Full disclosure: A preview copy of Big Easy Busking was provided by Weird Giraffe Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Not gonna lie; I was a bit worried about getting this review done in time for the actual Kickstarter. Usually I’m a bit more on top of my game, but I took an entire week off of playing board games and such to play Kingdom Hearts 3, since I hate spoilers more than most things. It … didn’t take that long to beat, thankfully, so I got to hop right back on the horse and get back to board gaming. It was a good week for that, so, hopefully this review turns out well. Anyways, let’s get to it.
In Big Easy Busking, you are street musicians vying to make a living in NOLA. Over three days, you’ll work the crowds in various locations, trying to play songs that match their moods and collect tips to keep the band playing. You’ll have plenty of options, so make sure you’ve got enough songs to stay afloat. Will you be able to delight the crowds of New Orleans?
Setup takes a bit for this one, but it’s not too bad. Give every player a player card:
And three Starting Songs in their player color (note the meeple in the top-right corner):
Also give them cubes:
Shuffle the Ability Cards, and put one face-up:
Next to it, shuffle the other song cards and put two face-up: these will be your Standard Songs. Make a row above that with three more songs to create the Market:
On the Standard Songs, put these -1 tokens:
Shuffle and set out three Crowd Cards:
Place a Mood Token on each of them, randomly:
Give each player 3 money (the greys are worth 1):
And that should be about it! Choose a player randomly to go first.
In Big Easy Busking, you spend three days in the lives of New Orleans-based street musicians trying to work the crowd and come away with some hard-earned cash. Ideally, you’d be able to do so without exhausting yourself, but if you really want to impress the crowd, sometimes you gotta go all-in. After three days, the player with the most money wins!
At the start of each round, assign your cubes such that four cubes are on each of your band members and three cubes are in the reserve; these represent each player’s energy.
On a player’s turn, you do the following actions:
Finish a Song (optional)
If you started playing a song last turn, you finish it now. If the mood of the song matches the mood of the crowd, you have two options:
- You may put all the energy on the song card onto the crowd card and gain $1.
- You may put at least one energy on the song card onto the crowd card and return the remaining energy to your player card, assigning it to various band members as you’d like.
If the mood doesn’t match, just put all of the energy from the song card onto the crowd card. You get no bonus.
Either way, you then place the card near your player card, face-up; you can’t use it again this round.
Tip the Band (optional)
You may spend $1 to bring an energy cube from the reserve and place it on any of your band members. You may do this as many times as you like, limited only by the number of cubes in your reserve and the amount of money you have.
Now, you must either Learn a Song, Play a Song, or Pass.
- Learn a Song: Spend one energy from each Band Member to gain a song from the top row of the Market. Refill it immediately.
- Play a Song: Place a card from your hand in front of any Crowd Card and move energy from the noted band members to the card. You’re currently entertaining that crowd. If you’d like, you may play a Standard Song by paying either $1 or $2 along with the energy costs (depending on which side of the token is up). If you do, and the token is currently on the -1 side, flip it to the -2 side.
- Pass: If you cannot do either of the previous two actions, you pass. You’re out for the rest of the round.
End of Round
Once all players have passed, the round ends. When that happens, do the following:
- Crowd Payout: For each crowd, the player with the most energy cubes on that card gains the winner bonus money and the Mood Token on that crowd space. All players (including the winner) gain additional money if they have at least the number of cubes indicated in the top right of the crowd card on the card. Have each player take their cubes back. If there’s a tie for first place, all tied players get the winner’s payout, but nobody gets the Mood Token; it goes back to the box.
- Flip the Standard Song Tokens back to -1. Just reset them for the next round.
- Reset the Crowd Cards. Remove the current set from the game, and flip over new ones. You’ll flip over one more each round (3 in Round 1, 4 in Round 2, and 5 in Round 3). Place new Mood Tokens on them, randomly.
- Return your Song Cards to your hand. You can play them again, now.
The player with the most money starts the next round; if there’s a tie, the player with the most Mood Tokens starts. If still tied, choose randomly I guess.
End of Game
After the third round ends, the game ends, and the player with the most money wins!
Player Count Differences
I haven’t noticed that many; I suppose at higher player counts, it’s possible for players to start seeing some aggressive feuds break out between players over high-value crowds, but since ties are friendly I haven’t seen much of a need to try and box out anyone but the player in the lead, and usually that’s done at the end of the round so that they can’t correct for it. That kind of happens no matter what your player count is, to be fair, so, doesn’t really affect much for me.
The one thing I will say is that the game definitely takes longer with more players; that’s a simple fact of there being no scaling (you play with the same amount of energy and same number of rounds regardless of player count), so generally speaking a 4-player game should be twice as long as a two-player game (purely in terms of number of turns taken). This pushes me slightly towards preferring lower player counts, but that’s part of my general antipreference for longer games, so, your mileage may vary on this particular point of advice.
- Stay flexible. Ideally, you’d have a few songs of various energy costs and moods. Buying one of the wild mood songs isn’t a bad idea, though they’re pretty costly to lay down. You just don’t want to have only, say, beads songs and then get stuck in the second and third rounds because the Mood tokens on the Crowd cards are distinctly not beads. Similarly, you don’t want to have only 5-energy songs and then be unable to use several of your cubes. That said, also don’t spend all your time spending energy on learning songs; you need to make sure you’re playing songs, too.
- I usually only learn a song or two. Once you’ve got a couple extras in addition to your starting songs, you can really power through most of the game without too much trouble. If you spend too much time learning songs, you pay a heavy opportunity cost and you have to spend a fair bit of money to buy that energy back, so you’re sort of getting hit twice for it. Make sure that it’s worth it, especially in two-player games. This usually means that I wouldn’t be buying any songs in the third round, personally.
- That said, playing a bunch of lower-energy songs does let you more fluidly react to your opponents’ moves. You can be a bit more strategic and you get $1 for every card you play that matches a mood; you could do this for a while if you have the right cards, but buying them would be expensive and take even longer. Having a couple of two-energy songs isn’t a bad idea, though; you can use that to push yourself over the edge for winning a crowd.
- It’s totally fine to forego that $1 tip for mood matching. You don’t want to do it all the time, but if that’s your final move in a round or if you wouldn’t be able to buy back enough energy to make another play, that’s probably fine. Just maybe don’t do it constantly.
- You really want to get that bonus from as many cards as possible. Sure, getting the first place scoring money is good, but often the money you get for having the right number of cubes on the card is just as good (or better). Especially in the earlier rounds, it’s usually worth it just to get a decent amount of money so you can be more flexible with your energy usage.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Unique theme. I like it, personally, though I will say it’s not fully evoked by the gameplay; see below. That said, even a unique theme that’s not 100% landed is still a pretty neat theme for a game.
- Pretty simple area control game. It’s not terribly complex to learn and is pretty accessible to new players. I’d say Animal Kingdoms is a bit moreso, in this category, though.
- Very colorful. Fans of colorful games will definitely like this one; it’s bright and super fun to look at.
- The variable setup makes the games pretty unique from play to play. You’ve got a lot of different functional things varying, as well; the song with an ability, the other standard songs, and the Crowd / Mood combinations all change from game to game. It’s a pretty modular game, in that sense, so seeing how all the modules interact can be pretty interesting.
- The ability to react by pulling your energy cubes back and reassigning them is interesting. Normally, area-control games are sort of “it’s placed and it’s done”, whereas this allows for some more flexibility. It does increase the risk of analysis paralysis, though; see below.
- From some perspectives, the rich kind of get richer in this game. Having the player with the most money go first is a decent way to start the round, as it forces them to play without being able to react to other players’ actions (beyond pulling cubes rather than taking the money bonus), yes; however, it also gives them first access to the shared songs that can be played by anyone. Since they’re cheaper for the first player to play them, I generally always recommend that players who go first use one of those songs in lieu of one of the songs in their hand (since the cards in your hand have no money cost). That just feels like a bit of an advantage for the player who goes first (and is already in the lead). Either way, it’s not that bad, so it’s a meh.
- We haven’t seen the Ability Song get much use in any of our plays. I suppose that happens, sometimes, but it probably depends on what abilities it has. Both times I’ve played it’s gotten used exactly once.
- This kind of game is very vulnerable to analysis paralysis. Unfortunately, as the game goes on, the number of decisions increases, rather than decreases, and in the first few rounds it’s possible to do everything, by the final round you need to decide (usually) what you’re going to ignore, which might directly cause some strife for players that tend towards over analyzing their various actions. Add in the hidden information of what songs other players can play, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for a game that will run over its indicated play time with certain players. Just worth knowing.
- The Mood Tokens are kind of … esoteric? I have displayed a range of emotions in my life but I would never describe my mood as “beads”. Bees, maybe, but not beads. It’s part of a larger thing going on with BEB in that it feels added to evoke a specific thematic mood but it doesn’t 100% jive with the gameplay, which isn’t great. The iconography (I always want to say symbology but that’s not right) here is the primary indicator that this is a game about New Orleans rather than, say, the NYC subway system. It’s fine, I mean, add what you want to the game, but I wish more of the gameplay served the theme. I feel like this could be fixed by just naming the songs you were learning, for instance, or adding real-life locations to the crowd cards. Something to more fully entrench the game in New Orleans’s culture would be great. Plus, if you can make the theme work well enough with the gameplay, you can get in that Ticket to Ride symbiosis and start making more games in a larger Busking series. That sounds pretty fun.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, Big Easy Busking is pretty fun! I think the major group that this game will appeal to are people who are either looking for a very bright, colorful game to play (definitely a group I belong to from time to time) or people who are getting started with area control mechanics and looking for a simple and straightforward introduction to it. It’s definitely about the right weight for that, with the most complicated part of the game being the decisions around whether or not to buy songs or which venue to play at. Personally, I find that the games run a bit long at higher player counts, but if you’re not playing with players prone to heavy analysis this may not be an issue. My only major point of critique is that I wish the game achieved a bit more thematic synergy — as it currently stands, it feels like it could take place anywhere, and I’m hoping through the Kickstarter process it arrives at a place that’s a bit more engaged with New Orleans as a location. That said, if you’re a fan of area control games or you’ve always wanted to try your luck as a street musician, Big Easy Busking might be right up your alley!