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Larry Levy
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Burn Rate is a beer & pretzels-type card game from a new American company called Cool Studio. It has a humorous, appealing theme and some unique mechanics. It’s a professional looking package and represents a solid initial design effort.

The theme of the game is the recent melt-down of the dot-com companies. Each of the two to four players represents the president of such a start-up. There are no profits (after all, these are dot-coms we’re talking about!), but plenty of Bad Ideas to waste your employees on. The last player with any of their initial stake left wins the game.

The game is played with two decks of cards. One deck shows the employees of the companies. Each company has four departments: Sales, Development, Human Resources, and Finance. Each employee works in one of these areas and has a salary. Most employees also have a skill level. Engineers are an exception--they are all equivalent.

The other deck consists of Play cards. These are actions the players can take. They too are dedicated to one of the four departments. They each have a skill level. The idea is, if your head of that department is sufficiently skilled, you can play the card. Otherwise, you can’t. If the card is one that is played on an opponent, it can only be played if the head of the *opponent’s* department has that skill level *or less*.

At the beginning of the game, the employee cards of each department are placed in their own stack. One card from each stack is exposed and the players take turns hiring one of the four employees from the pool. This continues until everyone has four employees. Each player also begins with six Play cards and an initial stake of 100 money units.

Each player on their turn can play up to four Play cards (or discard up to four, if they don’t play any). Different Play cards let you hire, fire, and steal employees. You can also force an opponent to hire an employee of your choice. There are Funding cards, which add money to your total. There are also Bad Idea cards to play on your opponents. Bad Ideas are those screwy dot-com schemes we were all inundated with a few years ago, like Free Computers or a Butler-Hosted Search Engine. Each player needs to have at least as many engineers in their work force as they have Bad Ideas. If they don’t, they have to add contractors, which are very expensive. The only way Bad Ideas go away are when you play Release cards, another kind of Play card, on yourself.

After playing cards, each player adds or removes contractors to satisfy their Bad Idea habit. They then pay the salary of every employee in their work force, which must be subtracted from what’s left of their initial stake. They then draw Play cards to get their hand back to six cards. This continues until every player but one has been eliminated by running out of money. The remaining player wins.

I think the designer’s intent was to make Burn Rate a fun, light game and for the most part, he has succeeded. The game plays fast, with plenty of opportunities to screw your opponents. The concept of having the cards you can play be limited by the employees you or an opponent possesses is a genuinely good one and it is well implemented. The rules are laid out clearly and are not difficult to grasp. And with a playing time of 45 minutes or so, the game does not wear out its welcome.

Probably the best feature of Burn Rate is its fidelity to its appealing theme. The chaotic personnel switches and manna-from-heaven fundings seem quite appropriate to the wacky world of dot-coms. The highlight, though, are the Bad Ideas. Many of these will appear quite familiar, such as Name-Your-Price Auctions, which shows a guitar player wearing what looks like a Star Trek shirt, or the hand puppet dog from the Online Pet Store. There’s a good deal of subtle humor here which helps the theming quite a bit. Best of all, one of the Bad Ideas is the Dot-Com Card Game!

The components of the game are well constructed. The cards are attractively illustrated in four colors. They’re appropriately stiff, coated, and have rounded corners. The designer made good use of color, with each card color-coded to its appropriate department. The employees’ title, skill level, and salary are all easy to pick up. When a game is nothing but cards, you should really make sure the card design works, and it does so here.

Burn Rate’s mechanics are such that you might expect that the game could be enjoyed by more serious gamers, with scope for some nice strategy. Sadly, this is not the case. The principal problem is the lack of control. Far too frequently, you just can’t get the cards you need. The designer mentions that you shouldn’t be afraid to discard to ensure that your hand cycles frequently, and this is good advice. But the blind drawing mechanic means that more often than not, players will be frustrated with many useless cards. Of course, you can try to alter your labor force to allow you to use some of these cards, but this can often take several turns, so you’re probably better off discarding and hoping for something better. This brings the luck of the draw into effect even more. Your best bet is to just accept these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and not take the game too seriously. Players looking for anything more than very light strategy should probably stay away from this one.

Having said that, I can certainly see where serious players looking for a light, chaotic, and well-themed filler would enjoy this one. For example, it might really appeal to someone like Bruno Faidutti. (Assuming, of course, that he has been following America’s dot-com folly. I hope he has--I would think the whole mess would appeal greatly to the Gaelic sense of humor.) Taken on these terms, Burn Rate is a successful design and a nice introduction from a brand new source.
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The Steak Fairy
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Re:User Review
Larry Levy wrote:
Having said that, I can certainly see where serious players looking for a light, chaotic, and well-themed filler would enjoy this one. For example, it might really appeal to someone like Bruno Faidutti. (Assuming, of course, that he has been following America’s dot-com folly. I hope he has--I would think the whole mess would appeal greatly to the Gaelic sense of humor.) Taken on these terms, Burn Rate is a successful design and a nice introduction from a brand new source.


The theme of "serious" vs. what must be "not-so-serious" or "entirely not-serious" gamers pops up a lot in the writings of Mr. Levy. While some may applaud his efforts to establish some sort of dividing lines regarding what can and cannot be tolerated by various sorts of gamers in re various sorts of games, I have to find his knowledge of world humor less laudable. Unless Bruno Faidutti emigrated to France from the Scottish Highlands or similar, I believe his sense of humor is in fact GALLIC.
He's a Gaul, not a Gael. Bruno Faidutti is only one guy, and I'd rather read his review of Burn Rate than read about his possible tastes in somebody else's review.

And isn't a serious gamer who looks for a "light, chaotic" filler, well-themed or not, crossing into the bounds of the "family" gamer? Is it possible that serious gamers can be family gamers sometimes?? Is the opposite also true? Good God! Is it possible that there really are just GAMERS, and sometimes they just wear different hats? Where is Bob's hat?
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Larry Levy
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Best hobby, with the best people in the world. Gaming is the best!
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Re:User Review
MisterCranky (#2685),
Sorry, Joshua, I did use the wrong term to describe Monsieur Faidutti's sense of humor. It is indeed Gallic, not Gaelic. My apologies to any who may have taken offense. I only cited Bruno in the review because he is a well-known member of the gaming community whose gaming preferences are also well known, thanks to the descriptions on his excellent web site.

As for the comments in the last paragraph of your reply, it sounds to me as if we are in violent agreement.
 
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The Steak Fairy
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Re:User Review
Larry Levy (#2686),

Hey Larry, I chose my handle because I'm such a nitpicker that I make most people cranky.... I would like to point out that I read whatever I can about games, and I admire your work overall! I should also point out that I ordered Burn Rate for my wife (a finance professor and quasi-gamer) based solely upon your description of it!
 
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