Voices in My Head
- Designer: Corey Konieczka
- Publisher: Unexpected Gamers
- Players: 3-6
- Age: 12+
- Time: 1-2 hours
- Played with review copy provided by publisher via Asmodee NA
Well, thus far in its short existence, Unexpected Games has provided the gaming public with games that are well…. unexpected. Their first game was The Initiative, and this game was hailed as a breath of fresh air to the co-op puzzle solving genre. Thinking about what to do as a follow-up, as stated in a designer diary, “Not only did I need a good game, I needed something unexpected. One of our studio’s guiding principles is to create new experiences that do not supplant games that already exist, but offer something fresh and exciting. For our second title, it was essential that the game provided a different experience than The Initiative. I worried that releasing another cooperative puzzle-solving game as our sophomore effort would typecast the studio into making “only those types of games”. I had always wanted to do a game with a courtroom theme, so I took some time to explore this idea.” And, the result is Voices in My Head.
“You probably shouldn’t have robbed that bank. You also shouldn’t have eaten that spicy breakfast burrito. “One problem at a time,” you tell yourself. “OK Guy, you messed up, but this trial might be your shot at redemption.” As you prepare to testify in court, conflicting voices fill your head. Which voice should you listen to? Should you tell the truth, even if it might send you to jail?”
In this game, players each take on a different role. One player takes on the role of the prosecutor who is trying to convict the defendant, Guy, and send him to prison; everyone else takes on aspects of Guy’s personality, such as Honesty or Selfishness, and attempts to influence the trial. To win the game, each player must achieve their hidden goal. To do this, players step into the courtroom and into the mind of a man on trial for robbing a bank. Interestingly, there can be multiple winners in the game – each player has their own win criteria stated on their role card, as long as that is fulfilled at the end of the game, the owner of that card wins.
To start, set up the board, which is dominated by a picture of Guy’s head. You’ll make a 3D affair with platforms in 5 different regions of his brain and then an elevated mind platform on top of those. The role cards for your player count are taken out of the box, and ideally explained to all players. You have to explain things first, because soon each player will be given one at random, and the roles should be kept secret for the duration of the game! Well, with the exception of the Prosecutor. That player shows his role cards and then takes all of the special things that they will need. Most notable is a privacy shield, behind which the Prosecutor will hide his hand of Trial cards. While this is happening, all the other players choose a color for their persona and take 2 strategy cards into their hand.
To start, the Prosecutor chooses one of the 4 story cards at random and then reads the Start of Trial side to give the starting instructions. This card is then left face up on the table, as it will be used at the end of the trial.
The game itself is played over 8 rounds, each with 5 phases. The 8 rounds of the game are split up into 2 stages (represented by 2 different decks of cards). In the first phase (4 rounds), the prosecutor brings evidence to the court. In the second phase (4 rounds), Guy takes the witness stand.
1] Choose Trial Card – The Prosecutor chooses one of his Trial cards (or the top one from the deck), and slides it under the screen so that the other players can see the two icons shown at the top of the card. The Prosecutor should not read any of the text on the card nor should he look at the back of the trial card at this time.
2] Deploy Control Markers – Each player will deploy one Control Marker to the board (well 2 per turn in a 3p game) – the markers have varying numbers on them, and each persona starts with an identical set of 8 markers. To deploy a marker, place it on the entry area of your chosen region, then using your special deployment stick, slowly push your marker into the region which could push and move previously placed markers in that region. If a marker would fall off of the platform, it is destroyed. Keep pushing until your deployment tool is flush against the entry to the region. You are free to choose any of the 5 regions of the brain to deploy your marker, but ideally you’d like to put them in a region where you will have control (that is having a higher total value than all other players). In general, if there is a tie for a region, the current starting player simply chooses amongst the tied players. Also note that the Prosecutor gets to play tokens as well, each with a value of 0; they are not used to control a region but rather to push tokens around and perhaps change the scoring of a region.
3] Resolve Trial Card – The Prosecutor starts by reading the text on the front of the card, resolving any abilities that are read – these are easy to see as they are always in bold. These cards will give choices to different players and allow them to place innocent, guilty or influence tokens on the jurors found near the top of the board. If the ability names a region, then the player who controls that particular part of the brain gets to make the decisions. Sometimes the chooser will get all the information; othertimes, they will be given options, each of which leads to a hidden effect – only discovered when the choice is made and the Prosecutor reads the results of said decision. Once the front side is done, flip the card over and do the back in the same way.
4] Draw Cards – The Prosecutor draws the top card of the Trial deck and keeps it hidden behind his screen. The player who controls the Planning region draws a Strategy card (again ties broken by the current first player). Strategy cards have special abilities, often played at specific times – the card will tell you when you can play a particular card. You can play multiple cards at a time if they can all be legally played; but you cannot play more than one copy of a particular card at any time. You are limited to a hand of 3 strategy cards.
5] Pass the start token to the left and play another round. Remember that after the fourth round, the Prosecutor should change over to the Phase 2 trial cards. There is no round tracker other than the number of control markers left – players start with 8 and will play one per round.
After the 8 rounds of the trial are complete, the prosecutor then flips over the story card to read the “end of trial” side. Now, all personas reveal their roles. Next, reveal all the influence tokens on each juror and move them to the guilty or innocent side as appropriate. Now, for each juror, cancel out tokens so that you have at most one type of token (guilty or innocent). In the case that the two sides totally cancel each other out, that juror is undecided at the end of the trial. Finally, each player checks their win condition on their role card to see if they have won. Remember that multiple players can win the game.
My thoughts on the game
As promised, the game is certainly unexpected. I don’t know if I’ve really ever played anything like it before. Voices in my Head is a genre-blending game – mixing strategy, area control, dexterity, and hidden roles. It is definitely a great and novel idea for a game.
When I first read the rules and opened the box, I was a bit concerned about how the limited components would work in a “narrative” game. There are only 48 trial cards in the whole thing – I was sort of expecting a deck of cards kinda like 7th Continent to show all the different directions that the trial could take. However, you only resolve 8 trial cards each game, so there’s certainly enough to keep things fresh. Also, in the end, the game is about getting to your win condition, not necessarily hearing the how the story goes.
Though… hearing how the story goes is a lot of the fun in the game! The twists and turns on the cards are quite varied, and they often elicited lots of laughs as we read through the cards. At first we thought that the choices would lead to “expected” results, but this wasn’t always the case – which, in a way, made the game a bit more interesting as you never knew what was going to happen, but also in a way, made the game maddening because we sometimes felt that what was happening was due more to chance than to our choices.
The dexterity component was fun, and it is a different way to go about determining initiative for the different attributes. At first it seemed like we would all compete for the two attributes described on the trial card for the round, but as we played the game, we ended up using all the platforms each round. Some people went for specific areas of the brain in order to play a Strategy card. There were a few times I chose to place my marker on a different platform (usually Planning to try to get more cards) because the person who was currently winning an area was someone who I thought shared an end-game win condition with me, and thus, I felt they would already make the same choice that I would have made. In this way, I was able to work on my control of other areas while still hopefully getting a beneficial decision from the trial card.
Our first game was a 3p affair, and there are a special set of rules for this lowest player count. Once you know who the prosecutor is, each of the personas takes two colors of markers, playing one of each color per turn. There are some special rules concerning majorities, and interestingly, if the personas are tied for control of a brain region, the prosecutor gets to make all decisions for that region (rather than someone choosing who breaks the tie). The game works OK, but it is a bit artificial. I’d say that the game works better at the higher player counts. If nothing else, the roles are secret. In the 3p game, you always know who the prosecutor is; and if you know what your persona is, you should be able to figure out which card is held by the other player.
In the next game, we played with 4p, and it worked a lot better as the identities of the persona were not immediately evident, and there was a bit of a challenge trying to figure out who was trying to accomplish what. That being said, I think I’d still rather play this game with 5 or 6 as this was a fun part of the game, and it didn’t last long enough with 4p. As you only needed to figure out two hidden identities in a 4p game (as you know your own and you know who the prosecutor is) – it doesn’t take long to figure it out.
While the above rules may have seemed difficult; the game itself plays easily and quickly. Each player has a brain shaped player aid, and that quickly and easily walks you through the steps of each round.
The components are nice, though I wish the prosecutor’s screen was made of thicker card stock or had feet to stabilize it. We found that it often toppled over as we tried to slide cards underneath it or our ham-hands tried to pick up a card from the top of the deck. The board looks great with the five platforms coming off the different sides of Guy’s mind. The whole idea of pushing markers is unique, though we didn’t see quite as much unexpected action from this mechanism. Many times, our group ended up pushing discs out in a straight line – in order to push previously placed discs towards the edge as much as possible – and this led to very few pushing shenanigans.
I should mention that there is a bit of controversy about the title, as some have claimed that it is not sensitive towards those with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. I don’t find that the title crosses any boundaries, but I would caution you to be aware of this in case it triggers something for someone in your game group or family.
Overall, Voices in my Head is a light deduction game that adds an element of story-telling (for laughs) and an element of dexterity (for diversion). It is enjoyable for what it tries to do, and it is the right length for what it tries to do. Games last 30-40 minutes, and if you’re looking for some laughs and to go along for the ride, this will be a good choice. It is definitely an experience game, and I really can’t think of many other games that will give you a similar ride.
If you are wanting more control over how a game goes, this may not be for you. The twists on the trial cards are unpredictable and the actions of the strategy cards can often be unexpected. Let’s just say this is more towards the Fluxx/Munchkin end of the spectrum and further from the Tigris&Euphrates end. It’s not my normal sort of game, but at the end of a Saturday night (with some alcoholic inhibition removal), it did provide lots of laughs and entertainment. Not my usual sort of game, but one I enjoyed playing with my group. I can actually see this going over fairly well with some friends I have who are attorneys. We’ll see what they think of it!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale (with a few beers)
- Neutral. Dale (sober), John P
- Not for me…