Pendulum Review + How to Play from “Watch It Played”
Stonemaier games has quickly become one of my favourite board game publishing companies because of a few key factors. First, their titles are generally really, really good. They scale well for the minimum to maximum players, the components included are fantastic, and the strategy is easy to understand, but incredibly deep. When the opportunity to review Pendulum came up, I couldn’t wait for yet another amazing Stonemaier experience, and for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
How to Play
We often create detailed How To Play articles for Stonemaier games, but because of some shipping mishaps, we really wanted to focus on getting this review out prior to the holidays so our readers could make last minute purchasing decisions. Our fellow Canadian, Rodney Smith, does fantastic How to Play guides on his YouTube Channel, “Watch it Played.” You can find his video for Pendulum below! Once you understand the basics, read on for our full thoughts!
Epic Free for All
In one sense, Pendulum lacks the structure of most Stonemaier games, as parts of the game are definitely just a straight up free-for-all. And I kind of like it. There is a ton going on in Pendulum, and we quickly found that playing with new players after having already played a few game ourselves was not ideal. Unlike other Stonemaier games that we feel scale really well between new and old players, we really found that this one doesn’t. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – Pendulum has a lot going on – as evidence by Rodney’s 30+ minute explanation video. The more a game has going on, the better chances it has of being insanely deep and fun to play. And that is definitely the case.
Timers are used to control the game (or a timer board for your first play through), but there are no real turns. Once a timer is flipped, players can begin using their workers, being sure to follow worker rules, to begin obtaining necessary resources. Rows without timers can be used, while rows with timers are blocked. As there are different resources available in different rows, you can imagine the stress, but yet the strategy, that is required to play.
It’s legit pendulum, as players move to place and remove their workers to put them in the best position to perform actions down the road. Worker rules make placement difficult and strategic, and the fact that turns don’t exist – just the limits of timers – it’s important to keep an eye on everything that is going on. One space might be unavailable to you at one point during the timer phase, but if another player decides they no longer want that space, and choose to move their worker away, you might need to quickly move into that space yourself. Just remember, others might be looking for that spot too.
Playing with Honest Folks
Listen, if there is a downside to Pendulum it’s less about the game and how it’s structured, and more about the people you choose to play with. Because it is a free-for-all, it’s necessary to fully believe your opponents are playing the game honorably, not cheating when it comes to worker placement, etc. Because in Pendulum, it is very easy to cheat. Legitimate cheating means you are playing with someone who you likely don’t want to play with again, but it is unaware cheater that really makes me struggle with how much I like Pendulum. We found on numerous occasions someone making a movement that was not legitimate – the person wasn’t trying to cheat, it was a complete accident. You are working against timers, so these lapses in understanding are bound to happen. For as many times as we caught issues like this, I begin to wonder how many times we missed these situations.
Still Having Fun
I ultimately do still recommend Pendulum, because even when thinking about the potential for players to cheat without meaning too, I still end each game feeling just as good each and every time. I had fun, win or lose, and that really is the mark of a good game. Of course it’s fun to win, but when you are playing with 4 players, the game needs to be fun for all, understanding only one player leaves the game victorious. And I believe Pendulum hits that mark.
If you are worried about players cheating when you play regular games, you will have a hard time dealing with how Pendulum plays out. It will ultimately ruin your fun if you are always thinking about how others might be trying to juke the game to their benefit. If you understand who you are playing with, and can rest assured that no one will be cheating on purpose, Pendulum is great fun with some VERY deep strategy. And even when players do cheat without meaning too, the ultimate end game result has always been positive, win or lose.
If you are looking for something a bit deeper to dive into this holiday season, then we highly recommend Pendulum. Stonemaier hits it out of the park with fantastic game pieces, player boards, and cards. It’s another mega hit from a well established publishing team.