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Crunch: The Game for Utter Bankers» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A first look at Crunch rss

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Bruce Murphy
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Got a first play in of this today so I thought I'd write a quick review with some notes on how our first session went.

Crunch is a relatively lightweight and silly game, much as you'd expect from Terrorbull. On the face of it, it looks quite interesting and timely, dealing with the crazy excesses of the finance industry.

Executive Summary

The gameplay revolves around each player maintaining assets and debt as part of a banking syndicate. Players mostly try to convert assets into debt which can pay off through the game. Players are affected by random events that can yield profits on, a variety of random events, or the dreaded credit crunch in which players are forced to show sufficient liquidity or go bankrupt. Naturally the game includes all of our favourite recent happenings such as government bailouts. At the end of the game, players are ranked on their personal wealth (and possibly that of their banks)

Layout and Components

The game consists of 4 different sized decks of cards with easy to tell apart backs. The largest set is assets, the point-winning point of the game. Assets have a cash value which is used to pay for things or can be loaned out as debt.



Assets may also represent shares in one or more large industries. Oil, Reconstruction or Arms. Players who hold assets representing 50% of a company receive a value bonus (and they're also profitable in case of war). Finally, some assets represent special actions players can use to harm one another or get special bonuses in exchange for discarding the asset card. Naturally, most of these actions have counter cards which can be played.

The heart of a bank is its trading organisation. Traders specialise in low, medium or high risk debt and the organisations have different assert card limits representing their total trading ability. Each workforce has an upkeep cost which the player must play every turn.



A workforce managing debt is the most common way to gather income in the form of more assets. This can happen as the result of certain event cards. Event cards are the thematic driver of the game. About half of them are interest payments. These list a payoff for a certain type of debt. The cards list a threshold value and a number of event cards. Every bank which has debt of the correct type at least equal to this threshold value receives the listed assets. As a consolation prize, everyone with a workforce dealing with that type of debt also receives a card. Typically, higher risk debts have higher payoffs (but more risk of writeoffs)



The rest of the event deck consists of events causing various things such as debt writeoffs (loss of loaned asset cards), bonuses (where execs can vote to pay themselves large personal bonuses) and the dreaded Crunch card. When a Crunch arrives all banks must show that they have enough assets held in their hand to cover all their outstanding debts.

Finally, each bank has a measure of public trust representing how iconic an institution it is in the eyes of the public. Players accumulate trust cards, mostly by expanding their workforces and they are kept face down and unlooked-at in a pile by the player. If in dire straights, a bank can burn trust appealing for a government bailout in the form of asset cards which they may not get depending on the value of their first flipped card.



These are very frequently played when crunch time comes.

Non card components. For reasons which will become clear later, the game recommends that players wear a 3-piece suit with optional hat while playing.

Turn overview

For brevity, the game current unit (millions) will be represented as M.

Each turn, the players have an opportunity to manage their workforce. If they choose to expand they can take the face up workforce at the top of the workforce pile or can pay 1M to discard the top workforce and reveal the next card and take that. An increase in workforce also comes with an additional trust card.

If they instead choose to reduce their workforce, one whole workforce is discarded along with all the assets loaned on it. This costs 1 trust card unless they play the Bury the Story mini-event. Naturally, there's an Investigative Journalism counter card.

A player must then pay their upkeep (the maintenance cost of each deployed workforce) out of in-hand assets.

After that the players are free to loan out debt by placing asset cards from their hands into any workforces that have available card slots. These can bring income or potentially ruin if they can't be covered in the event of a Crunch. It's the core business of investment banks anyway. You should invest all that 7M Nazi Gold right away!

Finally an event card is turned over. This event is just under half the time an interest payment, otherwise it's something random happening, like Frantic Trading where everyone steals a random card from the player to their left, the the dreaded Crunch.

At any time players can also flip trust cards to try for government bailouts, trade assets among themselves for promises or interest etc, play the special events by discarded marked event cards (forcing others to take Audits or using a Aggressive Takover to steal the workforce + assets of another bank, or make someone's workforce useless with a Strike.

Finally what appears to be the core of the game, players can try to embezzle cards by hiding them about their person. If not spotted they keep the assets as end of game points, if spotted they return the assets to their hand and lose a Trust card.

When a bank can't cover its debts in a Crunch or Audit, the bank is bankrupt unless it can negotiate loan of assets is broken up. PLayers retain embezzled or bonus assets and sit out the game. THe last bank standing (if there are any) gets a small additional bonus.

And actual play?

Even taking into account that this game is more theme than deep gameplay, we found the randomness of the event cards was just too powerful and the investment returns weren't nearly enough to make expected behavior make sense. There seemed almost no way to avoid losing whole workforces and range of debt to Aggressive Takeovers or Strikes as people would invest or discard the counter cards. With 4 players we were regularly running out of free asset cards in the draw piles.

And the embezzlement. While sounding like a cool idea it's actually really hard to keep secret motion happening without careful arrangement of clothing and tables. Unfortunately it's basically the only real scoring mechanic and probably the game-controlling clock since once the assets are depleted banks would quickly go bankrupt.

In short, it wasn't clear how much playing the game was different to everyone just trying to hide their entire initial hand of assets and just going bankrupt their first turns with likely more assets than anyone else could manage to grab. Doing nothing at all probably shouldn't be a game-winning strategy.

While it seemed a cool idea for a game and the events are certainly steeped in really appropriate theme, it doesn't seem clear how this game could be considered non-broken, particularly in needing more asset cards than we had. We might try again with fewer players sometime, but it'll be a struggle to bring this back to the group. I might hold off and see if clarifications or mods come out that look as though they'd solve some of the issues, but overall a disappointment.
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Andrew Sheerin
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for taking the time to write up such an indepth overview of Crunch. I'm sure many people will find it useful. Nice pics too.

I just wanted to respond on what seemed to be a disappointing first game for you. I acknowledge that sometimes it feels like you're not being rewarded for "logical" gameplay. You lend money out and nothing comes back. Can I ask first of all if, during an 'Interest Payment' event, you were awarding Assets to all players who held matching coloured Workforce cards and not *just* those players who met the card criteria? If not, I think you'll find this offers a steady trickle of income which acts as decent "second prize".

What I can state honestly after dozens and dozens of games is that it is generally the case that if you run your bank carefully, with a diverse portfolio of debt and debt 'investments', then you will reap more back in interest payments than you have lent out in the first place. Of course, I'm not saying that if you follow this advice, it's a sure-fire route to victory, or that you won't ever get screwed over. After all, the markets are fickle and it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. But there is a core strategy which the game odds will reward and that's it.

I can also sympathise when you say that "it wasn't clear how much playing the game was different to everyone just trying to hide their entire initial hand of assets". There is indeed a lot of emphasis on 'embezzlement' in the rules and on the website, but this shouldn't be taken to mean the game is a race to hide your cards. You can try it and you will almost always lose - for one, you will probably get caught if you go on an embezzling rampage. Secondly, you will weaken your bank too much if you embezzle your entire starting hand and it won't be long before you're out.

Since the winning criteria is how much wealth you've personally stored up, it can certainly seem as if the whole running-your-bank bit is just a pointless front for large-scale fraud. While there's obviously a satirical point we wanted to make there, the running of your bank isn't entirely pointless. If nothing else, a solvent bank keeps you in the game longer and gives you more chance to get bonuses and to embezzle. Additionally, an easily-overlooked point is that a surviving bank gets a 3m bonus and 3m for each Trust card still kept. When a high score is probably anything over 40, you can see that if your bank is a surviving bank with just 2 Trust cards then you are already almost a fourth there before you've even started counting your bonus etc.

By way of example, we played three 4-player games just the other evening - everyone a seasoned pro, ruthless embezzler and eagle-eyed to match. I decided not to embezzle a dime and I won 3 times in a row, just with my bonuses. The others effectively knocked themselves out by losing Trust and weakening their own banks and my surviving bank was given a boost in scoring that helped me take home the bacon. (We actually play for bacon - or any pork products we can find as a substitute).

Maybe if you ran out of cards before the game could establish equilibrium it might be because everyone was too embezzlement-heavy, which is understandable with wanting to try out a novel mechanic. However, embezzlement should be viewed as the icing to the cake. It's a little extra that buys you the yacht, not the retirement island. Look at the real world - the big winners in all this have got their vast wealth through entirely legitimate (albeit repellent) means.

I hope this might persuade you and your group to give Crunch another spin. It really is a very fun game that works well. A 3 player game might be a good idea to make sure your Asset deck doesn't get too low too quickly. And go easy on the Embezzling!

All the best,
Andrew
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Bruce Murphy
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Thanks for the followup. I would like to give it another shot, but I'll have to psyche people up to play it again. Our running out of asset cards wasn't embezzlement-based, we simply ended up with everyone loaded up with too many assets but still barely able to cover the Crunch. I suspect there just wasn't enough directed aggressive play of the special asset cards.

We were correctly playing the payment of assets for each held workforce.

One thing I'm very tempted to do is make up some player mats to hold bonus and trust cards (and cover embezzled cards) that can be used to level the field of embezzlement away from clothing choices.

A couple of other points we felt might need some smoothing was clarification of when it made sense to play the various special action cards (Aggressive takeovers played right after someone loads up a workforce before they can turn an event card made people stabby).

Finally the imbalance in the last player only gets to loan out assets after 3 events cards have come up for everyone else seemed broken. I'm tempted to allow the first round to go event-free to allow every player to establish a two workforces with debt.

B>
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Andrew Sheerin
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"Stabby" made me laugh. Yes, it's a cruel card - but there's only one in a 63 card deck. How many times was it played?


thepackrat wrote:

Finally the imbalance in the last player only gets to loan out assets after 3 events cards have come up for everyone else seemed broken. I'm tempted to allow the first round to go event-free to allow every player to establish a two workforces with debt.


That's not a bad suggestion. I think we'll stick that in the Rule Variations on the website. Cheers!

Edit: Here you go: http://www.crunchthecardgame.com/rules/#variations
 
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James Sipkot
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Most of our games so far have been 2 player, but we did have one 3 player game and came very close to running out of assets (I think in this case it was due to lots of embezzlement). Also Bonuses have played very little part in our games so far, maybe just cos we're not good enough at catching out embezzlers, or maybe just cos that seems like the funnest part...
 
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Bruce Murphy
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It's probably a plot to get people to buy a second copy in order to play with four players.

B>
 
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Ben E
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We never had a problem with too much embezzeling. The first time we played there were 8 people wanting to play so we teamed up to learn the rules the first game. This meant 6 pairs of eyes watching to see if your stealing cards which put most people off. It was a close game that ended quite quickly as we didn't really understand the need to not have too many workforces etc. The second game was much better with us pulling the dirty on each other and playing more tactically. I can only see this game getting more fun the more we get to grips with it and my girlfriend and her mates are itching for more games especially after they read the "must avoid going bankrupt by any means neccessary" they were trying blackmail, sexual bribes and food based bribes in exchange for assets to keep them i the game. Truly an epicly awesome game with the right people.
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Nick Case
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thraxar wrote:
Truly an epicly awesome game with the right people.


An interesting comment seeing how this is apparently the only game you own, although you are a fan of War on Terror. Mindful that you only joined this site a month before you added to this thread, I'd be interested to hear your feelings when you have played a few other games assuming the rules for these new ones don't allow for girlie mates to perform erotic cabaret as part of the rules.
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Ben E
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After many more plays with loads of different people I find it works best with non-hardcore gamers. Put several serious players in and you will very quickly run out of cards. Play with casual gamers and warn everyone to keep an eye out and it's good fun. At the time I had several games I just hadn't put them on here. Since then I have played many more and bought a few more too and I realise there are better games out there if I want to stretch my mind and delve into strategy.
 
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Bruce Murphy
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thraxar wrote:
After many more plays with loads of different people I find it works best with non-hardcore gamers. Put several serious players in and you will very quickly run out of cards. Play with casual gamers and warn everyone to keep an eye out and it's good fun. At the time I had several games I just hadn't put them on here. Since then I have played many more and bought a few more too and I realise there are better games out there if I want to stretch my mind and delve into strategy.


We went into the game realising it was quite a light game, perhaps playable with only the right crowd like Cash and Guns, but found it somewhat lacking, even then.

On the other hand, Munchkin sells a lot of copies and that's a last-resort sort of game for me, and this has made it into a German translation, so there have to people who like it.

B>
 
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