is a game of memory and tactics by Jussi Auti, published by FRED Distribution.
Playing Time: 1 hour
The Club comes with:
Board: A four-panel glossy gameboard that depicts a 7x7 club, featuring bars and a dance area. The overal concept is pretty abstract, but the board does a good job of making those abstractions into a concrete reality with an attractive isomorphic view.
Tiles: 120 tiles which depict the club-goers. This includes some guards, rock stars, and bullies, plus 108 dancers. The tiles are all printed on glossy cardboard, featuring generally funny art Antti Loytynoja.
On the front of each tile, the club goer is shown with a number of physical characteristics: sex, size, musical taste, and party mood. Though party mood is relatively easy to figure out and musical taste is marked by a simple background color, both sex and size were hard to determine at times. We were all entirely hopeless at figuring out who was "small" until we discovered that all of the small-sized dancers wore glasses! Once you've played a bit, the physical characteristics become a little more obvious, but they really should have been marked with icons or something else more obvious.
The backs of the tiles feature "hidden qualities", which are icons depicting things like "religious", "beautiful roomie", and "lives with mom". These have good icons and are all pretty easy to make out.
Bag: A cloth bag, used for drawing the tiles.
Quick Ref Sheet: These sheets, printed on sturdy cardstock, detail how each of the hidden characteristics interacts with each of the others. Sort of, because there are a lot of special cases. I was surprised to discover that we ended up not using these references; just an iconic summary of what each of the hidden qualities did on its own would probably have proved more useful.
Rules: A four-page rulebook, which features some illustrations and gives a decent explanation of how the game plays.
The Club has good-quality components. Beyond that, you get some good and some bad.
On the downside, I think the game has some notable usability problems, mainly in the depictions of the dancers, but also in not offering a good tool for figuring out how the hidden qualities score.
On the upside, this game really sells itself on theme. It's about people meeting each other in a night club, and it offers the PG-13 rated version of that, so there's one-night stands, cheaters, diseases, and big "personalities." If that all sounds like a laugh, that'll go most of the way toward whether you like the game or not, because it's presented well.
Putting that all together, I let The Club eke in a "4" out of "5" for Style; its good-quality components and strong (and fun) theming are enough to mark it as good.
The object of The Club is to successfully match up dancers based on both visible and hidden qualities.
Setup: The dancers are randomized and 25 are placed on the 7x7 board in a checkerboard pattern. The rest are tossed into a bag along with guards, rock stars, and bullies, so that they can be drawn randomly.
The Dancers. Each dancer is defined by four visible qualities and one hidden quality.
The visible qualities are gender (male or female), body type (small, medium, or large), musical taste (heavy metal, disco, or hip-hop), and party mood (bored, partying, or drunk). There are twelve hidden qualities, some of which are always good (fat wallet), some of which are almost always bad (disease), and some of which cause interesting complexities (recently broken up).
The Bar Tenders. Each player plays a bar tender for one edge of the board. He can always look at the hidden qualities of the 7 dancers immediately adjacent to his bar.
Order of Play: On his turn a player:
- Places a Dancer
- Scores a couple
Placing a Dancer: A dancer is placed by pushing him onto the board from one of the 7 spaces on your side of the board or the 2 closest spaces on the two adjacent sides. This will cause other dancers to be pushed away from the new clubber along the same row/column.
Scoring a Couple: You can now score a couple made up of two adjacent dancers. To score a couple, they must have at least two matching visible characteristics. That means the same body type, musical taste, or party mood, and/or opposite genders.
The base score of the couple is 1 points for two matches (which is called a one-night-stand), 3 for three, and 5 for four. But then you look at the hidden qualities. Two of these can increase the number of matches: adaptive music taste makes their musical tastes match and bisexuality makes their genders match. The other ten each modify the total score through bonuses or penalties:
- Fat Wallet: +1
- Large "Personality": +2 unless partner is drunk
- Beautiful Roomie: +3 if a one-night-stand
- Disease: -5 if partner is drunk and not diseased
- Child: -1 unless partner has child, in which case +2 total
- Committed: -2
- Lives with Mom: -2 if partner also Lives with Mom or is Committed
- Religious: -2 extra if partner is committed, +3 total if partner is religious
- Shy: +3 total if partner is also shy; does not get to use beautiful roomie bonus
- Recently Broken Up: -2 unless it's a one-night-stand, in which case +2
The score for a couple is marked down, then play continues with the next player.
Special Plays: There are a few special tiles, which have special effects:
- Guard: Not placed on the board; lets you remove a dancer from the board
- Bully: Stops adjacent people from becoming couples
- Rock Star: When surrounded by 8 people, can be removed from the board for +1 point along with four dancers which can be used to form two couples.
Ending the Game: The game ends after the last tile is placed; the player with the highest score wins.
Relationships to Other Games
The Club is a game that has some elements of resource management (as you try and lay compatible dancers near each other) and some elements of memory (as you try and recall hidden qualities that have gotten further away from you).
Its irreverent modern nature also reminds me of other similarly themed games, such as Funny Friends.
The Game Design
I find The Club to be a somewhat off-kilter design.
On the one hand you have some fairly complex interactions. The fact that a chart exists to show off how all the hidden qualities work together displays that there's some depth here. You not only have to remember simple stuff (like committed is bad, while fat wallet is good), but you also have to keep in mind interactions (like disease isn't a problem unless the partner is drunk and a beautiful roomie is great as long as only two visible qualties match).
On the other hand you have heavy memory elements that quickly approach the point of chaos as you push dancers out onto the floor and try (and usually fail) to keep track of an increasing number of them as they're moved this way and that.
I find the balance between these two elements somewhat uncomfortable: the complexity suggests that you should play it with all due seriousness and thought, while the chaos that quickly arises from the inability to keep track of everything suggests that it should be a light filler. As a result, I have a hard time assessing what the audience of The Club is, or indeed if there is an audience that will be happy with these two far-flung play styles.
I suspect that the audience is intended to be light, theme-driven gamers who might enjoy games from Steve Jackson or other more "American" releases. I definitely think that the theming ofThe Club, with its funny irreverence, matches many games in that genre--but in order for it to work you have to be able to let go of actually controlling what happens and instead find simple joy in the funny connections that are made--in the terrific or terrible things that occur when people meet at The Club. Being able to let go, despite the fact that the complex interactions imply that you should stay on top of things is where The Club runs into trouble for me.
For theme-driven players who can let go, I think The Club will be a success. Likewise, people with great memories who can hold onto everything that's going on might enjoy it, because they'd be able to really take advantage of the more strategic elements of the game. However, I'm not sure how large either group is, and thus I end up giving The Club an average "3" out of "5" for Substance.
The Club is a well-themed game of night club encounters that unfortunately strikes me as too complex for light play and as too chaotic for serious play. If you're a player who loves theme and can play a complex game very casually, you'll enjoy it, but otherwise it might be difficult to find the right group of players.