Dale Yu: First Impressions of Symphony No. 9

 

Symphony No. 9

  • Designers: Frank Liu, Hung-Yang Shen
  • Publisher: Moaideas Game Design
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 60 minutes

Symphony No. 9 places you back in the world of classical music when it was not classical but rather the pop music of the time.  You are a wealthy person who patronizes the different major composers of the time.

There are 2 board areas in the game, the Royal Concert Board and the Career Tracks board.  Each row on the career tracks board is seeded with a composer on the left as well as a scoring tile on the right.  They can be randomized or there is a setup which allows you to have a fairly historical overview of the different composer’s careers.

The game is played over 6 rounds, with the three phases of Sponsor, Concert, and Cleanup happening in each.

SPONSOR – players take cubes from the career tracks of the composers (representing their career trajectory as well as their lifespan).  There are 3 rounds. First, you take 2 cubes for free. Then you may pay $4 to take one cube or you can pass. In the third round, you can pay $8 to take one cube or you can pass.  As you gain these cubes, place them in the designated areas on your player board.

After the three rounds, look at each composer – the player with the most cubes in a color (ties broken clockwise from starting player) is the major patron for that composer and he gets a composition tile of that musician; paying half of the cubes in that color.  All other players keep all their cubes in this color. This tile is placed on the player board of the winner for all to see. Do this for all the composers still in the game. If a composer dies this round (i.e. has all his cubes taken), his final work is still given out this round; but he will obviously not make any more music in the future as he’s dead.

Each composer that was alive at the start of the round will give one composition tile this round; each to the player who has the most cubes in his color.

CONCERT – before the concert can happen, you must first see how famous all of the composers are at this moment in time. Look at the career track board – each of the spaces on the track has a number in the upper left, ranging from 1 to 9.  The rightmost open space on the track for each composer is used to determine their current popularity. The two lowest scores are placed in the low area in the concert hall, the highest score placed in the high area, and the remaining three are in the middle area. Ties are broken first by the composer with more exposed areas in his row and then, if equal, by being higher up on the career track board.

Then it’s time for the players to fund the concert for the round.  A royal budget token is revealed to show how much is contributed by the royal family, and then the players have a chance to discuss how much each wants to put into the concert.  Of course, the final bid is a closed fist bid, so there is plenty of chance to deceive while talking about what you are going to do… Once all the talking is done, each player places anywhere from $0 to $8 in their hand and then the bids are revealed.  There is a chart on the concert board which shows that: $8-11 bid = low; $12-14 = medium; $15-17 = high. If the total bid by the players (plus the amount on the budget tile) falls into one of the three ranges, then the concert will be successfully held.  If it is too high or too low; the concert fails.

If the concert successfully happens, all the players will pay their bid to the bank and then the composers who are in the area matching the bid will payout to their supporters – paying out a reward per cube that players have in that color.  Each player who gets money must then discard a cube of that color. The budget token for the round is slid up, and one cube of each color which is discarded is placed underneath. The player or players that bid the most money will get a bonus action as shown in the bottom of that area on the concert board.

If a concert fails (because the total bid was either too high or too low), then no one has to pay their bid.  However, there is a bit of a penalty – if the total bid was too high, the player(s) who bid the most must give up cubes AND if the total bid was too low, the player(s) who bid the least will have to give up cubes.  The budget token marker is left in the lower position to denote a failed concert for the round.

CLEANUP – Pretty simple.  If a composer died, flip his picture over to show he’s dead and then discard any composition tiles left.  Pass the start marker COUNTERCLOCKWISE. You can also take the time now to decide if you want to sell some of your precious furniture to help you get more money so that you might be able to patronize another artist next round.  You can sell a chair, console table or clock for cash; but if you manage to keep them until the end of the game, you will score VPs for unsold furniture.

If this is the end of the sixth round, the game now moves into scoring.  The system looks complicated at first, but really turns out be actually fairly intuitive.  There are six different scoring criteria in the game; each composer has a scoring tile placed to the right of his career track at the start of the game.  In general, you have to have a tile in that composer’s color to score with the scoring tile, and in general, the more tiles you have, the better the scoring will be.

Categories include: simple VPs per tile held, points per each successful concert held during the game, points per dead musician in the game, points per piece of furniture sold during the game, etc. There are 10 different scoring categories and they are neatly summed up on the back cover of the rules.

Your final score is calculated by:

  • Points from your composition tiles
  • Points from your unsold furniture tiles
  • Points for money: 1VP per $3
  • Points for works of dead composers: 1vp bonus per composition tile

The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the most composition tiles.

My thoughts on the game

Like the previous Moaideas game that I reviewed (Tulip Bubble) – I was first drawn to the game by the interesting subject matter; but once I played the game, I realized that while the theme really could have been about anything as the game is really just an economic game at heart.  Unlike Tulip Bubble, the theme kinda gives way to the overall mechanics – but this is not a failing of the game; in fact many of the Eurogames we play simply have a theme lightly pasted on to give direction to artwork and some basic mechanics.

Here, the idea that the composers have varying career trajectories makes sense; but the six composers here weren’t all historical contemporaries of each other, and it’s a bit weird when Schubert dies in the game before Mozart – after all, the tiles tell you that Mozart actually died 30 years prior.  I think it’s easy enough to suspend your disbelief – but if you’re looking for historical accuracy; just move along here 😊

As I mentioned earlier, the game itself is a economic game; it’s all about stocks and speculations.  The stocks are the cubes, and you procure these cubes to use for tiles and to get dividends at some of the concerts.   You need to get some money back during the concerts because it really sucks to go broke in the game. If you’re broke, it’s really hard to get more cubes (and almost certainly impossible to get composition tiles), and once that happens, you’re on a downward spiral to DFL.  (that’s gamer slang for Dead Freakin’ Last).

Sure, you can sell your furniture, and in fact, there seems to be little reason to not sell your furniture.  Of course, you can earn VP for keeping your furniture intact, but it does seem like the money from the furniture can generally be used to better end than the value you get for saving the furniture.  Even a single cube can be a huge boon if it leads to a composition tile.

Speaking of composition tiles, it definitely seems best to go for there.  The composition tiles pretty much always pay off, and you always know what you need to do to get points out of them.  Dividends (per cube at the concert) are nice, but they can be costly in terms of the actual payout per cube, and you have to discard a cube per color that paid out.

Everything seems to tie together nicely, but there is one quibble I have with the game setup.  In a 4p game, two players end up being last in turn order twice while the other two only are in that dire position once.  The reason it sucks to be last in a round is that you lose all tiebreakers, thus making is super hard (or at least super expensive) to get a composition tile in that round.  There really doesn’t seem to be enough compensation to the two players who have to suffer this multiple times.

For that reason, I am unlikely to play this with four players and instead will stick to three where there is at least some symmetry to the frequency of going last.  Also, though I haven’t played it myself, the 2p game comes highly recommended as a very tight and strategic game. This version of the game uses a bot/AI to simulate a third player, and all reports are that this is a wonderful way to enjoy the game.

The components are well made; the cardboard boards and chits are thick and have not shown signs of wear.  There are a few quibbles with the money though. First, the cardboard chests used to “hide” your money don’t really hide them that well – and plenty of people would spill their money as they tried to dig out coins from them with fat fingers.  Secondly, the game comes with 1/5/10 coin chits, but I really think it should have had 1/4/8 as there are the three denominations that the game pretty much uses. We have in fact made a house rule that the coins are valued 1/4/8 – like the 18xx games, it would have made a lot of sense to make the currencies match the costs of the game.

The rules are fairly well done, certainly on the upper end of the scale for games from the Far East.  The English translation is coherent, and while the book feels weighty at 20 pages, many of the pages are filled with large graphics or examples of play which make it quite easy to learn from the book.  The components are colorful, and the colors are easily seen – at least by our non-colorblind group. I’m honestly not sure how it would look to colorblind people with green/red and brown/purple as two of the color pairs.

Moaideas is proving to be a small game company that makes complex games with deceivingly simple rule sets.  The list of their games which I adore is growing: Joraku, Guns & Steel, Flow of History, Tulip Bubble and now Symphony No. 9.  That’s a pretty good track record for any publishing house!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

 

Dan Blum (1 play): I agree that this isn’t different from many Euros in having a pasted-on theme, and in general I don’t mind that, but some Euros do make an effort to add some thematic feel, and when a game uses an unusual theme I really think it should do that. Symphony No. 9 doesn’t, even when it seems as if it should be easy. E.g. a composer’s fame could be influenced by how often they’ve appeared in the concerts and how good the concerts were, but it’s not.

Ignoring the thematic aspect, the game is… fine. It works but I found it fairly unengaging. I’d be willing to try it again but no one has seemed too interested in pulling it out for another play.

 

Joe Huber (1 play): Given the title, I wasn’t necessarily expecting a hugely thematic game – but I still wanted to see a game about composing music.  And – it’s not. Everything works, and it’s a fine game, but – not one that gives me any strong incentive to play it again. I’m not unwilling – but I was far more taken by Takt Voll, for instance, because the mechanisms supported the theme.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. Dan Blum, Joe H.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, First Impressions. Bookmark the permalink.

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