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Tabletop Game Review – Pendulum

Pendulum by Stonemaier Games
Price: ~$60.00
1 to 5
60-90 minutes
Perfect for:
Groups who enjoy asynchronous real-time engine-building and resource optimization games.

Pendulum is a game of resource efficiency, especially of the most valuable one of all—time. Before discussing the mechanics in more detail, here’s a bit more information on the theme from the publisher, Stonemaier Games:

In Pendulum, each player is a powerful, unique noble vying to succeed the Timeless King as the true ruler of Dünya. Players command their workers, execute stratagems, and expand the provinces in their domain in real-time to gain resources and move up the four victory tracks: power, prestige, popularity, and legendary achievement.

To begin Pendulum, two to five players (solo game variant is also included) choose their resource management board, starting resources, and special action cards. One of the resource types are the Workers (Grande and Common), which will be placed onto the main game board in order to signal which actions they will take—these typically consist of acquiring resources or exchanging base resources for progress (upgrades, victory points, etc.).

There is no turn order in Pendulum. Instead, the action is moderated by a series of flipping sand timers and associated spaces: those that contain workers preparing to take an action; and those where workers end up once the action has been taken. Gameplay follows two basic rules: 1) workers can only execute an exchange/collection of resources when the timer is on the associated row (i.e. sand is running); and 2) players can only place or retrieve workers on rows currently without a timer. Once the purple timer has flipped four times, the round concludes and after four rounds the person who has collected the most victory points AND made the appropriate progress on all four tracks, is declared the winner.

RELATED: Tabletop Game Review: Euphoria

What works in Pendulum is the incredibly clever, unique, and somewhat frantic gameplay. Players must scheme quickly to capitalize on opportunities to build an engine that both leverages established strengths but yet also maintains a balance to ensure advancement across several victory tracks and win condition parameters. Individuals who relish efficiency will truly bask the core gameplay. And with player board variants for more advanced play, Pendulum can be more or less complex depending on the desires of the group sitting at the table.

Players who prefer games with checks and balances and low-stress situations may not enjoy Pendulum as much as others. Individuals who are vigilant about keeping one eye on the sand times and excel at advanced planning expediently are undoubtedly going to going to have an advantage over others. While Pendulum has a reduced speed option where the timers don’t get flipped (and round progression is a universal decision by the group) this variation somewhat diminishes the shiniest aspect of the title. That said, when the timers are active it’s nearly impossible to keep track of what everyone is doing which results in simply trusting that all players are abiding by the rules. Unfortunately, due to the controlled chaos, it would be easy for someone to accidentally play incorrectly with anyone noticing (including the player).

Pendulum is brimming with action, activity, and rapid-fire decision making. While the intensity level may be a little too much for some players, people who love optimization in a fast-paced environment will surely enjoy the asynchronous nature of this crafty title.

Recommended if you like: Abomination, Scythe, Kitchen Rush  

Final Grade: B+

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