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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Wednesday 4 November 2020

4G or not 4G, That is the Question:- Smartphone Inc

Game: Smartphone Inc

Publisher: Arcane Wonders & Cosmodrone Games

Designer:  Ivan Lashin

Year: 2018

Smartphone Inc is an economic game for 1-5 players in which you take on the role of multinational companies designing the bleeding edge of mobile phone technology. Each round you'll decide how to run your company with a mix of making goods, getting higher quality materials, R&D and setting up distribution in new countries. Competition is fierce and most people will buy the cheapest phone first, though if you can research new features you can get access to the ought after enthusiast market, to whom price is no issue. Will you price low in order to sell bulk, or tailor to the luxury good market?

 Each round players will start by simultaneously deciding how to focus their company. This is done by overlapping a pair of 2x3 double sided "phone" grids. In addition you can place some 2x1 tiles on top to alter the visible symbols. Once decided each player has committed to the scale and focus of their operations for the round. Firstly players will generate goods and adjust price. Price has two different symbols, one to adjust up and one to adjust down. low priced phones sell first, and give you first choice in future actions, but high priced phones get you more points per sale. Either way you'll need goods, you will gain one good for each good symbol showing and a further good for each overlapping square of your two grids. Each good represents a crate of phones ready to be sold.

Goods in hand, we now turn to R&D, this takes place in two forms, firstly if your factory symbol was showing you can upgrade your factory, gaining a new 2x1 tiles to place over your phone boards in future rounds. There is a market of five to choose from each with a different pair of symbols. Next for each Research symbol you can place out research tokens on the row of technologies. Once a player has put enough tokens down they can replace them with a tower, marking a complete tech. The first player to gain a tech will earn some bonus points, while everyone who has that tech can sell to people who desire it and gain a new special rule. Next up is setting up new shops, this is functionally similarly to tech, with enough tokens needing to be placed in order to build a store and sell in the new area. You can only expand upon the black lines, so you can get a feel for how entrenched certain countries are to your monopoly. Finally it's time to sell phones. Starting with the player with the cheapest phones players can place good cubes out on the board of squares they can sell to. You can sell to a person if you have a shop in their country and either your phone is at the numbered value or lower, or if the person requires a tech you have researched. After all goods cubes are placed players multiply the number of goods sold by their current phone value to get their points for the round. Then each country offers bonus points to the player who sold the most their. This whole process repeats for five rounds before the game ends.
By overlapping your boards you can customise your company. Unused boards still produce 1 good.

Smartphone Inc is a game that feels more complex than it is. It manages this by having easy to pick up mechanics, but having a lot of weight behind the choices you make. The 8 individual phases of a round all flow really well, with several of them naturally merging into one either by being completed by all players simultaneously, or by using the same ruleset as a previous round. This all results in the round having a noticeable feature phase, the culmination of all your work, the goods selling phase. This feels perfect for drawing you into the games economics, which are at heart a form of area control gameplay. However unlike most area control games you don't win simply by having the most stuff in a region. Selling a few luxury goods can score you huge rewards if you are careful about what tech you research and what countries you expand into.

The game has a wonderful feel to it to, the art is simple on the main board and many of the components are multi-use and yet it feels great to play. This is because everything is high quality and evocative of the theme. The research tokens are signal bars, the built shops/technologies are signal towers, the crates of goods... well they're cubes, but what did you expect? All of them are stored in a rectangular clear box with compartments for active and unavailable goods and any earned technology tokens. The board itself is double layers providing slots for all the permanent spaces such as towers and the research bonuses. While the quality of the phones might be variable, the quality of the game is definitely high!
Researching new techs lets you sell to customers who aren't concerned solely by price. but they will still buy a cheaper phone with the same tech!

Smartphone Inc may be the perfect economic game for me. Quick to play at two, with two player rules that don't detract from the core gameplay and yet still manage to shrink the map to encourage competition. Playing at a higher player count doesn't take the usual exponential increase in time as most of the decision making is simultaneous, yet while you may have committed your companies focus there is still enough wiggle room to react to other players, meaning the player interaction feels great. Behind that all you have the core decision of how to focus your phone company and the joy is both aspects can work extremely well. Ultimately Smartphone Inc is a fantastic game which you simply have to try.


Smartphone Inc was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £59.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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