Monday, May 23, 2011
Upcoming Board Game Review - Startup Fever
The Internet has created hundreds of new kinds of businesses, enterprises that just could not have existed when we all had to go to the library for our information, instead of using Google for bizarre misinformation and randomly erroneous semi-factoids. Facebook, for instance, would never have worked as a mass-mailing campaign, and how lame would Twitter have been if it were just random postcards tacked to the office bulletin board?
My current favorite, however, is Kickstarter. I don't have a lot of use for it, personally, but it's a brilliant idea. Take your undeveloped game prototype and chuck it up, then see if you can generate enough preorders to actually print your game. And Kickstarter, in turn, has created a kind of sub-industry for reviewers. It has turned many of us into pimps for non-existent games.
That's how I got my copy of Startup Fever. I scored a copy of this game so that I could tell you about it, and then you're supposed to get all excited and go preorder it, and then hopefully enough people will buy in that the guy can afford to send it to the printer and make it an actual game. That's the theory, and so far, it's working like gangbusters.
Startup Fever is a game where you're all creating Internet startup companies. How crazy is that? It's a game about Internet startups being promoted on a successful Internet startup. It's like one of those things where you put two mirrors facing each other and then the bald spot on the back your head just gets smaller and smaller. Sadly, so does your head, or I would make a hat that does that and wear it everywhere.
This is a thoroughly European-style game. There are dice, sure, but there's no death, so right off the bat, you know it's not a red-blooded American game. There is implied sex, however, so that puts it in the same category as Agricola. In terms of play style, Startup Fever has a lot in common with all kinds of games about farms or zoo animals or silk trading.
Your goal is to have the most users for your Internet products, and so you'll hire lots of software engineers and marketing experts, and then offer them stock options to keep them around. But then when they're with your company long enough to actually cash in their options, they'll be prone to jump ship and go work for the competition. This is rude, but it's business.
In fact, for a game with no body count, Startup Fever is ruthlessly cutthroat. To succeed with a launched product, you have to have more tech geeks than everyone other competing product. So if you're trying to sell MySpace, and you've got six nerds on the project, and the other guy is peddling FaceBook and has eight nerds, he'll steal all your fans and the next thing you know, your entire site is dedicated to washed-up garage bands and child predators.
Startup Fever is an exercise in extremes. In the first half of the game, it's frightfully dull. You'll plod through boring hiring routines and wonder why turn order even matters. If you're not overly patient, you may give up on the game before you even get any products launched, because the game feels flat and you'll be bored.
But then you have a couple products launched, and suddenly competition heats up, and now the game is absolutely bloody. It's wickedly cutthroat, with other companies stealing your tech nerds and filing lawsuits and running off with your patents. What was a dry game with almost no interaction is suddenly an escalating game of backstabbing and dirty tricks. If the whole game was as exciting as the last half, you could get gamers everywhere to play, even if they normally prefer to spend three hours shooting at each other with plasma tanks and flying elves.
Which brings me to my conclusion about Startup Fever. First, it should have spent a little more time in testing, until the creator could come up with rules to make the beginning of the game more fun. Second, it's going to appeal to a lot of people, but it's going to piss off almost as many. It's not bad, but it's more European than hairy armpits and runny cheese.
I would love to tell you all about how cool the graphics for the game are going to be, but my set was made before all the art was done. So downside - my art isn't as cool as yours will be. Upside - my game is all made out of wood, even the box, and it's seriously bitchin'. I'm confident that the final product will look fantastic, because anyone who puts this much effort into a playtest version is going to turn up the heat when it comes to the finished game.
One more upside - the creator of this game contacted me just after my Gaming Gluttony article, and told me that if I liked the game, he would repurpose the 'Scandal' card to include Vietnamese prostitutes. While Startup Fever is not going to appeal to every gamer alive, it will most certainly find fans in a pretty sizable Euro-gamer community, and so I'm giving it a thumbs up. In other words, Louis, I'm holding you to it - I want to see Asian hookers.
Crazy cutthroat tactics in the last half of the game
Plan ahead from the start, or pay the price later
A constant balancing act to stay just one step ahead
First half is dry as a Spanish desert
So European, it has a German accent (not necessarily a con)
If you want to find out more about Startup Fever, and maybe reserve yourself a copy while you still can, check it out here: