stuff, I suppose. But, I think that I have all of the games that it gives expansions for other that Witch's Brew and Louis XIV. I guess maybe I should pick those up!

  3. I own Louis XIV but haven't played it yet, so I don't have an opinoin about that. But Witch's Brew is pretty great in a Citadels-like, second-guessing role-selection sort of way. The only problem there is that it's out of print and going for a pretty hefty price in the secondary market.

  4. Yeah, that's why I hadn't really looked too hard to get a copy. However, all of the other games in the Treasure Chest are excellent, so it's easy to assume that the two I haven't played are, too.

  5. I also picked up Notre Dame last year, and now you have me really interested in getting it to the table!

  6. Thanks for this review! I didn't think this was one I was interested in, but now you've got me second guessing myself. Looks like a comfortable mix of several of the modern classics.