You have woken in Mad City, a place you’ve always hoped to avoid, but the challenge is waking up. Welcome to Don’t Turn Your Back, a deck-building / worker placement type board game in which you control one of 4 of the Awake. Explore the streets of Mad City and gain favors from the nightmares that reside there. Score points, gain abilities, and gain the Wax King’s favor. However, the ultimate prize is to escape. Taking inspiration from the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG and the fictional stories in Don’t Read This Book, you’ll find yourself looking for new ways to escape the Mad City and regain consciousness with most of your sanity intact.
Don’t Turn Your Back was on Kickstarter earlier this year and funded on March 4th. Backers can expect to see physical game copies in September of 2015 as scheduled.
If you backed the game, or purchase when it becomes available for retail, you will get:
- 1 City board
- 1 Candle Tally (score) board
- 4 player boards
- 4 candle tally markers
- 4 Player decks (25 cards each)
- 1 Law deck (13 cards – 3 new cards unlocked during crowd-funding campaign)
- 12 page Rulebook
- Starting player card.
We were provided with a print-and-play style version of the game, but the art and style described in the Kickstarter was spot on in this version as well. Our board was divided into 4 sheets that we pieced together and we used some extra pawns for our games.
How to Play
Place the board in the center of the table. Take the Law deck and remove the First Admonishment card and shuffle the rest. For 2-4 players, deal out 7 random Law cards face-down in a pile. In a 3 player game, deal out 8. Put the unused cards to the side, place the face-down cards with First Admonishment face up on the Law space in District 13.
Give each player a board, a starting deck of favor cards, an Acquisition deck, and a tally marker. Place the tally marker on the “START” space of the Candle Tally board. Separate the starting cards (labeled start in the upper right corner) from the Acquisition cards (with Cost X in the upper right corner). Shuffle each deck separately and place them in their places on the player board. Turn 6 cards from the Acquisition deck face up in a row as shown below. These are the cards you’ll be able to purchase to build your deck during the game.
Each player draws 4 cards from the Favor (starting) deck. The player who has been awake the longest takes the first player card for the turn. Each turn consists of the following sequence :
- Phase One – Place Cards
- Phase Two – Acquire Influence
- Phase Three – Score
- Phase Four – Clean Up and Draw Up
Phase One will take several “rounds”. Beginning with the player with the “You Go First” card, they may play one card from their hand onto an open space on the board. The icons on the lower left side of the card will tell you where that particular card can be placed on the board. In a 2 player game, do not use any spaces on the board marked 3-4, and in a 3 player, do not use spaces marked 4.
Cards played to District 13, High School, City Slumbering, or the Wax Kingdom gain strength based on their Pain value (upper left corner of card). Generally the higher the Pain value, the more effective the card will be. Cards played into the High School must be played in the open space closest to the start. Cards placed in the Wax Kingdom are scored differently, and we’ll discuss that shortly. Cards placed in the Bizarre Bazaar have effects that activate when played in the Bazaar. These cards will say if they take effect immediately or later. Any time an effect says to discard or draw, the cards are done so from the targeted player’s piles. If there are no spaces left in a district, no more cards can be played there. Attack effects in the Bazaar can only be blocked if the defender has a Block card already in the Bazaar. Once a player passes, they may no longer place any cards. This ends this phase.
Phase Two is where you gain influence. The pain value of the cards you play in The City Slumbering become points of cost. These can be used to purchase cards from their Acquisition row. Similar to deck-building games, whatever cards are purchased from this row are placed face-up in the Favor discard pile, and a new card from the Acquisition deck is immediately placed in the row. Anytime either deck needs to be replenished, shuffle the cards in the discard pile for each deck and start again.
Phase Three is scoring. In the High School, whichever player has the most Pain gains 1 candle per point of Pain in that district. If there is a tie, whatever player has a card closest to the start takes the favor. Other players get 1 candle per card in the high school. The player with the highest number of cards there takes that number of cards, starting with the left-most space, and discards them (to respective players’ discard piles). The cards are then shifted down to the let and remain for the next turn. District 13 scores according to whatever Law card is in effect for that round. Discard the current Law card once scoring is done and turn the next Law card face up.
Phase Four is clean up and draw. This is where we discuss the Wax Kingdom. Influence over nightmares are traded here for favor with the Wax King. After cards are played to the Wax Kingdom they are placed face down in an Encased pile. These cards are only used for end game scoring. Cards are removed from the Bazaar, District 13, City Slumbering and discarded. High School cards are left until the next scoring phase. Each player draws up to 4 cards, and begin again at Phase One.
The game ends at the end of the 8th (9th for 3 players) turn when the final Law card is scored. Each player removes the Start cards from their deck. Tally the pain values for each player from the cards Encased in the Wax Kingdom. You do not score points for the cards that are Encased, but your value here determines how much the cards in your deck are worth. The player with the highest total Pain value in the Wax Kingdom scores 1 candle for every point of cost on their cards. The player with the 2nd highest scores 1 candle for ever point of pain on their cards. The 3rd highest gets 2 candles per card (not starting cards) in their deck. And the 4th earns 1 candle for every card. If 2 players tie for a level of scoring, they both receive the next lower level of scoring.
The player with the most candle tallies at the end of the game is the winner! A tie is broken by the player with the highest total cost value in their deck.
Call Upon Your Nightmares To Do Your Bidding
I’ve seen more and more games lately that give you the “chess effect”, where you have access to the same resources/cards as your opponent – and I really like this. I hear some people say they don’t like this because you know what your opponent has in their deck. While this may be true, timing is everything. It is rare that two of the same cards are going to be played at the same time without a conflict still arising. I believe that these kind of games, specifically Don’t Turn Your Back, did an excellent job at balancing these decks for the game. With various areas to place your cards, the worker placement feel allows the player freedom to choose how they want to approach the game.
The Law deck is fun because it changes the scoring for District 13 each round. You must think twice about where you place your cards. It is also possible for other players to affect your cards and move them to your discard pile. The location restrictions on the cards are interesting. Sometimes I found this agitating if I knew I had to slip a card in somewhere but it wasn’t eligible for that place. But, that is where assessing your hand and the board comes into play. Don’t Turn Your Back isn’t a difficult game to learn, but I did find that after the first game I felt like I had a better handle on approach. And the game after that I approached it in yet another way. I found no two game to be the same. Your Law deck will vary each game as not all 10 cards will be present. Via the Kickstarter, an additional 3 Law cards will come with the game, but our version had the original 10.
Because of this I see Don’t Turn Your Back as having high replay value. It doesn’t take forever as your clock is the Law deck, but will have different scoring every game per the varied Law cards that will actually be in play. I think the game is visually appealing. The artwork, beautiful photo-manipulation by George Cotronis, is just phenomenal. It is dark, moody, and fits the theme of the game perfectly. I like that the artwork is mainly kept to the cards and the back of the player boards, keeping the game board itself simplistic and straightforward.
While the player decks are the same and the only difference being the color-coded corners to distinguish the deck, I think this is fine. There is no particular benefit to playing one color or another, except that a color may be more appealing to you. Each player board has a story about that character and how he/she ended up in Mad City. I’m interested in the lore around this game, so I will be looking into the book and RPG world that this game resides in. That being said, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything major by not having previous knowledge of Evil Hat’s other products.
I felt that the rulebook was well put together with just enough information about the world that you weren’t left wondering what the purpose of your actions was. In some of our initial plays, there was some frustration at end game because unless you’re paying close attention, the face-down Encased cards in the Wax Kingdom can completely change the outcome of end-game scoring. However, I believe that is the point of the game. Pay attention where you can, and account for some mystery.
If you have followed the Kickstarter you’ll see updates such as this one discussing some cosmetic changes to the final game, such as removing the gray-colored player deck and replacing it with an olive-green color, adjusting brightness and contrast, reference cards, and making the player deck slots a bit deeper to accommodate for possible expansions. Keep an eye on their page for more updates!
The minimum level to pick up this game on the Kickstarter was $40, so we anticipate the game costing around this in retail as well. If you like deck-building or worker placement games, Don’t Turn Your Back does an excellent job of blending the two for a memorable experience. We can’t wait to get the final version, as it will absolutely have a place on our shelves!
(At the moment, you cannot purchase this game via retail – please visit the Kickstarter page for updates on shipping information. We will update this page with a link to purchase once it is made available!)
Thanks to Evil Hat Productions for providing a prototype copy of Don’t Turn Your Back for review!
- Beautiful artwork
- Varied game play with Law card variant – no two games are the same
- Wax Kingdom leaves a feeling of mystery in regards to end scoring
- High replay value
- Interesting story and concept contained in one game
- Gamers that dislike being pitted against a deck with the same cards may not like this
- Can give a false sense of being in the lead if you’re unaware of what is Encased in the Wax Kingdom