Finally, I got to try out Pendulum from Stonemaier Games! Here are my first impressions after a single play. Oh and by the way, I got crushed by Trent who had played once before. I'd honestly feel exactly the same about this game even if I had won though.
Aesthetics and Components
- Art is lovely but souless - The art style is sleek and stylish. I like this more than the painterly style that is common in board game fantasy games. But because the game is very low on theme, it suffers the same problem as all other themeless games. It's an afterthought. A covering that looks nice but ultimately, the gameplay and the art aren't in sync and enhancing each other.
- Components are just "okay" - The player "boards" have the grainy, rough sandpaper-like finish on them similar to the ones in #Tapestry. I believe this is to provide some amount of friction between the components and the "board" but I'm not sure honestly. And the plastic bits are ok. I don't really mind them but I prefer wood. To be honest, I always like the wooden bits from Stonemaier Games so this one's a bit of a surprise. Jamey did a write-up addressing exactly this here.
- Clear iconography - This is also quite typical for Stonemaier Games. Yes, this is a relatively light game (light-medium?) without much complications but it's an important part to nail since it's a real-time game with lots of fast decision-making involved.
Gameplay - I'll address this in two parts. The gameplay without consideration of real-time elements, and then with real-time
- Solid engine-building, worker placement game without any surprises - As Trent explained the rules, I kept nodding because it just checks off a lot of boxes of a very typical engine-building, worker placement game. Similar to #Lions of Lydia and many other types of engine-builders out there, you have four different engines and you can improve them by acquiring cards that will enhance the efficiency of one of your engines. It has a "race"-like feeling of gameplay that reminds me a litle bit of #Century: Golem Edition and #Architects of the West Kingdom. And it features Grande workers similar to #Viticulture: Essential Edition that makes you think about how to most efficiently manage the use of your regular workers vs. the Grande workers that can be placed at action spaces that are already occupied. This all combines to a game that feels like there really aren't any surprises, especially when you strip out the real-time aspect of the gameplay.
- It's like the motivation behind playing chess with a chess clock - The sole purpose of the sand timers is to test your mental/tactical skills. To think on your feet and push the pacing of the gameplay. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not what I expected. When I heard mentions of #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, I expected and wished for mechanisms that are deeply woven together with the dimension of time, instead of sand timers that are merely there to add pressure and make you quickly think how to most efficiently move around your workers. I love the idea of time elements in games such as Tzolk'in and #Anachrony so that was disappointing.
- This is a novelty game - I had fun playing, but I think it's mostly because it's an unusual game involving timers. It's not one that makes me want to bring out again for a solo session either. Maybe the solo mode is really good, but I'm not itching to get to it since it's a very themeless game where you're just getting XYZ resources to convert them into points in the best way possible. Again, that's completely fine and plenty of games I love are like that, but it feels like I'm playing a lower weight game that typically should play under 1 hour, but only takes longer and feels more difficult only because of the sand timers.
- I don't quite get who the target audience is - The engine-building and worker placement aspects of the game don't hold any surprises. There's no strong hook if you consider the mechanics without real-time. And for the real-time aspect of the game, I feel that it's a miss because rather than time being a thematic addition to the game (e.g. time ticking away as you're diffusing a bomb, or fulfilling orders at a restaurant) it feels mostly like a chess clock.
I had fun, but it's not for me. I hope others will enjoy it more than I did even after repeat plays, but I have a feeling that it won't have a long shelf life.