#779 – Pier 1 [Preview]

Base price: $15 for one, $36 for all 3.
1 player.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays:
7

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Pier 1 was provided by Sunrise Tornado Game Studio. 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. 

So this is really Ta-Te’s month. He’s decided to release three new games on Kickstarter on the 23rd, and given my ongoing No Two Games From The Same Publisher In A Week pseudo-rule, that means that I am knocking out three reviews in the next three weeks! This will be the first of what he’s calling the Sunrise Market games, and I’m always excited to see what’s going on with these. So let’s check out Pier 1! It’s a solo puzzle game that’s part of the Cat Sudoku series.

In Pier 1, you’re building a beautiful coastal pier with the help of your local cat vendors. As you build up, you’re trying to make your various rows and aisles unique and avoid repeating too often. To help you out, you have inspectors trying to grade you on your performance during pier construction, but they really don’t like mice. No matter how cute they are! It’s a real shame. Slide around your vendor stands in your quest to greatness, and puzzle out what you can. Will you end up being peerless or pierless?

Contents

Setup

So first, you’re gonna want to prep the cards:

This depends on your game mode:

  • First game: Use all cards numbered 1 – 6 only.
  • Level 1 – Numbers: Use all cards numbered 1 – 8 only.
  • Level 2 – Rodents: Use all cards numbered 1 – 6 and the Rodent Set. The Rodent Set includes 3 Momo cards and 2 Vacant Booths.
  • Level 3 – Pier Master: Use every card! You’ll create a deck of 24 cards, leaving the rest out of the game.

Once you’ve done that, take 8 cards from the deck and make a face-up 3×3 grid, leaving the center empty, like so:

Place 5 Inspector Meeples near the play area. They’re standard meeples. Place the Scoreboard down, and place a score token on 0.

Place an Inspection Token to the left of each of the fish on the Scoreboard.

Place one on the 0 on the score track, as well. You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

This one’s not too bad! You have until the deck runs out to build the purrfect pier, scoring points as various inspectors come your way. A round takes place over three phases, so let’s go through each!

Build

Every round, you build! Draw a new card and place it adjacent to any other card in the pier. Then, shift all cards in the direction of that card by one space (including the card you just placed). If there is a gap between cards, that gap should be reduced or closed by your movement, and the cards beyond the gap are not moved.

Find Momo (Optional)

Editor’s Note: I am obliged to quote the rules, here, which state “it is unlawful to harm Momo in Cat Sudoku series games”.

Momo are mice that have gotten lost in Pier 1, and you need to rescue them so that they can return home! If the cards you pushed during the Build Phase include a vendor (red or blue) card and an adjacent, matching-color Momo (currently, all Momos are on red cards, but the rules imply that that could change), then you can remove the Momo from the board and return it home. Set it aside until the end of the game, and do not fill the hole that it left, this round. It creates an empty space.

Inspect (Optional)

To Inspect, place a meeple at the intersection of any row and column (the row or column can be length / height 1, if need be). Then, check to see if the row can be scored:

A row can only be scored if:

  • Momo is not in the row.
  • An inspector is not in the row.
  • Every number in the row is unique.
  • There are at least three connected (orthogonally adjacent) cards in the row, and strictly more red cards than blue cards.

If so, score the row by moving the token on the scoreboard corresponding to the number of cards in that row one space to the right. There are a few special spaces on the board:

  • +1: You immediately gain 1 point. Move your scoring token up one space on the score track.
  • Recycle Symbol: Return the token to the space on the far left of the scoring track; immediately gain 1 point.
  • Up Arrow: Instead of moving this token onto the up arrow space, move the token on the track above this track right one space. This can happen multiple times, if the 5 and 6 both would be moved onto the up arrow.
  • Other numbers: These will be scored at the end of the game.

If the scoring row is exclusively red cards, score it a second time.

Once you have finished scoring the row, score the column in the same way (as though it were a row). The double scoring can also apply, if the column is exclusively red cards.

End of Game

If, at the start of a turn, there are no cards left in the draw deck, the game ends. Proceed to the Final Inspection.

Player Count Differences

None! It’s a solo game only.

Strategy

  • Going for a bunch of 3-/4-card rows and columns is easy, but it isn’t going to score you many points very quickly. The big problem here is that every score is sort of just … one point. Even if you’re getting double row and double column, that’s maybe … 4ish points? Not counting the space that increments the 5-card row, at least. That’s a decent number of points, especially counting the Final Inspection, but it’s not necessarily going to be anything to write home about. You’ll want to boost some of the larger rows as well, if you can.
  • You do want at least one big play where a big row or column is entirely red. That can be worth a ton of points if you play it right, especially if you have a 7-card row that’s entirely red and double up, there. That can be huge! That said, it requires a fair bit of good fortune to set up, since a 7-card entirely-red row or column basically needs every type of red number in play with no incidents.
  • You can try to do a conveyor belt-style approach where you gradually move inspectors away from your main play area. Once an inspector has scored an area, just gently push them out and place a new one in the same spot! You can do that to gradually increase the value of a row or column as it gets longer. Just keep in mind that the inspectors cannot score a row or column with an inspector in it already, so if you want to score both you’re going to have to shift them diagonally over at least a couple of turns. And you will want to get them completely out of the way; scoring only one row or one column isn’t amazing (though it’s better than scoring nothing).
  • Watch out for matching numbers! They can cause you problems even if they’re not adjacent to each other. Matching numbers in the same row or column block scoring, and worse, at the end of the game they flip over and can break up your rows and columns, preventing some of them from scoring during the Final Inspection! You … really hate to see that. Make sure that you’re pushing matching numbers out of the way, and keeping them at-least-diagonally separated, just like the inspectors! It’s worth being mindful of where they are, since it’ll cost you points if you’re not paying enough attention.
  • Momo can be really helpful for breaking up certain parts of the board that you don’t want to touch. One decent solution to having matching numbers in the same row or column is to slide a Momo between them and then send it home. It will essentially blow a hole in the middle of your board, which while it’ll break up that row or column, it won’t mess with the matching numbers there, which may allow you to pull off some bigger combos without as many worries. It’s a tough strategy to execute on, but if you can get it to pay off, it’s usually pretty helpful!
  • Don’t leave the Momos on the board too long, though! They block scoring. Yeah, Momos also don’t fly with the inspectors. Something about having mice in your stall is kind of … gross? But in-game, they’ll essentially prevent a row or column from scoring and they’ll deduct two points if they’re still there at the end of the game. Neither option is particularly good, so it’s in your best interests to send a Momo home decently quickly once it hits the board, or at the very least once you’ve gotten the Momo into a decent spot.
  • Going for 5 can be a huge boon, especially if you’ve already made progress on higher levels. Essentially, the 5-row and 6-rows’ final space is just a straight up arrow, meaning every time you score another 5- or 6-row, you increment the row above by one. You can use this to make a bunch of progress if you set yourself up for success.
  • Even if you can’t score all five times, make sure you set yourself up for the Final Inspection. The Final Inspection is huge, since it can potentially re-score all of your rows and columns. Make sure that you’re not dealing with broken board segments or matching numbers or other goofy stuff that will cost you points that you kind-of-desperately need.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • It’s a cat game! I like cat games. I think that there need to be more cat games. That’s pretty much all I have to say on this matter. They’re thematically fun, and they open up opportunities for great cat art, which, as it turns out:
  • The art, of course, is great. Kaiami strikes again, to nobody’s surprise. The cards are bright and colorful, the box art is amazing, and the whole thing just looks fun and boisterous and inviting. There are many games that make you want to live in their world, and Pier 1 is no exception.
  • The sliding puzzle here is extremely satisfying. It’s actually got a lot in common with some other games I like, like a hybrid of Dingo’s Dreams and Flash 8. I really like both of those games, as they have both a fun tile puzzle and a fun spatial puzzle to them, which is cool. Pier 1 is another worthy addition to that camp, as it provides a tricky, numbery solo puzzle as opposed to a multiplayer bingoy game or a real-time puzzler. I always like having more puzzle games, to be fair.
  • I really like having to plan when to score so that I don’t block myself too aggressively. I think it’s fun saving a big scoring push for a later turn when you can capitalize on multiple directions, and the planning aspect of it is neat. I am very used to just “score as soon as you are able to do so” and this game definitely punishes players for that mentality. I wouldn’t call that specific part quite as fun, but it’s a good challenge and it’s fun to think about.
  • I appreciate the simplicity of the game’s core loop. It’s sort of a mix of Cat Rescue and Cat Sudoku, which is fitting. Add a card, push a row or column of cards. Your goal is to end up in a pseudoku state (say it out loud; it works better), with none of the same numbers in the same row or column. I think it’s clever, and it doesn’t take a ton of work to figure out the basics. Scoring can be a bit more challenging, but even then it’s just “do you qualify? If so, increment along the score track for your row or column number”. It’s figuring out whether or not you qualify that can be the trickiest part of the game.
  • The variants do a good job slowly ramping up the game’s complexity. The First Game mode is very simple, which is great, and the Pier Master mode is a good level of complexity. I actually really like the learning curve; every game, I felt like I was making progress and internalizing more and more of the strategy. That’s a tough thing to get right with a lot of games, and I think Pier 1 does.
  • That said, for a simple game, this one can really burn your brain a bit, especially as you start moving numbers into the wrong spots. If you like thinking either about numbers or about tiles, this is a pretty solid pick; I was sitting with my head on the table trying to figure out the right play quite a few times. Granted, I woke up at 5AM this morning and got on a plane, so I’m pretty tired, but I think I’m still valid. It’s a challenging bit of strategy! Probably tougher than the first few Cat Sudoku boards.
  • I’m amused that playtesters found Momo the mouse so cute that the game had to shift from “Exterminate the mice” to “The mice are beautiful friends who must be helped so that they can return to their homes”. This is what I was told, at least. Originally, the game was going to have you snuff out Momo for points, but the big-hearted playtesters fell in love and now have deemed the Momos worthy of eternal protection. I kind of love that, frankly, so I’m here for it. It’s an extremely cute production detail and I’m glad it made it into the final game.
  • I really like that completely red sections score twice. It’s a fun thing to shoot for, and a must for big scoring cycles. It also just feels super rewarding, which is excellent. I like when games have a “big win” condition that results in a bunch of points; it really helps me, the player, feel like I’m making a lot of good progress.

Mehs

  • The general flow of the game is good, but the rulebook could use a few finishing touches. There are a few things that even as of writing I wasn’t sure about. The “score completely red rows and columns twice” was a bit easier to miss than I would have liked, and the other things are what certain cards do, how Final Inspections work, and even how the regular scoring works. It’s generally not a huge deal (I could Reasonably Infer what should happen), but I’d love a rulebook that I didn’t need to get clarifications for.
  • Also hoping the scoreboard will be a bit larger in the final production; the current inspection tokens are a bit too large, relatively to the size of the board, and can obscure some elements. They gently obscure what’s on the board, which slows down my play a bit. I think it will be improved for the final product, though, so I’m not extremely worried. Hence, a Meh!

Cons

  • Removing cards at random from the Pier Master Variant can introduce a bit of swing to the game, depending on what color / number cards you remove. This isn’t the worst Con, but it’s worth mentioning. Generally, more red cards in a game is good! Easier to score, easier to get big combos, etc. More blue cards are bad. They block scoring. They’re unhelpful. So if you lose 4 red cards, you’re going to have a mildly more difficult game than a player who lost 4 blue cards; that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But inviting that variance means that solo game experiences are somewhat influenced by luck (even more than the luck inherent to shuffling a deck and drawing one card at a time and playing it). The luck elements of this game may annoy some players. I found them fine, but worth at least mentioning as a potential Con.
  • It’s pretty easy to make scoring mistakes without a similarly easy way to catch them. Given the similarities in the cards’ graphic design, it can be hard to immediately notice if you’ve set up a row or column that has two matching numbers in it, which can lead to downstream problems. I’m not really sure how to fix this, but it speaks to one of the harder complexity problems of the game, which is that you really do kind of have to be aware of the entire board state at any given time. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is a thing.

Overall: 8 / 10

Overall, I think Pier 1 is pretty great! The strategic puzzle of the solo game is actually pretty appealing, to me, and it helps quite a bit that the game is also super easy to set up, tear down, and get played. Generally, I like sliding puzzle games a lot, and combining it with a Sudoku-style setup where you need to keep the tiles numerically distinct is cool! Ta-Te did well, here. It feels like a different type of Cat Sudoku game, but I understand why it’s a Cat Sudoku series game. Pier 1 also has a nice set of variants! I learned how to play the game pretty well, and now I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the core loop. It didn’t take that long, either; maybe an hour or so? I got a bunch of games in. Nice, short game. The art is also very nice! I’m hoping the final version of the game has fully polished the rulebook, as I had to ask some clarifying questions about a few things, but most of my assumptions starting out were accurate. The two issues I ran into vexed me a bit, though. One is that that it’s decently easy to make scoring mistakes without a similarly easy way to check them. You have to check before you score, and being thorough about it, while helpful, can occasionally slow your turn down. The other issue I have isn’t as bad; the Pier Master variant has you randomly remove cards from the game, which can introduce a bit of swing, depending on which card you remove. Both aren’t the worst things in the world, so the various things I like about this game (the art, the theme, the puzzle) definitely win out. I’m enthusiastic about this game as my foray into the Sunrise Market series, though, and if you’re looking for a solid and quick solo puzzler, you like sliding cards or tiles around, or you’re just a big cat fan, I’d recommend checking Pier 1 out!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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