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Subject: Re: Surf's Up, Dude! - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Summary

Game Type - Euro Game
Play Time: 30-60 minutes
Number of Players: 2-6
Mechanics - Resource Management, Card Management
Difficulty - Moderate (Can be learned in 30 minutes and understood after 1-2 plays)
Components - Good


Image Courtesy of jollyrogergames

Overview and Theme

Well the title probably doesn’t leave too much to the imagination really. This game is all about catching waves and more importantly, riding them all the way to shore. There are some nice thematic inclusions like the collection of trophies and ‘Beach Babes’. But the reality is that (title aside) Surf’s Up Dude! could just as easily be about ants taking the best route to the picnic basket. In other words the theme is more or less ‘pasted on’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing…just an observation.

On another note, the design team behind this title includes a name or two that you might not expect. Alan R. Moon (of Ticket to Ride fame) has hooked up with Aaron Weissblum and it isn’t the first time that these two have joined to form a design team.

Previous collaborations include the '10 Days in...' series, Clocktowers, San Marco, Mammoth Hunters, New England and Oasis - just to name a few.

The Components

Most components in Surf’s Up Dude! are super sized. All except the trophies that is.

d10-1 The Board - The board is a simple affair but rather enticing thanks to the vibrant blue of the ocean. The board is divided into 4 main sections that include wave slots, 2 additional ocean sections and the beach.

The rear of the board is given a lavish art design that really gives you that Hawaii vibe. Too bad it is not seen during play.


Images Courtesy of jollyrogergames & Mr Penguin

d10-2 Surfer Meeple - Each player gets 6 Surfer Meeple and these large wooden pieces strike a pose as if they are going goofy foot on a board. It's a nice touch to add to the theme.

Please note that the blue guys in the following image have been altered from the original. The original are a dark blue that can be hard to discern from the black in poor light.


Image Courtesy of Runehardt

d10-3 Cards - The cards are simple enough but the artwork does a good job of creating a Surfin' feel. The following cards are the 'in-game' cards.


Image Courtesy of dsmeyer

In addition there are a set of Beach Babe Cards, which can be acquired by the surfers that shine on each wave.


Image Courtesy of dsmeyer

d10-4 Wave Tiles - The wave tiles are large cardboard components that are the same size as each of the wave slots on the board. There are 3 wave types in all and they are differentiated by the artwork used, their title and value.

Whilst these are nice chunky tiles, the copy we played with did suffer from some warping in these tiles.


Image Courtesy of dsmeyer

d10-5 Trophies - A really nice addition are the little trophies that can be won by riding waves into the beach. These come in gold, silver and bronze. The only gripe here is that the gold and bronze colouring can be really hard to tell apart in limited light.


Image Courtesy of Mr Penguin

d10-6 VP Tokens - In the event that one of the trophy types may become exhausted, additional VP tokens are provided.


Image Courtesy of dsmeyer

d10-7 Dice - A dice is provided which includes a series of letters and an image that is supposed to represent a shark. For the life of me I cannot visualise the image as a shark.


Image Courtesy of Mr Penguin

d10-8 Rules - The rules come in a small booklet form. I must confess that I found these rules rather annoying. They feature far too much small text and there is not a diagram to be seen to break up the block of rules.

Add to that the fact that several rules are ambiguous and the rules really do let the game down somewhat.

Overall the components of the game are good. They are let down by some poor colour clash choices, wave tiles that are prone to warping and a rulebook that is not as clear as it should be.

Set-up

Each player receives 6 Surfers. Of these, 3 are placed in the Ready section of the ocean, 2 are placed in the Paddling Out section of ocean and 1 is placed on the Beach.

Each player also receives 6 cards and a Bail Out card to make up their starting hand.

The final requirement is to create the Wave Deck. Waves come with red and black backs. The black-backed waves form the end-game part of the Wave Deck. Once the red-backed waves are shuffled they are placed on top of the black-backed waves. With the wave deck created the game is ready to begin.

The Game Play

The aim of Surf’s Up Dude! is to be the best surfer on the beach. The players must try to catch waves and if they can keep their surfer meeple on the waves as they roll into shore, they will earn points by collecting trophies. The bigger the wave the more points that a trophy will offer, although larger waves can accommodate more surfers and that means greater competition. Making the perfect ride will attract Beach Babes, worth extra points.

The play revolves around several key phases. The good news is that most of these phases include all the players, which means that downtime is pretty minimal and the flow is smooth. The game offers up both a Basic and Advanced form of play. I will cover the Basic first before touching on the Advanced play.

The key phases play out as follows :-

d10-1 Wave Advancement - The active player for the round draws the top wave tile and adds it to the top of the board. If there are other waves already in play, each wave is moved down one slot, meaning that each wave moves closer to the beach.

If a wave features an * symbol then another wave tile should be immediately drawn and also added to the board. In this way the player’s are kept on their toes in regards to how quickly their surfer’s will reach the beach.

No more than 2 waves can be drawn in a single turn, even if the 2nd tile features an * symbol.

Reaching the Beach - If a wave is pushed into the Beach, the surfers on it have done well and earn a trophy. A Baby Wave offers each player a Bronze Trophy, worth 3 points. A Pipeline Wave offers a Silver Trophy, worth 5 points and a Monster Wave awards a Gold Trophy, worth 8 points.

In addition, the player that occupied the Prime location on the wave also attracts a Beach Babe card, each of which is worth 3 points.

d10-2 Catching Waves - Starting with the active player, each person can try to catch waves by placing one of their surfers onto eligible waves.

Only surfer meeple in the ‘Ready’ section of the ocean can catch waves. In addition, only waves in the 1st and 2nd wave slots (furthest locations) from the beach can be caught by surfers.

In order to catch a wave, a player must play a card that features the name of an eligible wave. For example, a player must be holding a Monster Wave Card in order to catch a Monster Wave.

If a suitable card is played, the player can take one of their ‘Ready’ surfers and place it on one of the available spaces on a wave that matches the card played. It is always best to place a surfer as far to the left of a wave as possible (why will become clear later). The only restriction regarding catching a wave is that a player cannot have 2 of their surfers positioned adjacent to each other on a single wave.

Should a wave have no available spaces, then it cannot be caught.

The process of catching waves is done player by player, one surfer at a time. A player has the option to play a card and catch a wave, or pass. A player can pass and still catch a wave later in the round, provided that not all players passed. This is the same process used in St. Petersburg, for those familiar with that game.

Exceptions – There is one special card called the ‘Cut In’, which allows a player to place one of their surfers on a wave in the 3rd wave slot. There are also wild cards that allow a surfer to catch any wave type.

A ‘Ready’ Card allows a player to move one Surfer from the Beach to the Paddling Out Space or from that location to the Ready Space.

A ‘Prime’ Card allows a player to move one Surfer on any wave to the Prime location on that wave, moving all other Surfers one space to the right.

d10-3 Competitions – Once all players have passed in succession, the ‘Catching Waves’ phase is over. The active player must then roll the dice. Four of the six dice faces feature letters, which correlate to the 3 different types of waves in the game (there are 2 'M' faces). If a letter is rolled it will activate a Competition for each wave of that type in play.

Starting with the matching wave that is closest to the beach, the players must fight to stay on the wave, thus resembling something akin to a real Surfing Competition. Each player with a surfer on the wave must play a card from their hand face-down. Once all players are ready they must reveal their cards. The player with the lowest valued card ‘wipes-out’ and is removed from the wave and returned to the beach.

If 2 or more players tie with the lowest valued card, the player that is placed furthest to the right on the wave is eliminated (hence highlighting the importance of position).

There is also a reward on offer. The player who plays the highest card in the competition can claim the ‘Prime Position’ space on the wave (furthest left position). If 2 or more players are tied for the highest valued card, then the player located in the leftmost position wins the tie.

The final option in a Competition, is for a player to play their ‘Bail Out’ card. This card results in an instant Wipe-Out and the removal of a player’s surfer. The reason for doing so is to save high valued cards for other Competitions and as such the Bail Out option introduces a bluff/strategic element to the card play. If 2 or more players play a Bail Out card, then the player occupying the rightmost position on the wave is done for (sent to the beach for no reward). Players always take their ‘Bail Out’ cards back to their hand.

The other reason why a player may play their 'Bail Out' card is that it results in their surfer meeple being removed to the 'Paddling Out' location instead of the Beach. This allows a player to get their surfers back onto waves more quickly.

It is possible for the roll of the dice to result in multiple Competitions if there are multiple waves of that type in play. Each such wave must have a Competition resolved before the phase can be completed.

If the active player rolls the wave dice and the symbol features an * symbol, then once all Competitions are completed for the wave type rolled, the active player must roll the dice for a 2nd time, which could result in yet more Competitions. This may sound time consuming but in truth the process is fairly quick. There will also be rounds in which the wave dice does not match any waves in play and therefore no Competitions are carried out.

d10-4 Shark Attack – But only 4 of the 6 faces on the dice offer letters to force a Competition. The remaining two faces feature Shark symbols (I must be honest, I really don’t see how the symbols resemble a Shark…but anyway). When a Shark is rolled, trouble is afoot.

The active player has the power to select any wave of their choice for the Shark to attack. The players are then in a collective fight to stay on their wave. Each player must play a single card face down and when ready all players reveal the cards they played.

If the total of all cards played is 9 or more, the Shark is seen off and all players manage to stay on their wave. If the total is 8 or less however, all Surfers fall from the wave and are placed on the Beach.

A player does have the option to play their 'Bail Out' card in this situation, which effectively adds 0 to the total. This can be a clever (although dangerous) tactic to preserve your cards.

d10-5 Paddling Out – A round is completed with the 'Paddling Out' phase. Starting with the active player, each person gets a total of 3 actions to either draw cards or move their Surfers from the Beach to the 'Paddling Out' location or the 'Paddling Out' location to the 'Ready' location. Each person’s 3 actions can be used as they see fit (such as drawing multiple cards).

d10-6 Flow of the Game and End Game – At the end of a round the dice are passed to the next player, who then becomes the active player. A new round begins and new waves come into play.

Eventually the black-backed waves will be reached. Two of the 5 black-backed waves feature a whistle icon. The first wave revealed with this icon will serve as a warning. When the 2nd is revealed the end-game is triggered. At this point each player receives 3 cards and all surfers not already on waves are removed from play. The Wave Advancement phase continues to play out, including the roll of the dice and any subsequent Competitions or Shark actions. This continues until all waves have reached the beach or no Surfers remain on waves.

At this point each player adds up their points earned in Trophies and Beach Babes with the highest score winning the Surfing Contest.

Advanced Game

The advanced game plays almost identically except for a small change to the 'Competition Phase' to stay on waves.

During competitions all players still play a card. These are revealed and if someone played a 'Bail Out' it will finish like normal. However, if no player played their 'Bail Out' card, all players must play a 2nd card. Once all 2nd cards are revealed the players add up both of their cards and the lowest total is the unlucky surfer. Any 'Bail Out' cards played as the 2nd card do not count as such...instead they have a score of '0'. This effectively allows for greater mind games and bluffing to occur.

So Where's the Games Appeal?

Surf’s Up Dude! is not a colossus of game design by any stretch of the imagination but it does have some interesting elements worthy of exploration.

d10-1 Surfer Management – This is a major element of the play. Each player only has 6 Surfers at their disposal. Surfers will regularly find themselves on the Beach, so it is important to get them past the Paddling Out location to the Ready location so they have the option to catch further waves.

Once on waves of course it is crucial to keep them on those waves in order to win Trophies and possibly beach Babes.

Identifying how many surfers you can manage to keep on waves is also crucial. there is no point trying to ride 4 waves into shore if you only have the cards to see 1 of them all the way in! devil

d10-2 Card Management - This is where the importance of card management comes into play. This is in fact the key element of the game. Cards do everything from allowing Surfers to catch waves through to helping them stay on waves during competitions or fighting off shark attacks.

The design of the cards is similar to many games that have come before. The low valued cards (which are less useful in Competitions and Shark conflicts) usually offer the names of the higher valued waves.

Conversely the high valued cards generally feature names that allow access to the smaller Baby Waves. Knowing when to use a card to catch a wave and when to keep it for survival in a Competition/Shark Attack can be tough. These decisions are made even more difficult as you also have to time when you keep certain cards for those moments when you actually have Surfers ‘Ready’ to catch a wave! The Advanced Game with it's potential for 2-card Competitions only makes things harder.

d10-3 Limited Resources/Bluffing - It is quite likely that a quick succession of Competitions will leave you card poor, thus your card resources will become limited. This requires a difficult analysis of which waves you think you can stay on and those that you are prepared to forfeit. Each decision will be determined by the card values you hold and the positions your Surfers have on each wave. Bluffing is highly possible and at times it will be best to ‘Bail Out’ in order to keep that last high valued card you hold in reserve for a Monster Wave worth big points.

d10-4 Strategic Elements – This brings us to the more subtle strategic elements of the game. Because a player will earn multiple trophies for having more than 1 surfer on a single wave, it is highly desireable to double team a wave. This is enhanced further as a Competition only requires the 1 (or 2) cards to participate, regardless of how many surfers are present.

Those ‘Prime’ cards are very handy too as they can be played to take the Prime position on a wave just before it hits the beach, potentially securing 3 points for a Beach Babe.

Perhaps the most subtle of plays is to deliberately try and fail against a Shark Attack by playing a low card. This may be advantageous if you currently have more Surfers on other waves than your nearest (by score) rivals. Seeing a wave get Wiped Out in this way can offer you a handy strategic advantage.

Then there is the ‘big picture’. Is it best to get as many Surfers onto waves and focus on getting 2/3rds of them home (and ignoring your management of Surfers that are out of action), or is it best to have a small number of Surfers on waves, making them easier to protect, as well as keeping your flow of Surfers cycling through to the 'Ready' position in order to catch more waves. Both strategies have their merits and often it may depend on the cards you hold.

When all of these above points are considered, Surf’s Up Dude is a reasonably engaging experience. The fact that it plays in 40-60 minutes and each phase/round plays smoothly with little need to reference the rulebook after a few plays, adds to the game’s appeal.

The Weaknesses

d10-1 Luck of the Cards - Whilst the law of averages should balance things out on the whole, it is highly possible to get a string of low valued cards that make it all but impossible to survive a Competition or string of Competitions. This can then leave such players at the mercy of the dice and the faint hope that your Wave(s) won’t come up. This can be really frustrating.

The Advanced Game tries to rectify this somewhat but I have been a player (and seen others) that hold nothing but cards valued 5 or less and they are still screwed most of the time.

d10-2 Variable Wave and End Game – Whilst I tend to like these mechanics as they keep the players guessing, it may well be a turn off for some people. The end game is not such a big deal but the nature of how the waves come out can see some players get real lucky in reaching the beach before disaster can befoul them, whilst other players keep hitting Competition after Competition. It is also possible to draw a lack of variety in relation to wave types, which can see a player totally miss a wave type for large parts of the game.

These things won’t happen all the time but when they do it can be annoying.

d10-3 Optimal Players – Surf’s Up Dude! is not at its best with the full compliment of 6 players. For starters the card deck will pretty much become exhausted almost every round, resulting in numerous re-shuffles.

Some of the mechanics also don’t work that well with 6 players. Shark Attacks are almost a non-event on larger waves as they will generally be full. With 5 players playing cards, the Shark barely stands a chance.

Likewise, I don’t see the game having enough of an edge with 2 players. For me the optimal number of players is 3-4 and most likely 4.

The Final Word

So in the end Surfs Up Dude! is a solid design. It doesn’t leave you with a buzz but it is enjoyable enough and has some interesting elements.

The problem is that it doesn't really have much that really makes it shine. It is sound rather than stunning. If I had this on my shelf I would be hard pressed to pick it up over something else.

So all I can really say is that I'm glad I got to play it but this is best left to the surfing fans.
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Chris
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Neil Thomson wrote:

d10-5 Trophies - A really nice addition are the little trophies that can be won by riding waves into the beach. These come in gold, silver and bronze. The only gripe here is that the gold and bronze colouring can be really hard to tell apart in limited light.


"Limited Light" ?? Do you have bionic vision, Neil? These can't be told apart in the brightest fucking sunlight at high noon on a clear day. Which is where we have played the game a number of times. Nor the "purple" surf-eeples. Gakk. Paint that stuff.

And the rules contain some true gibberish; forgot to hand in the final draft by all appearances. The nice people behind this game should have done much better here.
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"Every Board Game I Reach Is Dead"
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Great review- also highly educational as it allowed me to spot all the rules mistakes we were making!

Played this 4 years ago and decided to dig it out again today- the rulebook is a HORROR of Euclidian wording and holey instruction.

Also why is the game stated as going to 6? Played it with six we found that you run out of trophies, run out of babes, run out of cards to draw! What a disaster of design, seriously the 3/5/8 counters would have been fine on their own and you could have given enough in the game to not run out without need for babe cards or plastic trophies in similar colours!

Hand limits should have been a definite, either that or there should have been more of everything!

And I didn't even notice the star on one of the dice sides!

Badly designed, awkward game, shame because I quite like the theme and its nice to look at.

PS- Also I found no reference in the rules that players are ever bailed to the beach- all examples say to paddling out space.
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