Pendulum Review – Time is Running Out – GAMING TREND
The time has come! Pendulum, from Stonemaier Games, is a worker placement game that, unlike many other worker placement games, uses a real-time component to make gameplay a unique experience. Designed by Travis Jones, with artwork by Robert Leask, Pendulum is one of the lesser known games produced by Stonemaier games. In Pendulum, players use time as a resource to achieve success. Not only do players use time as a resource, but it’s also used as a mechanism to outrun your opponent or make them stay as if they live in a different time zone.
A game designed for five players that takes around 60-90 minutes to complete, Pendulum offers a more classic worker placement experience, as well as a real-time experience that’s very different from other worker placements in the genre. Benefiting from its real-time usage design, Pendulum stands out and makes table setting a fun and engaging experience that many other games don’t have. Instead of having downtime between turns and relying on passive effect mechanics and stuff like that, Pendulum uses the real-time aspect to unlock and also advance worker actions in a unique approach to worker placement.
In Pendulum, players will compete for the most power, prestige, popularity, and mark their legendary achievement. These four victory point tracks are the driving force of the game. Players must reach a certain level as indicated on each player’s board in order to score victory points during the game. First and foremost, the most important part of this is scoring your legendary achievement. Each round, only one player can score their legendary achievement. It gives a certain sense of urgency as the game progresses if you haven’t marked your achievement and others have. Without the legendary achievement, players cannot score victory points and would ultimately end up with a score of zero without it.
In addition to the Legendary Achievement and the other three victory point trackers, Power, Prestige, and Popularity, players must reach a certain level with these tracks or they will not score points like with the Legendary Achievement. During a game of Pendulum, players will use the hourglasses to power up their actions, which will increase their power, prestige, popularity, and ultimately grant players their individual resources to increase those individual tracks on the player board. Players start with two workers (one normal and one large) and a hand of four cards that can be used at any time. Players also receive starting resources based on their stacked, blue, yellow, and red resources. Once the game begins, players have the option of playing the game in real time, or more turn-based without the real-time element. The biggest difference between the two types of playstyles is that even if everyone performs simultaneous actions, you can either take action while waiting for the hourglasses to empty according to the time of the hourglasses, or not use the hourglasses and everyone playing simultaneously but then waiting until everyone has completed one set of actions before the next set of actions opens.
The actions in each of the three action space areas depend on the current location of the hourglasses. There is actually a high and a low for each set of actions. If the hourglass is in the bottom row, players can only queue in the top available row. Once the hourglass is out of time, it flips to the top row, players move their works into the action rewards space and collect their rewards. Then, as the hourglass moves from the bottom to the top row, if players have workers locked in the bottom row’s reward space, they can collect those workers and use them for other actions on the board .
There are three groups of actions signified by different areas of the board and different colors that use different hourglasses. The three different hourglasses (purple, green, and black) all have varying durations that determine how often the actions indicated by the hourglasses can be used. The black timer (45 seconds) controls the most frequently available actions and provides resources at no cost. The green timer (2 minutes) oversees actions that are more available but still more valuable than the actions on the black timer. The purple hourglass (3 minutes) has the fewest actions available but gives some of the most valuable rewards. All of the green and purple timer actions cost two dollars (yellow resources), but they also have the caveat of only being available to a single worker, unless you use one of your great workers.
Placing a worker in one of these action spaces can vary as if you were going there at the same time as another player who gets priority. In this situation, the order is determined by privilege tracking, whichever has the highest privilege goes first. Privilege also allows players to advance one track on their board if they are third or higher on the privilege track. Players also draw cards to receive immediate rewards or give them an extra action whenever they have cards in their hand. Privilege is determined by the number of votes a player has at the end of each round. The more votes grant you the most privileges, earning you two advances on a tracker of your choice and a card for your hand or an immediate reward, or an opportunity to turn a small worker into your second large worker.
The end of a round occurs once all of the purple tokens on the purple spaces of the timer have been removed, each going out each time the timer runs. Once the round is over, the advice phase begins where players determine privilege and get additional cards, then reset for the next round. Players go through this cycle of actions and timers followed by an advice phase for a total of four turns. After the fourth round, the player(s) who have moved all of their tracks into what looks like a piece of parchment on their boards (i.e. moved the tracks forward far enough) score points based on progress of their trackers in the parchment area of their tracks. Once the final scores are determined, the player with the most points wins, and if there is a tie, the player with the highest privilege is the winner.
As another Stonemaier game, quality and gameplay for me is what I look for when opening the box. As soon as I opened the box of my pendulum I was thrilled with the components and playing. With vibrant colors and solid components, and great fantasy aesthetics, Pendulum is a game I see myself playing many times. The added benefit of being one of the only real-time games I own was very exciting. With a few games under my belt and many Stonemaier fans among my friends, Pendulum is a welcome addition to my collection and makes me want to play more as they release more games.
Pendulum, from what I’ve come across, has a bit of a bad rap. In my opinion, this is mostly due in part to players having played the game turn-based rather than real-time. My experience is that even though the real-time part of the game is both stressful and hectic, it’s definitely where the game shines the most. It is this interaction with the hourglasses and other players in such a hectic environment that makes the game fun and fascinating.
Having played both turn-based and real-time, the latter was definitely the favorite and the pendulum should honestly always be played that way. Without playing this way, Pendulum suffers from analysis paralysis, waiting for ALL players to figure out whether or not you can move on to the next set of actions, and giving players so much time to strategize that beauty of the game is lost in translation. Overall, Pendulum is a game that I enjoyed and would recommend to anyone remotely interested in real-time gaming.