Ground Floor

Let’s face it: most of us have to work for a living. Most of us also don’t like this fact. We wish it came with more perks and/or money, but, hey, there it is. We can dream about the lottery or a lost inheritance all day, but we’d have better odds of striking something by running around in a field waving old TV antennae during a thunderstorm than either of those options.

Of course, we also dream about being our own boss. There, we’re the ones making the decisions, being in charge. Why, with our own company, we could build it the way we want, and darn it, we’d do things right. The way it should be run.

Now, we could do that, but it’s risky. We could fail at it after all. Also, who else would know how to change the toner if we were gone? Certainly not Brenda. She always screws it up.  So, perhaps we should stick around after all. Some people will be pioneers, and we celebrate those that try. Going out and creating your own business isn’t easy though, and for most of us, it’s not a very viable option. Alas.

Playing as a start-up company, however. . .Well, that’s another story entirely!


The Premise

Players embark as CEOs of brand new burgeoning companies looking to grow and expand their business to victory. In Ground Floor, each player starts on equal footing, but only one savvy entrepreneur can generate the personnel, manage the resources, maximize efficiency, and navigate the world of personal enterprise in order to claim the title of the most successful business.


The Rules:

In Ground Floor, players portray various new businesses looking to work their way to success. This is done through building up their resources and expanding their office building, which is depicted on unique player boards. Each player receives one such board, as well as a complement of starting components: a set of colored player pieces, a player aid, and seven “Information” tokens. Each player also receives their business’s specialty, which is determined randomly at the start of the game. This allows players is to start with one upgraded version of the six basic actions on the player boards.

This turn’s economy looks good. Next turn, not so much.

Ground Floor combines both worker placement mechanics with resource management. As such, there is going to be lots of various pieces accessed throughout the course of the game. At the start of the game, however, the majority of these pieces can be set aside into appropriate piles of improvement pieces, money, Information tokens, and supply cubes.

Players can consult the rules and player aids for the full explanation of all the various improvements available throughout the game. The main board is set up by placing markers on the areas for rounds, starting cost to hire employees, and randomizing the deck of Economic Forecast cards used throughout the game to determine how safe or rocky the current economic conditions are for doing business.

The turn structure in Ground Floor is easy enough to avoid adding unnecessary complexity. First, all players collect their base income for the round. Then, players Schedule Business in turn order, which is determined by the Popularity Track. Players take turns by placing units, called Time Markers, on individual locations. If placed on the actions on their player board, the action happens immediately. If the units are placed on the main board, they will resolve in the following phase. Once all players have placed all of their Time Markers, players proceed to the Conduct Business phase, where each section on the board is resolved in order.

Each of the sections behaves slightly differently, and the rules go into more detail on how they all function. Once this is complete, play moves to the cleanup step, called Reorganize. Here, player markers are returned from the board, Popularity is adjusted, and the board is set for the next round. Rounds continue as players utilize resources to upgrade their business for more prestige points. This continues until the end of the 9th round or until a player builds the 6th floor of their business. The player with the most prestige points is the winner. The rest can head for the unemployment line.


Prior Experience Wanted

The first thing you will probably notice with Ground Floor is that the theme of the game is everywhere. The player board is in the shape of a blueprint. The Information tokens are tiny filing folders. The rule book uses Post-it notes to summarize game terms. And so on. At first glance you may not even realize that is a worker placement game through and through.

Worker placement is a popular and well-used game mechanic, particularly for Euro games. Traditionally, Euros are games that are high on function, low on luck, and usually has a loose thematic element to it. What makes a worker placement game memorable, then, is how it blends the game’s intent with its mechanics. Here, ground Floor certainly integrates the flavor of the game into its function – and that’s one of its best selling points – but there is no hiding that behind the flavor is a Euro game core. It is an enjoyable and very well designed one though.

In most complex worker placement games (e.g. Puerto Rico, Agricola, Tzolk’in), experience is a key factor. This class of worker placement games has a learning curve that must be hurdled to fully appreciate the nuances they have, and Ground Floor is no exception. The last thing a new person is going to enjoy is feeling very quickly out of their element. Ground Floor is not a filler game by any stretch, but if time allows, we often recommend a trial round with such games to acclimate newer players. This keeps players from disengaging part-way through if they starting feeling overwhelmed or that their actions are futile.


Lost Productivity

Another hallmark of these kinds of games is the penchant for a large variety of actions. As the game progresses, players can have upwards of 16 Time Marker units to use each turn, and even if some actions require multiple units, you are still left with a bevvy of options to choose from. Do you use an action on the main board, or one of your own? Do you try to block someone else’s move, or do you solely focus on personal motivations? How is this going to play out for this turn – or the next?

As a result, Ground Floor has to contend with two different potential problem areas that complex board games are susceptible to. The first is the nebulous Analysis Paralysis: having so many options you get mired in the decision-making process. Many large 4X games, such as Eclipse or Twilight Imperium, are prone to giving players AP, for example. Ground Floor isn’t a Big Box game by any means, but in the first half of Ground Floor you’ll be trying to figure out which actions benefit you best. That takes time to investigate. And it is normal behavior for the uninitiated. However, depending on the players involved, this likely will add to your overall game time the first few sessions. Be sure to set aside a good 2+ hours.

The other is the dreaded Spinning Wheels issue: having fine-tuned your strategy to a point where you can repeatedly create highly desired effects without involving other people. This would be cases in, say, Dominion, when someone is just playing through their deck every single turn. At that point they have stopped playing the game with you; they’re now playing the game at you. By the later rounds of Ground Floor, you’ll have an understanding of what you’re attempting to accomplish. You’ll have firmly established your game engine by then, and you’re going to play it out – hopefully towards a win. The catch to this is that the more refined your process becomes, the less involved you become with other players. Indeed, the final round can feel like one big cleanup step, with players just trying to grab up as many loose prestige points as they can muster.

Granted, neither of these issues are guaranteed to occur, and it is largely dependent on your players.


This example from the rules shows your company worth at 42 VP


Time For A Performance Review

Nevertheless, your groups’ clockwork-thinking Tacticians will not be disappointed with the level of customized strategy as they navigate this business-in-a-bottle world. At the opposite end of the spectrum, though, Socializers should skip this game. It can be lengthy, complicated, is fairly low on player interaction, and they will not find it enjoyable.

However, others should be more amenable.

Architects aren’t deterred by the possibility that Player A’s company can’t interfere with Player B’s company much outside of some board decisions. If anything, they prefer it that way. Ground Floor is all about building: building resources, building new floors, building new worker units, and building more things to help you build more things. Architects will appreciate that they are using their resources to expand and grow with a concrete purpose in mind. Similarly, Strikers should enjoy the challenge the game presents. Here you are pitting your workplace efficiency acumen against others to prove that you are the most skilled CEO, and like many Euro games, the emphasis on decision-making over blind luck will aid them in their ambition.

As stated earlier, one of the most noteworthy aspects of Ground Floor is its theme, and Immersionists who enjoy seeing a game interact with its own flavor should enjoy this. The companies don’t have specific names (coming up with your own is a fun little bonus though), so the world-building veneer is a bit thin. However, that doesn’t detract from feeling like you are running a miniature business. From upgrading your office to diversifying your workers, the game succeeds on an ambiance level that many worker placement games don’t. It can feel at times a little sterile, but one shouldn’t have expected balloons and unicorns here. Unless you decide that’s what your company makes. The Immersionist folks shouldn’t be dismayed – even if it is business related.

Daredevils are a coin flip with this game (which on some level is fitting). Ground Floor has a number of ways to triumph, but there’s usually a methodology at work to people’s choices. There isn’t a lot of ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ gameplay, even if it appears seemingly possible. Other worker placement games are more forgiving due to higher levels of luck or temporary actions each round, but Ground Floor doesn’t blatantly encourage whimsical planning. That said, there is enough variation with different strategies and upgrades to allow for some unorthodox management styles, and the more intrepid Daredevils out there may enjoy seeing if they can find them.


The Takeaway

Ground Floor wants to take you from your humble business beginnings to the great heights of success, and it largely succeeds on that thematic level. It isn’t easy to make the world of start-up enterprise exciting as a game concept. Somehow, the folks at Tasty Minstrel Games found a way. From the creatively designed player boards to the clever ways it turns things like warehousing, marketing, and (dare we say it ) consulting into unique and flavorful mechanics, Ground Floor actually makes the business world be fun. Plus, the well-written rules and turn organization are both done in a way to avoid getting lost or bogged down when learning them. That said, the game is beset with the same issues of experience advantage and lack of player interaction that most advanced worker placement games have. For some players, this will be a deterrent. For the game audiences that appreciates these style of games, however, Ground Floor is certainly one to consider requisitioning for your own archives.


Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Artwork: 4
Rules Clarity: 5
Replay Value: 3.5
Physical Quality 4.5
Overall Score: 4