Full disclosure: A preview copy of Curators was provided by Worldshapers. 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.
Finally, jeez. I’ve been languishing in some weird doldrums of not feeling like gaming or writing for like, three weeks. I’ve literally just today been able to shake them off enough to play a game enough times to write about it. Guess I needed the deadline or something? Or I needed to wrangle work into a place where I felt good about taking a break. Who can say. Either way, I can’t say I’ll be able to maintain this mood for any length of time, so I’m basically going to see how far I can get with just writing about the game and then trying to cook a teriyaki chicken recipe I read about online. Wish me luck on both or either count. The game in question, however, is Curators, a new title hitting Kickstarter soon from Worldshapers. Let’s dive right in and see what’s going on.
In Curators, you take on the role of … well, curators in the highly-competitive world of museum opening and management in what can really only be an aggressive advertisement in favor of endowing museums rather than forcing them to rely on advertising and marketing to survive capitalism. But that’s a different conversation for a different blog. In this one, we’re gonna focus on the tile-laying and action selection mechanics you’ll find in the gameplay and see how that shakes out. Which museum will get the most visitors?
First, place the End Game Disc in the center of the table, three-circle side up:
Now, shuffle the tiles and place them in a spiral starting at the End Game Disc and spiraling outwards. Remove the tiles with player count symbols on them greater than the number of players you have.
Place the Auction House within reach of all players:
Add one Exhibit Token of each color to the bottom spaces of the Auction House (and one of each color to the End Game Disc). Leave the remaining tokens nearby:
Give each player a set of five Employee Chips in the color of their choice, cog-side up:
Give each player a Museum Entrance:
Have each player place a Visitor on the top of the Visitor track on their Entrance:
Keep the rest nearby. Give each player $4000, as well (in in-game money, unfortunately):
Shuffle the Standard (Red Seal) and Complicated (Black Seal) Contracts in their own piles; give each player one of each.
If you’re playing with Advanced Rules, shuffle one and reveal it:
You should be all ready to start! Give the starting player the Starting Player Token.
A game of Curators isn’t too complicated. Your goal is to acquire new wings for your museums, fill them with exhibits to attract visitors, make some money, and fulfill various contracts. If you can do all that pretty well, you should be able to win without too much of a problem. Naturally, it’s also not as easy as it sounds. Let’s dive in and find out why.
On your turn, you’ll be able to perform various actions by either Single or Double allocation of an Employee. To allocate an Employee, flip the disc with that symbol on it upside down, so that that symbol is no longer showing. Then take the relevant action. If you have two of the same symbols showing, you may flip both to perform a Double Allocation; you must then take that action twice. If you cannot take the action twice, you cannot Double Allocate. Flipping any one token over is a Single Allocation. Let’s dig into the specific actions and see what they do.
The Carpenter Action allows you to buy new Wing Tiles for your museum. When you allocate, choose any wing from the spiral by counting from the wing closest to the end. If you want the one closest to the end, you can take it for free. Otherwise, pay $1000 per tile you skip to take the tile of your choice. You may take any wing you can afford.
Place them such that they connect to a door on another tile (or the doors on the top-right corner of the Entrance). If you cannot, you may not take that tile. Tiles may be flipped or rotated, but once they are placed they may not be moved.
If you take the last tile, you initiate the end of the game. Take one of the Exhibit Tokens from the End Game Tile and place it on the Storage Section (six spots) on your Entrance. Return the others to the supply. We’ll cover this more later.
If there are no more tiles to take, taking this action will get you $1000 from the bank.
If you choose to Double Allocate, you must take two tiles, but you must pay for both before taking them.
This one is fairly simple. Take an Exhibit Token of your choice from the supply and add it to your storage, then take one of the same color and add it to the bottom-most available space of its color in the Auction House. If the Auction House or your storage are full, you must discard down to their capacity.
If you choose to Double Allocate, you may take two Exhibit Tokens of different colors (or the same color). Your choice.
Collection Manager Action
When you use a Collection Manager Action, you are eligible to purchase tokens from the Auction House. The topmost two spaces cost $1000, the bottom space costs $2000, and you may buy Exhibit Tokens from the supply for $3000. You may only choose one color to purchase, and add purchased tokens to your storage. Again, if your storage is full, you must immediately discard down to six tokens.
If you choose to Double Allocate, you must purchase Exhibit Tokens of two different colors.
The Restorer allows you to add Exhibit Tokens to the various spaces on your Wing Tiles. You may exhibit any number of Exhibit Tokens of one color from your storage, placing them on spaces of the same color.
If you choose to Double Allocate, you must exhibit Exhibit Tokens of two different colors.
If you complete a Wing Tile (fill all its spaces with Exhibits), you gain a Visitor, adding them to your Visitor Track. If this causes you to cover a space with a red / black wax seal, draw one Contract from each pile and choose which of the two to keep.
Similarly, if you have completed a Contract by placing tiles and Exhibits such that the shape on one of your cards exists in your museum (it may be rotated), you will reveal it at the end of the game for bonus points.
Financial Manager Action
This one’s super easy. Gain $1000 per Visitor on your Visitor Track.
If you choose to Double Allocate, each Visitor earns you $2000, rather than $1000.
End of Game
Again, when the last tile is taken, the game ends. (If the last tile is taken the first action of a Double Allocation, the second action will just gain the player $1000.) Now, all players have two additional rounds before the game ends.
Once that’s happened, score! Reveal your Contracts and gain points for the following:
- Sets of $4000 – 1 VP each (rounded down, of course).
- Completed Contracts – VP on the card
- Completed Wings – VP on the wing (single-block wings are worth 0).
- Placed Exhibit Tokens – 1 VP each.
Player Count Differences
I didn’t really notice any beyond the game taking longer at 3+ players, honestly, which makes me a bit suspicious of that 45 minute playtime on the box. With more players, there’s a bit more contention over tiles (which don’t quite scale with player count), so that can cause the game to take a bit longer (since there’s < 50% more turns happening since the tiles aren’t perfectly scaling). This also means that the auction house is generally more active, so there might be a slight incentive to not follow your opponent if it means you can cut into the auction house at the right time to get what you need. I think that generally I don’t love that the game takes longer with more players, but I do appreciate that the game feels more interesting as the player count increases. I’d probably prefer to play at 3+, if possible.
- You really need to plan ahead. This is pretty much the crux of the game. If you’re planning ahead, then you know what tiles you need to grab, and you can decide when you need to grab certain Exhibit Tokens so that you can place them and gain the visitors you need to earn enough money so that you can afford other Exhibit Tokens and tiles as needed to execute on your overall museum strategy. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants, you might get lucky, but it’s also not going to necessarily work out as well.
- If you’re using the Archaeologist, don’t take tokens that your opponent needs. You’d like to avoid filling the Auction House with tokens that your opponent can get cheaply, if you can avoid it. Simply looking at their tiles and seeing what’s open can tell you which colors to avoid, if you’re up to snoop.
- Try to buy out the Auction House, especially if you see that your opponent needs the same tokens. This is also pretty mean, but effective. If you beat your opponent to the punch, you can buy out a bunch of the tokens in the Auction House (even if you don’t need them / can’t store them), just to make sure that they can’t get the same tokens for a low price. It’s … very rude, but if you feel like you must, go for it.
- In general, you can get a pretty good read on what your opponent plans to do by looking at their action selection disks. Usually whatever action has two face-up is likely what your opponent’s going to do. This may change a bit towards the end of the game, but it’s not a hard guarantee one way or the other. Use that to try and anticipate what you should be doing.
- I don’t think it’s worth trying to block your opponent’s contracts, since they’re fairly random and not public information. You can try to be a bit sneaky and say, take the last tile of a certain color and hope that screws somebody, but beyond that it’s hard to plan around specifically blocking your opponents. They’ve got their secret contracts; you’ve got yours.
- Try to avoid running out of money. Honestly it can really mess up a cycle of actions if you go broke. You kind of want to get tiles and Exhibit Tokens, and you can’t do that if you don’t have any money.
- The game’s loop is pretty precise: Gain tiles, gain exhibits, place exhibits, gain visitors, gain money, gain tiles. Part of the game is consistently working to maintain that loop as best as you can, and the other part is knowing when to deviate from it for a big score.
- Make sure you don’t only take big tiles. While they’re more valuable, they also take longer to complete and will net you fewer visitors over the course of the game (and consequently fewer contracts, if you’re not careful). You should still try to complete some, though; again, they’re worth a fair amount of points if you can make them work.
- Remember that when the last tile is taken, there are still two rounds left in the game. This is a common thing that’s missed. Generally, you finish the round and then play two additional rounds. Don’t sweat it if you’re worried your opponent is about to take the last tile; just make sure you can place Exhibits or gain money or something before the game ends; those last points can prove crucial if you want to win.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very colorful game. It’s very bright and I like that a lot! It looks good on the table. Always a plus.
- I like the auction house mechanic and how it plays with the archaeologist. I like that Archaeologist actions place tokens in your storage and the Auction House. You need to be careful to not help your opponents and not take too many of one type if you can’t use them.
- In general, I like that you have to build the wing and place exhibits to fulfill contracts; the flow of that is very nice, I think. It makes the cycle a bit less emphatic on tile-laying, which I think may slightly be to the mechanic’s detriment, but it does make the whole game a bit more interesting as a result (since it’s not just the tiles that matter).
- I really like the theme. Building a museum is always fun; it remains one of my favorite parts about Animal Crossing, even if it is ridiculously hard to catch all the right fish every time.
- Decently easy to learn. You just need to learn what the five actions do and you’re basically set.
- I like that you have to eventually flip tokens that limit your subsequent actions. It reminds me a bit of Welkin, since that also has a flip-now-to-limit-later sort of thing going on with it. I think it’s a bit more interesting here, personally, but I do like it.
- Seems expandable. I feel like there’s a lot you can do with this if you want to. Sort of like Museum (another museum-building game, but more drafting-focused), there are many other angles you can approach this one from.
- You don’t get to see a ton of the game’s art, which is a shame. The game’s colorful, yes, but everything is so small that it doesn’t really get seen that much. Scaling up the game will increase the table space required to play it, but it would be nice to see more of the game’s art.
- It’s a bit of a “feels bad” when another player takes the last tile available in a color that you need to complete a contract. It’s not usually intentional, so it’s hard to blame them, but given how many points you miss out on if you can’t get that color (as well as the now-useless tokens you may have in storage), it’s tough to not get frustrated as a player. It would be nice if there were sort-of-generic colorless singles available when the last tile was taken (similar to Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and its colorless score tokens) so that players could still potentially complete one last Contract before the game ends.
- Generally the first few rounds of the game play pretty similarly. A wise game designer once told me essentially if players are going to always play the same way in the first round or two then it makes sense to just have the game start in that state. Since players are almost always going to go after tiles early, it might not be a bad idea to give every player a “starter tile” of some kind (maybe depending on player order) to bypass the first few turns. It could even be colorless or something if you wanted to reduce the difficulty of gaining certain Contracts, but that might be too much. Either way, the first full cycle of action selection seems a bit rote, honestly.
- Overall, I don’t feel like the tile-laying is that big of a part of the game in a way that really engages me as a player. It’s not the most engaging part of the game, I think, which is odd. I love tile-laying, but I feel like there are too few tiles so that the options of “what tile can I gain to accomplish my goal” are pretty limited at any given time.
- The additional contracts gained can feel a bit swingy. I think my main problem with them is simply just that when you gain one, you draw one from the easy pile and one from the hard pile and keep one. If neither are attainable (it’s a gamble, at best), then you get nothing. Your opponent may get one that only requires them to add one more square to what they’re already doing. That … kind of sucks? It feels like it would be better to draw either two from each pile, keep one, or three from one pile, keep one. It increases the odds that you can synergize for extra points, and you’re going to need to be able to do that if you want to pull off a win in this game, I think.
- At two players, it seems reasonable to just copy your opponent and see who gets lucky with contracts and tiles if you don’t have any better ideas. There needs to be a bit more entropy to shake up what players do from round to round, otherwise they’ll likely get a tile, double Archaeologist, double Auction House, and so on. There’s a clear pathway that cycles through most of the actions eventually, and it feels like there’s not always an incentive to deviate from that. Different action selection games make different use of this mechanic (like Roll / Race for the Galaxy), but I think simply letting you flip tokens at will makes it so that you’ll eventually just loop the same general cycle of actions since it usually gets you what you want (and the amount of money you get through each cycle increases as you gain more visitors).
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed my plays of Curators. I think there are a few things I’d like to see in the final version that I sort of felt were missing from the preview, though. Generally speaking, I think the contract system is good! I like how there’s some tension in that just because the layout is correct doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be able to populate it with exhibits. Add in that completed wings give you visitors (which gets you more money), and you’ve now created an interesting tension. Should I get large wings that are tough to fill but help me get contracts, or should I go after small wings that are more lucrative but require more turns to get my layouts set in place? It’s a good puzzle, but I think there are still some tweaks that I want to see before I feel like it becomes a great puzzle, you know? I think players need more options when they’re getting new contracts in order to better synergize with their existing layout, for instance. In other systems of the game, I think I’d like to see some more entropy in the action selection mechanism (especially at two players) to prevent players just cycling around each other for the entire game. Events or some pseudo-randomizer usually help a bit with that, but it’s a delicate balance: too random, and you risk throwing off the game. Who knows what they’ll pick. I like the concept of the action selection, as well, though I will admit there are other games that play with the idea more to my liking by allowing you to block other players’ actions. This isn’t that kind of game, though; it’s more interested in the puzzle that it creates. And I’m fine with that! It’s a bright, colorful game with a great theme, and I can’t wait to see what the final version brings with it. If you’re looking for something that’s going to be a bit heavier than casual, have some tile-laying to it, or challenge you with some action selection, Curators may be worth checking out!