If you're already a dedicated fan of Aggretsuko, the Japanese cartoon, then this game will need little introduction. For those not in the know, the Aggretsuko anime series is a satirical look at office life, except that this Japanese office is populated with various anthropomorphised animals. If you watch the cartoon on Netflix, you may be surprised to see how, in the heavy metal opening credits, the cutesy Retsuko character who joins the company with such bright high hopes and expectations is transformed by Rage at the reality of her experience: the shallow twittering of her fellow employees and the casual sexism of her boss.
That then is the setting for this card game from Oni Games and Renegade Game Studio, designed by Ben Eisner and Steve Ellis. The game comprises a deck of 92 cards made up of two copies each of cards numbered 1-10 in four suits, plus six suitless cards numbered 11–13. The cards are all illustrated with characters from the cartoon, tho' the same characters appear in every suit (ie: co-worker Fenneko is on all the number 2 cards). Annoyingly, the cards are printed in dark ink that is bled to the edges so they are prone to show up any nicks, which means you'd be well advised to sleeve them.
The game is played over five hands, representing the five days of the working week. For each hand, the 3–6 players each take a Rage token and are dealt 13 cards. Gameplay follows a pattern reminiscent of that from The Great Dalmuti (Wizards of the Coast/Devir). A player leads with a card or cards from their hand (ie: a single card, pair, three or four of a kind) and other players must either follow by beating the previous play with the exact same number of higher-ranked cards. Alternatively, they can play a 'Rainbow Bomb', which is four cards in consecutive order where each card comes from a different suit. play a Rainbow Bomb and it can only be beaten by a higher Rainbow Bomb. You can pass, either because you cannot follow the previous play or you prefer not to, and the round ends when all but one of the players has passed. You're not scoring the rounds as tricks but it's advantageous to win a round because that entitles you to lead the next round (ie: decide whether you're requiring players to lay singletons, pairs or multiples). You can also lay five cards, in effect as poker hands (Straight>Flush>Full House>Straight Flush>Five of a Kind). The rules seemed ambiguous on this point but we assumed that Rainbow Bombs don't beat five-card plays.
Aside from the card art, the main concession to the Aggretsuko cartoon is the Rage token. This shows 'polite' Retsuko on one side and heavy metal karaoke Rage Retsuko on the reverse. When you pass in a round, you can flip your token to the Rage side and place it on any card that's been played. At the end of the round, you take that card into your hand - so it's a way of making an extended set in the next round. The token stays on its Rage side and can only be used once per 'day'.
What you're setting out to do is to be the first to empty your hand. When that happens, other players count up the number of cards they have left in their hand and these are scored. If you haven't used your Rage token to take a card (ie: if it's still on the 'polite' side), you can discard a card before counting your hand size. Players with 1–4 cards score 1 point per card; those with 5–8 cards score 2 points per card; and anyone caught with 9 or more cards scores 3 points per card. The game is won by the player with the lowest score at the end of the five-day week.
Whether or not you're a fan of the source material, Aggretsuko: Work/Rage Balance is a hand management game where you want to try to ensure you have the cards that allow you to compete in subsequent rounds by being able to follow the pairs or multiples laid by the leader for the round. If you win a round and take control, then so much the better! And the Rage token adds an interesting twist. We liked the fact that there was a potential scoring penalty for using the token: it adds an extra push-your-luck element to this enjoyable card game. And if you do get caught with a handful of cards, well tomorrow is a new day!
(Review by Selwyn Ward)