22/09/2020

Smartphone Inc.: The next smartphone tycoon is… [Review]

Have you ever wondered how gadget magnates operate their enterprises? As you may know, that smartphone that gets your undivided attention is actually a multi-million dollars business. Well, you don’t need that hefty sum of money to have a taste of establishing such venture; with an approximately US$65, you’ll be a CEO for a few hours in Smartphone Inc.!

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

What you need to know

Smartphone Inc. is a euro game released by Cosmodrome Games, a game publishing house from Russia; several publishers also distribute this game for retail. The game hit the crowdfunding platform in 2019. Although I am not really a fan of the “Kickstarter Exclusive” concept, I didn’t have any second thought to back this Ivan Lashin’s masterpiece. Does it worth it? Well, keep on reading to find out!

How to play Smartphone Inc.

The game is played in five rounds; each round is divided into eight phases. All of these phases simulate the real economic manoeuvres in the smartphone industries. Players will Plan secretly their business strategy for the current round in the first phase. Second, they Set the Price for their goods before going to the merchandise’s Production in the third phase.

Starting at the fourth phase, players take turns to do the action…

The Atlantis’ CEO starts with the screen, two Planning boards, a Technology tile, and all tokens in blue.

… such as players may vary their strategy by taking a new Improvement block for their next Planning phase. Next, they can do Research to improve their smartphone’s technology and even gain patents in the fifth phase. Afterwards, the sixth step is to expand the Logistics to other regions. Lastly, players will sell their goods and gain victory points in the seventh and eight phases. After all of the phases are clear, the next round begins. Repeat this until the fifth rounds.

Variants & expansion

Smartphone Inc. comes with Steve and Status Update 1.1 expansion. Steve is an AI-player and can be played solo and in the multiplayer session, too. His moves are determined by a set of comprehensive directives. The Status Update 1.1 will bring out your CEO and give some changes in gameplay. It also provides the Hardcore variant where you need to pay some points to do actions.

You can watch a more elaborate rule explanation on YouTube. The one I recommend is guided by Tom Vasel from The Dice Tower below.

Outlook on Smartphone Inc.

Smartphone Inc. is packed in a medium-size box but I didn’t expect it to be a heavyweight game (not in terms of the complexity, I mean the weight, literally). The casing itself radiates that this game is the real deal. From the first impression when it arrived at my doorstep, I was already astonished.

The theme

I would say the game is spot on as an economy simulation board game. It feels realistic with the phases that perchance depict the concrete step-by-step of the smartphone industry. The designer even implemented the race to be the first one who gains patents through the technological breakthrough, keeping the simulation genuine! I feel Ivan has successfully merged the theme with the overall gameplay. It feels smooth and nothing seems to be out of place.

Your R&D division will fight tooth and nail to get the patent and VPs over smartphone technology; the rest will pay less without that additional incentive.

Mechanics and gameplay

There are two major mechanics imbued in Smartphone Inc. First is the area influence that happens during the eighth phase when scoring bonus VP by majoring the sales in a region. The next one is the network-building when players are setting up new offices during the sixth phase in the Logistic phase.

Also, the turn here is not fixed. It’s not played in clockwise order, for example. It starts with the company who sets the lowest price to the highest. What if there’s a tie? Well, the player with the lower VP will go first. These mechanics are easy to follow and with the rule on the turns, Smartphone Inc. gets balanced.

Decision-making is real here

The smartphone price dictates the turn order.

Smartphone Inc. is really a euro-styled economy simulation game. Just like the actual situation, players need to manage their resources and actions in order to get the fullest payback from their investment. We cannot conquer it all because the game only lasts for five rounds, which actually quite short. Thus, we need to prioritise which segment to boost your smartphone sales. It feels like you are really racing against…

The Upgrade tiles for additional Planning options.

…the other companies to win the market and cash out as much profit as possible. The way to win varies widely here. However, it comes back to the way you control the market, which is really important. You can decide to expand only to several regions that demand high-end smartphones with new technologies. Or you can spread your influence to many regions and then sell your cheap bricks here and there.

Remember that patents from your cutting edge technology you researched? It’s too expensive to conquer all, although it’s possible. You gain the incentives of additional VPs at the end of the game. It sounds really lucrative because those VPs may be the game changers at the end of the game, but will you be fast enough to gather all of the big patents before the other companies? All of them has its ups and downs but they share the same thing: consequences and sacrifices to reach your goal.

I feel how decision making is really important even during the Planning phase. While looking at the board…

Smartphone Inc. is all about money. Decision-making as a CEO will shape your company’s fate.

…you have to quickly predict your competitors’ next move – and by doing so, decide what you want to do during this round. From that point on, if your estimation is spot on, then it’s a smooth sail for you. Anyway, I can say that this game really shows the epitome of capitalism. You have to give the least to gain the most profit at the end.

It’s not that hard but it’s a serious game

Plan your business strategy seriously here with the Upgrade tiles and both initial Planning boards.

Nevertheless, Smartphone Inc. is not as overwhelming as it sounds. It’s true there are so many things players need to look at. That’s also accurate to presume that it’s a serious game. But please do mind that BGG’s rated its complexity at 2,75/5,00 – the game is not as heavy as its actual weight, so, nothing to get afraid of. Plenty of other games are more complex than this. The rule is concise and neatly drafted; it is really easy to understand and we didn’t have that many hiccups during our first game, too.

The expansions and Steve

I am not a fan of AI-variant in all kind of board games, so I cannot…

…really comment how Steve performs here. But, I assure you, you will always have a friend to play Smartphone Inc. with. I would say the expansion (Status Update 1.1) really gives another kind of impact on the game. The Investor directives will alter how you want to play the whole game. Not only it changes the way we play, but it also gives an extra replay value to Smartphone Inc. Some choices on the Technology tiles may alter your strategy and planning. I am also in love with the Hardcore mode, where each action now costs you VP. That might be a tall order to fill for some players but I guess it still gets attention from other audience.

Artwork and components

Realistic artwork on the box really emits that Smartphone Inc., again, means serious business. Everything else is kept simple but it doesn’t show any dull impression. The components are in high-quality. I always love boards with cut-out design to keep all tokens in place and Cosmodrome Games designed it this way, so I don’t have any complaints.

Also, the plastic cup is not only for storage; it is also functional during the gameplay. You don’t have to nicely sort the tokens out, risking it to accidentally slapped and vanishing in front of your own eyes. It also helps to reduce the downtime during the game setup. Nicely done.

You need to muscle out your competitors by selling more goods. Anyway, the components are top-notch; the tokens, the board, all of these.

Recommendation

Smartphone Inc. can be played alone or up to 5 players. I recommend you to seek for the other 4 people to play this with to get the most exciting experience. The game takes around 90 minutes to finish. This will be a big chunk to swallow for new gamers so you might avoid playing with them. Maybe try to play with some with at least the bare minimum experience of board gaming.

Verdict

Neat design and it’s a euro game, so I can only recommend. Smartphone Inc. still has that serious sense despite its easy-to-play feature. The game will be an essential elements in your board game library. It’s an exceptional game so I guess you won’t say that I am overstating when I conclude that Smartphone Inc. is a must-have in your collection.

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