A lot of ragged people disappear each year. Some of them move on, some die quietly and unremarked, and some of them, the ones who just can’ sleep, slip over the line between our world and the Sleepless City. The sleepless often lose themselves in their habits and patterns, becoming part of the background, becoming prey for the nightmares. Some though, some have a spark that keeps them active and aware, that grants them power for their exhaustion and their madness. These people can stand up to the nightmares, as they edge ever closer and closer to becoming a nightmare. These people play the influence game in the Sleepless City, carving out a home for themselves, or seeking a way home.
In Don’t Turn Your Back, you play one of the sleepless as you build a power base among the nightmares to fuel your ascension or escape.
Each player has a color coded deck of starting cards representing the nightmares they have influence over. Those cards are played one at a time on spaces on a board representing the Sleepless City’s districts. Some cards can’t be played in certain districts, which is marked With a letter code and a graphic that is only completed when you play the cards in a legal district. This game is full of multiple codings for key information. Which is good, because the coloring is very thematic, and occasionally the color coding is not incredibly clear. (In my first game, players mixed up the two green characters, in a well lit area, though the greens are not very similar. In my second game, which was 3 players, one of the players who is, I think, Red-Green colorblind requested we leave out the olive character because it was too close to the purple/blue one for them.)
There are a few little problems like that. I found the colors and art in the main book made it a little difficult to use as a learning tool, but Fred Hicks being Fred Hicks, there are multiple routes to learning the game, including an excellent 10 minute how to play video (http://www.evilhat.com/home/dont-turn-your-back-video-tutorial/) and the book works fine as a reference for me after I learned to play the game, (There is also some splendid setting fiction in the rules…)
Game play is fun. Where you play your cards changes the effects of the cards. I think the player decks are a little small, but I have that complaint about a lot of games that use cards as a resource/randomizer.
A few points of particular interest:
The 13th district is an area that changes every round as a new law is put into effect. You have to decide each round if you want to compete there or not.
The Bizarre Bazaar is where you trade your influence for special effects, ranging from extra card draw to attacks and defenses against attack.
The Highschool is a card sink that doesn’t get cleared between rounds. Clever play here can net you lots of points for several rounds in a row.
The City Slumbering district is where you trade the pain of your current minions for the influence to get new ones.
And the Wax Kingdom plays 2 roles, the ever important “getting rid of useless cards from my deck” and determining how one scores a deck at the end of the game.
Some design musings:
I’m considering splitting the law deck into more mundane laws and more out there laws so I can shuffle them seperately and then play with the more mundane ones on top and the weirder ones as you get lower. We had a very standard scoring law in the last round of the game after a bunch of more interesting ones, making the 13th district sort of boring in the last bit.
The Law cards could have effects on the rest of the board if you wanted to expand on the game. Letting Officer Tock impact the rest of the City in unusual ways has potential.
While there were a few Attack and Defense cards for the Bazaar, I think more of them, and more varied cards would be a good idea. More character interaction and backstabbery would fit the setting well.
The one major thing I wanted for this game was to have the player acquisition decks be different. If each player has influence over a different subset of the city an different feels that tie into the player’s backstory, I think that would do more for immersive theme than all of the art together. Even just making the Favor (starting) decks different, and having the acquisition decks be the same could have a big impact on the feeling of the game. (I’ve played deck builders where the starting resources for each faction are different, giving each faction a very different feel even though the cards they buy are from the same pool)
I’d love to see all of the acquisition cards come from a community pile, maybe with more different cards. I get that the current game mechanism wants unique cards, but a token or marker or something could adequately identify ownership for most areas (except the wax king)
Given the need for the acquisition cards to be identified as owned by specific players, I could also see expansion decks, with a deck building rule set (You have x points to spend on influence values, and must have y number of cards in your deck.)
My first play was a little rough because 2 of the players really weren’t grokking the area control aspect of the game and they really didn’t want to have any thing explained. Learn from play doesn’t wrk when you don’t have a strong grounding in the basics of play. The second game was a lot more fun, though I was the only one familiar with the setting.
I think Atlas Games should license this system and do an Al Amarja game…