Friday, December 5, 2014

Quick Review - Housing Crisis - Kickstarter Preview

Housing Crisis
Designer: Ashley Yeates
Publisher: Rack & Pinion Games
Quick Review - Housing Crisis - Kickstarter Preview

Rack & Pinion Games, out of the UK, sent me an evaluation copy of Housing Crisis to review before their planned Kickstarter campaign.  I'm not sure when the game's campaign is set to launch (the website says November, but it hasn't launched yet), but when it does launch and I have more info I'll update this review.

UPDATE: I heard back from the designer and the game will hopefully be launching on Kickstarter in the spring (February or March), and with some new updates to add some variety and depth to the game.  I'll update my review (and likely post a new review) when I have more information on the updated game.

Housing Crisis is a quick, little, casual 2 player strategy game that is small enough to be portable and brief enough to get in several games in the span of just a few minutes.  My sons (5 and 8)  both enjoyed the game and it'll go in with our collection of small portable games that we take to play places when we have a few minutes to spare.

In Housing Crisis each player takes on the role of a real estate agent trying to place residents into vacant homes, apartments, and townhomes.  The small game board is divided into several zones that are marked with numbers that indicate the optimum number of people that can live in that area.  Each zone is divided into 1-4 spaces where people can reside.  Each player has a set of 10 tokens that represent the people looking for homes.  The tokens have numbers ranging from 1 to 5.

During the game each player takes turns placing one of the two tokens in his hand onto a space on the board and then drawing a token so his hand remains at 2 tokens (until the last turn when there are no more tokens).  The strategy in the game comes from trying to decide where to place a token.  Once a zone is filled up it is scored immediately. If the sum of the tokens in the zone is equal to the number in that zone (e.g. a zone marked with 8 has 4, 3, and 1 tokens on its 3 spaces) the player who placed the last token gets all the points for filling that zone (8 in this case).  If the player has a monopoly in that zone, i.e. all the tokens are the same color, he scores a bonus 2 points.  If the zone is under-populated the scoring depends on if there is a monopoly in the zone (the player gets points equal to the sum of the tokens) or not (the player loses points equal to how under-populated the zone is).  If the zone is over-populated the player loses points equal to the over-population count.  At the end of the game the player with the most points wins.

The game employs a very simple and basic mechanic for scoring points.  There is a bit of thinking involved to try to determine the best place and time to play certain tokens, but a lot is left up to chance, too.  You might have a 2 and 1 in your hand so you place the 2 in a space for a zone needing 6 people, hoping your opponent doesn't have a 4 and hoping that you'll draw a 4.  The luck is greater at the beginning of the game since it's less apparent what each player might have in his hand, but that can be mitigated somewhat by playing tokens earlier in the game in the larger zones that require 3 or 4 tokens to fill or by playing tokens in the 1 space mansions.  As the game progresses players are able to more easily deduce what tokens remain in both their draw piles and their opponents' draw piles.  Unfortunately by this point in the game there are few options of where tokens can be placed, so even though it's easier to figure out what numbers are going to come into play, playing the tokens you have comes down to deciding what will hurt your point total less, unless you are lucky enough to have the right tokens at the right time.

I enjoyed playing Housing Crisis the first few times I played; however, after playing it a number of times I've realized that, while the strategy is simple and fun, there's very little depth to the game.  The tile drawing results in a pretty random strategy that doesn't always require a whole lot of thought.  The first two times I played it was somewhat interesting, but the end game felt a bit futile, especially for the last person to play since it's known what each player has left.  It usually turns into a matter of just deciding how to best mitigate your losses, unless you are fortunate enough to have just the right tiles at just the right time.

I played with a friend first and later with my wife and then helped my sons play against my wife.  Every time the game was fairly anticlimactic.  We really wanted more player interaction and depth to the strategy than just placing numbers on the board.  The game really needs something more than just playing the tiles in your hand.  Maybe more tiles than spaces on the board, or some way to move another player's tokens or something to mitigate the luck factor, add a bit more uncertainty to what your opponent has and is able to play, and add a way to affect your opponent's game a bit more.

It's really nice that the game is so small.  It's small enough to take almost anywhere.  The board is nice that it is small enough to slip into a purse, book or kindle/tablet case, however it's just a little too big to just slip into a pocket easily.  The game reminded us of Coin Age, however it lacked the depth of choices, decision making, and ability to affect your opponent that Coin Age has.  The games played quickly, just 5 minutes or so per game, so you can get a few rounds finished in a few minutes, perfect to play while waiting for food at a restaurant or something, and that helps mitigate the need for a ton of strategic depth, but it still felt like it lacked something.  I also wish there was a better way to keep score than a pen and paper since that adds an additional component that you need to have with you.  That's minor, but still a concern.

While Housing Crisis is portable, simple, quick, and fun, I also carry Coin Age in my wallet and would pull that out first in most situations, particularly with adults or more strategic minded people.  Housing Crisis will probably get some additional play, but probably mostly with my sons and not with adult gamers.  I feel that the game's simple strategy lends itself to a kids' game.  It'll teach basic strategic thinking, token counting, bluffing, and deduction skills, so it's better than a commercial kids' game (e.g. Trouble, Candyland, etc.) but the depth of strategy is only a bit more than something like Checkers.  The whole real estate agent theme works for the game, however it's not very entertaining for kids.  I think if the game could be rethemed to a more kid-friendly subject it might be more engaging for them.  With a better theme the game could be a great introduction for kids to more strategic games and could be a great gateway to deeper strategy and area control games.  As it is it falls short on depth for gamers and lacks a good theme for kids.  Maybe as a quick gateway game for adults that don't usually play games, but even in that regard there are better gateway games, although few as portable or quick to play.

I'll keep this review updated as more information on the game becomes available.  The components I received are prototype components, so there's always the possibility of changes in the theme or rules that could affect my opinion of the game.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

About halfway through a game of Housing Crisis.

Only a couple of spaces left so there's not much to decide here.

A finished game.  It's important to keep track of score as you
play because it'll be impossible to tally scores at the end since
you don't know who placed tokens when.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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