03/10/2023

Silicon Valley, a mini simulation of managing a startup in modern era [Review]

Silicon Valley, the heart and soul of innovation and dreams, manifests as an extraordinary board game meticulously crafted by the brilliant mind of Scott Almes. This visionary game designer, applauded for his remarkable Tiny Epic game series, has gifted us with yet another gem to cherish. Published and brought to life by the esteemed Grail Games, Silicon Valley secured its place in the realms of gaming triumph through the support of the enthusiastic Kickstarter community. However, it is indeed a lamentable circumstance that such a remarkable creation has not received the widespread recognition it truly deserves. It’s like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered, concealed in the shadows of its own brilliance.

But let not this discrepancy deters you, for within the realms of this game lies an awe-inspiring adventure. Picture this: You, my dear player, step onto the stage as an ambitious Silicon Valley startup founder. Each move, each decision you make propels you closer to the elusive unicorn status, an exclusive club inhabited only by those who have reached the exalted valuation of one billion dollars. The thrill of this audacious pursuit permeates the very essence of this game, captivating the hearts and minds of those who dare to embark on this extraordinary journey.

And let me confess, dear reader, that this concept has resonated deeply within my own soul. The magnetic pull was undeniable, urging me to acquire this spectacular creation and delve into its intricate depths. The allure of Silicon Valley, with all its trials and triumphs, has beckoned me on an adventure equal parts exhilaration and challenge. Now, my fellow admirer of ingenuity, it is time for you to step into the shoes of a Silicon Valley titan. Unleash your visionary spirit, navigate the treacherous waters of entrepreneurial prowess, and dare to dream of unicorn status. Embrace the thrill, for Silicon Valley awaits your presence!

My tabletop analysis over Silicon Valley

The game itself is relatively simple, consisting of two phases: Action and Upkeep. During the action phase, each player performs three actions, which can be the same or different. These actions include recruiting employees, expanding headquarters, obtaining VC funding, releasing products, outsourcing tech, and conducting lay-offs or product sunsetting. The action phase is particularly engaging, reflecting the recent startup boom. Product releases require code blocks that resemble Tetris blocks, and players must strategically place them in a Polyominoes style according to product requirements.

The first player to invent a product becomes an innovator and gains significant and ongoing benefits. However, as in real life, subsequent players can learn from that technology and release superior products as second movers.

Once another player becomes the second mover, the previous player’s status as an innovator changes, significantly reducing their benefits due to market competition. Recruiting employees comes with the benefit of code blocks, but as the company’s valuation increases, higher salaries become necessary, adding to the upkeep phase’s burden. This may require players to conduct lay-offs to alleviate ongoing costs, especially if employee benefits are deemed obsolete. The game also features an interesting twist: company culture, reflected in the headquarters and product icons, providing discounts to attract new employees and reducing requirements to convince VCs to provide extra funding.

The next phase is upkeep, where players receive ongoing benefits from products and employees in the form of money, valuation, and code blocks. However, players must also pay for HQ costs, employee salaries, and product maintenance using code blocks. Failing to accommodate these costs results in involuntary lay-offs or product sunsetting, which significantly impacts the company’s valuation. The round continues until one or more players reach a one billion dollar valuation, signalling the game’s end.

Silicon Valley offers relevant experiences in building startups, albeit in a simpler form. Convincing VCs, recruiting, and even poaching employees require fixed stipulated costs to be paid, while the game mechanics are not overly complex. The player’s shield effectively summarizes the necessary information, making it easy to understand the reasoning behind actions and their impacts. Scott Almes successfully incorporates elements of the current startup landscape without overcomplicating the game.

However, the game is not without its flaws. The rulebook fails to explain potential edge cases, such as what happens during upkeep if the company valuation drops, resulting in pay cuts and allowing players to pay employee salaries. Questions regarding founder status, whether they are considered employees and if they can be poached, have been raised multiple times on the BGG forum. Grail Games’ slow response to these queries has led users to propose their own solutions to address these edge cases. Given that the game is available to the public, relying on end users to outline these processes can be seen as a significant oversight.

Additionally, the placement of code blocks may slow down the game, especially for players with spatial challenges. It seems peculiar that obtaining funding from VCs only requires simple code blocks. Moreover, players must grasp the concepts of innovators and second movers, as the benefits for innovators are substantial. If no one attempts to become the second mover for certain products, it can lead to an abrupt endgame, potentially requiring only several rounds for the innovator to trigger the game’s end.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, Silicon Valley offers a good, although not perfect, gaming experience. Personally, I quite enjoy it, and it is a shame that this game has remained relatively under the radar. I highly recommend it for individuals seeking to understand startup life or those currently involved in the startup ecosystem.


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