Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present a review from one of our newest members of the Krewe de Gumbo, Jay Bell! Jay is a game designer and graphic designer living (for now!) in Lafayette, and is our town’s foremost Potion Explosion player. But, Jay is originally from The Big Easy, so I could not think of anyone better to review Big Easy Busking than Jay! Here are his thoughts on the game. You can reach him on Twitter @TheJayBell or find out more information about him at his design page, Clover Spark.
TLDR: Your first sit down with this one might feel a bit overwhelming, but don’t let the vibrant colors and vast iconography scare you. Big Easy Busking is a really simple and fun area control game that is thematic, engaging, and challenging. The gameplay is great, and the art is even more captivating.
I recently got a chance to play Big Easy Busking, designed by Joshua Mills and published by Weird Giraffe Games. Thematically, this one pulled me in immediately. Players get to experience the musical pursuits of street Buskers in New Orleans, AKA The Big Easy. The game focuses on area control, but also has some resource management involved.
First, I’ll talk about the presentation, aesthetic, and art. I was pleasantly surprised by the conscious production offering a “bonus fluffin” game chip. It serves no purpose in game play, but it utilizes otherwise wasted space on the die-cut pattern. This small “gift” made me feel good when popping out pieces. It’s a well done extra touch. Another additive is the Spotify playlist created for the game. It bolsters the theme with true Louisiana jazz to help set the mood while playing.
The color palette is extremely fitting for the theme and works for color deficient gamers. The art by Andrew Thompson and Katy Grierson perfectly illustrates the soul of NOLA. As a native to the Crescent City (yet another moniker of New Orleans), I can say with certainty that the art well represents all of New Orleans’ rhythmic and lively essence. The representation is also appropriate. The genders, ethnicities, and fashion styles of the characters speak true to NOLA.
The iconography is just slightly overwhelming initially, but after the first playthrough, everything feels clear and concise. The three types of song cards (Hit Songs, Ability Songs, and Regular Songs) are only distinguishable through their different borders or lower panel coloring, which can be easy to overlook in some cases. But otherwise, the table presence is spectacular.
Gameplay consists of players using their Hit Songs or songs they learn/purchase from the market to play at the locations shown each round. Matching the icon on your song (heart, mask, beads, or the wildcard Fleur de Lis) offers a bonus reward. I kept forgetting to claim the bonus, though. In the thick of the game, I think it’s easy to overlook that important element. Each player has a jazz band trio that’s hoping to control locations, therefore earning money, but has limited energy (resource cubes) per band member. Using the energy well is crucial to victory.
You’re presented with tough choices: playing songs that match the mood of a venue, learning more songs in order to outlast your opponents, tipping band members to replenish their energy, and much more. Weighing opportunity cost is important, but even with all of the options, analysis paralysis doesn’t really happen. Turns are structured to help mitigate that (as much as it can be.) Turns also tend to be pretty quick, keeping down-time to a minimum.
I really like the way the point system is structured. It can cater to both highly competitive gamers or gateway/casual gamers. Each venue offers a reward to any/every player that meets a listed minimum. This is nice, because it allows players to earn points without interference. Each venue also offers a larger reward for the player/band that leaves the most energy cubes at the venue, creating a competitive and strategic tension for those who enjoy it. There are enough venues in each round that you don’t have to compete if you don’t really want to, but it can be a lot of fun.
There are tons of strategies to explore in Big Easy Buskers, and the solo mode offers different types of AIs to play against, who used those different strategies. It’s interesting that as you play the solo mode you’re learning how to hone a strategy for your next PvP, and how no one strategy earns victory more easily than another.
There’s lots of replayability with different venues and mood combinations, various Ability Songs that change each game, and different ways to feel out the other players and outplay their bands.
Overall, I really enjoyed Big Easy Busking. I think it’s beautifully done, both visually and mechanically. The rulebook language is tricky on the first read, but once you get a game in, everything is easily grasped. I love the versatility of when you can bring this one to the tabletop. Pull it out for a casual game night with the family, a quick competitive match to warm up some hobbyists, or even when you want a challenging solo match. Big Easy Buskers has a rhythm that will get your brain burning and your butt moving.
— Jay Bell @TheJayBell