A special guest reviewer Derik Duley takes on Big Easy Busking from Weird Giraffe Games.
Hi there, my name is Derik. I am an omni-gamer (I enjoy most every kind of tabletop game), have been designing games for 6 years, and recently transitioned into mostly playing solitaire. With that kind of experience, I figured I could (hopefully) bring a different perspective to game reviews. Word of warning: this is intended as a review only. If you’d like to learn how to play the game, I’d recommend THIS learn-to-play video or the great previews by Board Game Gumbo (text) and Beyond Solitaire (video). With all that said, let’s jump into Big Easy Busking!
Big Easy Busking is designed by Joshua J Mills and published by Weird Giraffe Games. It’s a game about playing music for money (AKA busking) in the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana (AKA The Big Easy) for 1-5 players and takes roughly 45 minutes. The game is billed as “area control” and technically is. Really, though, it feels more like a resource management game to me. Each player has a limited amount of “energy” to use for a round and that energy is the only way to interact with (and earn money from) various crowds. Through some tricky gameplay, you can manipulate your energy levels to either stall for time or stretch across more crowds. However, the total amount of energy available never changes. The obvious strategy is to “control” 1 or 2 high-value crowds to come away with a couple of big tips. However, being efficient and discriminating in investing that energy across most of the available crowds can easily net you as much, if not more, money by hitting multiple crowd thresholds.
Now, I can’t talk about this game without mentioning HOW GORGEOUS IT IS! Seriously, this game is eye candy. LOOK AT IT! What’s really crazy to me is that I played with incomplete art on a prototype and I couldn’t stop gawking at it. As much as I love looking at this game, the final product will be EVEN BETTER (more illustrations, clearer graphic design, etc.). Holy cow, peeps. And I can’t talk about how gorgeous this game is without mentioning the huge effort Carla Kopp put into making this game as accurate a visual representation of Louisiana culture as possible. She initially sought out illustrators from Louisiana. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find one available for the desired time frame or which could work within the available budget. So, she searched for illustrators skilled with vibrant colors and action and found Andrew Thompson – who killed it! Carla then watched hours and hours of video of jazz musicians to make sure the poses and hands were correct in the illustrations. She also scoured the interwebs for recommendations on specific areas of Downtown New Orleans for good busking for in-game locations. I mean, as someone who grew up in the area, spent weekends riding my bike through downtown streets and City Park, enjoying the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium of the Americas, and to this day loves few things more than King Cake, this game SCREAMS New Orleans.
THE SOLO EXPERIENCE
Big Easy Busking comes with 3 different AI engines as a standard part of the game – no stretch goals required. The “Follow” AI whooped the pants off me. I mean, it was an embarrassingly bad loss. If you somehow are just WAY WAY better at games than me, you can even adjust the game for 5 levels of difficulty. And this is where Weird Giraffe Games earns a LOT of respect from me: they actually do this with all of their games. It’s a big big sign of care and respect for the customer and I love them all the more for it.
The solitaire experience for Big Easy Busking is interesting. The AI in this is 1 of 3 sets of rules you will follow in order to distribute the “opponent’s” energy cubes. The AI engine is everything you could want: easy to follow/remember, quick to execute, fluid, and challenging to beat. Even better: it’s also subject to in-game randomizers. This means that, even though there are specific tricks and strategies to gaining an edge over each engine, there’s just enough randomization to ensure the AI’s strategy will never play out perfectly and yours must adapt appropriately.
Now, I say the experience is “interesting” because the individual turns are so brief that they make some of the steps feel superfluous. Don’t get me wrong: the game is smooth and the AI engines are well designed. But here’s a typical turn: First, resolve the AI’s song (discard a card, move its cubes, and maybe pay it a dollar) and play a new song with more cubes. Then, resolve my last song (discard a card, move cubes, maybe earn a dollar) and either play a new song or learn a song. Rinse and repeat until I can no longer play songs. Although that all sounds completely reasonable (and mostly is) it leaves me often feeling like turns consist of (re)moving AI cubes, adding AI cubes, (re)moving my cubes, adding my cubes, repeat ad nauseam. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that MY turns mostly feel like 1 decision point (play or learn) and a bunch of cube shuffling. This can cause turns to blur together and lose the feeling of significant progress. I understand not everyone will feel this way. This is just a nitpick based on how I mentally process turns.
A great thing about the solo experience, though, is that it uses the same actions and turn structure (basically) as the “big” game. Therefore, solitaire plays are great for either learning the basics of the game before teaching or practicing different strategies. Some other games have a significant enough difference between 1 and 2+ players, or such a heavy reliance on aides, extra rules, or extra components that I have to review the rulebook in order to transition. With Big Easy Busking, though, 1 solitaire game and I was ready to teach and beat on my friends.
For me, Big Easy Busking really shines as a multiplayer game. Even having just 1 more player gives you a break from your turn and time to enjoy the gorgeous components. It’s also really nice that the game is mostly the same no matter how many people play. It feels like I have to make the same strategic adjustments for the AI as I do for other players. The 1 difference I noticed is that having an opponent allows you to relax and respond (react) to the current game state (important for *casual* players). Whereas the solitaire game requires you to plan ahead, maneuver, and manipulate the game state (assuming you want to do well). Again, not bad things – just things which will affect *some* players.
I definitely like Big Easy Busking but I don’t love it. I WILL support the Kickstarter campaign, my copy WILL be displayed with pride (‘cause it’s gorgeous) and cherished like crazy (because it’s like a love letter to a place I still call home), but I honestly won’t be dying to play it every chance I get. As I said before, the turn structure in the solitaire mode isn’t quite satisfying. Which speaks to an underlying issue I guess I have with the whole game: for the amount of table space it takes up, the time it takes to play, and potential of the theme, I’d really like a little more meat on these bones. I’d like my decisions to be a little harder to make and carry a bit more significance.
TLDR: I like but don’t love it. STUNNING ART. 2+ is better than 1. The gameplay is vastly improved with a Mardi Gras or Zydeco station playing in the background. Will be a nice alternative to the many MANY solitaire dice games I have.
Big Easy Busking is on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW! If this sounds like your kind of game, go lend your support!
Note: Derik received a preview copy of Big Easy Busking from Weird Giraffes Games for a fair and honest review.
Derik Duley is the designer behind the roll-and-write game Ancient Artifacts and the publishing company, Lagniappe Games. When not working hard, he likes to design, playtest and develop games with our very own Benny Sperling (Rolling with Benny). Though a Lousiana boy at heart, Derik resides in California. You can find him on Twitter @Festerduley