One play: No Return board game

Every now and again, a game comes along that just rubs me up the wrong way. Spoiler alert: the No Return board game is one of them.

To get the basics out of the way, it is a two-to-four player abstract tile game that plays in around 30 minutes. It will set you back around £25 and is very much a traditional style family game (ages 8+).

In the box are 132 Bakelite tiles: 22 tiles (numbered 1-11 twice) in six different colours. Which is where we come to our first problem. Two of these colours are red and pink. Even in good light, it is hard to tell them apart. In slightly poor light, and with even slightly dodgy eyesight, it is a genuine barrier to play – and very much to enjoyment. I’d go as far as to say this print run at least is essentially, for me, faulty.

I’ve seen a BGG thread where someone has had to paint their red pieces orange. I tip my hat to them – but the game would have to be very good for me to go to that effort. So, what is it like to play and is it worth getting your repair kit out for?

No Return board game: Game play

The game is simple. The cards tiles are shuffled put into the bag and each player is dealt draws eight. Playing clockwise, you choose to either play some of your tiles in front of you or discard some and draw new ones. If you play, you can place as many tiles as you like of the same colour into your tableau in a row. The restriction is you can only have one row of each colour, and they must be in descending order.

So, on a following turn you can add to a row – as long as the tiles you add are the same number or lower than those already placed. Here there are clear similarities to Knizia classic Lost Cities. You can see what other players are laying, but you don’t know what they have in their hand. Is the tile you’re waiting for even left in the bag?

You can choose to switch from laying tiles to scoring them at any point. But once you do, there is ‘no return’. The game continues to work in a similar way – you draw or play tiles. But now, you discard tiles from your hand (in a single colour) and can score that value of tiles of a single colour (not necessarily the same one as you’re discarding) in your tableau. However, you must score from the bottom of each tableau row (so, the lowest numbers).

The point being, you can feel how many tiles are left in the bag each round – and the game is going to end abruptly when they run out. So the trick is, time your decision to switch from amassing to scoring just right. If it all goes to plan, you’ll run out of things to score just as the bag runs out of tiles and the game comes to a conclusion.

So what’s the problem…?

For me, No Return is a £10 card game in a £25 box with a pretty serious production issue. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand a lot of people like a fancy version of simple game. I totally got it when Hanabi got its deluxe version, for example. But the important distinction is that Hanabi had earned the right to get that edition. It won awards, sold tens of thousands of copies – people loved it and wanted a posh version.

No Return is a well designed filler card game, put into a big box and sold at a higher price point. In fact, if I’d received it as such, I’d probably still be playing it and would be going on to give it a favourable review. I’d probably keep it too. But, as I said earlier, the production here has just annoyed the hell out of me – both for its OTT nature and the publisher’s lack of attention (and care) to detail.

And so to the final nail in the coffin – and another comparison to Deluxe Hanabi. Even if they’d managed to get the colours right, you could still forget playing No Return if you were colour blind. All the tiles have is a coloured number – there’s no other way to tell them apart. Hanabi’s deluxe tiles had each colour depicted by a different symbol which, let’s face it, isn’t rocket science. In the modern era of gaming it should be standard.

Slight return

So in conclusion, No Return is a solid filler game design (from Marco Teubner). It borrows its feel from Lost Cities, but is more forgiving and accessible in a ‘family card game’ kind of way. If you want to check out a more positive review, take a look a this video from Eric Martin.

But for me, beyond the game’s basics, everything about the No Return board game feels a little dishonest. I feel cheated that the game is ‘deluxe’ before it is out of short pants – and that punters have to pay £25 for that. But worse, that ‘deluxe’ has been done in a shoddy fashion. And one that excludes players with an array of very common sight disabilities through a simple lack of thought from the publisher. Shame.

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