Crisis Preview - Kickstarter - It's A 12 Storey Crisis. . . .

I very rarely do Kickstarter reviews, but occasionally the odd one slips the net whether by polite request or a keen interest in the game to begin with. I much prefer to have the finished product to hand when doing a review. In this instance with Crisis, the reasoning is down to Paul Grogan setting me up and also a keen interest in the game to begin with. Side note, did you know Crisis is derived from the Greek word "krisis" meaning "turning point in a disease"? The more you know.....
I was introduced to Ludi Creations at the UK Games Expo and eventually after a long search for a table (looks like even with the increased floor space we need more gaming tables) I sat down with several other local bloggers and we played through a full game of Crisis from beginning to end, with a full rules explanation and a chance to give our feedback. Please note that this is a product Pre-Kickstarter so even though some of the component/art production is finalised, not all of it is. Also bare in mind that I've played the game once so this is more of a preview/first impression. And finally as a word of warning, you might want to do a quick search for "Crisis" and "Blackadder" - just saying. . . 

Designer: Pantelis Bouboulis & Sotiris Tsantilas
Publisher: Ludi Creations
Age: 14+
Players: 1-5
Time: 45-120 min
Release: Fall 2016

With A Magnificent Entrance Hall

Now when you read the sales pitch below, you're going to notice a keyword repeat itself in the second half that will make you wonder if I'm feeling alright this morning by opting for this review. . . . 
"Taken from Ludi Creations Website"
Axia. A land with a glorious past, a most uncertain present, and an even more unpredictable future.
Populated by what has been described as a fervent and warm-blooded people, Axia is in crisis – economic, social, and political: the longest-running recession in its modern history, the highest inequality in years, and a political system teetering on the brink of collapse.
In more ways than one, Axia is fighting against itself. Old divisions of the past have given way to new ones, and this generation – along with the next ones – has the most to lose.
Will you, along with your fellow industrialists, do your part to help Axia? Will you sacrifice short-term gain in the present for a brighter future? Can you do that, and survive? Perhaps you can, and perhaps you can even thrive – and you will, if you see opportunity where others only see crisis!
The goal in Crisis is to survive, and even thrive, in business while everything else is collapsing around you.

The recent economic crisis has forced the government to privatize, putting critical pieces of infrastructure on the market. Furthermore, recently bankrupted firms are also putting their assets up for sale, offering many opportunities for investment. Each turn a number of such investment opportunities appear, in the form of Company cards.

The players must make hard decisions in a very unforgiving economic climate, which is also made more challenging by the government’s obligation to meet the goals of the Austerity Plan imposed by the Economic Union. If they collectively do so, then the economic situation improves. If they fail, then it deteriorates, with serious consequences.
Did you notice a certain "E" word repeated? That's right, Economic. Now followers may have noticed that despite being an accountant, economic games don't tend to fare well with me. There are some out there I find to be OK and others I find to absolutely loathe, but rarely does one sit with me as a solid game that I'm willing to play multiple times. So why was I keen on this one? Well first, it's a worker placement game and that's a tick instantly, being my favourite Euro mechanic. Secondly, read that last sentence again ("if they collectively do so". What this is implying is that there is an overall game mechanic or timer that is affected by group participation despite having to fulfil your own agenda. This is common in Amerithrash or Traitor games, but less so in Euro's, and it's also a feature I really like. So two big ticks for me, that earns it a play through so let's see what's what!
Carpeting Throughout
The crux of Crisis will be for players to invest in different industries (mining, banking, farming etc) and hire workers to produce benefits such as resources, money or victory points. All of this will then enable the player to specialise in whatever industry they feel like and export any goods they make into the open market for more points. Alternatively they can ignore exporting entirely and simply make the most of all the service based industries available like running the tourist trade or a large bank for a similar benefit. 

Now of course, this wasn't a fully final copy of Crisis that we played, but for the most part the components were what I would expect from the published version. And aside from some fairly basic artwork and odd naming of the cards (Bank001 for example), they were actually pretty good. The worker tiles are thick and all the resource tokens are wooden and custom made, thank goodness they're not stooping to using cubes here.

The board has a nice backdrop of a futuristic city, not unlike the sort you see in movies like The 5th Element which was the first thing that popped in my head at first sight. The worker spaces can be a little hard to see visually at first, but you shouldn't be missing them out once you've double checked and they have tried to make them stand out by making them appear 3-D.

At first you think the board is really busy, but it actually follows a logical progression throughout. The tracks for the economy, victory points and money are clear enough and spaces for any cards/tiles are easy to spot. Anyone who's played Pillars of the Earth will notice a similar style of numbering the worker action spaces on the board in order to co-incide with how they all resolve in the Resolution phase. This really helps to aid players in remembering what comes before what and in this case it's very important as the timing of when you have resources available and when you produce more and utilise your industries needs to be considered at all times. Everything is notated using iconography which for the most part is pretty intuitive with only a couple of items requiring further explanation. If you can manage games like 7 Wonders or Race for the Galaxy, you'll have no trouble here.

24-Hour Porterage
Even though there is really only two direct avenues to go down, there's a lot of ways in which you can do so. There are multiple different resources to export, each of which fetch differing prices and vary in how much effort is required to produce them. Depending on which industries you acquire or how much competition there is with other players might influence your decision one way or another. I myself decided to act like an accountant (funny that) and focus on banking and managing a resort, yeah that's a great way to to show you care for the economy, make lots of money and give yourself a penthouse suite! But in doing so, everyone else was primarily focused on exports which I avoided for the most part. So I naturally avoided the competition they were having and was able to progress to victory. Of course the attitudes of the players coupled with the fact that only a few different industry cards out of many will show up each round and it's first come first serve. 

It goes to show that a lot of effort has been put into making the theme strong here. Exporting goods improves Axia's standing whereas importing resources from outside has a negative effect. Event cards are drawn each turn from a different pile depending on the state of the Union, be it green (safe), amber (warning), or red (crisis) and have different effects. For example a little bit of financial instability may take place at a safe stage and riots may break out in the red. The industries work as you would expect and just like everything, you need power as a primary resource to work most of your industries as well. Crisis therefore sets itself apart from many other economic or worker placement games that tend to be quite dry and detached from reality by giving the players a sense of an over arching story line that plays out as the game progresses. 

And An Enormous Sign On The Roof
A common issue with many Euro's can be the problem of playing scaling where by the game doesn't adapt itself to different player counts. Many times this is simply the time length for that dreaded 5th player inclusion, but for a worker placement game, it can also include the availability of worker spaces.

Crisis doesn't appear to utilise any particular feature to scale the game for player counts. Worker spaces remain the same throughout so you'll discover naturally that it's a lot easier to get the spaces you want with less players, but this is down to there been so many different actions to take. Most games that reduce the number of worker spaces available only have a limited amount of different actions and thus have more flexibility to accommodate this.

The biggest impact however is the inherent difficulty aspect within Crisis of keeping Axia's financial stability in check. At first glance it seems easier to manage the economy with a larger number of players, enough so that you'll only be playing on Medium/Hard difficulty with 4+ players. But switch it around and it looks like you'll never leave Easy/Medium. There are several variants in Crisis to tweak the difficulty to your heart's content so I don't think this is a dealbreaker, it just means some initial agreement over the setup might be required before starting a game. To put this into context we played a 5 player game and started on Easy as it was anticipated we would screw things up as new players. It was a cakewalk for 50% of the game at which point we agreed to switch it up to Hard and then Axia's economy tanked 3/4 rounds later. It really does make a colossal difference to the way Crisis plays out.

Saying "This Is A Large Crisis" - Verdict
Based on one play, so far I'm impressed. No joking here, Crisis reaches a good level of depth without going too far with the economic side of things. Reaching a decent mid-weight level with rules that aren't that complex to grasp for most gamers and intuitive iconography throughout. Most concepts used here are familiar to gamers, nothing particularly original, but they work smoothly and ensure that Crisis flows at a good pace without overstaying its welcome while giving players enough options and paths to victory. The player scaling is not perfect with the difficulty spikes and no restrictions for worker placement, but it can be mitigated for the most part.
But what sets this apart for me is the maintaining of Axia's economy being the game timer. Adjusting the difficulty can really impact on how Crisis plays and having the chance of the game ending prematurely can force you to re-think your tactics on the fly. It's a great feature and I wish it was used more often in games in general. So after one play, I'll be keen to keep an eye on this Kickstarter to see how it all plays out.