Friday, February 2, 2018

Dave Reviews: Photographers Who Can't Beat A Goddamned Smartphone Camera


I wonder if Mike Elliot is proud of his name being so firmly attached to this.

ShutterBug has a clip-art looking cover, and (spoiler alert) it's the clip-art version of a game. Your goal is to travel the U.S. looking for extraordinary creatures so you can snap photos of them for different magazines, and possible to fill a portfolio of specific pictures for side jobs. You move up to three hexes in a turn, collecting Tip cards when you move through or finish a turn in a city. Those tip cards let you take photos of creatures when you land in spaces where they are. Whatever the photo quality on the card, you discard that many Tip cards (assuming they're relevant to the creature and/or terrain) and get the photo tile.

Your main goal is to fulfill the requests of one of the two tabloids on your secret assignment card. If you get at least as many points of a given creature as the tabloid wants, you score all the points you have for that creature. You can only score requests for one of the tabloids, no matter how many you meet between the two of them. Side jobs are another way to score, although whether or not you can get them is mostly a matter of chance; stay aware of what the side jobs are and recognize if you have the possibility of fulfilling one.

Here's the main problem: the game ends after eight rounds. If you average one Tip card per round—which means moving through a city on most turns and ending on a city once or twice to offset the times you run off into the wilderness for a picture—you end up with ten or eleven, adding in the three you start with. You need one tip card per point that you score, and tabloids have ten points worth of requests. Therefore, if you want to nail everything on one of your special assignments, you have to almost perfectly maneuver your photographer towards both the cities with the Tips and the creatures you need as photo subjects. If you place more of a focus on Tips—using the fact Chicago and New Orleans are somehow adjacent to each other, for example—you can end up with more room to play with in scoring points but less ability to chase the specific pictures you need.

What about the side jobs? Given how tight you're probably running with Tip cards, the most likely way you'll finish side jobs is if you happen to finish most of one as part of your secret assignment and the last part of the job is easy to reach. Maybe that's done on purpose because the side jobs never change and the designer (hi Mike!) wanted to make it feel special each time you finish one. Then again, the side jobs range from two to five points, and you get two bonus points just for finishing the game in a city space, so maybe they're not that special after all.

In a two player game, each player controls two photographers, and you get a little more to work with in terms of resources. Even then, it's not a given you'll finish the whole secret assignment, because you need your Tip cards to match the photos you're taking well enough to play them, and you need the potential photos you need to go on the board in the first place. It would be one thing if two players were swimming in photos and points, and the normal game just played tighter, but even with the extra character it's still not that easy to get all the pictures you want.

It's true that the scoring is relatively flexible. You don't need to finish all three parts of the secret assignment for the parts you do finish to be valuable. That, however, leads to a game that doesn't feel very rewarding for whatever effort you put into it. If you get an assignment with X, Y, and Z requirements, especially when you get two such assignments and have the option of which one you do, not being able to finish the whole thing feels like you're not succeeding even if you win. It would be one thing if there was a reasonable choice to be made between finishing the secret assignment and piling up side jobs, but it's more likely that if you aim for more side jobs it's because the assignment is too hard to complete.

This is more a proof-of-concept than a finished game. It runs too tight on Tip cards for a system where you don't know what photos will be available. The side jobs never change, despite the nature of how they work being such that a deck of side jobs you draw from each game would fit much better. There's a lot to be said for efficient thinking, and efficiency is something I like in board games, but this thing isn't worth the effort.

Score: Five garbage yeti pictures out of nine (entire rolls of film).

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