My son has failed to woo the lovely Elizabeth Fairchild, at least for the moment, but things are looking up. It is said that she loves to hunt and ride, and our sporting facilities are now second to none.
But first we must increase our standing within the County, and to do this I shall invite a few of the more prestigious local gentry to join me in the smoking room; drink port, smoke cigars, and share a few stories of the war. I shall also get Jeeves to hire a new lady’s maid and a footman; we shall soon be the envy of all!
Obsession – Victorian thematics and estate management at its best, or is it all style over substance? Let’s take a look…
- Designer: Dan Hallagan
- Publisher: Kayenta Games
- Year Released: 2018
- Players: 1-4
- Playing Time: 30-90 minutes
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: Retail $54.00 (approx. £41.00)
Imagine being the head of a wealthy, well-respected family, at the height of the Victorian period. Things have been hard and the estate has fallen into disrepair, but things are looking up, and with the British Empire at its most powerful, it’s time to make your mark.
The Fairchild siblings have moved to the area, and either one would be an influential addition to the family.
Obsession sees you re-invigorating your estate, making improvements and making it appealing enough to lure one of the unsuspecting siblings into your domain!
But will they see your family as the most inviting, or will one of the others win their attention? Let’s find out what it’s all about…
What’s in the box?
- 1 Supply board
- 1 Round track board
- 4 Player boards
- 4 Organisers
- 1 Linen draw bag
- 41 Meeple (4 butlers, 4 housekeepers, 2 underbutlers, 8 valets, 8 lady’s maids, 13 footmen, 2 pawns)
- 20 Reputation counters
- 4 Reputation markers
- 41 coins (30 £100, 11 £500)
- 4 Reminder tiles
- 12 Player aids
- 1 Score pad
- 10 Theme cards
- 30 Victory point cards
- 30 Objective cards
- 89 Gentry cards (17 family, 2 Fairchild, 15 starter guests, 30 casual guests, 25 prestige guests)
- 12 Solitaire opponent cards
- 1 Solitaire AI card
- 1 Die (D20)
- 80 Improvement tiles (14 essential, 14 service, 14 estate, 13 prestige, 16 sporting, 6 monument, 3 suites expansion)
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Glossary
All of the boards, counters, coins, and tiles, are 2.5mm cardboard; they are sturdy and adorned with thematic artwork. The tiles are subtly decorated in what looks like period wallpaper, which adds a luxurious air to them. Everything is linen finished.
The meeples are all made of wood; each type of servant having a different pose and colour. The pawns and reputation markers are also wooden.
The cards are also linen finish, the quality of which is excellent. The Gentry cards have a black and white portrait, which along with thematic flavour text, and their sepia background, adds greatly to the period feel of the game.
The Gentry cards are standard poker size, with the objective cards being roughly mini-Euro size (44 x 67mm). Both the Victory Point and the Theme cards are even smaller, being 30 x 45 mm. The backs of all the cards are tastefully decorated, again keeping within the period of Victorian England.
A scoring pad is included, again with sepia tones, and there are plenty of sheets to be going on with.
There is a very nice linen draw-string bag included, which is well made in thick purple material, a colour often used amongst the elite to signify a royal connection.
The included die is a pretty standard affair, but it is only used when playing solitaire.
There is a rulebook (12 pages), and a glossary (28 pages), both of which are large, have a glossy finish, and very nicely presented. The rulebook leads a player through set-up and the game turn. Examples are plentiful and it’s fairly easy to follow. The glossary is superb, full of story and thematic detail. To get the most from the game this is a must read, as it gives useful background and strategy tips.
The box is also linen finish portraying a large country manner on its cover. It contains a throw away insert, and is large enough to contain the game plus the Wessex expansion.
How does it play?
(Set-up and rules summary)
- If your familiar with the game play, feel free to take a stroll to ‘What do I think?’
The object of the game is to be the player with the most Victory Points (VP) at the end. VP’s can be gained in the following ways:
- Earning VP cards
- Completing objective cards
- From tiles laid in your improvement area
- From Gentry cards in your hand and discard pile at the end of the game
- Final family reputation
- Number of servants in your families employ at the end of game
- Final wealth
Thematically, you are aiming to gain the interest, and finally the hand of, either Charles or Elizabeth Fairchild. To do this you must entice them to your estate by trying to be the most desirable in a certain improvement area (Service, sporting, prestige, etc.).
Setup (Standard play)
Place the supply board in the play area with the round track next to it (standard play side up).
Decide who will start; they take the purple pawn and, in a clockwise order, each player selects a player board.
Taking note of their ‘Family Bonus’ each player receives their starting deck of Gentry cards, service meeples (one of each type, placed in the ‘Available Service’ area), reputation counters and marker (reputation counter no. 1 is placed in the centre of the reputation wheel, and the marker is placed on the small no.1 beside it), county estate organiser, and their starting improvement tiles (one for each improvement area – essentials, service, estate, prestige, sporting – as indicated with a mansion in their top right corner).
Starting guests (casual guests marked with a crown in their top left corner) are shuffled and two are dealt to each player. The remainder are shuffled into the casual guest gentry deck and placed in the appropriate position, as indicated on the supply board.
The objective cards are shuffled and each player dealt five. The player selects two of these and the rest are returned to the bottom of the objective deck. The objective deck is then placed on its indicated space on the supply board.
On the supply board populate the ‘Servants For Hire’ area with the appropriate number of servants for the number of players (for example: 2-players – 1 underbutler, 4 footmen, 2 valets, 2 lady’s maids). Shuffle and place the prestige guest deck on it’s indicated space, then put a sufficient number of coins in the centre of the board (marked with a ‘£’ sign).
To populate the builders market gather the required tiles together, as per the rule book – for 2-players this would be all common tiles (as indicated by a black dot next to its prestige rating in the bottom left corner), one of each service tile (5 total), and the sculpture garden plus any two other monument tiles; the remainder are removed form the game. From these, place all tiles with a prestige rating of three or lower, plus the service tiles, into the linen bag.
Draw six tiles from the bag and place them in the builders market in prestige order, lowest on the left. If two or more share the same prestige, place them in the order – Service, Sporting, Essentials, Estate, and Prestige.
Next, add the remainder of the tiles to the bag.
On the round track board, shuffle the Vp and Theme cards and place in their spaces; place one reminder counter per player on the board, and put the white pawn on the first square. Place the two Fairchild family members, Charles and Elizabeth, nearby.
The game is played over 16 rounds ( 20 rounds extended), the equivalent of four seasons, and four of these rounds are courtship events. Be at the forefront in the selected theme on a courtship, and you’ll win the attention of a Fairchild. In the final courtship, if you have the greatest total in all four selected themes, you win the hand of either Charles or Elizabeth.
Note – The social season, or ‘Season’, in Victorian times, was an annual period during which, it was customary for the social elite to hold events. These included balls, dinner parties, horse trials, etc. This Season was not just a chance to show off your wealth and elegance, but was also considered a time to discuss political matters, and of course, it was also used to place children of marriageable age into society, where, with a stroke of luck, they may court a member of the elite.
Before the first turn is taken a courtship theme card is revealed and placed on the round tracker board. This theme dictates what the Fairchilds will be looking for in an estate, which could see them visiting for a season, and will be one of the five improvement areas.
The player with the purple pawn starts the game. They have the option of either taking a standard turn or passing.
A standard turn consists of the following actions, which are taken in order:
- Rotate service – Service meeples are moved one box to their right on the player board. Expended service to Servant’s quarters, Servant’s quarters to Available service.
- Host an activity – The tiles under your country estate organiser represent rooms or areas within the estate. Most of these can be used to host an event, as indicated on the individual tile. To host an activity, take the tile and place it on the activity space of the player board, providing it meets the following criteria – Its prestige rating must be equal to or less than, your current reputation; you must be able to provide the service as indicated on the tile (In most cases this means they must be in the available service box of your player board).
- Invite guests – The tile selected above will indicate the number and type of guests you can invite to take part, providing they meet the following criteria – The prestige rating of the guest must be equal to or less than, your current reputation, and the servants required to attend the guest are available (family and the Fairchilds have no rating, and can thus attend any activity). Guests are selected from your hand and placed in the playing area. Note that Gentry refers to a person of a certain social standing, not just a gentleman!
- Provide service – Take the appropriate servants from the available service box, and place them where indicated on the activity tile and guests. There are tiles available that allow changes to where the servant may be taken from, and others that cross-train servants!
- Enjoy favours – Both tiles and guests can provide favours. These come in the form of; enhanced reputation, move your reputation marker the indicated amount; money, take the appropriate amount from the bank; an invitation to new guests, draw the top card from the indicated deck, reveal it to the other players (you should bask in the jealousy if it is a prestigious guest!), and place it in your hand. Each family has a member that can dismiss guests as their favour, simply return a guest from your hand, in play, or your discard pile, to the bottom of the appropriate deck, and of course, there are some guests that offer negative favours – they may be poor, or of improper breeding!
- Buy from the builders’ Market – The player can purchase one new tile from the builders’ market, paying the cost indicated above the tile +/- any modifier as indicated on the tile. The tile is placed, face up (no rose visible), in the estate organiser, and must not be a duplicate of one already owned. The rest of the tiles on the market are moved to the left to fill the space. A new tile is drawn from the bag and placed in the vacant space under the £800.
- Clear board – All servants that were engaged in the activity are placed in the expended service box, invited guests are placed in your discard pile, and the activity tile is, if it is its first use, turned over to reveal a rose, and replaced in your organiser.
If a player should decide to pass he does the following actions:
- Return their discard pile to their hand.
- Refresh their service (place all servants in the available service area).
- Either take £200 form the bank, or refresh the builders’ market (remove all tiles from the market, draw and place new in prestige order, return the removed tiles to the bag).
- Purchase a tile from the market.
There are also three special actions, which may be taken at any point during the players turn:
- Borrow money – Decrease reputation by 2 for every £100 borrowed.
- Help with service – Refresh a servant for the cost of 3 reputation per servant.
- Refresh the Builders’ market – Refresh the market for a cost of 4 reputation.
Play then moves to the next player; once everyone has had a turn the white pawn moves along to the next space, and the game-play continues.
Once the pawn lands on a courtship space, a courtship event takes place. All players total up the number of victory points on their tiles under the current courtship theme. The player with the most points wins that seasons courtship, takes a VP card, and chooses to add one of the Fairchild siblings to their hand. In the event of a tie both players just take a VP card.
If this is not the first courtship event, and a player has a Fairchild in their deck (hand or discard), they return the card to the table prior to totalling the current courtship VP’s.
Before the white pawn is moved after a courtship event, another theme card is drawn, dictating the theme for the coming season.
The final courtship differs slightly; Players now total up the VP’s in all four drawn themes. If a theme appears twice, then that category is doubled. The winner of the final courtship chooses one of the Fairchilds to add to their deck for final scoring.
Final scoring VP’s are worked out as follows:
- Total VP’s of all tiles in the your organiser.
- Total of all VP’s of the your Gentry cards (hand and discard, note – some may be negative).
- VP’s from any completed objective cards.
- Reputation VP’s, as per the table in the rulebook.
- 2 VP’s per servant on the player board.
- 1 VP per £200 remaining on your player board.
- Total of VP cards.
The player with the highest amount of VP’s is the winner.
So, what do I think?
First thing first – when you open up the box and take look at the components, you get that feeling of luxury. The quality of the components is approaching that of Stonemaeir games, and is certainly better than I expected from a first time games publisher. I was certainly impressed.
I love the artwork, it is subtle yet highly effective, and shows a great attention to detail – the character portraits are just right, and the wallpaper background of the tiles is hardly visible but just adds to the feel of the game. There is evidence throughout that a lot of homework has been done in creating just the right ambiance.
I especially like the feel of the cards, my only criticism is that they could be a little stiffer but, as they aren’t continually shuffled, this is just a personal and minor gripe. The flavour text on the Gentry cards is very well written, and you find yourself reading every one you come across. The text on all the cards is clear, though I did have to concentrate when reading some of the Gentry names; I found the font used here is a little awkward to read at times.
The tiles, though they are very well made, are showing some signs of wear after a couple of dozen games, and the corners of a few are starting to delaminate. Hardly surprising given the good jiggling around they receive in the bag; but it’s easy to rectify with a dab of glue.
I really love the meeples, and they capture their characters personality in such a simple manner that you can’t help but smile. I do wonder why the underbutler, rather than the Butler, is black, as this is the traditional colour of a Butler’s uniform! No need to dwell on that though, they all look great.
The coins took a bit of getting used to, but only because I’m English and of a certain age! I saw the coins and immediately took them to represent the pre-decimal 1-penny, and the old, larger 5-pence, or shilling as it was known; they are about the right size and colours. So I kept using the wrong one to represent £500. I have since managed to engage my brain, and get it the right way round!
I thought that the VP and Theme cards would be too small and fiddly, however, this doesn’t present a problem in the way that they are used during the game.
The inclusion of a draw string bag, and a lovely one at that, is a great plus, and one that other publishers should take note of (Fantasy Flight Games?) There’s nothing worse than buying a game and have to dig out a bag to put components in. Such a simple addition, but one that is always welcome by the players.
In essence it is a deck builder, combined with an engine builder. Your engine is the combination of the tiles you purchase, and the service you can provide, which then meshes together with the deck of guests you have built.
When it all comes together, each turn leads you perfectly into the next. For example – One turn sees you hosting a sporting activity, which provides the necessary funds to purchase an estate improvement. Next you use the estate activity to provide more guests, then you use the guests on a prestige tile and develop your reputation. It all works marvellously well, providing you remembered to increase your service, and until you try and concentrate on one thing, like winning a courtship.
Then the game becomes a juggling act, as you try and force your engine into missing a cylinder; you find yourself in a quandary, and its all rather good fun!
‘I want to do this, but I really need that, and I can’t do anything because I haven’t got enough valets, but I could use my reputation to get one, but then I couldn’t do this…aaargh!’
It has the thrill you get from a deck builder, but you don’t have to keep your fingers crossed that the cards come round in good order. You control everything you purchase, and as for the deck of cards – you pass, and then you can use anything in your hand; its my favourite mechanism of the game.
The worker side, having to think about providing service, is also a major aspect, especially towards the latter part of the game. You can have activities that will see you inviting 5 guests and netting a whole load of favours, but it takes planning.
But let’s rewind a little, and I’ll tell you a bit about our experiences of the game.
Firstly, it is a Euro style game, one that is rooted deep in a thematic setting. Everything about the game shouts Victorian Britain; the events you host, the guests you invite, and the servants you move around to make it all happen.
So, it’s small wonder that you can be inclined towards a little light roleplaying…
‘As head of the Cavendish household I have decided to spend the afternoon with my daughter. We shall be having a jolly good game of lawn tennis, and I shall require the service of the footman, Jeeves. I’m sure we can rustle up a little cash through wagers, wot?’
This however, doesn’t last much beyond the first game, as you find yourselves drawn in to the complexities of running and improving your estate. It also extends the play time somewhat.
It doesn’t take long to realise that, though this is an easy game to play, it has plenty of depth, and to win, you need to work at it. It has quite a structured playing turn, presenting only a few actions to a player, and yet it offers a wealth of options within those actions, and each need careful consideration before taking.
It’s a game that allows you to win by various strategic means – you can concentrate on winning the courtships; you can try and max out your reputation; Invite so many guests that you can barely fan them out in your hand; Improve all aspects of your estate and go big on their VP’s. All are viable strategies, and the right combination can see you reap a large score.
After a couple of dozen games, more than half of them solo, here are a few more of my conclusions:
- I found the game to be extremely well balanced; able to win with any family, and with a variety of strategies
- Once the roleplaying had died down, and everyone started concentrating on his or her own estate, I found that player interaction was very limited. Yes you need to keep an eye on how everyone else is progressing, but there is little a player can do which interacts with the others. There are a few tiles and guest cards that ‘attack’ opponents, reducing their reputation slightly, but they are few and far between. And of course, you could buy something that another player really wanted, causing them to cuss like an old Victorian peddler, but it is only worth doing so if it also benefits you in some way.
- When to pass is a crucial decision, requiring careful consideration, and timing is everything. If you can do it running up to the ‘National Holiday’ square (During this turn you can host any event and invite any prestigious guests, irrespective of your reputation), then you’ll be able to host a big event with high prestige guests, thus returning lots of favours.
- Reputation is a big key to winning, not only does it give you a fat portion of VP’s at the end, but you need it to host/invite the best activities/guests. Thematically, this is a great mechanism; as your family gains esteem they can invite more prominent guests, and earn greater favour. Of course it can go down again, and a useful tool in gaining those few extra pounds just at a crucial moment.
- We found we hardly ever purchased service tiles, and I spent a fair amount of time thinking about why. There are five different service tiles, and each grants an ability or benefit to the player who purchases them. However, they only produce 1 VP each, other than the Barn (2VP), and at the cheapest, range from £100 to £500. The only one that seemed to attract people’s attention was the Servants’ Quarters, which enables you to deploy a servant from their quarters once per turn. This is a powerful benefit; one that we felt justified the loss of VP’s that could have been gained from buying a different improvement. The barn and Servant’s hall both enable you to gain reputation, either when you carry out an Estate activity, or by stealing it from an opponent each turn – we found both to be most useful if gained very early on in the game, so that the most could have been made of it, otherwise it was better purchasing something else. The Brushing Room, which allows you to use footmen as valets if none are available, was only really worth purchasing if you had used the butlers room early on to hire just footmen. Finally, there was the Butler’s Pantry, which recruited the underbultler (can be used to perform any male service), but nobody ever purchased this, it was our preferred strategy to use the butler’s room to recruit two extra servants. It certainly isn’t an issue with the game – it is just an example of how we strategised things for the way we play the game.
- Another talking point was when, and if, to use the Private study. This tile sees the family planning the village fairs, and if used, generates income and reputation each time the village fair comes up on the round track. However, once used, its VP’s drop from 3 to 0, so you have to make the decision to use it pretty quickly. This really highlights the game play – you have to make decisions all the time, based upon how you see the game progressing; some need to be made very early in the game, others you can leave until you’re forced into it, and it’s different every game.
- There is a space on the round track, the Builders’ Holiday, which allows players to purchase more than one improvement from the market during your turn. I always found it handy to host a sporting activity here, bringing in lots of cash, especially if you invite the right guests. It’s also useful to start planning for the National Holiday space at this point; purchasing a high reputation tile can prove very profitable.
- Extended play, which increases by one the number of turns per courtship, offers a different experience. At first glance you’d think the few extra turns would hardly make much difference, but it requires a different approach; allowing for greater improvement of your estate, you really push for those highly prestigious tiles, and can gather a lot of prestige guests. There is also greater scope to use activities that require a greater number of guests, something that can reap major rewards if employed properly. I personally prefer the extended play, feeling that the standard game ends just as you are getting going.
- One of the highlights for us was the fact that you feel like you’re never out of the game; that you have every chance of pulling a victory out of the bag right up to the final turn. If you find yourself behind in the first couple of courtships, then there are plenty of ways to catch up. As the game progresses your engine becomes more powerful, and concentrating on one thing often leads to the opening up of another – Estate cards that grab you lots of guests, should then lead you to think about an activity that invites a lot of them, thus you receive plenty of favours – play it right and your back in the game.
Hopefully I have given some idea of some of the decisions you need to make during a game. It really keeps you busy, and the changing theme can drastically alter your approach. The market has to be constantly assessed, as buying improvements at the right time, for the right price, is crucial.
Finally a look at the rules. There are two booklets, one containing the rules – set up, game play, solitaire rules, and scoring – the other a very formidable glossary.
The rulebook contains picture examples, both of set up and crucial points of the game play. I felt that the set-up could be condensed down a little – I thought it jumped around, and the instructions a little long winded, especially as the explanations repeated what the illustrations clearly depicted. Yes, there is some useful information here, but that could have been contained within the glossary. Personally, I like to be able to glance at set-up instructions and go, ‘yep, shuffle this, put it there, put these there, that over there…’ Keep it simple, make it quick; especially as set-up can be a little fiddly. It’s fine if you’re setting up out of the box and have everything nicely organised, but if you’re replaying the game, then you have to spend a little time sorting out the tiles, and if you’re playing with a different player count, this can take an amount of time. But then, I suppose this is nothing unusual for a Euro style game.
The rules for the game play however, are pretty much spot on. There are plenty of rule explanations to read through, but because the game is straightforward in its turn structure, once read you find you only refer back to them infrequently, and the critical rules are all highlighted.
The glossary is a must read – the first few pages are all background information, plunging you into the setting right up to your neck. Brilliantly written, as you’d expect from a published author, and totally absorbing – I only wish there were more!
As for the rest of the glossary, well, it is probably the most detailed and engrossing one that I’ve ever read. Reading it cover to cover gives you a greater understanding of both the game, and the life of the Victorian Elite. Each entry is broken down into: a description, thematic material, and gameplay detail, covering pretty much every aspect of the game. There is a first round strategy guide, game play variations, and a breakdown of victory point distribution, what more could you want!
Can I play it… all on my own?
This is a very good solo game indeed, one that I have found myself becoming somewhat addicted to, and it has quickly become one of my favourite solo games!
The game, from the player’s perspective, is exactly the same as when playing against other people. The difference is that now you’re up against a little card, one that has some numbers on it.
A picture speaks a thousand words…
As you can see, there are VP scores for each courtship event, and for each improvement area. At the end of each courtship you compare your VP’s in that area to that of the AI. If you win, then carry on as per normal rules; if you lose, the AI gets a VP card face down.
The same method is used for the final courtship, where all revealed themes are added together, however, if the AI wins this one, they also get one of the Fairchilds to add to their total.
When you have finished your turn, the AI takes its go; simply roll the die and refer to the AI card, removing the indicated tile from the builders market; that’s it, but it’s surprisingly effective.
You are aiming to beat the score (the big black number plus VP cards and Fairchild if earned) of the AI.
Now you will probably start off playing one of the beginner level AI’s. But if you’re used to playing solo games, you will soon realise the strategies required to beat it, and find it very easy. All the information on how it will score each area is right in front of you, and you can use this information to tune your strategy to beat it.
Go straight to expert, it’s a challenge, one that is often decided by the winning of the very last courtship. I’m pretty much fifty-fifty on this level, and they have all been very close and exciting games. The addictiveness comes from trying to consistently beat the AI, working different strategies, trying to find the best. It really is very good – give it a go!
For a further challenge, try playing with the variant of closed courtship, where the theme for the season is only revealed at the seasons end!
A Euro game with an immersive Victorian theme – if you like the sound of that, then this is for you. If you don’t, try it anyway, you may find it surprises you!
An addictive puzzle focusing on improving the right areas; expanding your service, building up a reputation, and persuading the right kind of guests to come visiting; all a lovely bundle of juggling fun!
Component quality is excellent, and very good value.
Game play is a little heads down, as you focus on your player board, but analysis paralysis rarely kicks in, and there is plenty of replayability here.
Its also just as good playing solo as it is with four.
It’s relatively quick for a Euro, with a solo game coming in at around 40 minutes to and hour, and 4 players approaching the 2-hour mark. If you add a little role-playing, then expect to be at the table far longer!
Age rating, I’d say 12+, mainly down to being able to grasp the intricacies.
Kayenta Games have set the bar high with their first publication; quality components, absorbing game-play, and an excellent solo mode. I’m looking forward to seeing what their next release will be.
The Wessex Expansion
The Wessex expansion includes the following components:
- Wessex family player board
- 4 Wessex family cards
- 5 Starter guests
- 6 Casual guests
- 5 Prestige guests
- 6 AI opponents for extended play solitaire.
- Rules leaflet
The expansion adds the Wessex family, who get a bonus of an extra start tile – The breakfast room, or the tennis court (both of these are included within the base game, and have a small ‘w’ next to their prestige rating).
The leaflet gives a thematic introduction to the family, as well as highlighting their benefits.
All the components easily fit within the core box, even with the insert still fitted.
No new rules are added with this expansion, other than the ability to play solo on the extended track. Note – it does not enable you to play with five players!
The Wessex family is just as well balanced as the other families, and I found no advantages/disadvantages of playing them.
This is a must buy if you intend to play the game solo – the extended game against the expert AI is an excellent challenge, and quickly becomes the solitaire opponent of choice. Every game I’ve played has finished, either win or lose, within a few points, easily the difference between winning or losing the hand of a Fairchild.
Disclaimer – A review copy of Obsession was provided courtesy of Kayenta Publishing.
Official site – Kayenta Publishing
Recommended video review – Ant Lab Games Playthrough
Board Game Geek Page – Here
Dan Hallagan Interview – Here