Pendulum review

I have played many worker placement board games, but recently I’ve had the chance to try a slightly different one. It’s called “Pendulum” and its innovation is the adoption of a real-time element that controls the placement of workers.

Pendulum is a strategy board game for one to five players and it will last about 60 to 90 minutes. This is one of the few board games in which you won’t have to wait for your turn, instead all players act simultaneously. In the heart of “Pendulum” lies an economic game, with players trying to compete for the throne of Dunya, a fantastic land once ruled by the Timeless King. Players will take the role of one of five characters with unique characteristics, and try to gather Power, Prestige and Gold as well as accomplish a Legendary achievement in order to become the rightful new rulers of Dunya.

At the beginning of the game, players receive a unique player mat depicting their character, some starting resources and two workers, one Grand worker that can be put on all available positions on the board independ if other workers are on the same space and one common worker that can only be put on a space where no other workers have been assigned. The number of available workers can be increased during the game, with a maximum of four.

Workers (Grand (big) and common (small))

The most original component of the game are three timers, that come in different colors (black, purple and green) and have different durations: 45 seconds, 2 minutes and 3 minutes. These are put in certain sections on the gameboard, having the same colors as the timers, and control the flow of the game.

The 3 timers

Each colored section on the board, consists of two identical rows. The main concept of Pendulum consists of two basic rules:

– workers can only move from and to action spaces on the row the timer is not on.

– you can take actions with workers on the row the timer is on

Throughout a round of the game, the timers are continuously flipped until the purple timer is flipped three times. Then real-time action pauses, as we enter the council phase in which players gain rewards and some components of the game are reset.

Provinces can be gained throughout the game, using armies to conquer them. They are then put on player mats so as to increase production of the three resources of the game.

Province cards

Players also gain votes, through various action spaces, that are used during the council phase to decide the order of players on the privilege track. According to this order, players will gain bonuses and choose their rewards from the council board in the form of council reward cards.

The Council board with Council reward cards.

Achievements as well as the legendary achievement that is required to win the game, can be earned when certain conditions are met for each achievement.

Each unique character, has 4 stratagem cards, that can be played at will throughout the game, providing several bonuses. These cards can be taken back, after being played, by spending 5 culture.

Stratagem cards

On each player mat, the progress of gaining Power, Prestige and Popularity will be tracked using VP markers. After four rounds of play, the winner will be the one with all VP markers advanced inside a “parchment” area of the tracks.

Let’s see how the game scores in our usual scoring categories:

Components

The gameboard of the game is pretty huge. That means that you will need a big play area for this game, taking into account the player mats and space required for the province cards beneath them. The board is beautifully designed with the various sections of it being separated in an ergonomical way. There is a separate board designed for 1 to 3 players and 4 to 5 players.

The player mats make use of every available inch to be able to hold all the player’s information and they beautifully depict the various characters.

A player mat

The three resources of the game come in little plastic cubes that fulfil their purpose, having the right size and weight.

The 3 resources of the game (Military, Culture, Gold)
The 3 resources of the game (Military, Culture, Gold)

The legendary achievement token is pretty impressive, made of metal and being heavy and shiny.

The timers are pretty impressive with their size and style. The sand in them has the same color as the timer itself which is quite cool.

The gamebox deserves a special mention as it holds a special place for each component of the game, making tiding up easy at the end of the game. Several plastic bags are available in the box in order to organize all components in the best possible way. I, personally, found it useful, to put all needed components of a player in a single bag (including the ten cubes of each resource), so that setup of the game takes less time.

Stonemaier games once more has hit the nail on the head with the quality of the components of this game. Thumbs up definitely! 10/10

Gameplay

Pendulum is a board game, not resembling to any other I’ve played. The presence of the timers makes all the difference in this case and I can’t say that the real-time element didn’t make me skeptical at first. I felt that I have enough anxiety in my life, to experience some more while trying to have fun by playing a board game. Having actually played the game however, it really felt that the time element was more entertaining than stressful. There is enough time between flipping of the timers to plan your moves and execute your actions. But even if you wouldn’t like this way of play, there is always the possibility to play an untimed game though special rules. However if this is the case, I think that there are much better worker placement games to choose from than Pendulum. What is really special about it, is the real-time element. If you think that you will find this element challenging, then Pendulum won’t dissapoint you.

The timer track for untimed rounds and the Council summary tile

I liked the inclusion of more advanced versions of the main characters. It just adds even more depth and durability to the game and makes it enjoyable by both novice and experiended players.

The solo mode of the game have been impeccably designed and I had much fun playing it. Two Automa players (as fake players are named in Stonemaier games) are used and their moves are executed so swiftly that the game flow will be smooth and enjoyable. The different levels of difficulty guarantees that this game will keep you company for a long time as a solo game. 7/10

Learning Curve

The 24-page rulebook plus the variety of different components, present an intimidating factor indeed. The nature of this game with its time element too. I had indeed a rough time going through the huge rulebook and understanding many aspects of the game and as a result, in my first few rounds of the game I found myself continuously stoping the timers, consulting the rulebook and continuing. Even after the first game, I wasn’t completely sure about certain rules and I had to go through some playthrough videos on the net, only to find out that I did indeed a few mistakes. After clarifying all controversial points in my mind and playing a few more rounds I suddenly realized that things are pretty straight-forward in reality. Moreover I immediately took over the task of explaining the game to the rest of my gamenight friends, finding out that they were all eager to play, without being confused by the quantity of information. So, if you can find someone to teach you the game or go through the basics using a video tutorial first, I think you will be much better in understanding crucial aspects of the game.

The solo variant is very easy to learn, once you have some experience with the multiplayer game. 6/10

Automa cards for solo play

Theme

In Pendulum, you are supposed to be a noble that tries through power, prestige and popularity to succeed the Timeless King and become the new ruler of Dunya. The character cards and the specific characteristics of each character help you get into the role but the rest of the game doesn’t enhance that feeling. All in all, in my opinion Pendulum isn’t one of the games that you will delve in, forgetting everything else that surrounds you. 6/10

Replayability

There is much to learn and experiment with in Pendulum which will make you want to play again and again. After a while you will find out that the path to victory goes through building a successful mechanism to produce more power, prestige and popularity and there and there aren’t many ways to achieve that. Most probably you will want to use the maximum number of workers and have many provinces so that is pretty straight-forward. However you will want to experiment playing with the different characters and of course their advanced forms that present an extra challenge. The solo game presents an extra challenge and has several levels of difficulty, prolonging the gaming life of the game. 7/10

Player Interaction

In Pendulum, players have no way to interact with each other, other than occupying spaces on the board, preventing this way other players to occupy them. I really would like some more player interaction,as it is for me a major factor of fun in board games. However I couldn’t say that it would be a prohibiting factor for me to play the game. 6/10

Final Thoughts

Pendulum brings, much needed indeed, fresh air in board gaming, daring to incorporate a real-time element and combining it with the all-time classic worker placement mechanic. It’s great that the designers have included an untimed variant, for players that prefer a more relaxed way of play. Furthermore, you also have the option of playing a mix of real-time and untimed rounds. The solo variant is easy to play with as well as effective. The components of the game are superb as all other Stonemaier games. All in all, Pendulum is a game with robust design, an original mechanic, enjoying solo game and great components.

Recommended for: Everyone, especially those who enjoy some extra adrenaline!

According to our scoring system for board games, scoring categories have different weights. Components have 13% weight, Gameplay 35%, Learning curve 6%, Theme 5%, Replayability 26%, Player Interaction 15%. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, overall weighted scoring of the game is:

Overall:  7.13

Summary
Pendulum brings, much needed indeed, fresh air in board gaming, daring to incorporate a real-time element and combining it with the all-time classic worker placement mechanic. It's great that the designers have included an untimed variant, for players that prefer a more relaxed way of play. Furthermore, you also have the option of playing a mix of real-time and untimed rounds. The solo variant is easy to play with as well as effective. The components of the game are superb as all other Stonemaier games. All in all, Pendulum is a game with robust design, an original mechanic, enjoying solo game and great components.
Good
  • Original mechanics
  • Great solo mode
  • Beautiful components
  • Rules for timed and untimed game
Bad
  • Little player interaction
  • Theme loosely applied
7.13
Good
Components - 10
Gameplay - 7
Learning Curve - 6
Theme - 6
Replayability - 7
Player Interaction - 6
Written by
Maria is an avid board gamer, interested also in video games, movies and tennis. She is also an accomplished surveying engineer and a proud mum.

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