Full disclosure: A review copy of Aggretsuko: Work / Rage Balance was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Had a weird week of review writing where I couldn’t quite shake the like, inability to complete anything. So I just worked on three reviews in parallel. You’ll see them when you see them, but one such review was Aggretsuko: Work / Rage Balance, from Renegade Game Studios! I’ve been really interested in the increasing number of licensed IPs that Renegade is working with, but I hadn’t been in a good spot to play any games with 3+ players until about two weeks ago (as of writing). That’s since been corrected, a bit, so I’m back with some new reviews for great games to play as you’re finally starting to get your game groups back together after about a year and a half. Let’s see how Aggretsuko measures up!
In Aggretsuko: Work / Rage Balance, you’re just trying to get through the work week. Five days. How hard could it be? Well, you’ll have to deal with your annoying coworkers, overbearing parents, and sinister boss if you want to make it to the weekend unscathed. Thankfully, you have a secret weapon: to blow off steam, you do a little bit of death metal karaoke once a day, and that’s usually enough to keep you going if you need to. Probably. Hopefully. Will you be able to make it through to the weekend? Or will your rage end up getting the better of you?
Pretty much none! Give each player a Mood Token (set to the Polite side):
Then, shuffle the cards, and deal each player 13!
You should be ready to start!
Aggretsuko is a ladder-climbing game, in which players try to empty their hands of cards by playing “plays” of increasing value. Once a player empties their hand, the Day ends, and you re-deal and move on to the next Day. After 5 Days, the work week ends, and the player with the fewest points wins. How do you earn points? What are plays? Let’s get into it.
So, a Day takes place over several rounds, and each round continues until all but one player has passed. To start a round, the lead player plays some set of cards from their hand, known as a play. Any of these sets of cards can be a play:
- One card: A single card of any value.
- Two cards: A pair of cards of the same value.
- Three cards: A triple of cards of the same value.
- Four cards: Four cards, again, all of the same value.
- Five cards: There are five possible five-card plays. Each one is a more valuable play than the ones before it:
- Five-card straight: Five cards in consecutive order (suit does not matter).
- Five-card flush: Five cards of the same suit (value and order does not matter).
- Five-card full house: A triple (three cards of the same value) and a pair (two cards of the same value). Suit does not matter.
- Five-card straight flush: Five cards in consecutive order that are also the same suit.
- Five of a kind: Five cards of the same value (suit does not matter).
- Rainbow Bomb: The ultimate play: Four cards of all different suits in consecutive order.
After you make a play, the next player can play or pass. If they play, they must play either a higher-value play of the same number of cards (so if you play a pair of 3s, they must play a pair of 4s or 5s or so on) or a Rainbow Bomb. A Rainbow Bomb can only be beaten by a higher-value Rainbow Bomb. When comparing plays with consecutive card values, use the highest-numbered card in the play (4-5-6-7 is beaten by 5-6-7-8). To reiterate, you cannot increase the number of cards in the play (so you cannot beat a single card with a pair of cards, but you can beat a five-card straight with a five-card full house). Certain cards (11 / 12 / 13) are unsuited, so they cannot be played in plays where the suit matters (any flush or full house).
If you instead choose to pass, you cannot play again this round. If your Rage Token is still on the Polite side, you may flip it to the Rage side and place it on a card that has been previously played this round by another player that doesn’t have a token on it. At the end of the round, take that card into your hand. Your Rage Token stays on the Rage side, however, and cannot be used again this Day.
When all players except one have passed, the round ends and the player who did not pass leads the next round. If any player runs out of cards in their hand, the Day immediately ends and Scoring Begins.
To score, count the number of cards in your hand. Any player with a Rage Token on the Polite side can discard one card from their hand, at this time. Then players score their hands:
- 0 cards in hand: 0 points
- 1 – 4 cards in hand: 1 point per card
- 5 – 8 cards in hand: 2 points per card
- 9+ cards in hand: 3 points per card
Keep track of those scores and prepare to start a new day by shuffling all cards back into the deck and dealing a new hand of 13 cards. All players also flip their Rage Token to the Polite side. Play 5 Days, and the player with the lowest total score after the 5th Day wins!
To shake things up a bit, you can also play with an Advanced Variant. Each Day, the lead player looks at their hand and chooses clockwise or counterclockwise. After looking at their hands, each player (including the lead) selects a card and passes it in that direction before starting the Day.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t many, for this one. The major thing is that more players will generally increase the average value of a play, since there are more people throwing cards in. This may lead to more passing happening (if a player throws the highest-value play early in a round), or if the cards work out it may lead to smoother rounds. Card variance happens; it’s why random deals are random. The only real thing to watch out for at higher player counts is that there’s a slightly higher possibility of a player swooping the card that you wanted to take with your Rage with their Rage, only because there are more players in play. There are more cards in play, as well, so assuming that players aren’t playing totally adversarially (and how could they if they don’t know your cards?), they will probably pick a different card, but it’s just worth keeping an eye on and being prepared for. Beyond that, I wouldn’t expect many player count differences to emerge. I may slightly preference away from 6, but I’m not currently sure if that’s me being skittish about larger groups or just the extra time required to play 5 Days where any of 6 players could potentially go out. I don’t really see a way in which the player count is going to drastically alter the game, however, so that’s a soft recommendation, if any recommendation at all.
- I generally recommend holding on to a Rainbow Bomb, if you have one in your starting hand. They’re a very useful way to get yourself out of a bind! That said, you can also get outplayed on a Rainbow Bomb by a higher-value Rainbow Bomb, so be careful on those. Generally, waiting for a while on a Rainbow Bomb can help you take control of the momentum of a round, though, so keeping one until you need it might be helpful! Then, once you’re in control, you can strike back and make a bunch of plays that other players might not be able to beat or match. It’s pretty useful to have.
- Raging to get a fifth card for your five-of-a-kind can be very good! Being able to pick up the card that you absolutely need is generally what the Rage is for. Keep an eye out for which cards players are playing! You may not even go for the five-of-a-kind! I actually tend to use my Rage for completing a Rainbow Bomb, since, see previous bullet. I just like having one around. That said, the Rage token is useful for completing all kinds of plays, so, figuring out what you need in the moment can be critical for getting rid of your hand.
- Just be careful! Raging also gives you an extra card in your hand, which may not prove to be beneficial at the end of the round. Rage is a double-edged sword. If you take a card and then a player ends the round, well, now you’re stuck with more points. Worst-case, you’ve moved into overtime and now take even more points. Less good! Plus, if you manage to keep your cool the entire time, you can discard a card from your hand and potentially get out of overtime. Your goal is always to run out of cards, so, sometimes it’s going to be Raging and completing a play and other times it’s going to be waiting until the end of the round.
- Also watch out for big combinations that rely on playing certain numbers of cards; they may not pay off if your opponents don’t lead with that number. This is kind of the big one. Even if you complete that 5-card perfect play, it’s completely possible that your opponents might not play another 5-card play. As a result, you might get stuck with a perfect play that is … unplayable. You can choose the number of cards in the play when it’s your turn to start, but if you don’t get to start the most you can do is react. Keep in mind that holding on to these big plays may not work out in the way you’d hope. Sometimes the best thing you can do is split that play up so that you can reduce the number of cards in your hand.
- Getting rid of low-value singles can be fun, but also a useful way to bait your opponents into potentially messing up their larger plays. If your opponents aren’t paying attention, you might be able to throw a card that tricks them into breaking up a play they’ve been saving. Once you’ve done that, if you can push your bigger play, they may not be able to properly respond. That’s good for you! Terrible for them, but definitely good for you.
- Keeping an eye on your opponents’ hands can be helpful in determining what play you should make next. Particularly, keep an eye on how many cards that they have. If they have two cards left in their hand, you know that they can’t beat a three-card play. So make one! Similarly, if you need to burn through a few high-value cards, you know that nothing can beat a 13, and once the 13 is out, nothing can beat the 12, and so on. It’s a good move, though I’ll freely admit that it’s annoying when it happens to you.
- The suitless cards are great to hold on to if you needed to win a single-card play. They’re also good to rage, if you want to make sure you can win the next one. They pretty much shut down any other single-card plays, and there’s not much that can be done against them. It’s potentially useful to try and rage one just so you can set up one of those bigger plays I mentioned earlier. The fun of this game is that you need to be flexible about what you rage and when!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I’m glad that, on the whole, licensed games have been consistently improving to the point where they’re legitimately fun games in their own right, not just cash grabs for IPs. I think this is more of a holdover opinion from video gaming, where bad IP games were once so prolific that they literally destroyed the video game market. Thankfully, that’s really not the case in board gaming (at least, depending on your viewpoints on some games) anymore. I think there’s still a lot of value in having IPs that can be adapted to games as it can draw in a new audience, but a lot of these games are still quite fun for players that may be unfamiliar with the IP that the game references. Just a generally positive thing. I think Oni Press has largely been pushing out games that are friendly to new gamers with engaging themes based around IPs that they have access to, as well. I thought Tea Dragon Society was very pleasant.
- This is a very good introduction to ladder-climbing, for players who are unfamiliar with it. Aggretsuko is a nice and clean ladder-climbing game with minimal rules bloat. While I enjoy the rules bloat in some games for the additional complexity, streamlining here works for the audience that I think this game is targeting. I’d probably use this as a decent teaching tool for ladder-climbing before we got into more complex games. Certainly before teaching something like Custom Heroes.
- The art is very bright and colorful, which makes the game feel inviting. It’s a very fun and very neon-y color scheme, which I think works well. Brightly-colored cards always make the game feel a bit more interesting to me, unless there’s a good thematic reason to make the cards more muted. Solid graphic design can go a long way for your card game. There’s also the fun Easter egg that Retsuko has unique art for multiple cards, as opposed to other characters who all have the same art, regardless of suit. It’s a fun little thing to have in the game, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
- The Rage mechanic is solid! Reminds me of Scout. Scout allows you to take a card each round, but you can only pull from the previous player’s hand. Aggretsuko has a slight advantage on Scout in that you can pull from anyone’s hand (and everyone passing doesn’t end the Day), so the “rounds” last longer and one player always goes out, which I appreciate. I think it’s also easy for players to grasp, since they can only rage up to 5 times in one game. They don’t have to constantly think about it.
- Decently quick game, which is also nice. For a card game, this is about the right timing spot to target (and the game always only takes 5 Days). Your turns aren’t that long, the Days aren’t that long, and the entire game plays pretty quickly as a result.
- Pretty portable, as well. It’s just cards and six tokens. If the tokens would cause you problems, you can legitimately just not take the tokens when you travel with it. When I pack a travel case of games, I usually throw in some required tokens or tokens from other games and just use those as generics for the various games I brought. It mostly works out fine?
- Ludonarratively, there’s not really a connection between the ladder-climbing mechanics and Aggretsuko’s narrative, but that’s also fine. That’s … themed card games, sometimes. A lot of deckbuilders based on IPs have nothing to connect them, either. This is kind of the one hazard of even a good IP game, in that it can be challenging to make sure that the game mechanically connects to the content you’re using. There are some great examples (Unmatched, in particular, does a good job here) and some less good examples. I’m not terribly bothered by the
- It feels odd to aggressively punish players who had more cards in their hands at the end of the round. It’s just how the game goes, but whew does it feel bad for a player who’s struggling in the round to get stuck taking the highest penalty possible for having too many cards. It’s a smooth deterrent, but it can also really knock you out of the game early if you have a bad first round. Not really suggesting that it needs to be changed, just something worth warning players about. If you take like, 27 points in the first round, you’re going to have a bad time in the subsequent four.
- Black card backs tend to show signs of wear pretty quickly. If you’re going to be playing this one a lot, you might want to sleeve the cards. They should fit normally, but they’ll definitely fit if you get rid of the insert.
- Given that players have to keep track of complex scores between multiple Days, having some kind of score token or scoresheet would be ideal. I whined about this in a few reviews, oddly enough, but it’s a bit odd, for me. I usually don’t care about scoresheets and I think they’re largely silly when they’re being used to tally the scores for short games. That said, if they’re being used to tally scores between Days for this game, I think having one would be helpful. As it stands, I just use BGStats to keep track, but I would prefer having something more explicit. Plus, they can occasionally be thematic and fun.
- It would be helpful if the rulebook explicitly noted that a Rainbow Bomb can also beat five-card plays. I think it’s the way that the reference cards are designed. A Rainbow Bomb is put at the bottom of the “normal plays” and then the “five-card plays” are below that. This makes it seem that a 5-card play is better than a Rainbow Bomb, or that it cannot be beaten by a Rainbow Bomb, and I wish the rulebook did a better job clarifying this point more explicitly. It just helps avoid edge cases.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Aggretsuko: Work / Rage Balance! Renegade and Oni Press have done well introducing simple versions of more complex game mechanics (deckbuilding with Tea Dragon Society, trick-taking with Gudetama, and ladder-climbing with Aggretsuko). It’s actually a pretty brilliant way to do that. These game themes are engaging, and they tend to have great art, colorful graphic design, and / or widely recognizable IPs. Taking that and using it to teach players some of the more complex and challenging game mechanics via simplified, streamlined rules that are still fun is a very good strategy for widening the base of folks interested in games. I feel like I could teach these three games to just about anyone and they would work well, and I could play these games with experienced gamers and still have a good time, too. That’s a tough niche to hit, and they’ve been hitting it pretty consistently. I’d probably still use Abandon All Artichokes as my deckbuilding teaching game, but, it is never a bad thing to have alternatives for folks that might find one theme resonating with them over others. Never a bad thing at all. To get to Aggretsuko in particular, I like that the ladder-climbing is simplified by requiring players to always stick to one number of cards, rather than futzing with when to increase the size of the play (as you will in other ladder-climbing games). I also think that Aggretsuko looks great; the graphic design is, as I’ve come to kind of expect, very clean, and the cards are bold and colorful. I think this whole line of games is doing well for the hobby by making these complex topics more approachable, and I really love them for that. I think, if I’m being honest, my favorite ladder-climbing games are still going to be a bit more complex than what we’re seeing here, but Aggretsuko has the makings of a solid ladder-climbing title. I particularly think that the Rage mechanic elevates the game, as it starts forcing players to think about how to strategize in their future rounds. Do I take a card now to complete a play I may not get to make? Or do I hold off and hope that, even if I can’t win the Day, I can still discard a card and cut my losses? It’s a challenging trade-off to conceptualize, but forcing players to do so starts prepping them for ladder-climbing as a genre. And that’s great! I’ve really enjoyed getting to play Aggretsuko: Work / Rage Balance, and if you’re looking for a solid introduction to ladder-climbing (or you just really like Sanrio; I’m not here to judge), I’d recommend checking this one out!