Full disclosure: A preview copy of Fliptown was provided by Write Stuff 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.
Yeehaw! I’ve always wanted to start off a Western-themed game review with that, and now I have. Bucket, listed. I’m pretty sure that’s how you check things off a bucket list, but I’m also coming right up against my bedtime and I have an early day tomorrow, so let’s make this intro stream-of-consciousness a bit brief. Steven Aramini is starting a new company, Write Stuff Games, and wanted to kick it off with one of his titles. To be fair, if I were starting a publishing company, I wouldn’t mind kicking it off with a Steven Aramini title either, so I can at least say the reasoning is sound. The Kickstarter is coming up soon for this one, so allow me to tell you how it plays!
In Fliptown, you’ve got a deck of cards and your dream is to be the most notorious person in the West. This means you might have to do some crime, make your way through some trails, head into town, maybe the mines, but also sometimes … the cemetery? I’m not here to tell you your business, I guess. Do all that and more in this flip-and-write that uses the full 52 cards of a standard playing card deck (and the jokers, depending on your character). There’s also poker, because, I mean, it’s a Western-themed game. Did you think there wouldn’t be? Can you carve out a name for yourself as a legend in the wild, wild West?
Not a ton! If you’re playing solo, things will change a bit, but generally give each player a board:
If players choose to, give them each a starting character:
If not, each player starts with $4 and 2 gold; circle those. With more than one player, use Bounties! Shuffle them and reveal three, each on the “7” side (rather than the “4” side):
Shuffle up the standard cards:
If you’re playing solo, you can also throw in a Cowbot for an extra challenge!
Either way, you’re ready to start!
Fliptown is a flip and write! This means, as is common to the genre, you’re going to be flipping cards and using the results to write on your handy board. Since it’s an old Western, you may want to keep one of the cards up your sleeve for an upcoming poker game each round!
Each of the three rounds contains the same six phases! Let’s go through them.
At the beginning of each round, you’ll take the discard pile and the standard deck of cards and shuffle them together to produce the new deck for this round. Place it within easy reach.
Set Sheriff Card
Take the top card off the deck and set it aside. This is the card that will be used to determine whether or not the Sheriff arrests you at the end of the round. But we’ll get to that later. Just get excited over a potential trip to the slammer.
Take Five Turns
This is, naturally, the crux of the game. Each turn, you’ll reveal three cards off the top of the deck. These cards will each serve one of three purposes: one will be used for its suit (Hearts / Spades / Clubs / Diamonds), one will be used for its value (Ace through King), and the third will be kept for your poker hand; you’ll write its suit and value at the top of your player board. You decide which card goes in which category, and each player decides independently. Then, resolve your suit and value pair by going to the location indicated by your suit card. If you’d rather not visit that location, you can instead go to the Graveyard. Let’s go through each really fast.
Before locking down your suit and value for a turn, you may spend two gold to change your suit to whatever you want, and you can increment or decrement your chosen value by one for each gold you spend. Note that changes to your suit and value do not affect your poker card, and they don’t change the card for anyone else.
- Hearts: The Trail. You may progress along the Trail up to your value. If you skip over a space, cross it out. If you choose to stop, circle that space and gain its bonus. In Town, you can buy a Horse that will add 6 to all subsequent values you take on the Trail. If you circle a space with a suit, you gain an immediate bonus action for that location. On the Trail, the bonus action allows you to choose any spot on the Trail and move to it, crossing out all spaces between where you are and where you stop. Once you’ve moved to a spot on the Trail, you cannot go backwards.
- Spades: The Badlands. On the Badlands, circle the space indicated by your value. You’re robbing that. Flip the top card of the deck; if it is greater than or equal to your value, you rob successfully and gain all indicated rewards. If it’s less than your value, you gain all the Wanted, half the stars, and none of the money. And your opponent (if present) is allowed to laugh. Multiple players doing a robbery on the same turn use different cards (even if they’re robbing the same value). Completing a row in the Badlands earns you the indicated bonus action. In the Badlands, the bonus action allows you to rob any uncircled space. You may not rob the same location twice.
- Diamonds: The Mines. For the Mines, choose a circled location to dig from (starting at the top if you have no circled locations). You then progress one level down, choosing a direction based on your value. You may earn money, Wanted, gold, or other benefits (including bonus actions). In the Mines, the bonus action allows you to take a Mine action with the value of your choice.
- Clubs: The Town. In Town, you visit a location based on your value, which provides a one-time bonus and a variety of other benefits. Unlike other locations, you may visit the same location in Town more than once (but you don’t gain the one-time bonus again). Certain places will ask you to spend money or gold; cross it out when you do. If you gain a bonus action for the Town, you may visit the location of your choice, even if you’ve never been there before.
- The Graveyard. This is where you go when you don’t want to use your suit or your value. Choose a Gravestone, circle it, and gain a Wanted for creepily hanging around the Graveyard. If you have circled two adjacent Gravestones, gain the reward between them (and then cross it out). You can always go to the Graveyard in lieu of taking a standard suit action.
After all players have taken their turn, discard the three cards and reveal three more. Continue this until five turns have been taken.
Resolve Poker Hand
So, on each turn, the card you didn’t pick was placed in your poker hand for that round. This means, after five turns, you have a five-card poker hand of some kind. High Card in Fliptown is worthless, but the other hands score you progressively more points and money at the end of each round. Try for a Royal Flush, if you can!
Pan / Work
Now, you pan for gold and work for money! For each gold pan you have circled, gain one gold. For each hammer you have circled, gain $2.
Sheriff Attempts Arrest
To finish out a round, the Sheriff will try to arrest everyone! It’s ambitious, but hey, that’s their job. Before the Sheriff attempts to arrest everyone, you may each decide independently whether or not you would like to Bribe the Sheriff. If you do, spend 1 Gold per Wanted you currently have. Your Wanted level stays the same, however; this is a one-time deal each round.
If you do not or cannot Bribe, you run the risk of being arrested. To check, flip over the set-aside Sheriff Card. If it is equal to or greater than your Wanted level, you’re not arrested. Otherwise, you are! You must pay a penalty, depending on the round:
- Round 1: $10 or 4 points (Stars)
- Round 2: $14 or 6 points
- Round 3: $18 or 8 points
Aces count as 1s, and Jacks / Queens / Kings count as 11s / 12s / 13s. If you have 14 or more Wanted, you must lose Stars (if you choose not to Bribe the Sheriff), and if you do not have enough money to pay for being arrested, lose Stars. If you run out of Stars, lose as many as you can.
After finishing up this phase, the Sheriff Card is discarded. If finishing the first or second round, begin a new round. Otherwise, the game ends.
End of Game
After three rounds, the game ends! Add up your stars (and calculate your silver stars, now). Also, gain 1 bonus point for every $4 and 1 point for every two gold remaining in your supply. Don’t count spent money or gold, you rascal.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t a ton of major player count differences, though to be fair, that’s partially because the game was originally intended to be a solo game. While I think it’s a blast with more players, you can also see the foundations of the solo game still in place, which means there’s not a lot of situations in which players are actively interacting with (or interfering with) each other, for the most part. The biggest place one player can actively affect others is the Bounties, and even then, it’s just the difference between getting 7 points and getting 4 points. A big deal if one player manages to get every Bounty first, but, if that happens, at a certain point you have to take responsibility for your own business, you know? Beyond that, having multiple players just means that you need to place the cards such that everyone can see them, rather than hoarding them over by your own little player board when you’re playing solo. I wouldn’t say that constitutes a major player count difference, so I’m inclined to give Fliptown the nod at basically any player count. I probably still wouldn’t do 5+, but honestly, I’m still getting used to seeing people in person and that might just be me being skittish. It’s a process.
- If you’re playing with Bounty Cards, focus on the objectives! They’re worth a good number of points. If you can get to each of them first, you can basically put an extra 9 points between yourself and your opponents. Naturally, with more players, that becomes increasingly infeasible, though. At high player counts, expect players to attempt to specialize towards one of the Bounties (and you should as well) so that they can lock it in. Either way, the Bounty Cards are a great way to get points and a good way to organize your strategy (since you will, ostensibly, score more points along the way to earning a Bounty).
- Try to set yourself up for combos. Ideally, you’ll be able to make moves that give you bonus actions, allowing you to take more actions that will potentially give you more bonus actions, and so on. You want to be taking these additional actions so that you can do more, since the more you do, the more points you score. Just be careful, because the more you do, the more Wanted you accrue, as well.
- Getting some early cash or gold can help you afford things that will potentially give you a boost later. It’s nice to have money, generally, in most games (not all), but here, money will help you buy improved tools and weapons, and having additional gold will let you change your suit or your card values. Getting a bit ahead, financially, can open up your options later. Plus, money and gold are worth points if you have a bunch leftover at the end of the game (but gold is worth more!).
- Decreasing your Wanted value can be pretty helpful, depending on your risk-aversion. If you’re not confident that you can avoid getting arrested, it may be worth dropping some Wanted before the Sheriff shows up. You never quite know what card they’ve stored. Towards the end of the game, I usually have enough cash around that it doesn’t matter if I get arrested, but it would be nice to keep the cash and turn it into money rather than wasting it on a bad card flip. Keep in mind that if you have 14+ Wanted, you’re definitely getting arrested, but it may not be worth the 7 points in gold that you’d have to spend to buy yourself out, when you could just spend ~4 points worth of money.
- Hanging out in the Graveyard isn’t ideal, but if you’re going to be spending a lot of time there, might as well invest in the Undertaker and the shovel so you can score some points and avoid getting additional Wanted. Ideally, you’d be making progress in other parts of the board, but if you can’t get that to work for you, the Graveyard is a decent compromise. Plus, you may need to head there for a few things just based on the whims of the Bounty cards. If that happens, taking Wanted every time is a bit of a bummer, so it might be worth prepping in Town with some Graveyard-friendly items. It won’t make you popular, but it might earn you some extra points.
- Don’t skip too many spaces on the Trail. There are a lot of useful spaces along the Trail, especially in terms of bonus money, bonus gold, and bonus actions. If you skip them all to get to the end, you may regret not having opportunities (and you might be stuck with some useless actions towards the end of the game). Remember that you can use bonus actions to go farther, so don’t complete the Trail too quickly (unless you need to for a Bounty).
- Try to set yourself up for success on the Poker Hands! It’s a decent way to get money and points. It can be really hard to predict what cards you’ll end up with (unless you’re playing with the Texas Hold ‘Em Variant, which deals each player two cards in a pocket at the start of each round). I’ve pulled off a Flush before, but I tend to avoid the Badlands anyways, so giving up Spades wasn’t that hard. If you can get a Royal Flush, honestly, you might as well just get to win the game. But earning money and points from poker is a very cheap way to stay on top of things from round to round. If you still need a suit or a card, you can use a few gold to change your remaining cards so you can keep the one you need for poker.
- The Town has a ton of options that can help pretty much any strategy; it’s worth figuring out how to align where you’re going with your overall plan. There are a lot of different things to do there, and they all can help you score points in one way or another. They are also just a bit expensive, so make sure you’ve got cash. I tend to go for the outlaws so that I can get additional cash over the course of the game, but that’s my preference. If you’re scoring points or dropping Wanted or picking up items, try to have a strategy in place that aligns with what you’re doing so you don’t waste time or money.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I love the concept of a flip-and-write you can play with a deck of cards. It’s one of those simple-but-well-executed concepts, and I think it’s really neat! The other games I tend to play have their own specialized decks, but given how many other games you can play with a basic deck of cards, it’s really nice to have a game that prioritizes including that. Plus, this makes for a great solo experience, so Fliptown really has something for everyone.
- I also have a soft spot for Western-themed board games. I just think they’re fun. The art style here is nice, as well, since it’s got that rich orange sunset kind of vibe to it all, but I assume my love of Western-themed games is either some remnant of my dad’s love of Westerns or my own love of Blazing Saddles. Or both? Or maybe it’s that BANG! was one of my first modern board games. No idea, but, I’m always glad to see more games with a Western theme.
- If you’ve got a Western game, you’ve gotta have a poker mechanic. I think it’s cliché, of course, but I like clichés, so, here we are. That all said, it’s pretty (again) well-executed, in Fliptown. The keep X discard Y type of mechanic is always interesting, but forcing players to use the discarded card as part of a longer-term plan adds an extra wrinkle of challenge to it all. It’s very satisfying when that long plan pays off, and disappointing when it leaves you high and dry. But the fun tension of it all is whether or not you bet big or hedge your bets on something that’s guaranteed to give you some money. It’s exciting.
- There’s a lot to do, every turn, which is fun. Tons of choices, especially if you draw cards with different suits. Even if you don’t, the values (and their potentially-modified outcomes) usually provide different enough options that you have a decent amount to consider. Executing whatever you choose to do is usually exciting (especially if you get into a good combo), but even if you don’t you can start building towards one. I never feel like I’m not making progress in Fliptown, which is nice.
- I appreciate that every row of resources is a line of ten; makes it easy to keep track of how many you have of each thing. That’s one of those subtle design things that I appreciate. Once you expect it, you know exactly what to look for, but for the first game I was always double-checking for no reason. Gold, money, Wanted, points; they’re all rows of ten items each, so keeping track is super simple.
- Watching other players get arrested or fail to successfully do a robbery is deeply funny. It’s bad luck, but their loss is your gain. Plus, it’s just … funny when a player fails a check on a card flip, especially if you just passed the same check for the same robbery. It’s a bit mean to laugh, but it happens anyways; it comes with the territory.
- I do really like the solo achievements. They’re distinct enough from the Bounties that both are exciting challenges to go after, but I also just like the idea of solo achievements in solo games. It’s nice to give players something to work towards that isn’t just points.
- There are fun variants, as well! I particularly like the Texas Hold ‘Em Variant, since it gives players more options in the poker game, but that’s just me. Beyond that, there are characters and cowbots and a lot of different ways to play the same core game, which is nice. Giving players options is pretty usually a good thing, and these variants aren’t particularly disruptive, either.
- The Bounty cards help guide players towards objectives in multiplayer games, which is nice. I generally like these kinds of challenge-based objectives, even if I find the racing aspects of them a bit boring. Their mere presence offers players signposts that basically say “I AM A DECENT STRATEGY”, which can be really hard for new players to grasp onto when they’re getting started. Having objective cards allows them to at least align on something, and in pursuit of that objective, they learn the game’s other necessary systems. It’s good scaffolding, from an education standpoint.
- The AI players are called Cowbots; what’s not to love? Not much more to say beyond they make me laugh, so they go in the Pros.
- This isn’t really a complaint about the game, but one of the markers in the preview copy looked like a dry-erase marker (had an eraser and everything) but is definitely a permanent marker. So, whoops. One player board down. This is more funny than anything else, because it looks like a dry-erase marker. It had the eraser and everything. But it did not erase. It just … markered. Every so often, I have a funny story about a preview copy and some disaster (like when Bad Maps smelled really bad) that just … happens, and it ends up in the Mehs, but I always try to make this section not just complaints; just weird observations about the experience of playing the game.
- A bigger player board would make things less practical, but it is a pretty dense player board, so, I do kind of wish it were bigger. I’d love it if everything were spaced out a bit more. The text is pretty small, the board is super dense, and more space would just be … nice. I get that it’s already a pretty big player board, but an even larger one would go a long way.
- I’m not as interested in the character powers? I think I tend to find character powers most compelling when they allow a player to break a rule, rather than just take an extra action or gain a limited benefit. Most of the abilities are single-use, which is a bit of a bummer (and can add stress to my game), and I don’t really feel like they go quite far enough, for me. That’s okay, though; I just tend to play without them.
- You can kind of see how Fliptown was originally designed as a solo game; it’s a lot to explain to another player, but it’s pretty easy to get through the rules yourself. I struggled, a bit, in my first teach-and-play, because there’s a lot to explain around the five major zones of the player board (on top of everything else) and the boards are fairly dense, as I mentioned. Learning it myself was pretty easy, though, just because I could read the rulebook and it flowed pretty well? I think there’s still some remnant of “read it yourself since it’s a solo game” in the rulebook, but I’m not sure how the structure would need to change to better support players teaching.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Fliptown is pretty great. I’ve been a fan of Steven Aramini’s work for a while, and this just adds to it, for me. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for Western-themed games; I find they’re often a bit goofy, and this one plays the Western part pretty straight (save the Cowbots) but in ways I still find delightful. There’s horses, there’s guns, there’s crime, there’s poker, there’s a Sheriff, there’s wanted stars; it’s got all the core elements of a Western-themed game. But I think where Fliptown excels is its core concept: what if you could make a flip-and-write game work with a standard deck of cards? What would that look like? And it’s apparently pretty compelling. It helps that the cards are striking (yet simple) and that the player board looks good, even if I do wish the player board were a bit bigger. There are a lot of good combos and good strategies, and I find myself guided through various elements of the game based on the cards, not just always based around what I think a “good” strategy for the game is. I can’t say “always go Trail” or “always go Mine”, since that’s largely going to be a game-time decision based on what suits pop up more frequently. And I think that’s neat. Even though I’ve gotten a good sense for the game, I feel like there’s a lot more to explore, and I appreciate that this sits nicely beyond the more simple flip-and-writes but is still less complex than the ones that I have tried and found a bit more intimidating. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a bit of a doozy to explain to another player, but I think that’s also in part that it was originally built as a solo game. Still fun to play with more people, though. If you’re looking for a new flip-and-write that’s a bit of a step up in complexity (but not a big one), you’re a fellow fan of Western-themed games, or you just want to think about poker in addition to everything else going on in a game, you’ll likely have something you like in Fliptown! I certainly found it, and I’d definitely recommend this one.
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