Big Easy Busking presents itself as an easy to learn, quick-paced, area control game set on the streets of New Orleans. Don't worry though, this isn't a Gangs of New York type of confrontation where you have to shiv someone in order to survive. Each players does need to find a way to be the most captivating performer for the crowds with the most money though.
Joshua J. Mills designed the game, with a solo mode by Carla Kopp, and illustrations by Andrew Thompson and Katy Grierson. The game is for 1-5 players ages 8 and up, and plays in under an hour, probably around 30 minutes. Thanks to Weird Giraffe Games, the publisher, for my review copy they handed to me without asking for it at Origins Game Fair 2022. I mean that sincerely, as I wouldn't have asked for this game to review, but I found it to be a pleasant surprise.
The game takes place over three rounds in which there are three, then four, and finally five crowds which will be scored. Each crowd has a certain kind of random mood - chill, romantic, party, or wild. Which I guess makes sense thematically- New Orleans has been known to be a wild place at times.
Every player has a card with their musicians - trumpet, drums, and saxophone. Each musician has 4 energy to start. Players will use the energy from their musicians, which resets each round, to play songs and try to woo over the crowds to liking them best. Whoever ends up with the most energy in a location can win outright or tie to get the 1st Place Payout. On a turn, a player can finish a song, then tip a musician by paying the bank, and then they may learn a new song, play a song they currently know, or pass. Once a player passes, they are out for the round.
The game ramps up quickly and in a multiplayer game there are few questions. After playing all of the solo bots (there are three) I was fairly confident I had played against them correctly and still could find some difficulty in the play. The bots are mainly building points in different styles which are reflected in their names, and there are some catch up mechanisms built into their play styles. Overall, the game presents little difficulty to those trying to learn the concepts. Personally, I felt like the robots could have been a little bit more straightforward. However, in multiplayer we encountered no rules problems and the players' aids were a nice touch.
As with an instrumental group which resonates differently depending on the audience, this game will feel peculiar to those who want their area control games to be about tactics or perfect information. It's not to say that there isn't a good amount of information or that tactics don't play a part in this game. They both can make a difference. In fact, much of the information happens to be very open and very little is left to chance. The game has a very random feel to it though in how the mood cards come out and in the opportunity presenting itself in the market. Additionally, every player kind of has the same starting hand but they are slightly different. This just adds to the feel of the game.
Although a market exists to gain new cards, it is a method of play left to careful deliberation and last resort due to its costly nature. Want to learn that new song? You're going to have to take precious time out from earning a living to go to rehearsal. It very well may pay off in the end though.
Timing and tempo don't always play a large role in short games, but this one definitely has both built in as it grow to a crescendo. The games I have played were often tight, with important decisions up until the last card was played. I think this will be one of those games people want to try their hand at just one more time. The art is bright and almost lurid, but that only lends to the slightly dissident feel of the game. The randomness is intentional and is what makes this area control an intense game hiding in a low-key skin. Almost like a piece of jazz.