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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Saturday 7 November 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Smartphone Inc

Game: Smartphone Inc

Publisher: Arcane Wonders & Cosmodrone Games

Designer:  Ivan Lashin

Year: 2018

If you were excited about hot new board games in 2018, then you probably heard about Smartphone Inc. Smartphone Inc released in limited quantity at Spiel 2018 and put Cosmodrone Games on the map in terms of board game publishers to keep an eye on. Fortunately, Cosmodrone Games partnered with Arcane Wonders to bring Smartphone to a broader market via Kickstarter and now it's possible for everyone to get their hands on it. Hopefully the same will soon be true for their 2019 release, Aquatica.

As you might expect, we were definitely excited about hot new board games in 2018 and we are fortunate to be friends with someone who was prepared to pay quite a bit of money to get their hands on a copy of Smartphone Inc. We had the chance to try it out a couple of times and really enjoyed it - it really ticked the  right boxes for us as an economic game. However, we haven't touched it since and this recent retail release was an opportunity to see if the game still had that same sparkle or if it has lost its shine now that it's no longer that rare, coveted title!

Smartphone Inc's initial appeal comes from its theme. It's a quite classic economic euro game, but instead of trading grain, or oil or some other commodity that has been used in so many board games before, you're trading in smartphones. Your company can set the value of its phones, give them different features, such as Wifi, 4G, or the ability to make you a hot cup of Nespresso (or whatever that N symbol is actually supposed to mean), and then try to sell them to different countries who are each looking for something different from their phones.
Each turn, all player will use their two player board to select which actions they wish to take. The two player boards need to overlap each other and if you gain more tiles during the game then these also need to be laid so that they're overlapping. Each symbol will then be triggered in the subsequent phases of each round. First the price of your phones will be raised or lowered, then you gain stock, then you can work towards purchasing new features, and then opening up trading routes to a new markets. Being the first to complete many of the actions is important and powering up enough, eg. having enough trucks showing to complete China in single turn, can be very important. Finally, in each round you sell phones, starting with the player with the cheapest phones. The number you can sell is limited by the number of goods you generated during the turn and yo can sell you everyone who can afford your phone, plus sell phones based on their specialist features. Balancing the number of phones you want to sell against the value of phones is key, because your points will be based on number sold, multiplied by value.
Smartphone Inc is amazing test of your optimisation and planning skills. The overlapping boards to select your actions seems unique and almost gimicky, but it really works. There's a lot of choices to be made when you overlap your board and if you misjudge it - raising the price too high so that you can deliver all of your phones because they're too expensive, or not making enough goods to deliver to everywhere you can or to block opponents, then you might as well declare a loss. Even when I feel like you're doing a great job, Amy seems to out smart me. She often goes with higher value phones and seems to do a better job of it! My one downside to the game is the fact that the yellow player (which I must always play) starts with an action that lowers phone value and I always struggle to compete with Amy for phone value.
We had the chance to play with both three and four players when we first tried out Smartphone Inc and that's not where it shines for me. The board because over competitive and started to feel like an area control game - one of my least favourite mechanisms in gaming. Smartphone Inc is at its best for me at two players. It starts to be more of a game that is entirely about your own ability to optimise the puzzle. You're still thinking about the other player, especially at times when turn order is of critical importance, but it's more likely that you'll be your own worst enemy. Smartphone Inc is a crunchy game, but it's quick. Five rounds is not a lot of time, but it feels like the perfect length to get to the point where your phones are a real hot commodity, potentially sold for a high price if your strategy leans that way. For the Yellow Meeple, Smartphone Inc is an 8.5/10 and definitely one to ad to the shelf.

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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