Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Noir Based Puppets in High Places Drops on Kickstarter

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Puppets in High Places is a standalone sequel to Subsurface Games’ With a Smile & a Gun, set in the same fantastical noir Prohibition era and began its Kickstarter campaign for CA$ 3,700 today! After gaining control of the streets of Gattory City, mob bosses are trying to gain access to City Hall. Will you or your competitor be the first to gain control and will you do so by threatening or bribing the VIPs?

We received a prototype version of the game and I can say that it’s definitely got some moxie and I’m intrigued to see the final version!

What’s in the box?

The finished version of Puppets in High Places will come with rulebooks in English and French, 15 street cards (4 starting and 8 regular neighborhoods, 1 downtown, and 2 speakeasies). There are 12 turf tokens, 99 solo cards, 3 pushover cards, and 2 player aids made up of icons.

Puppets in High Places box, the game board laid out, and four dice on the speakeasy board.
Set up to play with some of the VIPs and goons on the downtown streets and speakeasy round.

There are also 6 back alley tiles, 1 speakeasy track, 24 gifts (eight of each color), 5 smiles and 5 guns, 1 car token, and the 9 dice. Finally there are 3 keys, 8 goons, a handshake bar, and a scoring marker in blue and red.

I can’t speak to the final version of the items but I have a lot of thoughts on their design. My major critique is that I wish there was more about the noir! Why aren’t there different locations in the neighborhoods? There could be a library and a hospital or other locations that we are trying to gain control of, along with aiming for City Hall (via points).

However, the design overall of the game is lovely. There’s an icon gallery in the rulebook that clearly explains what the location and turf icons mean, and there are player aid cards telling you what can happen each turn and round. I hope the step by step instructions at the end of the rulebook will come on its own sheet as easy reference because sometimes parsing icons on the first few plays confused me.

The goons were my favorite part of all the materials though, they have a great design. If there’s a third game in this universe, I’d love to see the square cubes change to reflect the items that they represent like a champagne glass or money.

How’s it Play?

Puppets in High Places uses an evolving rondel, which the players modify throughout the game, and a tug-of-war mechanism where players try to score VIP’s represented by three different colored dice. Their values are influenced by the players and the goal is to reach 25 points first by getting as many VIPs to your side as you can.

There is also a solo version but I’m focusing on the two-player game in this preview.

Both players start with a gift of each color (yellow, purple, and green). The first player starts with 2 goons, and the other starts with 4. They are in the same “car” which is placed at right end of the downtown “street.”

Players will “cruise” around the city gathering resources needed to bribe or intimidate the VIPs by assigning goons to control different turfs, which are then activated when that player returns to that turf in the future.

As you influence the VIPs using gifts and bribes, you can move the VIPs (dice) closer to your handshake bar during the Speakeasy Round. Once the VIPs are moved past the handshake bar, you score the number of points associated with that VIP.

assorted colorful dice and square cubes next to rectangular cards with buildings printed on them, and small pieces from puppets in high places
Some of the prototype pieces.

For example, the car can be moved one or two neighborhoods. Players can give up a goon to the stash to move another spot. Once the car is placed on the chosen neighborhood, the player can immediately do whatever is on the turf token and on the card itself.

This might mean placing a goon in the turf and then the next time you’re on that turf, activate it and do whatever the effect is shown on the turf. Some examples include moving the handshake bar up one line or gaining a resource.

You’ll also activate the location which have icons representing what you obtain when activating it. Icons are activated from left to right and you must complete an action if you can do so. This might look like pulling a VIP one space towards you or pushing a VIP one space towards your opponent. You can also gain a key, or gain resources.

Gameplay in Puppets in High Places alternates between players and between the street and speakeasy rounds (which occur when the car is in either speakeasy) and the first person to receive 25 points wins.

Puppets in High Places is a great follow up to With a Smile & a Gun, and I am excited to see the final version of the game. I wish it had more diversity in the neighborhood cards because that would add to the story, but I enjoyed playing my first game with a rondel mechanic! I’m excited to play it again with friends and solo now that I’ve got a hang of the gameplay and strategy.

Check out the Kickstarter, including a CA $8 level reward letting you to print and play the game! It goes through the next month and I’m sure will make its goal very quickly.

Images and review courtesy of Subsurface Games

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