Supply and Demand in the Industrial Age - Spyrium Review

I don't expect most games below the £22-£25 mark to have a great deal of depth in the game, but there are exceptions to this rule and these always get a look in. This game was also fairly well hyped by gamers, but when it came out I don't remember seeing it being played much. I had to find out what was going on as the game intrigued me when I learnt of it's unique mechanics and it's low price tag. 

"Cover looks good and when you see the Asmodee logo, you can expect the same inside"

Designer: William Attia (2013)
Publisher: Asmodee
# of Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 75-120 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #358/7.51
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Worker Placement / Resource Management

Just Popping Off To The Market

The game is set in the Industrial age where a new mineral resource called Spyrium has been discovered. You are playing an entrepreneur that's seeking to have the best personal wealth by the end of the game. Whether you seek to monopolise the production of Spyrium, dominate the landlords market or work your men to death in the factories is entirely up to you.

The game is played over 6 rounds using 3 separate decks of cards. Most of the action takes place in the Market which is 9 cards laid out in a 3 x 3 formation with space in between them. Players take it in turns to place their Meeples, but not on the cards themselves. No, no, no that's exactly what they would expect you to think. Instead you place each worker in between the cards, thus placing your interest in the cards to either side. 

"It all looks very pretty and colourful when the market is in full swing - placement is key to success"

When you've placed enough Meeples down, you then take them off one at a time to collect money or purchase a building/patent or utilise a character. The costs are self explanatory on the cards however there's an added premium. For every other Meeple surrounding the card including your own, you have to pay £1 extra. 

This also works in your favour if you choose to collect money as you will collect £1 for every Meeple.  So your card you really want might be in such high demand that you'll get priced out or you may have no interest in the card at all and just want to collect money at everyone else's expense. Income is also earned with the rental track which can be increased if you purchase more high value residential buildings. 

In addition to Meeple placement there is a special action that can be taken as dictated by a small deck of event cards that are randomised from game to game. These are usually conversions of resources into victory points or the acquisition of resources/workers. 

"Only 6 events will be used in a game and the artwork make them look like the Financial Times"

The buildings that you can purchase grant additional resources or income or grant actions if you have the spare workers depending on the type:
  • Mines - produce Spyrium
  • Factories/Workshops - convert Spyriums into Victory Points
  • Universities - utilise workers to generate Victory Points
Patents are objective cards which give you a special bonus during the game, and a potential to earn victory points based on one path to victory. You don't have to acquire them, but if you don't you better have a good plan. 

Characters provide bonuses or victory points, but many of them vary their prices and stocks. On each card with a blue round symbol you have to place some numbered tokens ranging from 1 to 3 which influence whether you'll need to get in early to avoid low stock or high price issues.

"Patents in green, buildings in blue and characters. . . .well do I need to say?"

When you've run out of actions, you pass and this repeats for 6 rounds. As the game progresses, you cycle through the decks and the cards get progressively better and more expensive. The winner is, well you've guessed it, the one with the most victory points when you've tallied up the buildings, patents and points earned during the game. 

Reading Between The Cards

The main aspect of this game is the unique market mechanic where you're placing Meeples in effectively, a "void" between the cards rather than the usual scenario where you place workers on top of things. But this creates a plethora of decision making as the market will have a profound impact on what you can and can't do. For example the perfect patent for your plans could be there for the taking, but you're not the only one who wants it and as the Meeples pile up, the price increases which then attracts other Meeples who want to collect easy money. 

You can collect more Workers which is recommended for all players in general but there's a caveat with their removal from the market. There are two "phases" in your turn and each phase has different actions you are allowed to perform. In addition if you proceed to Phase II, you cannot go back to Phase I and that is the only time you can place a Meeple. So do you want to sacrifice placing a Meeple so that you can grab a building that much quicker? If you've acquired buildings that require workers to use, that's not a problem sometimes, but the more factories/mines etc. that you want to use, the less workers you can send to the market.

"Simple but intuitive and you'll notice the red point markers - when you pass these stages you can gain either a new worker or £5 as decided by you before the game starts - yet more planning you have to do"

As you can see, there's a surprising amount of depth to this game and it's all generated from 9 cards and a few wooden Meeples. Talk about getting a lot from so little. And with the 7 different patents there are many paths to victory that you can choose to take. I've used a different strategy in every game I've played and you have to be adaptable in mid-game if an opponent nicks the card you wanted. I've yet to try a tactic that doesn't require a patent or two to win with, but I'll be intrigued to see if an idea or two I have would work in that regard because that would mean even more paths to victory open up.

Workers, money and Spyrium are the primary resources in this game and you can't ignore any of them entirely. If you have few workers, you can't take full advantage of the market or work the high-end mines/factories. If you're skint, you can't afford to buy anything at the market. And if you have no Spyrium, you can't benefit from the rewards to be gained from characters, events and factories that require it. You want a bit of everything, but it's no easy task and as such your resource management skills are tested.

"Percy. . . what you have created. . . if it has a name. . . is some.. . . Green."

Solitaire Be Gone!

Most Euro style games end up with you playing your own game and not caring what everyone else is doing, but Spyrium puts that to rest. . . . permanently. Because of the premium that is added to the cost of everything with Meeple placement you are directly interacting with the other players in some way whether to make life more expensive for them or to take advantage of their demands to rake in the pennies.

All information can be seen by other players so the observant ones will be able to deduce what you're after and make life harder for you. The market is laid out from 3 decks of cards, 3 rounds of Deck A, 2 of B and 1 of C. Not all of the cards in Deck's A & B are used in the game so there's a small amount of variation in what cards don't get used at all, but there's a huge amount of variation from how the market is laid out. One turn you might have next to no buildings available so everyone tries to grab what's there. On another turn there's a plentiful selection of patents and characters to choose from and you're strapped for choice knowing that once these cards are gone you might not get the chance to get them later.

"The main rules are explained over just 4 pages and they are clear and easy to follow with diagrams"

The game plays out very quickly and you can easily wrap up a game in less than 2 hours with even 5 players. Of course I have seen games take longer due to chronic AP, but AP can drag out any game so pick your players wisely I say! However with 2-3 players you can finish this game in an hour with speedy players, but there's no reason why it should take longer than 90 minutes not including rules explanations. And even that doesn't take long, you've got to explain the market, the phases and the iconography and that's it. The specific abilities of each card can be explained as you play the game as the rulebook provides a great set of reference pages to explain them in detail. Though why they don't print the names on the cards I don't know. Each character has a name, but you only know that from the rulebook - that's a weird decision in my opinion, but it's a small nitpick on the theme, which otherwise is relatively strong for a Euro game.

"The reference pages explain every card in detail, but why could they not have printed the names on the cards themselves, I don't get how that was decided"

Verdict

I got introduced to this game with the maximum amount of players and with a very slow explanation of the rules and some AP issues. I still won the game, enjoyed it immensely and went and bought the game straight after. That wasn't even the best scenario for a game introduction and it was still good. With a good host (not to sound like boasting but I feel that being a tax accountant I can explain technical rules pretty well to gamers and non-gamers alike) you can play this game quickly and get the full enjoyment out of it.

"First player card and the starting reference card for each player showing clearly where your purchased cards go, what you start with and the price premium for additional buildings (land tax essentially)"

I can only think of some minor nitpicks to flaw the game. The board could have been foldable so that the game box could have been half the size it is currently and as mentioned above the cards should have had the names printed on them. My box also had a broken Meeple inside, but it's no big deal and it gave me a good laugh considering the name of my blog! 

Barely any components, (of which the cards and board are of high quality with great artwork), a clear and concise small rulebook and yet a huge amount of depth, variation and interaction. . . . . . and all for less than £25! I got my copy for £22 + minimal postage and I feel you get a great deal of bang for your buck. Cheaper than a lot of games out there so it goes to show that price doesn't equal a quality game. If you have been tempted by this game, I strongly recommend you give it a try, I just hope it will get some expansions in the future to make it even better, but even if it never does, it's a keeper in my collection.

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