When we received Pendulum for review by Stonemaier Games we did not know a lot about the game going in and were curious as to how it played. We did not want to look up any spoilers or detailed reviews. The game’s packaging was very alluring and we were so excited to open the box.
The game comes in a well crafted cardboard box that houses numerous cards, meeples, tokens and play mats. The organization in the box is wonderful. This has come to be our standard expectation of Stonemaier Games. Their games always have plenty of storage space and slots for cards, meeples, tokens, etc. The play mats stack nicely atop the tokens and the game board rests at the very top, sealing all of the contents safely inside. Jiggle the box all you want but when you open the box back up everything will be safely stored and easy to find and access.
The quality of the tokens is also great. There are vibrantly colored plastic meeples of two varieties. A large meeple with spiky hair called a Grande and a smaller meeple without hair. Our thoughts upon opening them was that they looked a little like Rick and Morty.
The point tracker tokens and resource tokens are made from the same stuff. A nice hardy acrylic that bounces and dances across your table if you drop them (as we often did). They can stand up to wear and tear without fear of scuffs, scratches or missing limbs. The double sided play mats have a rough texture making them easy to pick up and giving them an interesting feel. They also have the bonus of keeping your pieces in place and not sliding around as much as smooth paper. The artwork is gorgeous and the symbols for the game are easy enough to identify on their own once you know the rules (there is still a much appreciated handy reference sheet in the rulebook). There is also a nice chunky metal token that feels hefty and gives you a sense of accomplishment when you pick it up during a game. There are also three sand timers, one of each in black, green and purple. Each sand timer has a different length of time and is the most important part of the game, though interestingly enough you don’t actually need them to play.
Outside of the great quality of the components, the game shines on a unique element: time management. The game has three colored sections on the game board that correspond to the sand timers. Within those sections are two rows, all of which have the same actions but in a slightly different order. When a timer runs out it is flipped and placed on the row where there was no timer, flipping back and forth between the two rows. Players can place their worker on a row without a timer and can perform that action when the timer is flipped on to the row. Also, players all go at the same time and are free to move in and out of available spots as opportunities arise. In this way, the game does not become about who can do things faster but about who is best at managing their time. The game reminded us a little of the tower defense games you can play on mobile apps.
Each player selects their character randomly and start the game. Each character plays slightly differently from the rest and each character mat has an advanced mode for players that want a bigger challenge. There is a tier system for who gets to go first when placing involving votes. Votes are gained throughout your game and are tallied up with the rest of your group. Highest votes wins the round and gets to have a few more bonuses than the rest of the players.
The game is for two to five players with an incredibly easy two player variant. Only difference is you have a place holder on the board. Unlike most two player variants, this game is literally just a placeholder third player. You place their pieces on the board and just forget they exist until the end of the round where you have to see if anyone has less votes (a default of three). Each end of game bonus can sometimes be carried over to the next round or is a nice chunky bonus to your points.
The game is very well balanced and has a lot of strategic elements that make the game nuanced and tough to master. If the hectic nature of the timer is not for you, there is also a card where you follow the steps and just play as you please. The timers are more of a recommendation than an actual component to the needed gameplay. If someone forgets to flip the timer then oh well. Maybe they used it to their advantage? Maybe they messed up their turn? It’s all really up to how you want to play. Cut throat or a little more relaxed?
We thoroughly enjoyed this game and it has been one of the most unique games that we have played in a long while. It introduced us to a different method of playing and making sure we are focused on the game. There is still time for chit chat but if you forget to pay attention to your meeples then your game can turn around quickly. You also do not have to turn the timer right away and can use this to your advantage if your opponent doesn’t notice.
Language Barrier Playability: Easy enough, the rules would need to be explained then it would be very easy as the entire game is just symbols.
Replayability: Great with how many character options you have, advanced rules and alternating cards for bonuses this game has a lot to offer.
Artwork: The artwork is gorgeous. Well painted mats and alternate color pallettes for advanced characters.
Quality: Excellent. The components are all sturdy and well made. The only minor issue was that you have to set the sand timers down a little hard to get them to flow. Sometimes the sand will not flow so you’re forced to make a call on when it should be flipped and such. Not a big deal but a little disappointing with how well everything else is made.
Strategy: Complex but manageable. The game has a lot to offer in terms of strategy but not to the point that it will be hard or take a lot of play throughs to become a better player.
Instruction Manual: Very well written and concise. We also really appreciate the reference pages and the player reference cards to help remember what steps to take.
Organization: Everything fits neatly and snuggly in its baggy and compartment. Very tightly packed with minimal dead space for the size of the box.