Kickstarter Profiles, Part 2: Startup Fever
Sometimes in the board game community, hobbyists throw around the term “gamer’s game” to describe a game which includes advanced mechanics or a play experience best suited for someone who has done a bit more than advance their token to Boardwalk a few times in the family parlor. For prime examples of “gamer’s games,” see: Troyes, Twilight Struggle, Puerto Rico; do not see: Clue, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride. Designer Louis Perrochon, and a few others, have remarked that Startup Fever may have developed into just such a “gamer’s game.” After taking the prototype for a test drive, I can’t honestly say I know exactly as to which kind of game Startup Fever could be defined. I will say, however, that despite the capitalist theme, it sure as hell isn’t Monopoly.
Ok, for starters there are little wooden cubes, a “victory point” track, meeples, variable turn order, and a very loose sense of general strategy at the start of the game. All the hallmarks of a Euro, right? Well, there are also event cards and game mechanics that ramp up the punk factor as if you were throwing little plastic tanks around a battlefield in a bit of old-fashioned Ameritrash. And then there’s the theme; if ground zero in a Silicon Valley environment isn’t an American-based theme, I don’t know what else could be.
At any rate, Startup Fever is definitely a bit of an odd duck, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When Monkey238 and I first set up the game and read the rules, we felt a bit as though we were expected to fill in a lot of details on our own. The rulebook – overhauled to increase simplicity – was a bit sparse; we saw the goal and recognized the set-up, but had absolutely no base impressions on how to get from one to the other despite our gaming pedigrees. Overall, the feel of the first play was reminiscent of seeing a piece of music for the first time and being unable to predict the exact tune because of the sea of black notes spread out on a blank white page. However, once we struck up the band and ran through the chorus a couple of times, this little ditty rose from a subtle hum to a well-harmonized symphony in no time.
In Startup Fever, each player takes on the responsibility of managing a tech company. Depending on the number of players in the game, each company is attempting to develop and launch two to four products in the usual techy realms of communication, social networking and the like. During the game, players hire nerds that develop the products, and suits that manage the brand and bring in extra money. Between each round, nerds and suits can be shuffled about to bring in extra manpower on languishing products, or to provide possible firepower when two similar products face a showdown at the end of a round. This is worker management to the Nth degree, and it requires some careful consideration, a bit of luck, and a love of mathy things.
If that were all there was to the game, most players would probably rather break out Candyland and some tequila. However, the real heartbeat of the game lies in its unending supply of punk factor. During the game, players can poach nerds and suits from other companies, draining resources from an opponent’s product and adding manpower to their own. This poaching gets easier the longer an employee has been with a company, so players have to keep a close eye on their little workforce and offer them more incentives to stay on board for the long haul.
Players also receive a supply of Event Cards that can usually be played at any time. Some of the cards have events that benefit a particular company or product, but many of them should simply be titled “Screw You.” These cards have effects such as forcing an opponent to discard half their money, or being unable to manage their workforce on a product, essentially keeping them from poaching or adding new nerds and suits during a round. That particular card, by the way, is called “Antitrust Investigation,” and it is brutal. In fact, most of the game is brutal. We would not recommend it to those gamers with anger management issues or a history of psychotic breaks.
Above all, Startup Fever definitely lives up to its theme. As Monkey238 (who studies business and entrepreneurship) remarked while we were playing, the game “would be perfect for the business classroom.” So perfect, in fact, that she is considering mentioning it to one of her professors. Some teachers may want to consider culling a few of the Event Cards from the deck to prevent throwing of chairs, but if it was my classroom, I’d just sit back and watch the growing chaos.
In the end, after our first impressions we can’t exactly say that the game is “fun” in the traditional sense of social or party games; the base game is essentially an exercise in spreadsheet management. In fact, if it weren’t for the late hour in which we played, I would certainly have seen numbers flying around spreadsheet-nerd Monkey238’s head, Beautiful-Mind style. That said, however, the life and levity of the game is improved exponentially by the humorous event cards that are only getting better in the final product because of excellent art and design by Gary Simpson.
The game as a whole has come a long way in development, and designer Louis Perrochon has poured a lot of effort and love into the project. The theme is from a subject in which he is clearly well-versed, and that will translate into a rich gaming experience for quite a few competitive nerds out there. The final product is looking slick, and Louis is making the commendable effort to accept feedback and refine the mechanics and gameplay up until launch. There is very little doubt that Startup Fever will continue to gain users far beyond its launch, making this little startup worth the long-term investment in venture capital.
If you’d like to help Startup Fever become the next Facebook of boardgames, please visit the official fundraising page. Oh, and tell ‘em Dice Hate Me sent you!
And for more info. on the evolution of Startup Fever, check out the excellent design diary in W. Eric Martin’s Board Game News blog on BoardGameGeek!
Stay tuned, Kickstarter lovers – check back on Monday as Monkey238 and I talk about all sorts of Kickstarter goodness, including Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury, Philip duBarry’s Kingdom of Solomon, and even Alien Frontiers, in the next episode of The State of Games!
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