Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
I am fortunate to live in an up-and-coming (or have we arrived?) area where the ocean meets the city on the Jersey shore. Over several years the community has evolved into one that is amenable to grocery co-operatives and employee owned farm-to-table businesses. Storefronts that anywhere else, would seem to be in competition, have a collaborative approach to the community they have fostered. In fact, this review is being written in one such establishment.
Less fortunately, the town that I left behind when I went off to college a decade-and-change ago has seen two sprawling flea markets close, a couple of farm markets turned into fast food joints or worse, virtually every family owned business disappeared, and two Wal-Marts descend upon either side of the major store-fronted artery I take home to visit mom and dad. A trip home is a game of photo-hunt that you may be able to relate to all too well.
You may be asking, what in the nine hells does my trip down retail memory lane have to do with a card game coming to Kickstarter? Well, in Co-Op: The Co-op Card Game designed by Richard T. Saunders, you are given the opportunity to run your very own community Co-Op and (in the first mission) to fight back against the MondoMart takeover of your beloved store. Co-op, while difficult to pin down, is a worker placement, action selection game looking for funding on Kickstarter.
The first mission of the Co-Op base game sees your cooperative in debt and on the brink of getting forced into a MondoMart take over. Based on the difficulty level and the number of players, you have a set number of days to get out of debt and make enough money to pay the rent and keep the dream alive. You are not alone though, you form a crack-pot team of hippies (who totally get the vibe of the place, man) and bizzies (who know what it means to earn a dollar) to get the co-op back on its feet again.
Money is made by purchasing goods from distributors, moving the goods from the co-op warehouse to the storefront, and finally selling the goods to the customers. It isn’t a walk in the park though (although you can do that to improve staff morale), each day something happens and it can totally get your vibe down. That “something” can be a whole slew of things ranging from MondoMart making false claims to the health inspector, rats in the back room or even a Thankful Fish concert the night before that renders your hippies totally useless as employees for the day. The game ends when you run out of time and you only win if you satisfy the win condition stated on your mission card.
How to Play:
The first step of every game is always the setup and while it is no different here, it is worth noting that this is one of the more elaborate starting setups I have ever completed for a card game. Luckily, the rulebook is very specific and provides good direction on this front.
Based on the difficulty level and the number of players, a starting number of days and warehouse and storefront goods are allotted. Each player chooses a character from the Hippies and Bizzies character cards and every character has its own special ability to help you save the co-op from certain doom. Abilities range from bonus goods from a distributor to bonus vibe (employee morale) for certain actions. After choosing a character, each player is given five starting groove cards which are laid out in a row in front of him or her.
Playing the game consists of five steps. At the start of every day “Something Happens” by flipping over a happening card onto the day of the week. Happenings are usually bad and can stand to kill a win by wasting your days and actions, which in turn prevent you from making money.
Every day, each player takes a turn (in any order) by placing their character standee on locations throughout the play area. Without going into the exhaustive list of available options, suffice it to say that you can either play groove cards from the storefront location, move goods from the warehouse to your storefront, improve morale, search the discard piles or draw extra cards.
When a customer is played from the storefront, players must match the customer’s desired good (any combination of organic, music, knick-knack, etc.) with what is available in the store. If the store doesn’t have what they want, they are discarded, otherwise the good is purchased by the customer and the money collected by the player. Hopefully by the end of the allotted days, customers have satiated their acquisition disorder enough to save the co-op.
Co-op greatly exceeded my expectations and was truly a blast to play. The setup and rulebook had me a little nervous before I started as I was concerned the reward would not be worth the initial investment, but I am glad to say I was wrong. This game has been polished. The elaborate setup and scope of the playing field was not out of some obsessive attempt to shoehorn a game into a theme. Co-op seems to have been tirelessly playtested and the effort has birthed a mechanically smooth and streamlined game.
Game strategy is compounded not only by the actions a player takes or which groove card should be played, but also in deciding the player order. If all of the players are on the same page and take this game as light-heartedly as it takes itself, this shouldn’t be an issue but, because of the open card hands, alpha/quarterback players are possible here. It never felt as overt as some other games we love, but it is possible.
There is no shortage of game content. I played through 3 or 4 games in a row and was still seeing new cards each time. Groove cards are by far the most expansive part of the game as they can play with the turn rules, grab extra cards or provide extra protection against happenings. Initially, it appears that the balance of a good draw and a thorough shuffle is required to maximize customers and distributors in your hand.
Customers make you money by buying goods, which depletes your storefront. Distributors take your money and replenish your warehouse’s inventory of goods. Co-op requires more strategy and far less luck than I originally anticipated. You cannot rely solely on a card draw to win a game; cycling cards is a must.
Co-op customers always show up far less often than desired, so deeper strategy and card play is extremely important. As an example, my game needed me to get $20 in 14 days. I was fortunate if I was able to play one customer a day let alone the one-and-then-some that was needed. Complicating matters, players must balance how hard they work their characters against how low they allow the employee morale to sink. Keeping employee morale better than “bogus” is important because poor morale kills special abilities while “awesome” morale helps you acquire and cycle more cards.
Co-op is exceptionally balanced and when I did start winning games, it was down to the wire on the last or second to last day (which was on borrowed time anyhow). I loved the suspense involved in the ending days of each game.
Strategy was far deeper than I expected, making Co-op far more enjoyable than I had anticipated. The theming is thorough, turning up in every nook and cranny of the game and, even though I hated them, I was looking forward to reading the next happening card as much as I was dreading it. Likewise, the amount of theming on the groove cards shows off Saunders’s ability to pull it all together.
Co-op seems like it was tirelessly designed to make multiple play throughs fresh. This is not some hippy theme pasted onto an economic/worker placement card game. The theme is as embedded in quirky flavor text as it is in the actual game mechanics. It is a super fun game about a co-op community and fittingly deserves the attention of the crowd-funding community. Play throughs are a blast, replay value is extremely high, and game content is practically spilling off the shelves.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.