Dale Yu: Review of Pendulum

Pendulum

  • Designer: Travis Jones
  • Publisher: Stonemaier Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age:12+
  • Time: 60-90 mins
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Stonemaier Games

Pendulum is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to TGOO – namely, there aren’t that many real-time games around.  In this game, for the most part, players are all doing their own thing, collecting and spending resources, and trying to gain victory points.  There aren’t any turns per se – you are allowed to do things based on the status of three sandtimers, and whenever you’re allowed to do something, you can do it as you please.

 

The main game board is placed in the center of the table, and the three sandtimers (green, purple and black) are placed in their respective colored quadrants of the board.  The fourth quadrant has 4 province cards placed face up on it.  An achievement cards is placed on the appropriate spot near the center of the board. Make sure that everyone in the game can reach all parts of the main board.  The council board is put off to the side – it is less important for everyone to be able to reach this one.. 

 

my own picture was super blurry, so this one is taken from the publisher’s website

Each player gets their own player board with the matching stratagem cards.  There are some starting resources given on the bottom right.  At the top of the board, you’ll see an area to mark the four types of victory points – place a matching marker on the leftmost space on each track.  If you look at the different characters, you’ll note that each one has different lengths to the different score tracks.  You will start the game with 2 workers (one small, one big) – you will never have more than 4 workers available to you.  All your other bits are put next to your board as a personal supply.  As you gain resources, you take them from your own supply and put them onto your player mat.  When you spend resources, they go back to your OWN supply.  You never trade resources or any bits with other players.

So the game is played in 4 rounds – these rounds have no specific turns, and gameplay is mostly driven by the sand timers.  In between these rounds are untimed Council periods.  In the four timer rounds, most of the action happens on the game board.  Again, there are 3 colored quadrants, each with a matching timer: black (45 sec), green (120 sec), purple (180 sec).  In each of those areas, there are two identical rows of actions.  The catch here is that you may only ever take actions in rows that have a timer in them.  You can only move workers on and off rows that do NOT have a timer on them.  When a timer runs out, it is flipped over and moved to the other row in its area.

 

This is the most important rule of the game.  So important that it is repeated three or four times in the rulebook as well as on the player aid.  I figure I’ll do the same in this review. 

 

When you place a worker on an action space, it neither guarantees nor obligates you to the action.  You must take the action by paying the cost, and moving your worker from the top of the action area to the bottom.  And, of course, remember that you can only do this while the timer is ON that particular row.  You could choose to not take the action – maybe you can’t pay for the cost, or maybe you’ve decided that you don’t want to do it.  That’s fine, but you can’t move the worker off until the timer is gone.  Alternatively, maybe you got caught up doing other things and you simply forgot to take the action.  Well, if the timer has moved, you’re out of luck because you can only take actions when the hourglass is on the row.  On the brightside, as the timer has moved, you’re free to move this worker to another spot if there is something you’d rather do.

 

Remember the other part of the golden rule, that you can only move workers into action spaces when the timer IS NOT on that row?  Well, there’s another restriction: for the green and purple areas, small workers can only be placed in an action space if it is empty.  Large workers can be placed there without restriction.

Most of the actions in the green and purple area will get you more resources.  The black area is for conquering new provinces.  When you do this, you will get to take a province card from the display (or top of the deck) and slide it under the bottom of your player mat.  There are four areas here, denoted by different icon colored backgrounds, and you can choose any of the four sides of the card to show under your board.  Just make sure that the icon background color matches that of the column you put it in.  You can put as many cards as you want in a slot, but there may have to discard some in the Council phase.  Whenever you take a production worker action in this color, you will make all of the things shown in this column on your mat (and the cards in that column)

 

In addition to the worker actions, there are also a few untimed actions – these generally do not require a worker – any player can do them at any time

  •       Play a stratagem card from their hand – each player has a set of stratagem cards, you pay the cost, place the stratagem card in your personal discard pile and then take whatever rewards come from the card
  •       Replenish your stratagem cards – pay 5 blue resources and pick up any discards and put them in your hand
  •       Claim the current achievement – if you possess the resources/votes shown on the card, place your octagonal achievement marker on the card.  You can either take the legendary achievement token and place it in your scoring area OR you get the bonuses shown at the bottom of the card.
  •       Refresh the province cards – flip up new cards in the black quadrant to fill the display there
  •       Flip a timer – that’s right, a player has to specifically choose to flip over a completed timer.  There is no obligation to do so – and there may be times where it is advantageous to leave a completed timer where it is (mostly to trap workers in that row).  When a timer is flipped, it is moved to the other action row in the same quadrant.  If it is the purple timer, you must knock one of the time markers off the board – when all 3 purple time markers are knocked off, the Council phase immediately happens
  •       Call Council – when a player knocks the third purple time marker off the board, he/she must immediately announce a Council. When this happens, the timers are no longer moved, and all players can continue to take actions until they are done.

 

In the council phase, no timers are running, and all players can only do the Council activities. Based on the number of votes, players are ranked on the privilege track.  Ties are broken in reverse of the current order.  All players then discard whatever vote tokens they have collected.  Awards are then granted based on the new position of the privilege markers – the higher ranked players will get some bonus victory points.  Then, in order of privilege, players will choose from the council rewards.  This might give you points, let you convert a small worker into a large worker, provide you with an extra stratagem card to add to your hand, or give you a scoring opportunity to convert resources into points.  The cards are of varying strength, and this is to give a reward to those players who have better standing on the privilege track.

 Then, there is a bit of upkeep at the end of the council phase.  All players must discard cards from their mat until there are no more than 2 in each slot.  All current council rewards cards are discarded and 5 new ones are dealt.  The face up province cards are discarded and a new set of 4 are dealt out.  Players can take this time to move workers from UN-TIMERED rows to other untimer-ed spaces.  The rules also suggest this is the optimal time to get and take a drink, use the restroom, make phone calls, tend to your rising pizza dough, feed your babies, etc.  Because once the game starts back up, the three timers will be flipped (and moved to their opposite row), and the game starts again in the turnless real-time fashion.

 

At the end of the fourth council phase, the game ends.  The winning criteria seem complicated at first, but they’re not as bad as they sound

  •       If a player has moved all four of their scoring markers in to the right parchment area, that player wins.  If multiple players have done this, the winner is the player who has the most points in the parchment area.  If still tied, final privilege order breaks ties.
  •       If no one has moved all markers into the parchment, then only consider players who have been able to score a grey legendary achievement point – for only those players can win.  Now look at the “worst” score track, that is the one furthest away from the parchment.  The player whose worst track is closer to the parchment is the winner.  If there is a tie, then look at the next worse, and so on.  Finally ,look at privilege order to break ties.
  •       In the sad case where no one was able to get a privilege scoring token, then no one wins.

 

 

My thoughts on the game

 

Well, I’m generally skeptical of real-time games because they’re not normally my jam.  I mean, if I really wanted to play RTS (real time strategy) games often, I’d be on my computer as this is the medium where this sort of thing excels.  Actually, I’d dig up my old Sega Genesis and play Herzog Zwei… but that’s an article for a different day.

 

Here, the idea works surprisingly well.  Once you have the ONE BIG RULE memorized – In rows WITHOUT timers, you can move workers on and off.  In rows WITH timers, you can take the actions where your workers are – everything just seems to work.  The issue with the real-time aspect – which is true of all games with real-time action – is that everyone needs to understand ALL of the rules before the game starts.  Because, it’s really hard to stop and ask questions.  I mean, sure, you can set all the timers on their sides and ask a question and have it answered; but this really disrupts the flow of the game, and as my few plays have shown me so far, it is definitely possible to get into a rhythm that helps you get the most out of your plays.

 

As you might expect, teaching the game – takes a long time.  Everyone has to really understand everything.  The rulebook is complete, but not concise.  It’s a fairly weighty 24 pages, but I think that most of the questions you might have are answered/included in the rules. 

 

One of the recommendations found in those rules is to play with untimed rounds at the start of anyone’s first game.  Having played it this way a few times, I could not more strongly agree with this recommendation.  In fact, I think I would go and say that I’d recommend playing the first two rounds of your first game without timers.   In this version, the timers are just put in their spots, and everyone takes all the valid moves they wish to make with that current timer setup.  There is a helpful aid tile which shows you the progression of timers.  You move the marker down one row, move the timer which would have just “run out” and then everyone can take the moves they want again without the time pressure of the sand falling in the timers. 

This untimed play gives newbies a chance to think through their possible actions and really learn how everything works.  It also gives time for questions to be asked and answers to be given (or looked up in the rules).  Furthermore, by seeing how and when the different timers move and get flipped, you start to understand the rhythm of the game.   For me, the most important lesson is learning how the timing works with the purple timer.  With a 3min flip here, you lose the ability to move one of your workers for a long time… so, you want to learn how to sneak a worker in just before the action becomes available.  Well, that’s not always true, because if you want to use a regular worker, you might have to move in there a bit earlier to make sure that you get the action you want – but learning how the timers will progress is a useful thing. 

 

Though the timing isn’t always on plan (because a player has to actively choose when to flip over an empty timer), seeing how the “usual” progression of timers goes is a very helpful thing to learn.  Sure, the game is much less exciting and tense without the timer, but man, I think if you just jumped right into the game without getting a chance to see how it ticks, you’d be lost for much of the time.

 

Heck, the game doesn’t take very long to play, as you only get a few flips of the purple timer in each of the four rounds – you might as well take a half of a short game to get a good understanding of the mechanics and the rhythm.

 

I have read online that there have been some issues with the timers – namely that the sand doesn’t flow freely and the timers get stuck.  I have not had many issues – so far I think that my green timer has gotten stuck once, and a good tap on the top got it moving again.  I have learned from other timer gamers that a bit of prepwork usually fixes any clumping problems, so before my first game, I made sure that shake the timers well and then put them on my office desk and spent a day where I just flipped them over every time I thought about it during the course of a workday.   That usually gets the sand moving just fine, and really ,we haven’t had any issues here.  Even if we did, let’s face it, everyone uses the same timer, so we’d all be having the same problem – so at least no one gains an advantage from it.

 

Thus far, I have enjoyed Pendulum.  There is a certain frenetic energy that comes from playing a game with such strict time pressure. There’s no time to overthink your decisions here – because if you think too long, you simply won’t get to take any actions.  To further hurry you along, some of your workers are in a race for placement, and this causes you to have to try to move even faster.  Sure, this means that you’re going to make mistakes.  And that’s inevitable in this game – but that’s going to be the case for everyone who plays, so you just try to make your mistakes hurt less than the ones your opponents make.

 

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.  
  • 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 2020, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Pendulum

  1. Klemens Franz says:

    You mention “Herzog Zwei” … and put a big smile on my face. Thanks for the flashback :-)

    • Dale Yu says:

      Klemens, I am glad someone else remembers! I will miss seeing you and Andrea this year in Germany! But don’t worry, some of your illustrations will make their way to my home soon!

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