Saturday, February 28, 2015

Actual Play - Don't Turn Your Back

Every couple of weeks, the good folks at MKE RPG host an event at +42 Lounge where local geeks get to play some games and drink some drinks. I enjoy the event because it offers an opportunity for me to bust out games from my library. Thanks to the good folks at +Evil Hat Productions , I was able to get my hands on a prototype of their newest board game. Don't Turn Your Back puts players in a war for control of a strange city by pulling Nightmares under their influence. It uses the setting of their classic Don't Rest Your Head RPG.

The game is currently funding on Kickstarter. A short rundown of the game and my thoughts on the game are below the jump. Thanks to +Caleb Andersen , +Mike Holmes  and +Nihar Nilekani for playing the game with me!

Don't Turn Your Back is halfway between a deck-builder and a worker placement game. The players play cards from their deck in certain areas of the board. The game plays in four phases.

Play Cards

Each player plays a single card. The location on the board determines what happens. If a player is out of cards, can't play and more cards or won't play any more cards, they are out of the turn.

Acquire Influence

Cards played in a certain area of the board are used to acquire cards from the player's acquisition deck. As cards are acquired, new cards are flipped face up.

Score Candles

The player with the most candles at the end of the game wins. Putting cards in other sections of the board score candles either during the game or at the end.

Clean Up

All cards get cleared from the board, go back to player's decks and new cards get drawn into the hand.

Each of the sections of the board has a bit of strategy connected to it. Each section has only a few spaces, so if you don't get your card in first, you can get locked out.

City Slumbering

This is where cards go to when used to buy from the acquisition row. This is most important in the early game when decks are still full of basic cards.

The Bizzare Bazaar

Many of the cards have unique functions if played here. Those functions usually allow players to draw extra cards or mess with other players.

District 13

At the beginning of the game, a Law deck is created featuring a number of cards equal to the rounds being played. Whenever a Law card is face up, the cards played here vie to score the card. Once the Law cards are out, the game is over and final scoring begins.

High School

Cards played here earn points, but not every card gets to go back to the deck right away. Some cards stick around for a turn or two.

Wax Kingdom

This is where cards go when a player wants them out of their hand. Like most deck builders, players eventually want to ditch their starting cards, but the game gives incentive to bury important cards too, as the better the card sacrificed, the more points it will be worth at the end of the game.

Strong Elements of the Game

  • The graphic design works on many levels. Not only is the artwork sufficiently surreal and moody, but the color coding of the cards reminds players where cards can be played and whose cards go where once they return to decks.
  • The Law changes the board state every round, so you're always dealing with a new scoring condition every turn.
  • The blend of deck-building and worker placement kept dead turns to a minimum. Too often, deck builders can seem like people playing solitaire with occasional interaction. The worker placement makes you plan out a bit more, even if it's just to cut someone off from a part of the city.
  • Setting up the game and playing for four brand new players took an hour. I would feel comfortable playing with with folks who want to dig into the strategy and people who are just along for the creepy ride.

Weak Elements of the Game

  • I'm a big fan of flavorful text. While acquisition and cost are very straight forward, I wish the game terms would reflect the creepy images and setting more.
  • It's a bit of a table gobbler. Each player has a player board, six cards in their acquisition row, the board proper and the scoring track. We played on a table where people kept mixing together cards inadvertently and had to move the scoring track to a separate side table.
Evil Hat's card game designs keep getting stronger with each release. Don't Turn Your Back offers fast strategy, great replay and a creepy setting. Check out the Kickstarter if you want to bring the Mad City home to your table.