Here’s a fun fact that you can learn from watching Lorien Green’s great gaming documentary, Going Cardboard: Friedemann Friese, of Power Grid fame, had an dilemma when he was designing it. He wanted you to be able to move between different locations, purchase resources, and manage the supply chain between them all. What he had was, essentially, the same mechanics as many train games. He liked what he had created, but he knew he did not want to do another rail game. He instead came up with the idea of supplying electrical power to cities, and the rest is history.
Theme has a powerful effect on what excites potential players. (Alright, most players. Sure, there will be fans of “Generic Euro Game B-14″‘s mechanics simply for the mechanic’s sake, but even the most basic premise can make a difference between people remembering the game – and people not.) If designers aren’t generating a revolutionary new style of game behavior, they’ll be using some variant of existing models. So, then, to make their game stand out, they will have to add some kind of flavor to it that will set it apart for us consumers. After that, it’s a matter of taste. If the inner workings are pretty similar, you’ll probably decide by the theme, whether your preferences are farming games, or zombies, or pirates, or space, or trains…
Or Mad Scientists.
We have a weakness for Mad Scientists.
Enter What’s He Building in There? Here we get what is mostly a worker placement game, with some entertaining twists. In it, you are managing the construction of your own Doomsday Machine (is there any other kind, really?). But you’re smarter than that. You know those annoying do-gooders will catch up to you eventually, so you’re working on your elaborate escape plan as well. Throughout the course of the game’s 15 rounds, you will be allocating your doctor, his henchmen, and nameless workers, through a wide variety of actions on the board, to generate the necessary money and materials to Take Over the World! Seems simple enough, right?
Pleasantly, the game goes a step beyond simple resource management to the important question of, “what sort of evil genius would you prefer to be?” In addition to merely converting raw materials and cash into your Death Ray, you’ll be able to, say, invent items that can help you in one form or another. Inventions like these:
If you’re not the laboratory kind, maybe you’ll focus on building up your social personae and be the suave kind of villain. Or perhaps you’ll beef up the security of your compound. And don’t forget your strange pet companion that no proper mad scientist should be without.
Ok, so you can’t have a shark with laser beams, but how about a nice crocodile? (Hands off the Komodo dragon though – that’s ours.)
The other fun tweak it has to the worker placement genre is a deviation on the ‘special action’ aspect. That is, several of the basic actions end up either doing Option A or Option B, depending on whether it’s the doctor or his henchmen taking the action. What’s more though is that this affects not just that player, but all players using that ability for the round. This makes turn order actually somewhat important.
Makes sense, right? After all, you don’t want to be at the back of the Mad Scientist Anthologies book; you want the cover.
All of these maneuvers add up to points at the end of the game, and whoever is the most dastardly ends up on top. What’s He Building in There is an entertaining take on worker-placement games, with multiple paths to victory and campy Mad Scientist flavor running rampant throughout. If you’re the kind who’s looking to up for world domination with some style, you should check out their Kickstarter.