Rivet Heads Kickstarter Preview

Rivet Heads
New Mill Industries
2021
Tony Miller
Daniel Newman
2-4
Programmatic games

In Rivet Heads, you’re the captain of a squad of cyberpunk mercenaries, with aims on being the biggest, baddest outfit in town.  But success isn’t built of things like hopes and dreams – your mercs will need genetic enhancements and cybernetic upgrades to come out on top.  So you’ll do what any aspiring badass boss does – pile up your credits and fire up the factory, because we’re grinding out some upgrades in Rivet Heads!


We were sent a prototype of Rivet Heads for our consideration and possible preview.  We weren’t otherwise compensated.  All images are either of that prototype or from the Rivet Heads Kickstarter.


Jess
Jess
So, if you just go by flavor text, I have to say that Rivet Heads definitely isn’t the game I thought it was going to be.
Andrew
Andrew
Yeah, absolutely. Rivet Heads is a game about running a factory, not running missions as the boss of a cyberpunk mercenary outfit. And that’s fine! I just think it needs to be said up front.

And that factory forms the core of Rivet Heads’ gameplay.  The game is played out over the course of 3 cycles, where each player will draft a single card into their assembly line.  These cards will either generate or convert resources when they are activated.  The cards they pull in start at the leftmost position, and each player’s assembly line will activate as soon as a new card is socketed in, with each card activating in sequence from left to right.  Resources generated by cards are tracked on each player’s individual player board, and are available for use immediately upon production/conversion.

Jess
Jess
That means that your first card could produce Credits that you might immediately spend on your second card to get upgraded arms for your squad, which you could then spend on your third card in some other conversion.

The card in the third slot of your assembly line then falls off the track and the rest shift over, making room for the next card to enter your line on the left.  This way, each card will get triggered up to three times before it leaves your factory.

 

Andrew
Andrew
When you draft a card into your assembly line, you’ll decide whether you place it Action or Push side up. Action cards do their thing every time their activated. Push cards only give you a 1-time resource bump, but will factor into end-game scoring opportunities once they leave your assembly line.

 

The goal of Rivet Heads is to be the player with the most points, and these points are earned in a couple of different ways.  Each player has a squad card, which set up target resource numbers you’ll want to attain by the end of the game in order to score those points.  Those Push cards you banked will then move you up their respective resource tracks, assuming you hit the minimum thresholds for that resource type, and then all players compare majority holdings for each upgrade type, with players getting bonus points based on those majorities.  You’ll also get some bonus points based on having simply gotten your resource trackers to certain high thresholds on your trackers.  The player with the most points takes the win and becomes the biggest cyberboss in town!

Andrew
Andrew
Or something. The fact is the theme of Rivet Heads dissolved instantaneously once we were playing. I know we said it before but I think it bears repeating – what we have here is an abstract resource management game. The theme is immaterial and barely applied.

Each of the game’s resources, aside from ‘Credits’ is some sort of cybernetic upgrade, from finger claws to gills to enhanced genetics.  But within the context of the game itself, these just represent different currencies to be generated, converted, and spent in order to fulfill your squad’s abstract needs and meet the requirements to score endgame points.   While we started the game running through our turns muttering things like ‘ok, I spend a credit to get three arms, then spend an arm and a claw for eyes and gills, then an eye for genes.’ by the end of it, it was just ‘I spend a green and a red for two purple, and then get an orange.’  There is nothing beyond the simple iconography to ground the game in its alleged theme.

Jess
Jess
100% agreed. New Mills Industries takes a lot of pride in their ‘game design first’ ethos, but I have to admit, I just don’t like the look of Rivet Heads. It’s not that I needed it to be pretty – I love cyberpunk as an aesthetic.  I just wish it had leaned a more into it, which definitely could have been done without making it overdone or needlessly cluttered.
Andrew
Andrew
I totally agree. I’m a huge fan of design-focused abstracts, but the presentation here worked against it.

And that’s 100% a ‘your mileage may vary’ criticism, but for a game where you can literally pay to upgrade someone’s eyes, it would have been nice to have something worth looking at.  And snark aside, the real shame is that Rivet Heads definitely has some engaging mechanical concepts that might have shone brighter, ironically, if the graphic design had been more engaging.  The drafting itself is very clever – when you take a card from the row, you’ll also mark the card you will be taking next round, so planning ahead is absolutely critical there, doubly so because more valuable cards will force you to draft later in the subsequent round, so you’re always assessing what you are getting now against the value of more flexible choices later.

Andrew
Andrew
And what I love most about Rivet Heads is how much its economy feels like a true factory. The cards you take will produce valuable resources, but the timing of when those resources show up and how you spend them leaves every player planning their own micro-economy, trying to anticipate future purchases and balance against recurring costs, and somehow it does all that without ever feeling textbookish and dry.
Jess
Jess
Absolutely – Rivet Heads is a game all about planning ahead. The drafting is the only place other players can mess with you, and the rest is entirely up to your ability to figure out what you can do in the early game in order to set up big turns in the late game.

Rivet Heads isn’t a game you’ll get on your first time through – that foreplaning is impossible without an understanding of what future rounds will make possible (pro-tip: credits will feel useless in Cycle 2 but will become valuable again in Cycle 3).  Play it a few times, though, and you’ll grasp the resource management puzzle it presents.  And while we do wish it was a more visually-engaging experience, if that abstract puzzle sounds like your idea of a good time, we recommend heading over to the Rivet Heads Kickstarter and checking it out for yourself!

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