Growing up with parents who came of age in the 60s means that it wasn’t uncommon to come home to the Beach Boys or Johnny Cash blasting from the stereo. The music of our past and our parents’ pasts becomes a part of us as we grow up. Will this game leave such a lasting impression?
Vinyl: Jukebox brings the tunes of the past to your table in a two player bag building race to create the best playlist.
On your turn in Jukebox: Vinyl, you will do one of two things: “insert coins” and possibly buy a 45, or empty your coin box.
If you choose to insert coins, you will draw coins, one at a time, from your bag and place them onto the leftmost empty space of one of two rows on your player board. Each of these rows has four slots, and you may choose to draw until all slots in both rows are full, or you may stop at any time you choose. The two rightmost slots are special in that, when you place coins on them, your opponent will also get to draw a coin and place it onto their own display. Once you are done drawing coins you may either buy a 45 by spending coins that match all three criteria (year, genre, and side A or B). Spent coins are placed in your coin box area, and the 45s token is placed in the 3×3 display area of your jukebox board.
If, when you place a 45s token in your display, it completes a row or column of three, you may immediately take a scoring token for that row/column. For example, if you have three records from the 60s in a row, you may take a scoring token that awards points for having 3 albums from the 1960s. On the other hand, if you cannot or don’t wish to buy a 45 you can empty one or both rows, which will also allow you to add a gold bonus token to your bag.
Instead of drawing coins, a player can choose to empty their coin box (the area where spent coins are placed) by returning all spent coins to their bag. When you do this you also get to add two bonus gold coins to your bag. Your opponent gets to return one of their own spent coins to their bag as well.
Play continues like this, with each player taking one of the two actions on their turn, until someone places their 9th 45s token into their display. Complete the round, then score points based on scoring tokens you’ve acquired and one of the two score cards you were dealt at the start of the game. The player with the most points might not have the best taste in music, but they are the winner of the game.
I found the setup for Vinyl: Jukebox rather fiddly and tedious. There are a lot of tokens. The scoring tokens, especially, are rather annoying to setup as there are ten different categories of these, and each category has three possible scoring conditions, one of which is randomly removed from the game. Each of them has to be sorted into its place and organized in a specific way. Additionally, there are coins called “rival tokens” that you place onto each pair of scoring tokens. The gold bonus tokens also need to be organized by category and year.
Then there’s the issue of the rulebook. I had to read and re-read several times to understand which phases of the game happened when and what an actual round looked like. Then, after playing I re-read and saw that I had still gotten some rules wrong. There are also some rules that feel unnecessary, which contributes to the confusion, and I think the game could have left them out for the sake of a cleaner experience. Turn references and a final polish on the rules would have helped to ease the learning process.
That said, once you do understand the rules, and once you’ve played a couple times and gotten used to the setup, the gameplay itself is pretty quick and enjoyable. There is some tension in racing for specific objectives, and sometimes you’ll groan when your opponent takes the 45 you needed to complete your row and score big. Drawing the tokens from the bag is sort of a press-your-luck mechanism, but not quite, as you can’t exactly bust. It can feel anticlimactic, though, when you fill both your rows and end up unable to buy anything.
I have mixed feelings about your opponent drawing coins when you place your coin on a the rightmost spaces, because the other player either has to pay close attention to what you’re doing, or you have to announce, “You can draw a coin.” and that usually happens multiple times during a turn. Yet, that same mechanism helps to speed up the game and also plays, quite a lot, into the strategy of when you’ll draw and where you’ll place. There is a finesse and subtle strategy to the timing of your choices in this game that took me a couple plays to recognize. In that way the two player aspect works really well. The game isn’t directly mean, but it’s also not “multiplayer solitaire”. You will try to do what benefits your opponent least and helps you most, so you do have to pay attention, at least a little, to where the other player stands. Which brings me to my next complaint…
There’s just too much to look at in this game. My gaze is constantly darting around the table the entire time. Because the 45s tokens have three different features you need to pay attention to- the genre, the year, and the side- each time I draw a coin, my eyes are jumping to the nine available records and each icon on them, then to the available score tiles to see what would benefit me most, then at my two scoring objective cards. On top of that, as mentioned above, you should keep at least half an eye on your opponent and what they’re going for. By the end of the game, my eyes are tired of having to zero in on icons the whole time. Sure, a game should have enough going on to keep you occupied, and there is a certain satisfaction from a good mental puzzle, but the Vinyl: Jukebox experience feels more tedious than invigorating in that regard. It’s not that it’s heavy- the game is fairly light, but it still manages to feel fatiguing.
But I’ll not end on a sour note. One of the best features of this game is, in my opinion, the player boards which are the jukeboxes themselves. Not only do these look cool, but they give you a tidy place to put everything, and the would-be empty space on the sides is used to put handy reminders of what happens when a specific action is taken—no, it’s not the much needed turn reference, but it helps a lot because many of your actions will trigger something your opponent can do as well.
So, where does all of that leave me? Honestly, I’m very conflicted about Vinyl: Jukebox. There are some things I enjoy about it, but for every pro it seems there is also a con. Once you get past the little nuances and annoyances, it is fun, but the tedious setup, the confusing rulebook, and all of that gaze shifting brings it down for me. I also wish the artwork were more flavorful. The jukebox is a cool feature but, aside from that, there is very little flavor, which makes the game feel more mechanical than immersive.
And a game about music should be immersive, if nothing else, shouldn’t it? Were it not for these drawbacks, I’d enjoy the tight, clean race of the game itself. It has some promise, but needed a bit of cleanup to be truly great. As it stands, I can only give it a halfhearted recommendation if the theme or gameplay sounds intriguing and you’re willing to put up with the issues mentioned above.
Final Score: 3 Stars – It has a little soul, but isn’t quite smooth as jazz.
• Tedious setup and gameplay
• Confusing rulebook
• Bland artwork