Startups — Review by Jeff Lingwall

  • Designer: Jun Sasaki
  • Publisher: Oink Games
  • Players: 3 – 7
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Times Played: 2 (with 4, 5 players)

Startups is a new card game from Oink Games, the Japanese publisher of other micro-box games like Insider and Deep Sea Adventure. Like those games, there’s a good amount of game in a very small box. I’m not sure there’s the depth of Deep Sea Adventure or the charm of Insider here, but I enjoyed my plays and am eager to play again.


Startups is a hand-management card game with a few helper tokens (cardboard coins, anti-monopoly tokens, and a few others used in a variant). In brief, each card represents a share in one of six companies, with between 5 (Giraffe Beer) and 10 (Elephant Mars Travel) shares per company. Players start with a hand of three cards and ten coins, and take turns drawing and discarding cards. Cards can be drawn blind from the deck, in which case the player places a coin on every card in the market, or from the market, in which case the player takes a card and any coins placed on it. One card is then played either in front of the player as an owned share or to the market. Players take turns until the draw deck is empty, at which point the cards in their hands are added to their owned shares and payouts occur between players.

The payouts are the first twist that makes the game interesting. You score points for having the most shares of company stock, but only if others also have shares. Whoever has the most shares of a company is paid by the other share-owners, at one coin per share. These coins are flipped over and become worth three coins at this point. As a result, your shares are only worth something if others have also invested in the company, and because the coins go up in value from one to three, their end-game value goes up dramatically. This creates an interesting dynamic where you want to have the most, but not all, of the shares of a company.

The second twist is an anti-monopoly rule. If you have the most shares of a company, you get the anti-monopoly token of that company. While you have this token, you can still freely play cards from that company from your hand, but you can’t take cards of that company from the market. (At the same time, you don’t have to place coins on those market cards while drawing from the deck.)

My Thoughts

Startups has all the charm you’d expect from Oink games. The artwork is playful and clever, the game is uncomplicated and quick, and there’s still an interesting game space to explore.  The mix of public (which shares I’m investing in) and private (which shares are in my hand) information creates a great back-and-forth guessing game with the other players. As even the largest company only has ten shares of stock, a player hoarding those shares in their hand can either ruin your plans or represent a significant payout at game’s end. As five cards are removed from the deck at the beginning of the game, you’re never quite sure how much hoarding is happening.

The game Startups reminds me most of isn’t actually another stock-based game. It’s Love Letter. Both are small-box games in which players take turns drawing and playing a single card a turn, with a mix of private and public information, and a bit of an end-game surprise. While I would rate Love Letter higher (for clever interaction between cards, for instance), this is one Startup I’m happy to invest in.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Chris Wray (3 Plays):  It is a pleasant and quick enough game, but it felt a bit chaotic at the higher player counts.  Oink is hit or miss with me — I really love Deep Sea Adventure, but disliked The Pyramid’s Deadline — and I think Startups landed somewhere in between.

Joe Huber (3 plays): This game is largely identical to another game from the same designer (and also published by Oink Games), Rights.  Most people I’ve played it with prefer Startups – but for me, Rights is a much better design.  Rights makes it much easier for players to actively try to ensure other players have shares, using a different mechanism, and for me allows for more strategic decisions as a result.  Rights also doesn’t restrict the player in the lead from grabbing more shares, which again I feel makes for a better tradeoff.  Also, while neither game is large, Rights is still half of the size – and has components that fit more satisfyingly in the box.  Startups is far from my least favorite game from Oink, but there are a lot I’d rather play.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Jeff Lingwall
  • Neutral.  Chris Wray, Joe H.
  • Not for me…
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