Evil Hat is bring to the table a new board game via Kickstarter, drawing upon their Don’t Rest Your Head Mythos, to create a well conceived, mechanically interesting and down right enjoyable experience.
Quick Look Under the Hood
For 2-4 players, Don’t Turn Your Back is a deck building, worker placement game. You take turns allocating workers from your available hand to various locations on the board. The different zones have limited numbers of locations and effects. At the end of the round, once all players have passed, you score based on the various zones, clear cards as instructed, and buy more cards before starting again. Its a deceptively fast and simple mechanic that quickly builds in strategy as you buy more and more powerful cards, with better and better effects. All the while, there is an endgame to consider which is a double edged sword.
The Window Dressing
If you are not familiar with the world Don’t Rest Your Head, don’t worry. While the game is certainly true to it, it’s not going to put you at a disadvantage to have no idea who the Wax King is. If you’re a fan of the Literature, which full disclosure I am pretty partial to, its rewarding to return to the mad city. For first time Visitors, if the game moves your needle, there is plenty out there.
Breaking it down
First and foremost, the video instructions are wonderful. Its not that the rules were particularly complex or dense (a respectable 12 pages including flavor text), it just provide a clear and simple walk through of the rules that all players could watch simultaneous. Very handy… Although some confusion about your “Favor” Deck being called the “draw” deck in the video.
Each player’s decks are made up of the same cards and so the only real fight is who wants to be the gun, knife, magic and what might be tentacles? Anyway, cards all have a Cost, how much influence it takes to buy the card) and Pain rating, which is a measure of how powerful it is and how useful it will be out in the Mad city. A couple of Nice Icons and color coding keep this potential confusion in check.
As to the cards themselves, they are very clear, with wonderfully Creepy ary. That said, they are a little dark (in actually color pallete) against the bold colors of the deck and the text. While the bold colors certainly helped when clearing the board, the awesome art is almost completely lost.
Over the course of the turn and the game, you will collect Candles, which are score with which you win. Simple, but deceptive. Players who race to the end, and fail to pay attention can find themselves outpaces.
All of this is tracked by The Candle Tally card, and is surprisingly mediocre. It serves its purpose, but its total of 50 points is almost always insufficient. It is a separate sheet though, rather then a part of the main board, which is a good call.
The board is broken down into several zones, the City Slumbering, an influence generation zone; The Bizarre Bazaar, a “Special” zone where certain cards have additional effects; District 13, which has a different law each turn that determines how you can gain points Candles or some other effect; the High School, which is a quick way to gain candles, but with a good twist; and the Wax Kingdom where you can sacrifice cards in the hopes of a long term score.
This is where the game shines. The areas are really supportive of a diverse range of strategies. The use of Laws as a dynamic scoring element and a play tracker is great. The balance of the cards in hands to places to play is pretty slick. Each location is mechanically interesting and unique, and leave some really fun combos on the table.
That said, A few more laws wouldn’t hurt. There is a Kickstarter stretch goal for more, but as is, they do come up again and again. They are interesting enough and challenging enough to not be boring, per say, but they lose their wow factor after a couple games.
The End Game
The Wax Kingdom is, as previously mentioned, a double edge sword and can make or break your game. Early on, it is a quick way of getting less useful cards out your deck. Later on it’s a source of a huge supply of candles. But to win it, you need to put your best cards into it, the question is when do you do this? That Is the key question.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a fun, fast game for an evening of dark fun. Its got enough flavor text to interest those who want it, solid mechanic variance to please the long time boardgamer, and an easy point of entry for new players. The Evil Hat Kickstarters are well known for the reliability, not to mention their extras, so if if kickstarting is your thing, it might be worth it.