Game Buzz: Startup Fever

I find it amusing that this next game used Kickstarter to get funded:

image by BGG user gsimpson

Startup Fever was designed by Louis Perrochon and is being published by his company Meetpoint. It’s a game for 2-6 players aged 14 and up that takes around 2 hours to play. The general theme is that you’re running an internet company and need to hire engineers (aka nerds) to create products that will attract more users. It was successfully backed on Kickstarter back in June 2011, and should be out for general consumption this month.

In the game, you get a board, a die, 84 event cards, 24 product chips, 24 user/turn order markers, 100 money tokens (yellow cubes), 50 nerds (green cubes), 50 suits (blue cubes), 6 big nerds (green heads), and 6 big suits (blue heads). Each player begins with 4 event cards, 2 money cubes, 4 product chips (media, social networking, communication, and e-commerce), and a reference card.  Only 2 products will be used in 5-6 player games; 3 will be used for a 4-player game; and 4 will be used with 2-3 players.

The rounds in this game are referred to as years, and there will be four to six of them. In each turn, every product gets one turn. Each product will be resolved in order based on its position on the turn order track (randomly determined at the beginning of the game and based on current product standings). After each product gets a turn, there’s a competition phase, as well as company and game administration.

Each product turn has four actions, though you won’t always get to use them all. First is new user adoption.  You’ll roll the die to determine your base user growth, adding one for each nerd on the project and two if you have a big nerd. You’ll the move the product’s user marker on the user track.

Next, earn product revenue.  Take the large number on the space where your user marker is as your base income, add one for each suit working on the project and two if you have a big suit. Take the appropriate money tokens.

Time to manage employees.  This is the bulk of the product turn, and has several actions that you can take in any order.

  • Hire employees – You can do up to two hires per turn.  Nerds and suits cost 1 each, while big nerds and big suits cost 6 (you can only have one of each of the biggies).  New employees go on 4 of the vesting track.
  • Poach employees – You can make up to two offers per product turn.  Identify an employee on an opposing product track and make an offer.  The minimum offer is the base employee cost plus the number they occupy on the vesting track (0-4).  You can offer more.  The owner of the employee can make a counter offer of one more money.  The employees always take the counter offer, then move back a number of spaces equal to the number of money being offered (but not past 4).  This employee can’t be targeted again during this turn.  If there is no counter offer, the employee moves to 4 on the new product track.  Money paid for the employee goes to the bank.
  • Retain employees – You can identify as many employees on the product track as you want and retain them by paying one money per space to move them back towards 4.  Basically, you’re keeping them happy so it’s harder for other players to tempt them to jump ship.

The final phase of the product turn is user loss.  Any launched product (which is simply a product that has reached a certain point on the user track) with more than 100 users can be reduced.  Roll the die and move products back to the total shown on the die.  You can’t use more than two points on any one product, so you’ll probably have to split the points.

After every product has had a turn, it’s the end of the year.  All launched products have a competition where they’ll steal users from the others.  You’ll look at each product area separately (media, social networking, communication, and e-commerce) and compute each product’s strength in any area where there is more than one launched product.  Each nerd adds one to the strength, a big nerd adds 4, and any marketing money you have set aside adds one more.  The top products move up the user track, while the lower products lose users.

Next, you’ll do some cleanup for the next turn.  Employees who have not yet reached the 0 on the vesting track all move up one.  You may then reallocate nerds and suits based on the competitive situation.  You don’t change their vesting level, just shift them to other products as needed.  Any played event cards or marketing money used are discarded.  You draw back up to four event cards and allocate marketing money for the following year, putting money tokens on various product chips.  The product with the fewest users will select turn order position for the next year, and so on.  Ties are broken randomly.

The game ends at the end of the year in which the last product is launched or leaked.  Add up the VPs under your user markers, and the player with the highest number wins.

There seems to be a lot going on with this game.  I like the variable phase order going on, and it’s cool each individual product gets its own turn.  This means that you could have the most popular and least popular product, meaning you get to go both first and last, which could be extremely beneficial.  The metagaming potential seems to be high, and I can imagine everyone coming up with names and features for their products.

Despite that, the randomness potential seems to be high.  Users are initially gained with a die roll, and you can affect other players based on a die roll as well.  You could get six users at the start of a turn and then be able to knock three products back two spaces at the end while the next player could be doing one of each.  With so many products, I don’t know if that will affect things too much, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Startup Fever looks to be a game with some novel and interesting mechanisms going on, and I do want to play.  It might be a little cutthroat for me, but I think it would be nice to try at least once.  At the very least, it’s a pretty unique theme, one that may be explored more and more in this modern computer based world we live in.  Thanks for reading!

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