If you have never heard of Oink Games, then you are in for a treat. CT reviewed Deep Sea Adventures a while back for BRB, which was my introduction to this Japanese games company that makes board games in compact packaging, without sacrificing the big ideas.
• Designer: Jun Sasaki
• Publisher: Oink Games
• Number of Players: 3-7 players
• Playing Time: 20 mins
There is something incredibly aesthetically pleasing about the look and the size of the games, and when game mechanics are not compromised due to box size, it’s a significant bonus. The ideas are distilled to their most essential components, streamlined and then a really good twist is added to make the game feel fresh and exciting.
Startups is no different. It is a set collection game, where players essentially want to have either the most of one suit of card or none of them at all. With a light theme of vying for control of shares of six companies, Startups does not majorly divert from the standard set-collecting premise: pick up a card, play a card down, rinse and repeat until the deck runs out.
There is, however, a push-your-luck element to the game that brings a fresh twist to the game-play. Everyone who has any shares in a particular company has to pay money to the player who has the most shares in that company. For example, you picked up a share of the Elephant Mars Travel (best company name ever!). However, the other two players have three and four shares down on the table, meaning there are only two shares potentially left available in the game. Playing down a share of ETM, is potentially a bad move. First of all, you will never be able to get the most cards, and the more shares you have, the more money you will have to pay to the majority share owner. Secondly, all players have three cards in their hand at all times, meaning that someone could already have more shares in ETM, but they just haven’t played them yet. Finally, it is better to put the ETM share in the market for the other two to battle it out, while you can focus on banking other shares.
While the game-play is very simple, the thinking behind every move can be quite layered and strategic. Even though every round is a variation on the same move, that subtle difference in decision-making could win or lose the game.
Startups manages to fall somewhere in the middle between complete strategy – where players can calculate all the cards in play – and complete luck, where every draw and pick up is random. Five cards are always taken out of the deck at random so it is harder to predict its exact composition. Each player also starts with three cards in their hand. However, in this case, through following closely what they have picked up and then put down, it is possible to predict which cards the players are holding back.
So there is definitely a minor skill curve. An observant player will have a better idea of what companies everyone is going for and would be able to adapt accordingly. While, a player making decisions on a turn by turn basis, will potentially lose out on some points because they got shares of a wrong company. However, with multiple companies and shares to go around, there is always enough space to catch up.
While the premise of shares and banking may seem a bit daunting for a quick and party friendly board game, don’t let those two words fool you. Startups is a small, adorable game with quirky company names. It may be a bit confusing to begin with, but after a few rounds, it charms players with its looks and fast-paced game-play, making it very easy to have just one more round, and then another one.