Firing up the Kickstarter video for Bureaunauts, I am immediately put off, ever so slightly, by the somewhat flat, practiced tone of the narrator (who I am guessing is co-designer Allison Markello; sorry Allison) – not really a drone, per se, but not particularly energetic, either. It feels like any by-the-numbers Kickstarter video – folks not used to being on camera, talking about the inspiration for the project (a love of science fiction, in this case), and wanting their board game to be a fun contribution to the genre. My eyes glaze over – tonally, this presentation could be from any of the meetings I had last week at my very corporate day-job (eventually, Gameosity will make me wildly rich; you guys just keep clicking those banner ads).
Sure, the subject matter is different, but 10 seconds in and I am already feeling the nagging weight of the reports sitting on my desk, waiting for my attention. My mouse glides toward the X in the corner, ready to end the experience and move on, my patience with these sorts of things incredibly low from an adulthood replete in project planning meetings and corporate jargon.
Then, at around the 12 second mark, this hits my screen, and I wake the hell back up:
**Kickstarter Prototype So On And So Forth – Nothing is final!**
Bureaunauts, designed by Brian Heasley and Allison & Todd Markello, is the first outing by publisher Fox & Ox Creations. Up on Kickstarter now, Bureaunauts is a game of simultaneous action selection and set completion, wherein all the 2-6 players start out as Interns, navigating both the depths of space and the heights of the corporate ladder on their journey to become the next Galactic CEO.
Each turn, players will use their secret space-dial-thingies to select which action they are planning on taking, simultaneously revealing once everyone has chosen. The available actions are:
- Moving your ship (to the coordinates you specify in your Dual Dial)
- Ship Upgrade
- Reassign a Career Goal
- Goal Adjustment
- Repair Ship
- Have a Business Lunch
Players will repeat these steps, which all require paperwork to be filled (at the cost of one Almighty Photon each), are all-
Jess: I’m afraid that you also neglected to mention Step 2, Players Receive Budgets, and you only barely glossed over the importance of Step 3, File Paperwork With The Corporation. And, really, ‘space dial thingies’? None of this review meets company guidelines; I am going to have to submit it to the Approvals department for review by the editor.
Bureaunauts is a unique mutation of game design, and maybe one of the most thematically-embraced games I have ever played. Even just setting up the game, the first thing we noticed was how, well, fussy it all looked. A huge card grid that takes up more space on your table than it has any right to (honestly, I’ve never met a game in more dire need of a player mat), these little dials and tokens and player boards, cards that represent corporate goals, and an ominously thick rulebook all suggest that this is a game simply infatuated with itself, a game that demands time and energy regardless of what else you had planned today…
But the reality is that Bureaunauts wears its horrifying corporate inspiration on its sleeve, which it is also busy giggling into because it is not nearly as fussy as its appearance suggests. Honestly? Bureaunauts is light and fast and above all fun as all heck.
Andrew: Ok, a more useful gameplay summary goes like this – each player has a series of goals which they must complete before the end of the game gets triggered. Each of these goals is sort of a set collection thing – some are about finding relics scattered around the board, or destroying space pirates, or upgrading your ship, or even fighting the floating Solar Jellies which wander about the grid like the useless blobs they are. They will do all this by zipping around the sector of space represented by the cards, flipping them face-up as they explore.
Accomplishing goals lets you add your influence cards to the 5 Department Heads, each of which will have a vote at the end of the game to see who the next Space CEO will be. Along the way to accomplishing these goals, players will almost certainly come into conflict with each other – wanting to occupy the same space, grab the same career goals, etc. These conflicts are resolved with a rock-paper-scissors-
As players get promotions (by completing their career goals, which they can manipulate with the Reassign A Career Goal and Goal Adjustment actions), they will get more and more Almighty Photons per turn. This currency is used to purchase actions I MEAN FILE PAPERWORK-
…And so, as the game goes on and the pool of unexplored sectors of space gets smaller, Bureaunauts actually ramps up and intensifies, with players taking more and more actions per turn until someone finally gets promoted to Director, triggering the vote to determine the winner.
Jess: The vote is corporate simplicity itself! The influence cards which players have placed on the Department Heads are gathered and shuffled (separately) and one card from each pile is flipped over. The player with a majority (either hard or soft) is the winner! If there is a tie which cannot be resolved, the current votes are thrown out and a new ballot is cast until the tie is broken. Should that process fail, then the tied players will ‘Schedule a Meeting’ until a winner is determined.
So let’s be clear – Bureaunauts is a fun game. Any nonsensicality (that’s a word I just made up) or over-complexity in its rules are, as far as we are concerned, perfectly thematic and do not detract from our good time in any way. That the game can be random and arbitrary works so well in pursuit of its theme, while its light weight and reasonable playtime (under an hour, for sure) make sure that those elements don’t ruin your fun. I mean, it is fully possible for the game to end in a round of rock-paper-scissors, and it’s still somehow fine.
Bureaunauts shouldn’t work, but it does. It is sci-fi themed, sure, but that’s only the half of it. In this great corporate future, sometimes buying a Department Head lunch is just as valuable as bringing back a pile of priceless space-relics, and the person who works the hardest isn’t necessarily going to be the one who gets the promotion…which is to say Bureaunauts is sorta perfect, within a corporate standards guideline definition of perfect.
Andrew: In all seriousness, I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised by liking a game as much as with Bureaunauts. It didn’t look bad to begin with, but it looked, well, like precisely what it is making fun of. But its design is so cleverly simple that it can satire without effort, and at the end of the day, it just provides a good time.
We absolutely recommend checking out the Bureaunauts Kickstarter when it goes live, and we will be happy to provide links as soon as its up! The campaign promises upgraded components and a trimmed rulebook (thank the Almighty Photons), and we just can’t wait to see what else Fox & Ox has in store for us lowly corporate interns.
(Thanks to Fox & Ox for providing our prototype for preview. Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions)