Christmas bells are ringing throughout board game land. Secret Santas have been dropping off loads of cardboard and minis to deserving gamers all across the not-yet-sneauxy landscapes. Parallel to this years long resurgence in cardboard creations has been a renewed interest in vinyl records, too.
Way back in Episode 113, we chatted with Vinyl designer, Eric Alvarado, about the inspiration for his original game, and how much it harkened back to thumbing through stacks of LPs and 45s at the local record store. I still remember hitting up Mr. P’s Sight & Sound every Friday to check out the latest records that he had up on the stacks. The Hooters, Asia, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, it was all waiting for us each week.
Eric said he was just getting started telling the Vinyl story. He told us he had a lot more cooking in the vinyl record stacks, boy was he ever not kidding. Two player versions, tons of expansions, every musical genre — there’s a lot to play if you have enjoyed this set collection take on record collecting.
That’s why we were excited when Talon Strikes Studios reached out to us about the Christmas version of the series, Holiday Edition. Let’s take a look!
(Please note, this sneak peek look is from pre-production components. Artwork, production and even rule sets may change a bit before the game hits players’ hands.)
OVERVIEW OF GAME:
If you have played Vinyl in its previous incarnations (Vinyl, Jukebox, etc.) you are in for a surprise and a treat with this new version. This is a standalone game, one with a Christmas theme that comes out in everything from the record titles to all of the bits and pieces in the game.
Players again play record collectors, but this time trying to make memories with family around the holiday blaze, reminiscing about all of the lovely Christmas albums that they played in years gone past. Did I ever tell you about the time my father brought home the very first CD player in my little hometown, and we rocked it out to the Pointer Sisters singing “Jump In” all night?
Vinyl: Holiday pits up to four record collectors against each other, drafting album cards to place in a Christmas tree design of albums. Match up the Wish List against the albums you draft and place, and score big points during and at the end of the game. But watch out, you’ll be building two different album collections (both in the shape of a tree) in partnership with the players on the left and right of you.
Vinyl: Holiday dumps the “walking in a record store, collecting hidden gems” conceit in the previous games, and instead, focuses on making a big Christmas tree of albums with lots of memories and emotion from the family. In small towns across America, making memories playing vinyl was a real thing. We used to carry around plastic 45 record holders with all of our favorite songs, and someone would get the record player out while everyone jostled for a turn at “choosing the next song.”
Players start out with a hand of five album cards, each depicting an album cover that has attributes of the Christmas season, everything from gift boxes to wreaths to cookies. They will also get a secret Wish List — which depicts the tree fully built out in a pattern of symbols appropriate for the holiday. Matching those symbols in the exact position on one of your final trees scores tons of points, and is some of the most fun in the game. Of course, your partners to the left and right will probably do their best to mess up your wish list as much as they can….
Finally, we’ll put out point tokens (in the shape of christmas lights), gift card scoring tokens (looking just like little ’45 albums), and a market of four album cards to draw. You’ll always replace one of the albums you put in the Christmas trees with a new album from the market. Choosing which album is one of the toughest decisions in the game, as there’s a lot of information on those cards. Luckily, the graphic design is well laid out, so after a couple of turns, spot checking cards becomes second nature.
HOW TO PLAY:
Vinyl: Holiday has a deceptively simple premise. Play an album card out of your hand into either the soon-to-be-built-out Christmas tree to your left or the one on the right. Or, better yet, choose an end game scoring card to activate. Score your points and refresh the market. That’s Seasons Greetings!
Okay, as you can imagine, that’s just a high level overview. There’s way more to it once you get started.
First, you have your wish list in hand, so you know what albums you want to put on one of the trees. You’ll probably focus on that part first. You can score a ton of points if you can match one of your two trees with all of the symbols listed on the albums and have them in the right place on the Christmas tree you are building.
But, you have only three options on your turn — fill the left tree, fill the right tree, or place a gift card marker (essentially a hidden scoring objective like having four different star cards in your tableau). You can’t just hammer one tree or the other, you have to keep rotating your Christmas helper between those three choices.
Add into that puzzle the fact that you can’t see what your “friends” are motivated into doing. You can only go by her actions to guess what their trees should look like. More importantly, the puzzle includes an adjacency component. Place an album in the tree that has symbols that match other albums in the tree and you can sore up to 10 more points.
Once all of the players have completely depleted all of their small ornament tokens, and have played three of the end game scoring gift cards, the game wraps up with the scoring. Score points for matching your christmas tree to the wish list, add up all of the adjacency bonuses you earned, plus any points you got for choosing cards in the market, and finally add in the album scoring tokens you got for completing the gift card requirements and declare a winner.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
We’re seeing a lot of beautifully looking, interestingly themed puzzle games coming to our board game store shelves these past few years. Games like Azul and Sagrada, Cascadia and Calico, provide a myriad of ways that our brains can be melted. Players that like those type of games will dig the way that Vinyl: Holiday sets your brain on fire with these little micro decisions of what albums to grab, where to place them, and how best to set up the next turn for a big score.
It’s very satisfying when you spot a card in the market that you know will geaux great with your wish list and your gift card needs. So clever!
But it’s not easy. For such a relatively simple game — it really is just move your worker piece and take one of three actions to put albums on your trees or try to match up a gift card — there’s a lot to puzzle through. At first, we were thinking this game was all about making as many matches as we could as we raced to the finish.
Then in our second game, we were much more deliberate about when we used our gift cards to line up some end game scoring. We had to be careful. It’s a race to get the best album points (and let me tell you, it’s a big drop from the first person to the last person in that race). But also, everytime you activate one of those end game gift tag scoring cards, you’re leaving yourself one less card in your hand, making it harder to play in later rounds.
The decision tree of what action to take seems simple, but even deciding among those three simple choices is tough, too. Players will not only be concerned with their tree, and trying to rack up the 10 point adjacency bonuses, but also trying to keep an eye on the market. Heck, some of the cards are made more attractive just because of the free points that are available as the least desirable cards each buy phase are bumped up.
If this game were any longer, my brain might melt too much. But the designer recognized that, I’m sure, and gave our group a manageable puzzle to bite. Our games have been taking about thirty-five to forty minutes, and that’s just the right length for adding all of the different calculations and making our moves.
Plus, you get the added benefit of seeing a fellow Punchboard Media member on a Christmas album!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
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