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:
- 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.
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 @Skurvy5 :)
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/