Full disclosure: A review copy of Venture Angels was provided by Mandoo Games.
More from Mandoo! I’ve been gently moving through this set for a while, and I’m excited to hit up Venture Angels, next, as someone who’s been living in Silicon Valley for a while and has seen some VC movement similar to what the game is describing (but with a tiny bit less sci-fi). Let’s dive right in.
In Venture Angels, you play as competing investors trying to see which of your bids will pay off most spectacularly. However, you don’t want other people to know how much you’re investing, so you do your best to keep it secret. Fund projects to retain your ownership, but be careful! Overfunding a project is just as bad as underfunding. What new technologies will your money help create?
Not a ton, here. The first thing to do is shuffle up all the tiles:
Then give each player a set of investment tokens in the color of their choice:
Each comes with a double-backed token so that you can always hide your tokens from other players, which is fun. Finally, set out the Bonus Token:
Choose a player and get started!
So, like I said, your goal here is to invest in projects that will hopefully pay off by successfully funding. Sure, you can fund something yourself, but it’s better if you trick other people into funding stuff for you. Plus, then you have more money to go around. Just be careful; overfunded projects can become frothy and not pan out. That’s tech, for you.
To start a round, reveal tiles from the deck. Sum their costs until you reach or exceed the threshold for your player count:
- 3 players: 28
- 4 players: 36
- 5 players: 45
That’s how many projects will be active for this round. Now, every player, on their turn, may place one of their tokens face-down below a project to bid on it. Your tokens are valued 0 – 4, so at least one of them is a bluff. Place the tokens in a line stretching downwards from the tile, face-down, so you can tell which player placed the first token.
Once everyone has placed all of their tokens, reveal them all. For each project, sum the values on the tokens and check:
- If the total of the tokens is less than the value on the tile, the project is underfunded. Discard the tile and return the tokens to the players.
- If the total of the tokens is greater than any other project, the project is overfunded. Discard the tile and return the tokens to the players.
- If the previous two cases don’t occur, the project is funded! The player who contributed the most money to the project takes the tile. Return the other tokens to the players. If there’s a tie, the tied player whose token is closest to the tile takes it.
Once all tiles have been dealt with, the round ends! Players with tiles are starting to attract a lot of attention, so they must flip some of their bid tokens face-up. Flip one token face-up for every tile you’ve taken.
The player in the lead (we usually just say most tiles) starts the next round. The player with the fewest tiles at the start of Round 3 gets the Bonus Token, which can be played at the end of the round before any other tokens are flipped face-up.
Once the third round has finished, the game ends. Calculate your fame by awarding yourself the highest value of each color of tile you have. Other tiles of that color earn you an additional point.
The player with the most fame wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t many, honestly. The game expands pretty fluidly by just adding more tiles to the mix every time. That may be an issue if multiple players are competing for the same things, but generally there are three colors that people want, and they may have the ability to all get them. I have no strong preference for any particular player count for this game.
- Get one of each color tile. You’re going to need that if you want to win, given how aggressively the returns diminish for other tiles of the same color. The only advantage you get from picking up other tiles of the same color is if you happened to get an extremely low-value tile of a color early on (one of the 5s) and you can get a 10 later.
- Bluff aggressively. I like to place the 0 definitively and then add a 2 so that it appears to be pretty well-funded. This gets players who bid high to either increase the bid (tempting towards overfunding) or to back off and watch as the project they blew a 4 on ends up underfunded. Both are funny to me, just in different, mean ways.
- If you’re in the lead, “help” the next person by overfunding the project they need. You should be following them aggressively, making sure they can’t take any tiles except the ones you give them. Bonus points if you pressure them to take a tile that’s essentially worthless for them. They’ll get mad, but investment is a cutthroat business.
- I usually flip the 3s face-up when I have to reveal a tile. That way, I have the 0 and the 4 hidden so players still don’t know when exactly I’m bluffing. Keeping that a secret is still, in my opinion, the optimal play. If you reveal the 0, then players know that you’re essentially just wasting your turn. Plus, it makes the reveal less shocking.
- The 10s usually overfund, if only one appears in a round. You should help contribute to that while going after something a bit more modest. Players get a bit greedy, especially early in the game. Additionally, since there’s one tile pulling so many of the resources, the other projects tend slightly towards underfunding, which can also be dangerous. Make sure that you’re securing your investments, if nothing else.
- Going after the same tiles as another player usually leads to disaster. Only one of you can get it, at most, so if you both go for it you usually overfund it or you leave a wide opening for the other player(s) to grab the tiles that they need, which can be pretty lucrative.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is great. Ian O’Toole doesn’t mess around here, and he does a great job capturing some of the sillier inventions and keeping the game seeming fresh and pleasant.
- It’s a very whimsical game. One of the technologies you can build is a computer for cats, as though computers weren’t invented for that exact reason. It keeps the game feeling very pleasant, which I enjoy. There’s a lot of other fun ones, too; just sci-fi enough.
- The bid tokens are a nice weight. They’re lighter than the Splendor chips, yeah, but they’re still decently hefty.
- Pretty easy to learn. It’s a decently-straightforward blind bidding game where you just want to make sure you’ve got the majority on projects that don’t have the most bids. Not too bad, once you’ve played a round or two. Thankfully, the game is very short so it’s easy to just call the first game a teaching game if it goes a bit off the rails.
- Plays quickly. Not much time at all, honestly. Maybe 30 minutes, if that? Faster if players already know how to play.
- Finally, a three-round game where the state matters between rounds. Players may change which tiles they’re going for based on which they already have and the player in last in round 3 gets the Bonus Token, which may let them tip the scales (especially in a close game).
- Solid catch-up mechanic. Forcing players in the lead to reveal their bids is a great way to offer some balance for other players, which I really appreciate. Just don’t let them get too ahead.
- The tiles are such that it’s possible to see the colors if you look at the side of the stack. I think that’s a common problem for tiles, but it’s a bit of a bummer if you’re playing with people who try to abuse that knowledge. If you are, though, I’d recommend stopping.
- The box is a very specific shape. It’s hard to fit on my shelves, since it’s kind of a small squarish sort of thing. I suppose it had to be to accommodate the chips without being Splendor-size.
- If a player gets super far ahead, it might be worth just calling the game, given how short it is. We played one game where one player got 5 tiles in the first round. We should have just called it. The problem with games that depend on player interaction for balance is that if that balance isn’t there, the game can very quickly run off the rails.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I solidly like Venture Angels! I think it’s reminiscent of an Oink Game, in that it’s cute, quick, and easy to teach, but it lacks Oink’s specific thing for very compact box design, which is a shame. It’s not the worst thing, though; it’s just a thing. On the advantages side, it boasts some fantastic and whimsical art from Ian O’Toole which really sells the theme of being vaguely sci-fi investors that are just throwing money at whatever, and there are some smart design choices and scaffolds added so that even players who had a bad round aren’t completely out of the game (unless everyone had a bad round, in which case, don’t let one player take everything). These kinds of games are a delight to own, so I’ll hopefully have more opportunities to play it, but if you’re a fan of blind bidding, fast-paced games, or games with great art, I’ve quite enjoyed Venture Angels; maybe you will too!