Obsession - Game with the charms of an "indie"

Owner
Review

I finally played Obsession! Here are my impressions after one solo session and a recent play with my wife over the New Year's break. Before I get into my main points, here's a quick overview:

Quick Overview:

  • You're a family that's desperate to climb the social ladder. You will host events in your estate, invite guests of prestige and those of questionable background, provide service using different types of servants, enjoy favors (money, connections to other potential guests, prestige) from those guests, and use those favors to renovate your estate and build up your standing
  • You will also compete with other families to "court" the Fairchilds every season. Are they interested in sporting? Prestige? The development of your property? Whatever it is, you'll want to build up your estate so that you can spark their curiosity and enjoy big time favors by inviting them over to your estate for a season (and maybe even the prospect of marrying up!)
  • At the end of the game, you will score points based on the development of your estate, the quality of your social connections, and any bonus points for hidden objectives completed and the successful courting of the Fairchilds

Here are my first impressions:

This game has the charms of an "indie" - It feels strange to say "indie" since the majority of board games aren't affiliated with big publishers. But from unboxing experience to learning and playing the game, you can see a lot of soul in the overall package. The box comes with smaller boxes for organization (the best part!). The rulebook is detailed, presents a pie chart of available VP sources, and there's a separate glossary that goes deeper into the terminology and the historical setting. The mechanisms in the game aren't necessarily groundbreaking or new, but the way it's interwoven with the theme feels fresh.

The only drawback is... the rulebook - I don't know exactly why, but it felt longer than it should. It also felt a little tedious to go through and the info didn't stick. There's plenty of detailed info but I think some of them could have been cut out or better presented. The overall organization and flow give the impression of a rulebook that lacked the touch of a professional editor. The entire game package comes across as a passion project of a single person, and I while love that it does have its rough spots. With that said,

This could have been a Top 100 game on BGG - It currently ranks #575 overall and #92 thematic on BGG. Not bad at all! But if it had the brand power of a bigger publisher, or the marketing power, or a slightly more upscaled production, it wouldn't have flown under the radar nearly as much as it did. It's obvious that it has been well received by those who've had a chance to play though--its second Kickstarter for #Upstairs, Downstairs: an Obsession Expansion came in at $189K (2412 backers) while the base game's Kickstarter came in at $37K (645 backers). The 1 Player Guild also has Obsession at #52 in its 2020 Top 200 Solo Games list, having jumped 41 positions since 2019.

Thematic gameplay especially great for couples - Do you primarily play 2p with your significant other? Does the theme resonate with you? Are you and your significant other the type to enjoy silly moments of mimicking British accent or role-playing the different guests? If all three checks off, this is the game for you (my wife and I definitely don't do the third lol).

Even if you don't fall under that exact category, you should check it out if you tend to love thematic eurogames:

  • All potential guests are represented by cards in your hand. As you build up your estate and reputation, you'll gather more connections (cards) and you'll be able to invite some of them to your estate by hosting an activity. The higher your family's reputation, the more prestigious activities you'll be able to hold and the more prestigious guests you'll be able to invite and serve for favors. It's deck-building where you're refining your connections and managing your hand of cards to enjoy the right benefits at the right moment
  • There are 6 different types of servants (Butler, Housekeeper, Underbutler, Lady's Maid, Vallet, and Footman). You'll need to manage the use of your servants so that you can continually host great activities, invite guests of prestige, and enjoy their favors. Mis-time their use and you'll end up with dead turns where you really wish you could've hosted a specific event or invite some of your most pretigious guests but can't because the required servants are taking a rest in their quarters due to helping out with a different activity. It's not a complete loss since you can pass for the round so that you can "Refresh Service" (make all servants available in the next round) and get all of the guest cards back into your hand, but time is precious when you only have 16 rounds to work with (standard play length, and 3 of them aren't typical rounds and you're merely checking for successful courting)
  • Earlier, I mentioned there are some shady people you'll build connections with. For example, Sir  Bentley Churchill (see below) is a wealthy lady's man with poor reputation. If I'm desperate for money, I could invite him over for an afternoon tea accompanied by Lady Cavendish. I'll earn 300 pounds while taking two hits on reputation. And I could then dismiss him permanently from my deck of cards using Lady Cavendish's favor (see that trash symbol?)
  • Every season of courtship has a theme. For example, it could be "sporting". Maybe it's time to buy that Tennis Court tile from the market and add it to your estate! Or maybe invest a little more and renovate for a horse stable? Unless you're planning on sitting out for this round and not even going to try competing for the Fairchild's attention, you'll want to keep up with the other families by appearing the most sporty family of all

Little or high player interaction? - There's little interaction in this game, at least at face value. It happens through competing for the room improvement tiles in the market and through a "gossip" mechanism. When you acquire a tile called "servant's hall," you're able to spread gossip and target an opponent to make their reputation drop. Since there are around 80 tiles in the drawstring bag you seed the market from, it seems like a rare encounter in a 2p game.

If I were to quantify player interaction, I'd say it's similar to the level of #Wingspan. They're both limited, but you're still interested in what the other player is up to and can recognize and appreciate when they make a great play. And for those who enjoy role-playing, this game will instantly draw that silliness out of you.

The title of the game doesn't quite live up to its theme - "Obsession". I get why it's called that since it's about families doing everything in their power to build up their prestige. It's almost there, but falls short by a tiny bit. My wife commented that she wished courting would have been more than simply developing your estate to suit the Fairchild's interests (every "room" you add to your estate has an associated number of VP's, which get added up and compared with other players during the courtship round). Maybe it could be coming up with lavish gifts? I don't know, but I can see what she means.

Solo experience with little AI management - There are two things you need to do. Roll a d20 every round to remove a room improvement tile from the market. Second, in every courtship round (there are three of them in standard play with 16 rounds and four in extended play with 20 rounds), you check to see if you scored more than the AI for the theme of the current season. There are 12 different AI opponent cards, 4 each of 3 varying difficulties. Unless you're playing with a variant, all you need to do at the end of the game is compare your score vs. the AI's base score + any additional bonuses it got based on successful courting.

You'll like the solo experience if you don't mind the luck factor - It's in your best interest to successfully court the Fairchilds. Doing so gives you a VP card that gives you bonus points at the end of the game. You could also forfeit that card and get a nice boost in a resource indicated by that card (money or reputation). Lastly, you get to invite one of the Fairchilds into your hand of cards for the next season, and they give great favors when you serve them through an activity.

But to keep things competitive, the solo mode goes by the "closed" courtship variant, where the theme of courting is revealed at the end of the courtship season. This is different from the standard "open" courtship, which reveals the theme card at the beginning of the courtship season so that you can develop your estate with the theme in mind. In my solo session, I managed to draw just the right theme cards so that I didn't win any of the courtships lol. It was still very fun to play but I knew that I would have won if that hadn't happened. That's okay though, I always enjoy luck, even when it's bad.

Final Comments

Anna (my wife) said she might like this more than #Viticulture: Essential Edition. And if you're familiar with our history with board games, you'll know that says a lot. She seems to like that there's a more layered gameplay going on where you need to consider courtship, development of your estate and deciding which rooms to add/buy, while also managing your hand of cards and the different servants. This is different from Viticulture where you have one clear goal of fulfilling wine orders and you're getting there by focusing on your engine. Similarly, she just likes that this is a very different game from her other favorites that are focused on resource management and converting goods (#Clans of Caledonia and #Concordia). I think this also means she'll love how different #Star Wars: Rebellion is :)

As for me? I really do like this game, but it wouldn't be my go-to option for more than 4 players (and probably not even at 4p count, although I can imagine it being nice to have the market refresh more often). Unless it's a game like #The Quacks of Quedlinburg, I prefer having more interaction between players. For solo, this game hits a nice balance of the puzzly side and theme, but still leans on the puzzly side for me. That puts it above #Viticulture: Essential Edition and #Clans of Caledonia, but I'd still have more fun soloing games like #Root, #Pax Pamir (Second Edition), or #Nemo's War (Second Edition).

 

Phew, that took a while to type up. Thanks for the read and let me know what you think about the game! And if you want to get your own copy, you can now find it here on the publisher's store: https://kayenta-games.myshopify.com/

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Owner5 months ago

For those interested in this game, look at these additional servants available in the expansion (the Cook, Hall Boy, Head Housemaid, and the Useful Man) :D

Premium User5 months ago

Just saw these and they are AWESOME

Owner5 months ago

I know right? Great game for meeple fans out there :D

They all have a different role to fill. Some of the servants can also fill in for other servants. For example, Housekeeper (red meeple) can stand in for Lady's Maids (purple meeple). The Cook (orange meeple) allows you to invite guests with 1 or 2 reputations above your current reputation.

Premium User5 months ago

That's cool! The higher reputation people will come for the better food XD

5 months ago

Yeah the rulebook is the one thing about this whole package that has been frustrating to navigate - but once the game is properly understood, it is a delightful puzzle with an easy to manage solo variant.

Owner5 months ago

I did like the nice touch of including a pie chart showing the distribution of available VP's. I don't think I've seen that on any games I own!

What are some of your favorite games to solo?

5 months ago

Yes the pie chart is a nice touch! I think the informaton in the rulebook is solid - its more of the decision on how the information is presented that I find lacking. 

Great question - I am definitely getting more into solo gaming, but I really like:

#A Feast for Odin (when I have the time to set up and play)

#Fields of Arle (see above lol)

#Nusfjord

#Le Havre

#At the Gates of Loyang

#PARKS

#Viticulture: Essential Edition

I also like playing any of the Oniverse series games solo - especially #Urbion , #Aerion , and #Onirim.

 

 

 

Premium User5 months ago

Hadn’t heard of this one but a nice review of it for sure!

Owner5 months ago

Thanks! :)

Premium User5 months ago

Awesome, thanks for the review! I love that this game exists for this theme that is not often used. Did you two enjoy the theme? Was it a theme you already enjoyed previously?

Owner5 months ago

We have no special ties to the theme whatsoever haha. But we both enjoyed the theme since it's more... relatable? It's about people and their lives, so it tugs at our heart more than say, #Concordia or #Clans of Caledonia that aren't theme heavy. Nothing wrong with that, but theme really is one of Obsession's major strong points

Premium User5 months ago

Yeah that makes sense! I'm sure I'd enjoy it more from that perspective than I do a dryer Euro like you mentioned. I wish  my sister was more into games, because she loves this setting (Jane Austen books are some of her favorites). I did actually get her #Marrying Mr. Darcy last year, which is the same setting but a simpler game.

Premium User5 months ago

I am glad you liked it.  I agree with the rule book analysis.  That was very nicely worded.  This is a game I look forward to playing with 4 players to see how that plays out.  Becky and both like this game.  I also am now enjoying Downton Abbey.

5 months ago

I was always interested in this game when it first came out but never got around to purchasing it.  Thankfully we had, in our town, a group buy which provided some sweet discounts and the rest is history.   I havn't played it yet.  But I keep on pulling it out and looking at all the items and admire its theme and projected 'like' of the game.  I am so looking forward to husseling some peeps to play it some time.    Thanks for the review, I found it very interesting.   I also have Viticulture Essential with the Tuscany expansion and love that game too.  Its perhaps, with Sycthe, the most pimped up game I have.

Owner5 months ago

Viticulture was my first entry point into medium weight modern board games. Such a pleasant experience :)

Hope you'll get around to it soon and that it'll live up to your expectations!

Supporter5 months ago

Sounds good. It is great that your wife loves it.

Owner5 months ago

Outside of a bunch of other games I've been wanting to introduce to her, I recently thought about maybe trying out #The Quest for El Dorado. Just like how Dominion was such a hit for you and your wife, I wish we had a simple deck-builder that could come out without too much pressure on time!

Supporter5 months ago

Or, you could try out #Dominion: Second Edition if you wanted too. In all seriousness. the game that has become our quick, "scratch a bit of a itch" game has become #Lost Cities. There is more in that simple little game than meets the eye at first glance, and it is lightening quick.

Supporter5 months ago

So where does it fall in your Top 10? Do you even have a top 10?

Owner5 months ago

Nope, such a thing doesn't exist. 

(Let me go think about it after playing #Nemo's War (Second Edition) and #Star Wars: Rebellion)

Partner5 months ago

Caved. I'm not put off by the theme or anything and am willing to try anything at this point. I'm banking on the other half to really dig it since she really enjoys those time peroids.

5 months ago

I just got this recently and have only played solo so far but can't wait to get my wife to play this with me! I think that it's under rated due to basically just being available directly from Dan Hallagan. The theme is so unique for a board game, and it's even better if you try to speak with a British accent. Love the different meeple types with specific abilities. I remember a few times thinking, "Oh no! I just made this plan, but I have the wrong meeple!" Then I would modify my plan for my next turn so I could get where I wanted with what I had. I have seen some complain about the randomness of the tiles and card draws, but it makes it more thematic for me. Your ability to court, to entertain, to purchase, to hire servants were in competition with other people and not everything was just available, unless you had money and position already, which you are vying for in this game. I'm also a huge fan of spending money in games, so I think the market is great fun. 

5 months ago

We didn't like this one at all. Great theme, (the cards) but it's very random. We went into this as two people who enjoyed downton abbey and even my wife was bored. The set up is a total pain with the removal of certain tiles and is not explained well. Rule book needs a complete rewrite. Excess information, Wrongly placed information. I had first edition and this was a common complaint. 

The massive amount of user 'variants' trying to fix the random luck of draw tiles as well as other faults points to the main problem: it's built by a one man team and one man cannot do everything. I talked to Dan quite a bit and he's a great guy but the game is half baked, If you go heavy in theme, you sacrifice gameplay. We also found the theme completely lacking on the tiles as they had no illustrations, yet a few like 'boar's head trophy' still do. Very inconsistent. The marriage or dating mechanic was also poor. We always tied. Variants released to fix that as well. Needs to be worked on by a decent developer to iron out the sheer amount of randomness and luck for a game of this length that mostly revolves around repetitive and boring worker placement. It seems to be in a third edition rewrite at this point, so you can see it's a work in progress. I cannot understand the high ratings this gets. We just played 8 games vastly superior to this in every way: dune imperium, lost ruins of arnak, beyond the sun, Babylonia, Caylus 1303, brass Lancashire, watergate, underwater cities. Most of these are also very thematic, but also excellent games that work very well two player. 

Owner5 months ago

Ahh sorry that it didn't work out for you, I'm dying in the inside every time I can tell a game isn't going well for me and my wife. Luck is quite a big factor in the game but as someone who enjoys luck (whether good or bad), I just like to think of it as an added challenge (in that sense, it's like #Viticulture: Essential Edition when playing without the Tuscany expansion).

With that said, the luck part would've been more frustrating had I been playing with someone who likes to be very competitive. When my wife and I play, we're very much the "happy-go-lucky" type where the game is more of a medium for us to enjoy our time together. We compliment each other's good plays, have fun about silly mess-ups, allow redos, etc. We try to win, but I think that casual attitude usually makes me think less about the luck side. As for other games you mentioned, I want to try them out some day! For Obsession, it helped a lot that it was a thematic game involving people, because one can only play so many games that are themed around resource conversion/management haha (referring to some of our favorites like #Clans of Caledonia and #Concordia)

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