Before I begin, I was provided a review copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would rather watch a video of this review check it out below. Get your own copy here.
Over the past 18 months or so, maybe less I have really grown to love worker placement games. I am not sure what it is about them, but if you can get a theme on them that intrigues me, and put some kind of a twist on the genre, then I am in.
So obviously I was all about checking out Pendulum from Stonemaier, when given the opportunity. After all a bunch of leaders in fantasy land striving to take over the power vacuum after the death of the Timeless King? I can get behind that, and the game can be played as a real time or non-real time game? Yerp!
Pendulum is a worker placement game at its core. Along with that each player has a moderately different player mat, which creates different scoring ranges, and some different character abilities. The game plays out of the course of 4 rounds, at the end of each round players will get to draft a card from the council board, based on the players with the higher vote counts (votes are one of the resources you will be gathering as you play.
In addition to traditional worker placement you will be building up an engine on your player board. This is how you will gain the majority of your resources throughout the game, by drafting territories which will increase the value of certain player spaces out on the board.
However, the real core of the game is the timers. You see when you place your worker out on the board, nothing happens. You have to wait until the timer for that space moves. Only when the timer moves do you get to take the action for the space, then you are unable to pick the worker back up until the timer moves again.
At the end of the game, any players that do not move their legendary ( grey) score marker is out. Then players that have moved all their other score markers into the score zone, will see how far along their markers are to determine the winner. If no one has them all in the zone, then whomever has their farthest back marker, the closest to the scoring zone will win.
So what do I think?
I like the production on the game. The insert is great, and I like the art on the character boards, and the look of the board. I also think the character differences are really well done. The differences in scoring, and the unique stratagem cards are a lot of fun, as are the stratagem cards in general.
I also enjoy the engine building aspect of the game, as you take provinces which improves your action down the road, along with this I like the idea of putting meeples out and having to wait to get them back, depending on the relative value of the action that you take.
Playing the game at lower player counts. I focused on playing the non-real time version of the game, and found that it worked alright at two players, but really I think it will do better at more than two. The required changed you have to make to the board to play two player are more frustrating than they anything else. You can work around it easily enough, but it seems like it could have been implemented differently.
The game, lets you gain more meeples relatively easily, but until you do so the game feels like you are hitting a series of speed bumps. Once you get all of them the game picks up significantly.
While I like the idea of the timers, in the sense of there is a greater cost to using certain worker placement spots, in practice in the non real time mode it can be frustrating as you have to wait for what can feel like a long time to get them back. This is exacerbated in the real time mode, especially early on where it is completely possible to find everyone sitting and waiting for a timer to run its course.
There are also some questionable color choices made on the player boards. I think the game uses 5 different shades of blue and purple, and when you are playing quickly, due to time constraints, it can be quite confusing.
Finally, though interesting, the theme does not come through in the game. If you really think about it you can see how it makes sense, but the theme could really be anything, and it would not make a difference.
Bringing it all together
Pendulum is a worker placement, engine building game with a very cool premise. The engine building and the time released workers are very cool ideas. In practice, however, the game does not work particularly well at low player counts, though I suspect the experience will be much better at 4-5 players, where competition for spaces is more intense, as is the competition for the legendary achievement. The non-real time variant allows for you to explore the more interesting aspects of the game, while the real time can result in a bit of sitting and waiting for timers to run out, in the early game at least. The production on the game is quite good, and while the art is enjoyable to look at, some of the color choices leave a bit to be desired when it comes to readability. If you adore worker placement games, then there is definitely some fresh stuff here.
Yeah, time is of the essence here big boss
*Nice looking game and components, though some odd color choices on the graphic design
* Very cool mechanics with regard to the time release of workers, and the engine building of your character board
* At lower player counts the game can feel slow early in the game, and you are just waiting for timers to move
* Theme does not come through
* Worth looking at if you are into worker placement games, and can get 4-5 players