The Boss hit the nail on the head. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we play games? For the thrill of starting out with very little resources, but clawing your way up to the top? And when you get there, eyeing that next peak a mile away and wanting to see what the view is from up there?
I’ll wager that the designer of Smartphone Inc. is a Bruce Springsteen fan, but just does not know it yet. The raw power of Darkness On The Edge of Town, with its abandonment of the Wall of Sound for something more electric and intimate, hit music lovers like a ton of bricks. The theme of the song, like the theme of Smartphone Inc., is hope in the face of all despair, but the final act of Smartphone Inc. just may disabuse you of that notion.
Let’s come back a few steps, shall we?
Smartphone Inc. was one of those whispered wonders at Dice Tower Con 2018. It had the prime spot in the ‘hot games’ section, right in the middle, and everybody was talking about it. (Poor Ticket To Ride: London was completely ignored on the way to the table). The table stayed so hot that I did not get a chance to play it then, but as soon as I could, I played a copy shared around through Punchboard Media.
We liked it so much, our local convention, the Southern Board Game Fest, immediately backed the Kickstarter.
And now, Arcane Wonders has picked up Smartphone Inc and its companion expansion, smartly called Status Update 1.1. Designed by Ivan Lashin, with art from Viktor Miller Gausa, it is co-published by Arcane Wonders and Cosmodrome Games.
We previously reviewed the base game, and were very pleased when Arcane Wonders sent us a review copy of their production of the base game and expansion. We’re going to focus on the Status Update 1.1 material, but we will also discuss some elements of the Arcane Wonders’ version of the base game, too.
Smartphone Inc. is originally published by Cosmodrome Games, who has made a name for themselves with sharp productions, like their release of Aquatica. But, the Arcane Wonders version is just over the top. We played extensively the original version, and as you recall from our original review, there were just a couple of issues with the player boxes that held the pieces, and some small quibbles with the review.
I love everything about the production of this new Dice Tower Essentials production. The cover of the box is as far as I can tell the same, but there have been some extensive changes to the player boxes that are super pleasing. The boxes are plastic trays that smartly hold all of the pieces, and have an indention at the top to hold the player cards, fixing another complaint we had about the previous edition.
The Status Update 1.1 expansion comes in a box about half the thickness of the base game, and comes with some new content, too. There’s a new game board, impressively double or even triple layered, that is a much better experience for two or three players, as it is a tight map-based representation of the Americas market.
But, there are lot more additions in the forms of supplemental, small modules that all enhance the playing experience. First, there are new technologies, and some of these even incorporate new mechanisms.
The CEO technologies allow players to each bring out a player mini with their color in the base that can affect the game in ways like the ability to sell more goods where your CEO is focused.
Next, some of the technologies allow you to pick up extra action tiles that don’t count against your normal limit of actions. Having all of these new technologies in the box really mixes things up in terms of keeping the game fresh.
Finally, one of my favorite additions are the goal tiles. During each game, a set number of goal tiles will be drawn from a large and varied stack. These give a dozen points to whoever completes the goal first, bringing that race element into the game. The goals are never difficult to complete but they do require focus, and there have been many games won or lost depending on how well one of us did with these tiles. Plus, they change up the strategy a bit, because one player may veer away from the competing stay high sell less or geaux low sell a ton strategies in order to hit as many of the goals as possible.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
I already liked Smartphone Inc. I already liked it A LOT, so there was a part of me that worried that this new content would bloat the game or make it complex for complexity’s sake. Neither worry came to fruition. I played it with friends. I taught it to my nephews, who dug the game so much that we played it multiple times each night for about a week. At one point, I played this game just about to the exclusion of most of other gaming for about 10 days and even talked about it on Gumbo Live!
With thousands of games to play online, that is a pretty good summary of my review of the game, in that the improvements to Smartphone Inc that are found in the Status Update, at least for me and my nephews, was enough to block out the desire to play almost any other game. Even a month later, I would be ready to tee it up tonight, as I still don’t think I’ve explored the interplay between the CEO and goal tile mechanics enough.
I’ll also have to give a nod to Arcane Wonders’ production in the game. It still looks beautiful, so nothing was changed from that aspect, but the team really tightened up the rules book. We had very little questions during our long fortnight of plays in prepping for the review.
And I have to give a tip of the cap to the design of the two-to-three person board that comes with the update. One of the lowlights of the original game was that it was really not good at two, and not great at three players either. That is changed by this new board. The locations are right next to each, there is a tight fight for the best spots, you get to pick your starting spot, and there is a ton of interaction ramping up already by round two.
I honestly do not have any complaints about Smartphone Inc. and its expansion. Yes, some in our group are turned off by the theme, but not me. I still love the idea of being Big Tech CEOs gunning for each other in the hyper competitive cell phone market. Yes, this game is ultimately a family friendly version of an economic simulation game, so if that is not your bag, you may want to keep moving down the aisle. But for me, the manipulation of the prices and the places you will sell your goods is exactly the kind of player interaction I want to see more out of euros, not less.
I thought I enjoyed Smartphone Inc. without the expansion content. But now, I cannot see playing the game without the update, and it’s my front runner for expansion of the year.
I guess the Boss was right — we just ‘ain’t satisfied’ until we rule everything. Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo
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