Have you ever wanted to run a major company? Or did you watch Iron Fist and conclude that corporate intrigue is kind of boring? If it helps, I think that might just be Iron Fist, because running a company in a board game can be interesting! Enter Startups, another game from the Oink Games line of tiny-boxed games. In Startups, players are competing to gain the majority share in companies in order to gain the most money. Can you become the best investor?
You’ll want to set out the Anti-Monopoly chips:
I’ll talk more about those later. Next, give every player 10 money:
They’ll keep the money on the “1” side, for now.
Shuffle the cards:
Deal each player 3 cards, and then remove 5 cards from the game. Nobody should see the five removed cards. The 3 cards comprise each player’s starting hand. Place the remaining cards in the center, and then you’re ready to start!
Game’s pretty simple to play. On your turn, you’ll have two choices:
- Draw from the deck.
- Take a card from the Market.
So, when you draw a card from the deck you must first place a coin on every card in the Market unless you hold that card’s Anti-Monopoly chip. But how do cards even get to the Market? Well, when you take a card, you can either play one of the four cards in your hand in front of you or put one of the four cards in your hand face-up into the Market, which is the area around the deck. Once you do that, your turn ends. If you play a card in front of you such that you have the most of that card, you take that card’s Anti-Monopoly chip (even if another player currently has it).
If you choose to take from the Market, you cannot take a card if you hold that card’s Anti-Monopoly chip. It’s there to prevent you getting a monopoly, so, it’s doing its job. If the card you take has money on it, you gain that money. Nice! Like drawing from the deck, you add the card you took to your hand and then choose to return a card to the Market or play a card face-up in front of you. You cannot return a card of the same type as the card you took to the Market. That’s just a non-action. Don’t do that.
Play continues until the last card is taken from the deck. At that point, add every card in your hand to your tableau.
Now, starting with Giraffe Beer (5), the player with the most of each card type gains money from other players. If I have three Giraffe Beers and you have two, you give me two money — one for each card you have. That’s rough. It’s made worse by the fact that you flip the “1” coin over to its “3” coin side when you pay another player — every money you give someone else is worth 3 points, end game. Note that you can’t give “3” coins to other players — if you run out of “1” coins during this phase, you don’t pay anyone else anything.
You may be wondering what happens in the event of a tie for most shares of a company. If that happens, nobody gets paid. That’s pretty much the worst.
Once you’ve settled all the money, whichever player has the most money wins! You can play this similar to Maskmen and add a multi-round option where 1st place gets 2 points, 2nd place gets 1 point, and last place gets -1 point, but … just play another round if you want to do that.
Player Count Differences
At higher player counts it’s a lot more chaotic, since it really comes down to what cards you have in your hand. If I were to have 3 Bowwow games in my hand, the best another player could do is tie me, and there are a lot more people taking turns and taking cards in between. I’d say I probably like this best in the 3 – 5 player range, but I don’t think 6 or 7 players is bad. It’s just large.
- Surprise other players. You really want to drop down three cards of the same color in order to take the majority, if you can. Surprise means getting a lot of money from your opponents.
- Don’t make too strong of a showing. You want to lightly bait your opponents into taking cards that you have a majority of. If you’ve got that majority showing, then they aren’t going to take those cards because it’s a guaranteed loss for them. To that end, try to hide some of those cards in your hand.
- A strong showing isn’t always bad, though. If you have a lot of the EMT cards, other players won’t want to take them from the center. This means that the price of drawing a card from the deck is going to increase significantly, which might be a benefit for you. Just make sure you don’t run everyone out of money, or nobody will be able to pay you!
- Don’t spread yourself thin. You really don’t want to be the player that has two of everything. You’ll be paying out a lot of money.
- Sometimes it’s worth taking cards you don’t need or can’t use. If there are three coins already on a card in the Market, it’s a neutral proposition for you to take it. It’s even better if you get enough of those that you’re now a threat to the current majority holder.
- You can try to trick other players. If you’ve got a lot of one Company card in your hand, you can push one of those to the Market and hope another player picks it up. Just be careful that you don’t lose your end-game majority!
- Try to keep track of what players are drawing and exchanging. The more you know about what other players have, the better your odds of success are.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cool box design. It’s a slick aesthetic and a nice, bright color. I kind of wish the boxes had the game name on the bottom or something, but I know what they are just from color, now.
- Even the card art is great. It’s super colorful! Big fan.
- Love the startup themes. They’re all animals! What’s not to like?
- Highly portable. It’s an Oink game; this is both expected and valued.
- Pretty easy to learn. It’s just trying to get a majority stake in these companies or not investing at all. It’s very simple.
- Seems expandable. I could see adding in weird one-off company cards or a whole new set of company cards or something with effects to change up the game a bit. That said, I’ve never seen Oink expand one of their games, so that might be a pipe dream.
- Not particularly interested in the multi-round version. This is just a truth about me.
- The rulebook is a bit tough. This is occasionally an issue with Oink games, but we managed to play the game fairly incorrectly for a while before we finally figured out what the rules meant, which, oops.
- Can feel a bit lucky. I mean, if another player draws five consecutive EMT cards then no matter what you’re not beating them in that category. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. If the cards you need to be the majority shareholder in a certain company are all out of the game, you’re hosed. That’s just the nature of the game. Thankfully, it’s fast.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’m quite fond of Startups. I’ve played it a bunch, it’s never been bad, and I’ve always had fun with it. It’s a very simple concept for a game that remains interesting throughout the entire round, which I appreciate. There are just enough unknown things to make the game interesting, but you consistently have a lot of influence over your own hand, allowing you to have a bit of strategy. Sure, you might get unlucky one round, but the game is fast enough that you can just shuffle the cards, redeal the coins, and try again. I’d recommend giving it a whirl if you’re looking for a nice, simple card game that supports a wide variety of player counts.