31/10/2020

Pendulum: Time is the essence [Review]

Original article (Bahasa) and Pictures: Eddy S. Tandya
Editing and translation (English): Stephan Celebesario Sonny

I am pretty sure you guys know Wingspan, right? Stonemaier Games released this game in 2019. Not only this game successfully grabbed the Kennerspiel des Jahres award in the same year, but it also captured many gamers’ heart. I still can feel the hype whenever Jamey Stegmaier announces their new games. Pendulum faces pressure from the public, although it is not released yet. Some said the hourglasses are mere gimmicks. Many others left comments regarding the plastic components. I tried to remain calm and decided not to comment until I have played this game.

I got my Pendulum copy before the retail release because I pre-ordered it from their official website. For this game, I did four gaming sessions to get a clear view of Pendulum. Once was with the Untimed version and the rest with that Sand Timer.

Let’s talk about it. It’s time!

Let’s get back a bit to the story. There was a vacancy of power in Dünya, a fiction-land in an unknown universe. The royal families were competing to be the new lord. These are the roles the players assume in Pendulum.

This is how common and grande workers look like.

Players place their workers (in the shape of meeple) on the boxes printed on the game board. By doing this, they obtain items and pick actions. The difference in Pendulum lies in time. This game is a real-time game with worker placement and engine building mechanics. Hence, time is an essential resource players need to consider, too.

If you are used to worker placement games, then it would be a breeze to understand the flow of the game. Pendulum lasts for four rounds. Initially, each player gets one worker and one grande worker. The resources you gain at the beginning of the game depends on the character you picked.

These are the key and unique concepts in Pendulum. You have to understand them to play it smoothly:

  1. Players can only move workers on or off the box on the row where the hourglass is not on.
  2. Players can activate the worker and then take action on the row where the timer is on.
  3. There are three hourglasses. The black one counts to 45 seconds, green to 2 minutes, and purple to 3 minutes.
  4. Players have to place a grande worker on the box where another worker presents (either from another player or from him/herself).

I would suggest you watch this video to know in detail how to play Pendulum.

Watch it Played is always a go to know the correct way to play board games.

Theme

The background story of Pendulum is pretty good. You can read the passage in the rulebook. It’s a pity the game is an abstract one. I didn’t get the feeling of gaining Power, Prestige, and Popularity from the in-game actions. But I can tell you that the time element got all the spotlight.

Component and artwork

I read many complaints on Pendulum’s component quality. Well, for me, Stonemaier Games is entitled to one of the publishers with the best component quality. Worried about that accusation above, I directly made sure the hourglasses would flow smoothly. A quick quality check on the plastic components was a necessity, too.

So, how was it?

The hourglasses flow smoothly. They ran without my pounding whenever I flipped them. Besides, I didn’t mind the material of the components at all. I mean, plastic has its advantages, too. For example, the colour can be more vibrant. Of course, it comes with one particular drawback. There will be scratches all over the surface over time. However, I think with caution and care, those marks would not appear much.


Pendulum’s playmat has a coarse surface, maybe to prevent the Victory Point tokens to skid. Well, I do hope it would have come with two layers. It wasn’t that bad, but this rough plane prevented me from drawing the Province card smoothly. That was bad enough when we were playing the Real-time gameplay. Time was the essence, but because we needed to lift the mat to take the card, the tokens slid a bit, nevertheless. We suffered some downtimes to rearrange them.

On the other hand, the print quality and finishing on the cards and the rulebook are crisp and sharp. Outstanding. Sadly, the symbols on Province cards are a tad too small and unclear. Although we knew the placement requirements (where the background colour needs to match the column’s background on Player’s mat) because it was a real-time session, sometimes we missed this part.


The rulebook does a good job at explaining the game flow, easy to understand and concise. It comes with an FAQ section accessible for quick rule references during the gameplay. The designer even added some tips and tricks to play Pendulum better.

Jumping to the artwork section, well, I cannot praise it more. The game looks magically stunning. Whether you look at the player’s mat or those cards, the illustration is a feast for the eyes.

Mechanic

Are those hourglasses mere gimmicks? I can tell you for sure they are not only for stunts. Time is the essence of Pendulum. Players have to manage the time they have during the game.


You will face problems and need to make some hard choices through the game. “Should I place my workers on that green box now? Well, it sure looks profitable, but then I will have to wait for 2 minutes. Is it better to place them on the black box instead, and wait for 45 seconds only? It is viable, but other players would take that action? Do I still have grande worker left?” That kind of thoughts will rise when you play Pendulum. What’s more challenging is you have to do it in a short amount of time.


It is not mandatory to immediately flip the hourglass, even when it has ended. Some players may want to place another worker from other boxes into that particular box on that row before they flip the timer once again. By using time, Pendulum is an interesting turn-less game!



Besides the actual turn-less mode, players may opt to play the Untimed variant, too. You will still need the hourglasses. The only difference is you don’t have to use it as timers. I feel like it consequently turned Pendulum to be indifferent in comparison to other worker placement games. It became a lifeless and uninteresting game. Well, of course, because this version is there only to help you grasp the principal concept of the game. It should only be a tutorial for players before playing the real game.


Replay value

Pendulum provides two-sided five player-mats in the box. Each side brings different power and effect to the game. The Council Reward cards also vary greatly. During each session, players have to put back ten cards to the box. With the rest, they must adapt and play according to the Reward cards.

For the lone wolf, Pendulum also brings forth the solo-mode. During this pandemic, where it’s not an easy feast to gather and play, you can still enjoy the game.


Final thoughts


Once again, the hourglasses are not for stunt only! The only wish I had was that the timer would be 10-15 second longer. Starting the second round, my group felt that we needed longer to think, purchase, and place Province cards on the player mat. It was a bit chaotic.

I can say Pendulum is not a game for everyone. You have to decide from direct experience if you have access to it. Otherwise, you can look on YouTube first.

Considering not to buy this game because the components are not the typical Stonemaier Games’ is unwise, for real. I mean, even the built is plastic-based, the quality is still top-notch. This Pendulum game is fun when you play with the usual real-time mode. Again, time is the essence of this game, and it is much more challenging with the turn-less rule. I hope you enjoy this game as much as I do.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Playlist Spotify for Pendulum: Chilled Jazz

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