The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Vinyl
Vinyl, designed by Eric Alvarado and published by Talon Strikes Studios, is live on Kickstarter, and since I’ve had a chance recently to play the final version of the game, I thought I’d share my initial thoughts on the game and who may enjoy it.
Vinyl is a large game. The board is Ticket to Ride sized, and the game warrants this size choice. With twenty square record card spaces on the board, the various action selection spaces around them, places to display collection reward tokens, and room to display a row and deck of mini cards, the space is well utilized. Add in 72 square record cards, 72 magazine cards, 24 loyalty cards, as well as meeples, scoring markers, player boards, and tokens, and the game is full to the brim with bits.
The artwork and design style of Vinyl do a lot to evoke the record store setting where the game takes place. Add in the various thematic actions -- the record bin, the magazine rack, the sale bin, and the front counter -- and the unique name and artwork on each record card, and you can see the commitment to the “rich and warm tones of Vinyl,” as the Kickstarter advertises it.
But of course none of this matters at all without knowing how the game works, which leads us to...
At its heart, Vinyl is a set collection game. Two to five players will be perusing the same record store, competing to grab the most prestigious collection of albums from its bins. They will accomplish this by acquiring musical knowledge -- represented by the magazine cards, which give players icons for genre, time period, as well as for mint and limited edition records -- and using those cards in the record bin and sale bin to acquire albums. Players can maintain different types of collections, and have up to two collections going at the same time. Their choices on what to collect can be determined by the loyalty cards they have, which give players bonus points for fulfilling certain goals, and by what is available on the board, especially in the sale bin.
Players each have one meeple, representing their record collector, and when they move to an action space, they will get that action. If another player comes to that space after they have moved there, they will be bumped off it, and get a free secondary action, which can net extra magazine rack cards or extra actions. The game flows smoothly, as each player only takes one action each turn, and actions tend to be quick. However, there is some upkeep, as when the sales person card come up, records will be cleared from the sales bin, and everything will shift down. There is also a customer meeple used in the two and three player games that will buy up records if players don’t snatch them up first, adding some tension that would otherwise be lost by having less competition from players.
Vinyl has a classic family board game feel to it.The Ticket to Ride comparisons seem almost inevitable, from Vinyl’s big rectangular board that features a victory point tracker around its edge, to its set collecting core that uses mini cards, down to its similar play count, play time, and weight. With its accessible theme and intuitive core mechanisms that can bring non-hobby gamers to the table, it’s a not an unreasonable benchmark. But I believe there is actually a bit more going on in Vinyl than Ticket to Ride.
Figuring out exactly how to best optimize points is the real decision space of the game -- Do I get cheaper, easier to grab collections, or hold off for harder to acquire, more valuable collections? Do I keep a collection pure, or mix it to make the collection more flexible? Do I retire a collection for the bonus collection rewards, or risk building it larger and losing out on those bonus points? Do I start a second collection, or keep working on this one valuable collection? Who am I competing with in this genre? In this decade? For mint albums?
The variable set-up of the albums, combined with the unique, randomly dealt loyalty cards will keep the game fresh and replayable for a long time. While I did not play it, there is also an advanced mode that rewards collecting albums from different record studios, as well as a Top Shelf expansion, to add even more for the experienced tabletop gamer to enjoy.
Overall, Vinyl is definitely worth a look for those looking for an excellent next-step into board gaming after traditional gateway games. It mixes smooth mechanisms with its unique theme, like the grooviest of late-night radio DJs spinning rich and warm tones that simply don’t go out of style.
The Vinyl Kickstarter campaign can be found here, and is running until April 21.
Full disclosure: I played a preview copy of Vinyl with designer Eric Alvarado, and have played previous iterations of Vinyl as a playtester. Talon Strikes publishers Jason Washburn and Jason Hancock are members of Punchboard Media as co-hosts of the Docking Bay 94 podcast.