Full disclosure: A preview copy of Junk Drawer was provided by Winsmith 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.
Gotta get some Kickstarters out before Gen Con! Two for two, between last week and this week! I enjoy the odd preview, but I’m always excited to share new and upcoming games with y’all! Seeing how games change between preview and fulfillment is a great time. One of my favorite things about board gaming! So, to continue that grind, our friends at Winsmith Games have sent me Junk Drawer to check out! I made myself organize my junk drawer last year, and I’m enamored with it, so let’s see how the game compares to that feeling! Spoiler alert, it only compares a little bit; the junk drawer in my house I organized is one of the things that has made me the happiest in the last few years. Yes, it’s weird; no, I will not be taking questions at this time.
In Junk Drawer, you’ve just got … stuff. You need to organize it! However, just organizing it one way probably won’t solve your problems, so why not try four ways of organizing? Break your drawer into quadrants and organize them by scoring those quadrants four different ways! Exciting times. Everyone starts with the same junk, so may the best organizer win! Will it be you?
Simple enough to start. Give each player a board:
Then, give them a set of items:
Now, set out the Goals Board in the center of the play area:
There are three types of goals: Easy, Medium, and Hard. Start with some Easy Goals, but you can, if you want, shuffle them, placing one in each of the four quadrants of the Goals Board:
Shuffle the Item Cards, placing four face-up below the Goals Board:
Set the score board nearby, as well:
You should be ready to start!
A game of Junk Drawer is all about organization! Over the course of several turns, you’ll add items to the drawer and try to score points via various goals. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!
A round is made up of four turns. On a given turn, reveal the leftmost unrevealed Item Card. All players must add that item to one of the four quadrants of their board, with one caveat: they must add the item to a location that they have not added an item to this round. Note that items cannot cover each other or extend outside of the bounds of the quadrant.
Once all four cards have been revealed, discard them and place four new cards face-down in the center of the play area; a new round starts!
If, during any turn, you are unable to place the current item in any available quadrants, you’re done placing items for the rest of the game! You’ll wait for the other players to stop being able to place items, as well. If you, somehow, manage to place all 21 items, you’re done placing items again.
After all players are done placing items, tally scores for each of the four quadrants. Add the points up and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Explicitly none, here. With Junk Drawer, similar to NMBR 9 and other games like it, you’re essentially just playing a solo game with multiple players, trying to get the highest overall score. There’s no player interaction whatsoever, with this one. The only major constraint is that it’s challenging to play Junk Drawer with four players, given the small table I have for photography purposes, but that’s not really a gameplay issue as much as it is a space issue. Something about California real estate. I suppose that, given the spatial reasoning parts of the game, more players increases the odds of a player taking a while to make a decision on their turn, but that depends on your group, to some degree. I wouldn’t say that I have a strong preference on player count, for this one.
- Your strategy is going to depend a lot on what Goals are in play. There are a lot of different Goals! This is why this section is a bit on the shorter side. There’s a lot to consider. Make sure you understand the Goals prior to playing, and look at the scoring examples! There are a lot of different goals with their own challenges and quirks.
- Keep in mind what pieces you have remaining, since you’ll have to add a piece to each quadrant each round. The interesting tension here is that you don’t know exactly what piece will be called up when, and this might mean that you get the perfectly worst possible piece that you’re forced to place in the last quadrant of the round. That’s not ideal, but it definitely does happen. So prepare for it! Try to get rid of that piece elsewhere or try to place in that quadrant beforehand or just hope that you don’t get screwed by a bad card draw. That last part might not be strategy.
- Try to plan a bit ahead, if you can, as well. You should, depending on the quadrant and the goal, try to be either placing to maximize or minimize how long you’ll be able to place additional tiles. Planning ahead will also help subvert that issue I mentioned earlier (where you get the worst possible piece), since you might leave some spaces that work for a variety of pieces, rather than just building your drawer hoping you’ll get exactly the pieces you want, when you want them. Wouldn’t that be nice?
- It’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be able to survive the fourth round; plan accordingly. Every game will run out, eventually, and while it’s probably possible to place every tile, I’d be astonished / surprised / deeply impressed if you managed to place all of them and successfully run out the Item Card deck. That, honestly, might even be counter to your goals! But I generally see players drop out between Rounds 3 and 4, so that may be where the game’s reaper comes for you, as well. It’s possible to drop out before then, but you have to wrangle some pretty-specific placements in order to pull that off. More impressive than anything else, really.
- You may have to make a tough call. Sometimes your goals in various quadrants are, effectively, mutually-exclusive, to some degree. A Goal that incentivizes covering squares and one that incentivizes not covering squares means that you really don’t want to be in the position of waiting around for several rounds and you’d rather stay in for as long as possible. You can’t do both. Figure out which one will be easier based on the tiles you’ve already placed and make it work. Trying to do both mediocrely will ultimately just mean that you miss out on doing either really well, which may mean fewer points in the long-term.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Very fun theme! I really like home organization as a theme, partially because I’ll sometimes go into a productivity trance and start cleaning everything. It’s nice when it works out! But I also just think there are a lot of fun game ideas with themes around improving the place where you live. And, as mentioned, I really satisfyingly reorganized my junk drawer the other day. I’ll try to link a picture.
- The art style is pleasant as well. It’s cute and messy, as any junk drawer usually is. I appreciate the colors.
- I like how modular the various goals are. They really have nothing to do with each other, which creates interesting challenges for players (and a lot of fun, cool tension). It’s a tough game to do particularly well in without the right mix of strategy and luck. I like that their placement relative to each other can matter, a bit, as well, and how they blend together to create a unique overall challenge every game. Plus, there are some scenarios in the back of the rulebook for some specific sets of goals, which I like.
- A fairly quick game. Unless your players agonize, the goals are simple enough in concept that there aren’t a ton of ways to spin tiles on your turn. As a result, the game moves pretty quickly. It helps that your choices also decrease over the course of the round (since you have fewer open quadrants) and the game (since you have fewer open spaces).
- Very easy to teach, as well. You just draw a tile, place a tile, and try to match the goals. Not much more complicated than that.
- Some of the goals are very challenging, too! Lots of fun, trying to land those. I like that there are levels of difficulty! Having a way to make the game more challenging as players get more experienced is always nice in a game; it helps the game grow with the players, which I really like.
- I also like that you’re compelled to play one item in each quadrant per round; there’s a nice mix of risk and reward with each decision. Limiting your subsequent moves is a little brilliant, since now you’re always asking yourself if you think you’ll get a better item later in the round, or you’re risking getting stuck with whatever the final item is in your last, unfilled quadrant. These mini-decisions can have far-reaching consequences, and I think that’s a lot of fun.
- The game is pretty precarious since so many challenges have you leaving gaps between tiles, and managing that across four possible play areas makes me worry about jostling the game and knocking my whole playable area out. There’s not much to be done about that short of making things magnetic or having little locks (or a double-layered board), but it’s something that I have a mild bit of anxiety about while I play.
- It would also be nice if the Item Cards showed the outline of the shape, rather than just the object itself; it’s not always clear what the actual shape of the tile you’re grabbing will be. This mostly hurts me because I tend to look at the cards quickly and can’t always recognize the shape that I’m seeing on the card. That said, it’s not the biggest issue. It just seems like a faint outline of the shape would improve my ability to grab the right tile more quickly, which would be nice.
- I’d kind of want to see some level of variant starting conditions; it’s a bit too easy for one player to just replicate the moves of another player (or watch to see what moves are getting made and choose the best one). This popped up a lot when I was playing a two-player game. My housemate and I like to chat while we play, so we’d inevitably end up clocking the other player’s placement early in the game and then, you know, not changing our placement, of course, but for less scrupulous players, there’s a real temptation there, in the early game. Having some way to force players to start with slightly different configurations (even if it’s just placing one button in a different quadrant for each player) would be nice, to prevent players matching perfectly.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Junk Drawer is a solidly fun game! I think that Junk Drawer will appeal most to the folks who enjoy games with low player interaction and a lot of emphasis on strategy, planning, and a bit of luck. There’s a lot to balance there, between keeping a quadrant open to try and get an ideal future placement, and placing poorly on a quadrant to try and knock yourself out of the game before you lose too many potential points. It’s an interesting balance, and I’ll admit that the latter challenge is pretty compelling. I like the modularity of Junk Drawer a lot, just because it’s super cool to see how the various goals interact with and complicate each other. Having a bunch of goals that reward you for staying in or bailing early is easy enough, but figuring out which diametrically-opposed goals you want to shoot for is definitely more complicated. I like the tension that that creates, and I think the game is more interesting for it. My major gripe is that there’s no real way to prevent players just … imitating each other, which isn’t as much of a problem at four as it is at two. There’s a natural desire to see what your opponent is doing, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re trying to copy them, but seeing their move may help you realize a different one is possible, which may lead to them wanting to change it, and so on. I’d be interested to see if there are some sorts of variable starting conditions that would make that less frustrating, but that also changes a lot of the game. To be fair, NMBR 9, a game that I quite enjoy, has this problem, as well (though a mini-expansion that adds variable starting blocks exists, specifically for this reason), so it’s tough to get around. But if you’re a fan of strategic tile-laying, you’ll likely see something in Junk Drawer that is entertaining, challenging, and compelling, as well. If that sounds up your alley, I’d recommend Junk Drawer! It lands on Kickstarter soon.
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