Buzzworthiness: Unreal Estate

Thanks to Marc Specter and the Grand Gamers Guild for providing a review copy of this game.

Today’s game is a fantasy drafting game called

image from Grand Gamers Guild Facebook page
image from Grand Gamers Guild Facebook page

Unreal Estate is a game by Jason Slingerland that is going to be published by Grand Gamers Guild.  This is the first game from GGG, and I met up with founder Marc Specter at Gen Con to learn this and the next game coming from the company, Stroop.  Unreal Estate is for 2-4 players, and is essentially a game about drafting fantasy houses.  The game is not on Kickstarter yet, but should be on September 20.

The game comes with 52 building cards and 6 special cards (though I think the plan is to include more special cards for greater variety).  The building cards are numbered 1-8 with a different building representing each number.  At the start of the game, you’ll shuffle the building cards and deal two to each player.  You’ll then deal some cards to the side into a line known as the Scrap pile – four cards in a two-player game, two with three, and five with four.  Shuffle the six special cards into the rest of the deck and set it off to the side as a draw pile.

In each round, you’ll deal five cards into the Proposal Board.  Beginning with the current start player, each person can then either take a card from the Proposal Board, play a special card, or score.  If you take a card, you just add it to your hand.  There is no hand limit.  To play a special card, just follow the text.

To score, take a set of identical cards from your hand (it can be just one) and add up the points.  Take the result and multiply it by the number of the same card that is in the Scrap Pile.  So if you have two 4s in your hand and there are two 4s in the Scrap Pile, you could score 16 points – (4+4)x2.

Once everyone has taken an action, all remaining cards on the Proposal Board go to the Scrap Pile.  The start player then passes to the left and you do it again.  When there are no cards left to draw, there is one final round where players can score one set from their hand, and then the game ends.  High score is the winner.

image by BGG user ckirkman
image by BGG user ckirkman

COMPONENTS: I received a prototype copy, so it’s not indicative of the final product.  However, the art is already really nice and is one of the first things that people notice about the game.  Other than that, it’s just a card game so that’s what you’ll be getting.  There’s no means to track score, and as of yet no first player marker.  However, that may change if stretch goals are met.

THEME: Though the game does have a fantasy theme that is evoked through the art, the play itself really has nothing to do with fantasy.  The game could very easily have been done with real world buildings (as in For Sale) or monsters or just about anything.  There’s no story and no narrative arc in the game.  Not that one is essential to enjoyment, just know that the fantasy theme is pretty much just a framing device in this game.  You’re usually going to refer to houses as their numbers – 2 or 6 instead of Dwarven Tavern or Elven Tree House.

MECHANICS: This game features a very simple draft line that refreshes every round.  When you take a card, it does not get replenished, as in Ticket to Ride, and once all players have had an opportunity to take a card, the whole line goes away.  This serves to amplify your decision making because if you don’t take a card, you won’t get to take it later.  On the other hand, untaken cards get sent to the Scrap Pile, which means that other cards with the same value will become more valuable.  So this creates a balancing act, where you want points in your hand as well as points in the Scrap Pile.

Scoring is basic multiplication as you multiply points in your hand by number of cards in the Scrap Pile.  Algebra at work!  It’s all pretty basic math, so no calculator required unless you really don’t know your multiplication tables.

The special cards give different ways to break game rules.  One allows you to search the discard pile and draft something from there.  Another allows you to return the card and take two from the Proposal Board.  The other one allows you to look at another player’s hand and take a card.  They’re a nice way to spice up the game.  I think more are planned, but there are only the three (two copies of each) in my prototype.

Overall, the game works really well.  It flows smoothly, and everything is pretty intuitive once you start playing.

STRATEGY LEVEL: For such a small game, there a lot of decisions to be made.  I alluded to them earlier.  The main thing is that you have to weigh what’s in your hand against what’s in the Scrap Pile, and then figure out if it’s worth it to leave the card on the table or you need to snatch it up.  Part of this is knowing the proportions – there are a lot more 1s in the game than 8s.  There are only four 8s in the game, and you might feel good to have them all in your hand.  But if they’re all in your hand, there will be none in the Scrap Pile, so they’re going to be worth zero points.  So you need to leave at least one, or ideally two for the Scrap Pile and hope someone else doesn’t take them.  If there’s one in the Scrap Pile and three in your hand (or vice versa – one in hand and three in the Scrap Pile), that’s 24 points.  But with two in hand and two in the Scrap Pile, that’s 32 points.  So it’s worth it to know how the cards are distributed.

Luck is present in this game, and you’ll find yourself playing tactically to try to keep up.  If you were planning on taking that four to possibly score the next turn, and someone else took it, maybe you should go ahead and score to clear the 4s out of the Scrap Pile.  Turn order can be VERY important in this game, and figuring out how to manipulate that is key.

ACCESSIBILITY: Unreal Estate is a very simple game to learn.  It may take a player a few turns to actually get it, but once they get it, they’ve got it.  This is definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum, but still with some meat its bones.

SCALABILITY: I have not played the game with two players, but it does play well with three and four.  The fewer players you have, the more cards will make their way to the Scrap Pile since the Proposal Boards is five cards across all player counts.  I hear there’s an official two-player version in the works, so we’ll see how that goes.

REPLAYABILITY: This is a game you can play several times without getting bored.  It’s very fast – surprisingly fast, actually – and with enough interesting decisions to make players want to try again.

INTERACTION: You’re not directly interacting in this game (unless you count the special card that allows you to take a card from someone else).  Interaction is more subtle than that as you try to time out when you need to score, or try to stop someone else from getting a card they need.

FOOTPRINT: The game doesn’t take up much space.  The biggest thing you need is space for the Scrap Pile.  The Proposal Board is just five cards, and these can be arranged however you need to in order to make them fit, but the Scrap Pile does need to be organized.  A smallish table should work.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I’m really glad I got to play this game.  It’s fast, it’s fun, there are good decisions to be made, and the art is great.  You should definitely check it out when the Kickstarter goes live next week.  Until then, here’s a link to the BGG page so you can keep track of it.

Thanks again to the Grand Gamers Guild for providing a review copy of Unreal Estate, and thanks to you for reading!

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