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Pendulum - Who's the Target Audience?


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

Without 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.

With real-time

  • 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.

Final Thoughts

  • 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.

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Supporter4 months ago

This one does seem to be a bit of a clunker for Stonemeier games. I don't really have any desire to buy it or even to try it. The sand timers hold no interest for me. I do really love engine building but it seems like the surrounding themes and mechanics are kind of meh. Thanks for the nice review!

Owner4 months ago

You're welcome! I think I had the easiest time writing up my thoughts on this one. I'm glad I got to try it and I had fun, but it's clearly not for me.

Premium User4 months ago

Nice quick review! Doesn't sound like you enjoyed it and I doubt I would either based on what you said. I think the most interesting part is the "okay" quality components as Stonemaier usually has excellent components in my opinion.

Owner4 months ago

Right? It's one of the things I'm used to being wowed by. And it sure doesn't help that one of the sand timers (the green one) is known to have a defect. The sand stops running sometimes and you have to give it a tap. They're known for great customer service though and no doubt they're probably addressing the issue for everyone.

And while I enjoyed the gameplay, it will be a one and done for me. Besides the novelty of the real-time element, I just feel that there are other games out there that does everything else better.

Premium User4 months ago

I think the only appeal for me would be that real time element but as you said there are other games doing it better. While this doesn't sound exactly the same as#Sorcerer City, it's also an engine/bag building game with real time elements. You should check it out if you haven't already!

I am also curious to see what if anything they can do to address the sand timer issue because that seems like a pretty big problem for a game like this.

Also off topic, not sure if you saw but I sent you a DM :D

Owner4 months ago

I haven't given it a try but we have a review copy of #Sorcerer City at our office. I'm going to be sending it over to for him to review!

4 months ago

I reviewed that one a while back.  It is light on theme, though TBH I feel like most Druid City Games are like that.  Though I did back Valor and Villainy, and people seem to be fans of Tidal Blades, hopefully I will get a review copy of that one.


Anyhow, I do think Sorcerer City is a good game, it i  fun real time game, though it eats up WAY too much space

Premium User4 months ago

Agreed! It takes up far too much of the table

4 months ago

I'm really excited for this one, as is evident by my constant posts about real-time games haha

4 months ago

Thanks for the write up, Phil! I look forward to hearing Trent's thoughts on it.

Will you be giving it another play to see if anything clicks for you?

Owner4 months ago

Hmmm I think that's unlikely. It's a good game, but it's just a good game with only the sand timer keeping my interest. And as someone who doesn't like rushed gameplay unless it's in a party kind of setting, it's not for me.

Supporter4 months ago

I really don't think this is one for me. But, I do think that there are several potential audiences. And, to be clear, I haven't played this either.

I have heard from numerous sources that this is a game that feels like non other. I think one potential audience is that group of people that are more interested in the theory of game design than in a "good game." I personally am not interested in this game, but I am super interested in playing it once, in fact, I have considered buying it just to try it. The reason for this interest is that I am really interested in seeing how these mechanisms mesh, even if I don't think I will particularly like it.

I also think that there are a group of people that love real time game. I clearly am not one of the people so afflicted. But,  many of my friends and family love that sort of game. I think that they might actually enjoy a game like this, it seems like a lighter to medium weight euro game complete with strategy etc... coupled with a real time element would be something that would shine for those people who like real time games and strategy games.

I too was interested in what seems to be a downgrade in component quality.

Supporter4 months ago

As someone who owns the game and has gotten a few plays in I think you nailed it. I'm still wrapping my head around exactly how I feel about the game but one of my favorite things about it is that it doesn't feel like any other game I've played. I personally am not much of a fan of the rushed nature of most real time games and Pendulum does a good job of having simultaneous play with some urgency without it feeling like it has the pressure of a lot of real time games. 


I actually agree wholeheartedly with even to the point of real disappointment that time doesn't feel like the intricate resource that was brought up, like it is in #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. The difference is that the things that bother him don't bother me in the same way, I would agree that it is completely themeless but after multiple plays it was clear that in many ways theme had to be sacrificed for ultimate simplicity in order for the real time aspect of the game to work. I like to think that this will help lead to more games that have simultaneous or original takes on turn order that will figure out a better way, but for something that really hasn't been done I thought that aspect was fine. nailed my one exception to that, which was the timers, there had to have been a better way to incorporate some kind of theme into the actual flipping of the timers and I think that would've gone a long way in covering for the basic resource conversion taking place everywhere else. 

I am not a fan of the "basic" sides of the player boards. The advanced sides aren't what I expected, I don't think they have great perks or power in their assymetry but rather each one creates a unique puzzle in order to get an engine going and that's where I appreciate the real time aspect, instead of seeing it as a worker placement game it feels more like a puzzle with many moving parts. I really like that it plays quick and doesn't feel like other games, especially as someone who likes to play longer games with heavier decision space. What I don't know is if this game will stand out as anything more than a nice change of pace to pull out once in awhile. 

Owner4 months ago

I just really need to get my hands on #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar haha. I've watched so much that I know everything about the game, but just haven't played yet... :(

Supporter4 months ago

It is fantastic, I think it has really stood the test of time. I waited too long to grab it, I feel like it goes from well stocked and on big sales to hard to find more than any other game I tracked. One of those games that, to me, exists in a place of simple and quick turns with limited choices but still a huge decision space and strategy. The fact that it feels as unique as it does 8 years after release is really impressive to me. 

Owner4 months ago

I agree that this is a unique game. And beyond just adding pressure, it does introduce the idea of efficiently timing your moves (in real time) so that you yourself are running as a smooth engine. That was pretty interesting as I got the hang of it toward the end of the game. But ultimately, I'd much rather play a meatier game. Pendulum's puzzle feels to me like a series of simple puzzles where you need to move the right levers at the right time to get to where you want to be. A little bit like a mini puzzle that 2D Zelda games present you with, except the theme isn't there.

Supporter4 months ago

I also do think that I would like to have a heavier game, one with more "meat" as you put it. 

On BGG the complexity rating is currently at 2.81. Looking at the rules, I admit this seems like it might be a touch high. I wonder how much the "dance" of performing the right moves at the right times makes it feel like more complex than it is. 

Owner4 months ago

That places it right around #Architects of the West Kingdom and #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. I'd say that's a fair rating at least relative to those games. There's still an interesting puzzle where you need to think 1-2 steps in advance to place your workers in a way that makes efficient use of the different time durations, while also thinking about how to block off your opponents. It's just that when it's your first play, it's all too chaotic and it's hard to appreciate that. And that's why they recommend new players to play the turn-based mode.

Overall, it feels to me like a slightly underdeveloped game that had potential to be one of the top games of 2020.

4 months ago

good review, useful! Thanks.

The target audience remains a good open question.
Gamers growing into seasoned hobbyists that like to explore without the obstacle of the rules-heavy and complex games?

Owner4 months ago

That's how I feel about Stonemaier Games in general. Light-medium to medium weight games presented in a nice, approachable package. It's just that this one in particular seems to have a very narrow target audience, namely gamers who love playing under pressure. And while it's a game that will reward repeat plays and you'll do better and better with each play, it's a rather simple engine builder at its core so I'd rather play a heavier game without the chaos.

Supporter4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.  This one never pulled me in (I didn't do any research).  Tapestry you know was something I was initally interested in but it dropped in interest the more I looked into it.  This one didn't even hit my radar and your quick review helps me realize it's not the game for me.

Owner4 months ago

Yup, I don't think it would be for you either haha. And I can't wait to hear your thoughts on all of your recent acquisitions :)

4 months ago

Thanks for this, I love real-time games (which surprised me at first, honestly) so I always have to take a look, but the game just hasn't captured me much. I'd play it if someone had it around, but I probably won't buy it.

4 months ago

We've played it twice. Did we have fun? Yes. Will we be playing it again? Absolutely. 

Any game that can murder AP in its crib is worth getting to the table. 

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