Main Event Games · Reviews

Review of Pendulum

1542784B-E16F-4AC4-AFC9-CD130142003AGame: Pendulum

Published: Stonemaier Games

Designers:  Travis Jones

Players: 1-5

Playtime: 60-90 Minutes

Play Type: Simultaneous Worker Placement

 

 

Synopsis:

The Timeless King has vanished. The Time of Change has begun, and you a powerful noble are vying to become the successor to the Timeless King. Compete with the other nobles for the title or The Timeless King or watch as civilization breaks down, and civil war takes over. How you use your time and influence will decide your fate.

Game Play:

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Pendulum is a worker placement game where players are taking their turns in real time. The main board consists of three different sections for players to place their workers, black, green and purple. Each of these sections of the board has a different timer associated with it, with black being the shortest, and purple being the longest. Players are competing to use the actions on these spaces to gain resources and score Victory Points on four different trackers shown on the top of players’ individual boards.

When placing a worker, players must ensure that the timer is not on the row that they are looking to place their meeple on. Each section has two different rows, with two-four timer spaces available. Players may never place their worker on a row where the timer currently occupies. Additionally, most sections do not allow for multiple meeples, with the exception of Grande Meeples and the black section. Those who are familiar with Viticulture with be familiar with the concept of the Grande Meeples. These are meeples that are slightly larger than the other meeples, and are allowed to be placed on spaces where there is already another meeple.

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After a meeple has been placed, they are not allowed to take the action associated with the space until after the timer has been flipped to that row. Before taking the action, players must pay any cost associated with the action shown directly below the worker placement box. Once they have paid that cost (either gold or military power) they are able to take the action shown below. Players may not pick up their workers until the timer moves back off the row.

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Actions do a variety of things such as giving players votes, directly scoring Victory Points, directly giving players resources or allowing players to conquer Provinces, or use the Provinces that have already been conquered. Provinces are the main way in which players will gain resources and Power throughout the game. They represent an engine building aspect of the game, and there are four different colored sections of Province on each player board. Players will need to decide what color they want their conquered Province to go under, which will determine the benefit they will get from that Province. Players will be able to trigger these Provinces throughout gameplay to get all the resources shown under the color of Province shown. Players are able to have as many cards in a single round under the Province that they would like, but they will have to discard each section down to two during the Council Phase.

Aside from worker triggered actions, there are some free actions that players may take that are untimed. The first is flipping timers. Once a timer has run out of sand, any player may flip that time to the other row. If they choose to flip the purple timer, and it causes all of the purple sand timer tokens to be knocked off the board players must “Call Council”. This signifies the end of the round, and no other timers may be flipped. Players may finish any actions on rows they are on or any untimed actions.

The second untimed action a player may take is the Claiming Achievement action. Each round there will be an Achievement Card available for players. This card displays resources and tokens at the top of the card. If any player has those tokens at any point in the round, they can claim the Achievement. They do not lose the resources shown. They then have a choice between the Legendary Achievement and collecting resources shown at the bottom of the card. Players will need to gain the Legendary Achievement at least once throughout gameplay to win, because it is one of the four Victory Point trackers. Each player may get an Achievement once per turn, but only one player will gain the Legendary Achievement.

The third and fourth untimed action a player may take is playing or picking up their Stratagem Cards. Every player has a hand of Stratagem Cards that give them the ability to score Prestige Points, gain resources, pick up a worker on a space with a timer or pay a resource to gain an additional worker. Players may play these cards for free. If they want to pick up these cards they must pay five culture before they can be played again. Players do not have to play all cards before picking them up.

The final free action is refreshing the Province Cards. Players are not forced to replenish Province Cards when they take one. A player may choose to take an untimed action to place new cards out.

Once players “Call Council” and finish the actions of the round, players will pause the real time game and go through a series of actions. Players are not able to take any action during this phase until normal play resumes. The Council Phase consists of five actions that must be done in order.

First is determining Privilege. This is determined by how many votes a player has accumulated during the last round. Players with the most Privilege will gain first choice of the Council Reward Cards, they will gain two Victory Points of their choosing, and they will have priority when conflicts arise during gameplay. The player with the most votes has the most Privilege and the rest of the players will have Privilege in descending order. The second and third player will also gain a Victory Point of their choosing. All players will receive a Council Card in their turn order.

Next is gaining rewards. Players will gain Council Cards in Privilege order, not replenishing the cards between players. They can give a variety of benefits such as an additional Grande worker, additional Victory Points, or additional Stratagem Cards to add to the players’ hand. Players who gained Victory Points will also gain those rewards.

Players will then ensure that they have discarded down to two Province Cards per section. Then players will reset the board, placing a new Achievement Card, replenishing the Provinces, replenishing the Council Reward Cards, and placing the purple sand timer tokens on the empty purple round markers.

Players then have the option to move workers to new spaces following ALL placement rules. Once these five actions are complete, the next round will begin and all timers will be flipped. After four Council Phases the game will be over.

Final scoring will be based on the player who has all of their VP Markers in the parchment on the end. If more than one player has met this condition, the player whose lowest VP Markers are the furthest will win. If it is still a tie, players will continue to compare their next lowest row, and whoever is furthest will win. If it is still a tie, the player with the most Privilege will win. Ties happen frequently in the game, and there is an advanced variant I will let you discover to help combat this.

Components:

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The artwork in Pendulum helps to create an engaging fantasy world. Robert Leask did an incredible job brining the nobles vying for power to life. I wish there was more of his artwork throughout the game, because I really felt that his work brought the game to life, adding credibility to the theme.

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The physical components of Pendulum did cause some frustration. Two of the components really stood out as reasons for concern for the longevity of the game and for interrupting basic flow of the game play. The first of these components was the player board. Those who are familiar with Tapestry will notice that the player board are coated in the same material as the mats from Tapestry. I strongly dislike this coating, because it leads to almost every player board having scratches and material rubbing off before I even open my game. The evident wear and tear that has occurred before even playing my game is frustrating, and it makes me concerned for the longevity of the product.

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More concerning than the player boards though is the sand timers. The three sand timers are the major component in Pendulum, and they don’t always work how they should. In almost every game we have played, the sand timers have gotten stuck, not once but multiple times throughout gameplay. This is not a huge deal if the timer that gets stuck is on the black sand timer, as players are most likely to be paying attention to this timer. However, when the purple sand timer gets stuck, players do not always immediately notice. Most times, players periodically glance at the purple timer, and it may take a few minutes before realizing that the timer has not gone down at all. This leaves players stuck in the purple zone at a significant disadvantage because they are losing the most valuable resource in the game…time.

Those concerns aside, I felt that Pendulum had a good production value. With the exception of the player boards, the game feels like it is built to last. While some people might feel that the plastic meeples detract from the game, I did not feel like this was the case. I also love the simplicity of the layout of the cards. The symbols are fairly easy to understand, especially after a few game plays. I do wish there were player aids available though for new players. Though the strategy cards provided for the advance varients of the player boards are appreciated and helpful!

Overview:
Positives:
  • Great Artwork
  • Unique Mixture of Mechanics
  • Engagement Throughout Game
  • Dual Sided Asymmetric Player Boards
  • Engine Building Province Cards
  • Advanced Play Mode
  • Untimed Mode
  • Solo Mode

Negatives:

  • Difficult for New Players
  • Components (Sand Timers/ Player Board Material)
  • Some Awkward Downtime
  • Limited Player Interaction
  • Some Player Boards have a Higher Learning Curve
  • Frequent Ties

 

Pendulum is innovative, and provides a gameplay style that can be extremely engaging and provides plenty of opportunity for strategy. That being said, I don’t think that Pendulum will be the right fit for every table (not that any game is!). Pendulum was not a good fit for our gaming group, but I do not think that it is because of poor design, but rather the type of game that our group enjoys and how the people I play with best learn games.

I would suggest Pendulum for players who are already experienced with the concept of worker placement, who are also comfortable learning the rules from listening to a rules explanation at the beginning of a game, rather than watching and learning throughout other players’ turns. The real time/ simultaneous action turns make it crucial for players to understand the rules before taking any actions. Even in the non-timed mode, all players are completing actions at the same time, and while it is possible to pause the game, it is not easy to constantly stop to ask questions. This can leave players frustrated, especially if they felt that a lack of understanding would keep them from winning. Players who are already familiar with worker placement will have an easier time adjusting to the simultaneous actions.

That being said, the lack of turns can be a positive for some players. There is no need to wait for your turn, which helps keep players from disrupting the flow of their strategy. The pace at which other players choose to take their actions have little impact on you, with the exception of a player choosing a worker space you wanted, or flipping a timer before you were ready. There is limited player interaction, which could be a positive or negative depending on your preferred play style.

That does not mean though that there is no awkward downtime. There are frequent points throughout the game where all players are just sitting waiting for the sand timers to go down. While there are non-timed actions players can take, they are few and far in-between. This means that there will be points in the game where everyone is just awkwardly waiting to be able to take their next move. The good news about this is that it gives players a chance to see what the other players at the table are doing. It is easy to get so caught up in your own game that you don’t realize what the players around you have done.

It is especially crucial in the last phase to ensure that you are aware of what your opponents are doing. This is because with experienced players, the game frequently comes down to tie breakers. As players learn how to manipulate the different resources and time, it becomes much easier to complete all of the trackers, especially if players do not flip the purple time immediately, adding more opportunities to flip the black and green timers. Thus keeping an eye on the Prestige Track that will be used to break ties becomes incredibly important. Luckily, there are advanced rules for players who have run into this road block. These rules add additional challenges to players, and provides an additional way to score points in the end game after players have advanced all of their tracks. My favorite part of the advanced rules is that not all players need to use them. They help level the playing field between beginning and advanced players.

Advanced players will also be happy to hear that each player mat has two sides. The first side has consistent Providence slots, but different scoring tracks and beginning resources. The second side provides individual resources and benefits depending on the noble the player has chosen. Even on the first side, the player’s choice in noble can have a major impact on the game. All of the nobles have different scoring paths, and some of those paths are easier to understand and be successful with than others. For first time players, I suggest tracks that are heavy in Popularity or Military scoring. We found that Prestige was the most difficult strategy to adapt to for new players, but experienced players are able to understand the nuances of the game better, and thus do better with that track.

The different styles of gameplay and the asymmetric player boards do allow for a good amount of replayability, and also allow players to scale the difficulty depending on the preference of those playing. The game does offer a non-timed mode that instructs players when to flip different timers. This is suggested for the first play through of the game, and makes pausing the game for questions somewhat easier. It may also be preferred for those who do not enjoy timers during games. It does take a level of strategy out of the game though, because players do not have autonomy in which timers to flip at any given time. The advanced variant provides only two simple rules to provide more challenging gameplay while still allowing players to choose which ruleset works best for them.

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In addition to the variations with the asymmetric player boards, the Province Cards also add additional replayability. The cards that players select will have a major effect in the strategies that will be most useful to them throughout the game. These cards are by far my favorite part of the game, and I enjoyed trying different combinations of cards to encourage different strategies of play. I was also happy to see the return of the Grande Worker as a mechanism in a Stonemaier Games’ game. They are especially important in higher player count games where spaces are limited. Players who carefully place their Grande Workers tend to have better outcomes than those who frequently have their Grande Worker stuck in spaces for a long time.

Pendulum is innovative, it creates a sense of urgency and quick thinking that is not typically associated with worker placement games. For gamers looking for a more consistently engaging or quick paced worker placement game, Pendulum will likely be a good fit for your table. If you are a player looking for more player interaction, or you are someone looking for a worker placement game that is easy to explain for new players, I would not suggest Pendulum as a starting point.  Players who enjoy other real time play such as Magic Maze, 5 Minute Dungeon, or Captain Sonar but also enjoy more traditional euro games will likely enjoy Pendulum.  If you are looking for more information, keep your eye out for Stonemaier Games’ E-Newsletter and the pre-order which will go live on August 5th.

 

4 thoughts on “Review of Pendulum

  1. I completely agree with you about the player mats and the sand timers. We’ve grown accustomed to the ol’ flip and tap and the person flipping does lose just a moment of game play to ensure that the sand is falling. I know you don’t do playthrough videos but I would love to see how a game plays out that you found tie breakers relevant so frequently. I’ve yet to have a game where I make more than two tokens into the tapestry area of the player mat. Perhaps your group is more patient with the purple timer. Ours probably gets flipped within a minute of the timer running out so we may not see as many green or black actions as other folks.

    You mentioned teaching this game, another thing I would recommend to those playing for the first time is to definitely use the no-timers variant that comes in the box. It’s recommended for 1st timers and I think it simulates the timed game really well. My son and I had played our first game with full intentions on playing just the first round that way and then decided to play out the entire first game that way to make sure we sort of really got familiar with the game. Then the playthrough we filmed we use the rules in the box as a way of demonstrating it. We did the first round without timers and then the rest with.

    In any case, another review I’ve enjoyed reading, Mackenzie. Now I’m off to read your review on Lizard Wizard. The art on that and Raccoon Tycoon is beautiful. 🙂

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    1. Unfortunately I am not a video type person, but I will say that our group is very patient with the purple timer. It often sits before getting flipped for a couple minutes. Also, our purple timer gets stuck a lot, and we have not gotten into the habit of making sure the sand is falling…we will have to take a note out of your book! It definitely leads to higher scores, but our first game with the timer was similar to yours, with one player definitely being a run away with the rest of us no where near the parchment. I have found the Provinces the be the make or break in getting all the VP markers into the parchment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How can you say the components are faulty followed by stating it has good production value. It’s garbage if key components don’t work and you’re making yourself look foolish.
    Or you have been paid to write a positive review which is even worse.

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    1. I noted the two things that I felt were not up to standard. By stating “those concerns aside” I am noting that there are things in the game that don’t have a good production. However, that does not mean the rest of the game has poor production quality. I felt the cards, main game boards, meeples and artwork demonstrated good production quality. I have never accepted money for a review, and I try to look at the game from all angles. Yes, there were negatives with the components, but I did not feel that everything about the game was of poor quality.

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