Designed by Dan Hallagan
Art by Dan Hallagan
Published by Kayenta Games
1-4 Players | 30-90 Minutes
Unfolding like the pages of a Jane Austen novel, Obsession places you in the shoes of a historical mid-19th century Victorian England family. Ripe with eligible young men and women of marrying age and having shaken the depression of the 18th century – each family can now propel their new wealth to rebuild their estates and reputation while concurrently rubbing shoulders with society’s elite. The crown of Derbyshire’s wealth and elegance resides with the Fairchild family. One year removed from the arrival of their debonair niece and nephew, the season of courtship is upon us and romance is in the air.
In Obsession, players will take on the mantle of Derbyshire, England families working to rebuild their reputation by inviting the most affluent guests and throwing the most lavish parties. Using your wealth, you’ll refurbish rooms of your estate in an effort to gain newfound prominence, build your reputation and hopefully attract the eyes of Charles and Elizabeth Fairchild. You’re not alone in your pursuit as you’ll have ample and capable staff to help with your endeavors in this mid-weight, card-drafting and tile-placement game.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Independently designed and produced by Dan Hallagan of Kayenta Games, Obsession is clearly a product of passion. Beautifully integrated into the production are true-to-life, historical characters of the day. While most games attempt to create an engaging storyline, Obsession derives its story from it’s characters immersing you almost instantly into the time and world of these socialites.
Another key element of Obsession is it’s extensive level of customizability. There are many more play modes and variants than I could cover in a fair amount of time. From it’s solo mode to rule variants, expansions and modules, Obsession provides plenty of variability.
Obsession takes place over 16 or 20 rounds (depending on your preference broken up into a series of seasons that each culminate in a courtship round).
To begin the game, players choose one of four families, each with their own starting hand of cards, house staff and beginning bonus. It’s these combinations that begin to rebuild your estate and attract more affluent guests.
The goal of the game is to accumulate the largest number of victory points which are achieved in a number of ways from improving your estate, building your reputation, and collecting affluent guests just to name a few.
During a standard turn, players will activate one of the rooms in your estate. To begin, players will have 5 standard rooms to work from. Each room will likely require a combination of cards (gentry) and staff (servants). Players then earn favors from activating the room and from cards played in tandem. These favors or rewards include financial benefits, additional gentry or increased reputation. Some of the more miserable guests may even siphon favors from you. Additionally, at the end of each turn, players can purchase more rooms available from the board’s market to benefit you on a later round.
Rest assured, as you begin to establish yourself as one of the more social elite, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to draw more rewarding gentry and earn bigger favors.
When activated, each room tile will be flipped providing additional victory points and more advanced favors.
One alternative round action is refreshing your gentry deck. It’s painful to boot an entire round, but you do receive cash and each player will more than likely have to do this at some point. The silver lining is you can still purchase additional room tiles that turn and you get to refresh your servants as well (these typically take 2 turns to refresh). As you build your Victorian engine, you’ll earn gentry that will earn more gentry that will largely extend your ability to avoid refreshing deck, keeping you on the good path of gaining favors and advancing your social status.
Throughout the rounds, you encounter corporate bonuses under the guise of parties such as the Village Fair or the Builders’ Holiday. These events allow you a number of benefits such as bonus money for having upgraded certain tiles or free-reign of the market. These events take place within mini-segments of the game called seasons, and a season always end in a Courtship phase.
The courtship phase begins at the beginning of that season by defining the current interests of the Fairchilds (your true obsession). During the Courtship phase, players who have gained the most victory points in that area of interest (each corresponding to one of the 5 room tile types) earn the attention (and gentry card) of one of the eligible Fairchild family.
Another key component to your families’ success is your reputation track. Favors can provide reputation bonuses. This is critical because certain room tiles and gentry cards require a specific reputation level before they can be activated.
Once the final round has been reached, players total their victory points and a winner is crowned. While the recommended play time is 30-90 minutes, my games never played in half an hour, but I never felt like they went the whole 90 minutes (even though they probably exceeded it). There is definitely something about Obsession that causes it to fly by.
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS & WESSEX EXPANSION
The Upstairs, Downstairs expansion introduces the Howard Family as well as additional servants, gentry cards, new room tiles, objectives and various other helpful pieces. The designer clearly emphasizes that this expansion shouldn’t be incorporated into the game prior to learning the base rules of Obsession. As one who frequently throws caution to the wind, I heartily rejected this warning and have played every game with the wonderful Upstairs, Downstairs expansion. I can honestly say I should have heeded the designers advice, but we did survive.
Needless to say, I quickly got my legs under me and really enjoyed the additional family to choose from and the new servants that each provide unique benefits.
Is Upstairs, Downstairs necessary to enjoy Obsession? It’s certainly not necessary. I do think fans of Obsessions will be pleased with the richer experience the expansion offers.
The same could be said for Wessex Family expansion that provides an additional family to choose from. Is it going to change the game dramatically? No, but in a game like Obsession, it’s clearly the more, the merrier.
I’ll begin by addressing the components from a presentation standpoint. Obsession feels very high-end. The family boxes feature each family’s crest making choosing a family an experience. The same can be said with the additional boxes provided for packaging the components. Even though packing the game back in the box can be a chaotic experience, one packed in these royal purple boxes, it feels clean and good.
The second edition of Obsession is delivered with a slightly larger box overall. I’m sure this is a welcome addition over the more compact first edition. While the game does magnificently (and miraculously) fit in the box, I can’t imagine trying to squeeze all the components into anything smaller.
Obsession does come with a lot of “stuff”. I was a little overwhelmed when I first spread everything out before me on the living room rug. The designer does provide an EXTREMELY helpful video when it comes to repacking the game. It took me a few games, but I’ve finally got my process down, limiting setup and teardown to a reasonable time.
The components consist of a variety of game boards, player boards, meeples, cards and tokens. The cardboard itself is very thick – I can’t imagine anyone having any complaints on the quality. The same goes for the high end gentry cards and wooden meeples. The coins are cardboard, but I suppose you can upgrade to metal coins yourself if you so desire.
The game comes with an extensive rulebook and glossary to supplement the game. The rulebook is so thorough, it’s almost to a fault. While it leaves no stone unturned, I did find it a bit wordy at times and slightly difficult to discover what I set out to find. For this same reason, it felt slightly unorganized. I did find this beneficial my 2nd and 3rd play through of the game as I was able to connect a lot of the dots quickly… but my initial trek through the rulebook felt slightly disjointed with all the extra tidbits of information here and there. There is a helpful how-to video that is accessible via a QR code from the rulebook that might help shore-up any additional questions you might have.
While much of the graphic design is rich and classy, the illustrated artwork isn’t anything to write home about. While it doesn’t detract from the game, I feel some more dramatically illustrated landscapes or estate exteriors could have done a little more to bring the visuals to life. I absolutely LOVE the gentry cards, each depicting a resident of Derbyshire along with thematic favors and flavor text. Looking at these historic photos begs to wonder what they might have been thinking at this point in their lives, what were their goals and values and could they have ever imagined in their wildest dreams they would be a part of a 21st century board game?
Obsession shines with the theme. The culture and society at the time have been lovingly tied into the game both telling an engaging, soapy drama of a time gone by and activating a series of enjoyable, and rousing mechanics.
I love the shallow pursuit of rebuilding your estate with the sole purpose of improving your perceived lot in life. With the heaviness surrounding our modern lives, this feels light and silly in all the right ways. Again, each character card tells its own story, not just in the favors they provide, but in their gaze and attire.
Mechanically, Obsession is a card-drafting, tile-building game where you’re working to build an engine to churn more gentries through the doors of your estate, earning more favors and various residuals. While there are a few negative gentry cards to be had, you’re typically doing something positive each turn. It’s satisfying and strangely exciting going through the motions such as upgrading your reputation track or executing the perfect room tile. The game really pays off when you’ve carefully planned your next room tile culminating in big rewards along with a personal, cheeky, inward arrogance of achievement.
There are multiple pursuits throughout the game to keep you on task (or distracted). All players receive multiple objective cards, have round events or courtships to pursue… all in addition to the present goal of executing the needs of your room tiles and those available at the market. There is so much to do that it almost feels like a mini defeat having to pause your pursuits and fresh your hand.
I think it’s fair to note that this isn’t a game that you’ll jump right into. Obsession does require some commitment and investment in the rules, setup and strategies. This is easily the biggest hurdle to new players. Once you’re in, you’re golden, but Obsession is a big game and it’ll test you from the get-go to see if you’re worthy.
I’m not a Downton Abbey fanatic nor have I ever read a Jane Austen book, but I really enjoy this game. In fact, I feel mildly guilty enjoying it so much for the theme alone. It’s not just the theme though… The mechanics are equally smooth, challenging and satisfying. I love being able to earn rewards from the room tile AND multiple gentry played to activate it. There are so many different gentry cards, goals and room tiles that you’ll never play the same game twice. The additional modules and expansions provide more added value that not only brings variety, but unique ways to experience the story.
I’m not sure what’s coming over me… perhaps I’m secretly becoming obsessed with Victorian society. Maybe I’ll binge Downton Abbey or start reading Pride and Prejudice… or perhaps I’ll skip it all and just go play another game of Obsession.
Obsession is indie board gaming at its very best, a true accomplishment by designer and publisher, Dan Hallagan, and a real treat for true gamers. The thematic detail combined with the smooth and engaging mechanics create a memorable and enjoyable experience. Due to that independent approach, Obsession is only available in limited print runs, and if still available through https://www.kayentapublishing.