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  • Writer's pictureboardgameoverlord

I'm not obsessed with Obsession, but you might be..

This feels like a difficult review to write, I've played Obsession some 21 times now, with and without the expansions, and I still don't get it.

And that is how I can best summarise Obession to me. It's a game I can't just click with, like I can sit and see its parts, appreciate the interlinked mechanisms and theme that oozes out every single part of your 19th Century estate, heck the small written flavour text on each card feels thoughtful and fitting. And to the designers credit, they sent me a review copy with expansions and promo's and said "take your time, there's no rush, play it, play it again and then think about reviewing it", which is unlike so many other publishers and designer. I went and bought the meeple stickers for this game. Much was my expectation and hype for this game.

But I've since never found that love for Obsession. I actually reached out to the designer a few weekends ago and pointed out that I don't get Obsession, well I understand the rules, I understand how the game works, but something is not clicking for me. The designer sent me a few helpful pointers, which I then spend the best part of several hours digesting (youtube wins for 1.25x playback speeds!), revisiting the rules and going back to sit down and play Obsession once again, that was 4 plays ago. However, is Obsession still worth your time for the sum of its parts? That's the real question. I expect someone will call me out on 21 plays not being enough to review the game. Over 21 plays, I feel I have seen and played a lot of Obession, enough for me to offer my thoughts.

Obsession is a Deck Building, Worker Place, Hand Management game that ticks a whole lot of boxes for me! Set in the mid-19th century, four families (upto six if you play with the expansion(s)) have come into some sources of new income are once again able to begin rebuilding their now delapetated country estates to former glory. What a coincidence so many families find fortunes once again at the same time! You'll need to rebuild your country estates to its former glory to attract reputable guests, all in the hope of securing the hand in marriage of a fairchild!

Played over 16 rounds (if you're playing the standard game) or 20 rounds in the extended game, you'll be taking turns to restore your manor, attract guests, and spend your income on new country estate delights! But beware you might attract those uncles and aunts and long forgotten cousins that you'd hoped had forgotten you, and with them, they bring baggage the reputation destroying kind. Whichever game mode you choose, you'll play over four seasons, each with their own events like a builders holiday! Before you attempt to win the hand of a fairchild, you do, of course, have plenty of marriageable child.

Each of the activity rounds works the same way:

You'll either pass

Or Host an activity

Now that's me summing up what essentially is an 8 step process (for hosting an activity) in just a few words.

Hosting an activity actually involves:

1. Rotating service (essentially resting your servants)

2.Gaining benefits

3. Select and host an activity

4.Assign guests

5.Provide service

6. Reap the rewards! (Enjoy the activity)

7. Build a capital addition or renovation for your country estate

8. Clean up

Selecting and hosting an activity is one core of the game. You'll be choose effectively an area in your country estate to activate to attract reputable (or less reputable guests to). Before assigning guests to that activity from your hand, which in addition to the selected activity will require servants. Some guests need to be waited on hand and foot. These guests have expectations after all! Then, once the activity has been appropriately staffed and guest requirements met, you'll find yourself in receipt of favours (benefits). The favour could range from money, reputation, invite or dismissing guests, victory points, or worse gossip (negative penalties).

You'll need to balance all four favours whilst trying to ensure any gossiping is kept to a minimum.

The pound (money) will allow you to purchase new capital investments and rennovations. Buildings are sorted into 5 themes into your player area, and you'll probably want to balance all five. Now my first criticism would have been the market is stale, it never moves blah blah, but there's a fix for that a mode that keeps the somewhat market fresh, by shuffling down a new tile.

More activities mean more choice and importantly potential points, each tile you purchase will start face up, and a measly few negative points or worse minus points! So you'll need to be sure you're able to host those given activities, as afterwards they'll flip to the more prestigious side. But there's another consideration here at the end of each season, you'll be seeking to attract a fairchild, and each fairchild will be looking for a certain theme within your estate. For example, they could be looking for the most prestigious or sporty estate. At the start of each new season, a new theme card is revealed.

And that's where reputation is key to being able to host those more desirable activities and attracting more respectful and therefore wealthy guests! You'll begin the game with the lowest reputation (apart from one family) and to host activities you'll need to increase your reputation throughout the game. Reputable guests won't visit a lowly manor!

And guests, don't forget the guests! You'll need to ensure that you're continuing to attract the right sort of guests, and this is where hand management becomes key. Every time you send guests to an activity, you'll play them from your hand, meaning you'll need to keep guests available to ensure you'll be able to meet the guest retirements on the activity. The only way to get guests back will be to pass. When you pass, you'll also either get to collect rent from your tenants or refresh the builders market.

If that's not a mismatch of a jumbled together explanation, I'm not sure what is, but there's so many interlinked elements here that it's hard to explain one without referencing another. And I haven't even covered end game scoring or passing. Helpfully, the rulebook provides a percentage breakdown of where you'll likely find your victory points. From improvement tiles, guest cards, objectives, reputation, service, wealth, and victory point cards. Now, objective cards in Obsession aren't a "get dealt two, pick one at some point." Throughout the game (depending on the game mode you play!), you could be drawing an extra card or two, and you'll start with five or four. And you'll discard one at the end of each courtship phase, meaning you'll end the game with three or four.

Honestly, there are so many interlinked mechanisms here that it can feel a bit daunting. But Dan has put together, in addition to the rules and glossary a wealth of links to countless videos, and Dan has done a host of in-depth videos, too, all aimed at easing you in. And that's the thing, despite this huge wealth of information to ease you into Obsession (trust me, you'll need it!). Obession has never clicked for me. And I'm struggling to tell you why. I've watched strategy videos, digested countless Boardgamegeek posts, and here I sit after 21 games still missing something. There's however, alot of player aids!

I haven't even talked about the expansions! The first expansion, the Wessex Expansion, adds a 5th family and a number of additional cards. Which you'd probably just say is all just more stuff, but actually, it's the continuous tweaks to the gameplay experience that make this feel like a labour of love. The additional tiles and starting guests aren't just more stuff, they readdress and tweak, meaning there's more starting guests who don't require servants and additional tiles mean there's now reputation 1 prestige and essential in the pile of tiles.

Upstairs and downstairs, well, that once again just firstly adds a few additional tweaks, the larger victory point cards are a blessing! And now there are milestones too, sort of like a in game objective. But the new servants (better known as meeples), the cook, the useful man, hall boy and head housemaid. Fundamentally, these addresses for me what were the biggest issues I had with the base game, managing reputation and money. The cook allows you to invite guests up to two reputations higher, whilst the useful man reduces the reputation level of an improvement tile by one. The head housemaid can replace any female service and allows you to draw two guests and discard one should any guest she's placed on allow you to draw guests. And the hall boy is good at getting tips, for that extra cash, deputising for the butler or footman. Oh, and it adds tableau Obession, which I haven't even tried. So, more variety and more tweaking and balancing and addressing issues or feedback.

Writing this review, I almost feel compelled to love this game, recapping on how much has gone into shaping the Obsession experience into something that's almost a plug and play experience, that can be tailored to you. And there's the seemingly perfect storage solution, everything fits into the base box. However, it all still feels almost overwhelming, like there's so much here, I wise there was a distilled version, like a best hits album. Or maybe I'm being unfair, but for the sum of all its parts, Obsession creates so many interlinked systems that work so well together, and where there's a tweak needed, the expansions address those concerns.

I've played Obsession at two, three, and four players. I'm not sure I'd ever want to try it at five or six. Four feels like something that gets bogged down in downtime, so I can only imagine what five or six must be like. My two plays at four have been almost 3 hour games, and those are with players who have all played before.

As you know, I rate games on a

- Buy or play

- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ

- Avoid

Obsession is a game that I feel almost compelled to like and love, and that's the thing. I don't love it. There's something that I can't even describe that just means this game doesn't click for me.

That's what I originally wrote, but I've sat down to my 21st play, and I think finally I get what it is that I find almost intimidating, the sheer amount of stuff, there's such much here that it's overwhelming. It's almost like content for the sake of content, but it's content to address balances, tweaks, and the like without removing, and does there come a point when stuff needs to beshaved off around the edges to create a better experience? Now I know it's very much a plug and play, but fundamentally shouldn't the core experience be the best experience?

The objectives were once again shocking, now in the extended game you'll draw eight over the game and finish with four, but when there's objective after objective with building combinations, the milestones go someway to aleviate this. But that changes the pace of the game and makes it essentially a race to claim. I wonder whether open end game objectives could be a thing.

I also do not love the market mechanism, well the staleness of it, at two players the market becomes this drip feed almost like of new stuff but its new stuff that is at times so far of being used, that there's a balance between midgame and end game, that the market missed. I want a mixture of stuff for now and the late game. I need midgame tiles to allow me to get to use those end-game tiles. I was passing to repeatedly reuse buildings to get a reputation with the relevant guests and service. Now, the Cook and useful mitigate this to some extent, but it feels like with all this content that maybe it's time for an essential edition? The best of edition condensed into a tight package.

But despite that, this is a "buy or play." I feel like Obsession deserves your time to be played, and it feels like it's one that every needs to play at least once, but I'm not sure it's a purchase for everyone. If you want everything, and I think you might want to play with everything because of those tweaks and gradual evolution of the best obsession experience, you're looking at £110+. However, it's just a game you might become obsessed about!

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Obsession and its expansions to review. I was not paid for this review, and thoughts remain my own.

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