Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 28 June 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Symphony No. 9

Game: Symphony No. 9

Publisher: Moaideas Game Design

Designer: Frank Liu, Hung-Yang Shen

Year: 2018

Board games that feed off people's outside interests are a type of theming that has great power within our hobby. Whilst your friend might see playing as orcs and wizards as a geeky pursuit, you might be able to bring a game of Symphony No. 9 to a classical musician friend and make a gaming partner for life.

In Symphony No. 9 you are a patron of the arts, sponsoring different famous classical composers to obtain their finest works. Will you work them to death and hold on to their final masterpiece? Or will you have to sell your belongings to provide for their talents? You might choose to invest in a musician who is more famous in death than in life and get a handsome return, or perhaps you're more contemporary in your choices, looking for a quick return.


Symphony No. 9  is a competitive, economic game for 2-4 players, played over 6 rounds. Each round will consist of 2 main phases. During the first phase you will pledge your support to the notable musicians of the time in the hope that they will reward you with their newest music. Secondly you will take their music and use it to perform a grand performance, vying with other donors to try and make sure that your favourite musicians get the spotlight.

During the first phase players will take turns taking 2 influence cubes from the central board. Then every player twice will be given the chance to buy more for currency. At the end of this phase the player with the most of each colour of cube will be rewarded with a piece of sheet music for that musician (which unlocks end-game scoring mechanics) at the cost of some of your influence cubes.

During the second round players will bid money in order to perform a concert. The musicians will be ranked based on their current popularity (which varies throughout the musician's life as you remove influence cubes) and then each player will secretly choose an amount of money to bid. Once everyone has bid a concert will be held so long as the sum of all the money falls within the low, medium or high bands. If too little money is donated to reach any of these bands then the person who donated the least will be punished as the concert fails. If too much is donated then the peasants will rebel and punish the player who donated the most money. However, should the amount of money fall into one of the 3 bands then all players will earn money for each cube they own of the musicians currently in that popularity band. You will then also lose one cube of each musician that paid out and give a reward to the player who donated the most cash.

After a concert the first player token swaps round and the influence round begins anew. At the end of the game you will score points for each musician you own sheet music from (with higher rewards for owning more) based on their unique scoring mechanism, and then earn some extra points for owning music of any dead musicians (which happens should they run out of influence cubes), money left over, and further bonuses if you still own your furniture (which can be traded in for emergency funds). At the end of the game the player with the most points wins.

Amy’s Final thoughts

I can honestly say I've never played something like Symphony No. 9 before, is it an auction game? No, but it certainly has blind bidding as a major mechanic. The difference is it's not always the highest bidder who gets the reward, it's perfectly possibly that you bid the most money, but then the other players bid unpredictably and the musicians you have cubes for don't pay out. Suddenly you are penniless and everyone else is laughing. The process of choosing influence cubes in the first phase may be simple, but the decisions are anything but. Is it worth spending the extra money to buy the first bonus cube? or the second? Which musicians do you favour, is it worth investing in one because you know other people have which means it's a near guaranteed payout at the concert, or do you want to pick up the music of the less popular musicians. Popularity is often dictated by the power of the end game scoring you unlock from them, not all musicians are equal in value and that fuels the gameplay.

Symphony No. 9's 2-player mode is the all too familiar artificial third player. This isn't my favourite 2-player variant, but there is no denying it is functional. The artificial player here plays quickly and smoothly, and does a reasonable job of imitating a player. Unfortunately they imitate a player with infinite money, which can result in them being a little powerful. Every round a player gets 2-4 cubes depending how much cash they want to spend (3 cubes being very typical), but the artificial 3rd player will always get 4 cubes which means that over time they tend to creep ahead. This in no-way breaks the game, but it does altar the balance and can lead to a little frustration.

But that really is the biggest flaw in Symphony No. 9, and if you tend to play 3/4 players then it's not there at all. Moaideas have managed to bring a fresh take on some classic mechanics and combine them in an extremely clever way. The theme may not be all encompassing, but it's certainly present enough to make itself felt, from the way that the popularity of composers mirrors their real life trends, or the fact that overworking a composer can lead to their early demise. Overall Symphony No. 9 is a fantastic game and well worth checking out!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Symphony No. 9 is a unique game. It has very clever mechanisms involving quite heavy economic strategies as well as some bidding and reading of other players. There's real moments of tugs of war as you try and gain a piece of music from a specific composer that weaves in well with your end of game point strategy. The different ways to score end game points are a huge factor in the game, and whilst some do feel stronger than others, the specific combinations have the power to make each game feel different. The other big variable between games is whether you get into  a situation where all players have money, some players have money or everyone is poor. It doesn't take a lot to tip the balance one way or another, and reading other players' financial situation can be a great tactical move.

I'll admit that, I was looking for a game about composing music when I went into Symphony No. 9 and I was surprised that I got more of an economic game about investing in composers and making money from their successful performances. Whilst Symphony No. 9 is not really a thematic game, it does make an effort to be historically accurate - I really like how the popularity of each composer's music is tied to the period of their life and reflects their real life popularity.

Symphony No. 9 is absolutely the kind of game we would love to keep in our collection because it's quite different from most games we own and also packs a lot of game into a 40 minute time slot. The one thing holding us back is the fiddliness of the two-player variant, which certainly works, but can cause a lot of tension during the game, that would be there less so with three human players, rather than the third player AI. However, if you're keen to try a medium weight economic game, with some really crunchy moments and a unique theme, then definitely check out Symphony No. 9.

You Might Like...
  • Symphony No. 9 is quick, but also quite a deep economic game.
  • There are a number of different element that cause each game to be different.
  • Player interaction is a huge part of the game, but it's not the kind of economic negotiation that we would typically shy away from.
You Might Not Like...
  • If you don't like the 'dummy player' style of two-player variants then Symphony No. 9 shouldn't be your pick for a two-player game.
  • If you're looking for a theme about music and composing, rather than economics and composers then this one might not quite be a fit.

The Verdict
7/10 Symphony No. 9 feels like a very fresh new game. It has a really interesting combination of economics and some blind bidding that create a really interactive player experience, whilst still having the focus and objectives that keep us interested in the game on a strategic level. It might not be for everyone at two players, but for a three or four player game, Symphony No. 9 is a real treat and something a little different for a game night.

Symphony No. 9 was a review copy kindly provided to us by Moaideas Game Design.

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