If you are a conspiracy theorist who considers the CEOs of the tech giants to be evil incarnate, Techlandia could be just the game you've been waiting for. The tongue-in-cheek premise is exactly that: a Doctor Who-style plot where a tech company is about to launch a new smartphone that will open up a portal to a Cthulhu-like dimension. You play as a tech blogger trying to crash the press conference at which the new phone is due to be announced.
There's a lot of flavour text and back story on all the cards, and that certainly adds to the experience of playing the game. The game itself is fairly straightforward. You are racing against a timer that counts down each turn. Bad things happen when the Doomsday Clock countdown timer hits certain numbers, and it's game over if the timer reaches zero. The action takes place at the tech company's HQ and that's made up of eight hexagonal tiles, the central four of which are the same in every game. You have two actions on your turn, including movement, 'investigating' the room you are in (ie: one of the four tiles outside the central hub), fighting a tech cultist in the room you are in and picking up a QR code in the room. You are trying to investigate all four of the rooms and collect QR codes and decryption codes (the reward for defeating a cultist).
Techlandia is a game that pokes fun at the tech industry. It's an enjoyable romp but it's principally luck based. You'll be rolling a six-sided die to determine whether or not you are successful in conducting an investigation (evens are successes; odds are failure). Failure results in you having to draw and act on a (mostly negative) Encounter card; success spawns a QR code token and a cultist at whatever locations are drawn. When you are in the same space as a cultist, you have to combat them. Again, this is a simple die roll where you have to match or beat the number on the Enemy card drawn. Succeed and you gain a decryption code; fail and you lose 'objectivity' (ie: take a hit). If you play Techlandia as a multi-player game, the nice touch is that a player that loses all objectivity (takes three hits) temporarily becomes a 'fanboy' who turns on the other players.
There's nothing wrong with dice-based luck games. We're used to dice to determine combat and we love the excitement of push-your-luck games. In the preview version of Techlandia, however, we thought it was a mistake to have to roll the die at the start of the game to determine how many Gear cards each player starts with. These Gear cards are potentially powerful single-use action supplements and luck mitigators which typically allow a re-roll or even an automatic success. In what designer Dan Ackerman describes as a 'cooppetative' game, it can be rather demoralising to roll a 1 to receive just one Gear card when an opponent has just rolled a number that gives them five Gear cards. After our first couple of plays, we substituted our own house rule that everyone started on a more level playing field with three Gear cards.
Techlandia incorporates several thematically appealing touches. Player boards look like mobile phones and the QR code cards show actual QR codes that you scan with your real phone as part of the end game. Only one of the four codes will give you the win; the other three will result in you being busted by the security guards and having your brain sucked out by a tentacled demon. You can make a push-your-luck dash for glory or insanity with a single QR code - indeed, you may have to do that if you're running perilously close to zero on that Doomsday Clock. The game encourages you, however, to collect all the codes and sufficient decryption codes (from defeating cultists) so that you are able to scan the code cards until you hit upon the winning code.
Techlandia takes up to four players playing semi-cooperatively: you are all on the same side and working collectively against the Doomsday Clock countdown timer but you are competing in a race to be the first to successfully gain access to the phone launch. The rules also offer the option of playing as a fully co-operative team. The game works equally as a solitaire.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of Techlandia. Publishers 11231 are bringing the game to Kickstarter next week. The finished version is expected to have plastic minis rather than the standees used in the prototype and it's likely that the game will incorporate further scenarios. We'll be watching the launch with interest. No QR codes will be needed to access Techlandia's Kickstarter campaign: we'll add a link once the campaign goes live.