Still unsure? Email the designer and ask any questions you want!
Why is the designer annoying me with random elements? The final thoughts on this unsolicited review explains best.
Is Obsession for You?
As Obsession nears the top 100 games on BoardGameGeek’s all time list, more and more gamers are curious about the buzz.
If you are one of these, BEWARE! You tread on dangerous ground.
As the designer and publisher, I know well that Obsession is an extraordinary revelation for some and a swing and a miss for others. I guess this is true of all games—Gloomhaven has 3.2% of its reviews in the 1-4 range, while Obsession has only 1.5%, lower than all but one of the top 10 games—but this split is exaggerated because of Obsession’s unique devotion to theme. Thus, the danger to some of you (to your wallet, to your competitive instincts, and to your patience) is real.
This post is designed to help you navigate the danger.
Gamer #1: You own many games, play them frequently and well, and are curious about Obsession’s climb. Maybe there are some fascinating mechanics in this odd game, you think, something to explore. You are indifferent to the theme, but you have games you enjoy in your collection that paste uninteresting themes on great mechanics and gameplay.
You, Gamer #1, are in grave danger. Obsession is theme-first more than any game you now own, and it sacrifices everything on the altar of theme. Obsession is not interested in who wins or who devises the best strategy. Obsession is interested in capturing the feel of the period, which in large part is overflowing with chaotic revelations that are a staple of 19th century British literature.
To put it in gamer terms, there are random card draws (good guests, snobby guests, evil cads, and…*gasp*…Americans), random tiles in the market (there are no Home Depots in 1863 rural Derbyshire), and random courtships (since when is romance not random?).
While Obsession has unique mechanics (in the interplay amongst reputation, gentry, servants, and improvements), many Gamer #1s have attempted Obsession only to find it too destructive to strategic planning. Obsession is a theme-first tactical game where you may get crushed by fate (i.e., your son is as desirable as rotting fish to Elizabeth Fairchild because you had no idea she liked horses and libraries so much).
I recommend you read the negative comments on BGG and watch a full playthrough from Before You Play. A careful review of this thing I call Victorian fate will serve you very well.
Gamer #2: You own many games, play them frequently and well, and have a person in your life who LOVES LOVES LOVES the theme, and you want to use Obsession to draw them into the hobby. To this end, you are willing to hold your nose on the theme, but are also encouraged that Obsession is crunchy with a meaty puzzle to engage you.
Gamer #2, you are in danger, but less danger than Gamer #1. You have read Gamer #1's profile above, but you have the advantage of evangelising a significant other or friend. The road now forks for you, Gamer #2, and if you bravely use a silly British accent when announcing that your son will be having Afternoon Tea with a revolting mercantile American heiress from South Carolina, you are on the road to laughter and enjoyable defeats. If you cannot let the theme transport you, you may wish to steer clear. I suggest this snippet from an interview I did with Liz Davidson of Beyond Solitaire in which I discuss the philosophy behind the game.
Gamer #3: You own many games, play them frequently and well, and love Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and everything in between. You are amazed you haven’t heard of Obsession.
Gamer #3, for you the danger is minimal as long as you embrace that you cannot strategically overpower Obsession and win. You may find out that Wickham is a cad or that the Marquess has his wife in the attic or that your beloved has a passion you despise. But there is no greater joy than overcoming these challenges and winning; tactics are a part of gaming, too.
Gamer #4: You don’t play games, but you love Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and everything in between.
Gamer #4, the danger is miniscule, but Obsession is not fluff. You will be well served to do your homework upon getting the game, which involves no shortcuts, but the necessary embrace of rules thematically explained. Alternatively, you could email the designer for advice on learning the game, as he has the answers to your homework.
Buckle up, you’re on a 19th century roller coaster!
Gamer #5: You like games but hate goblins, aliens, WWII simulations, dragons, and especially Cthulhu, but you love Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and everything in between. You are tired of farming.
Gamer #5: I predict you will join the growing group of gamers who have over 100 games of Obsession to their credit. Welcome aboard!
Note: I use hyperbole (and generalisations) to make my points above; Obsession indeed acknowledges skill, but a different kind of gaming skill: more of a strategic hedging with fast tactical pivots that never chase from behind. There are gamers who win Obsession 7 out of 10 times by managing probability and constantly pivoting, but even they get skewered by fate from time to time! And they, if they are like me, laughed the loudest while getting skewered.