In Top Pop from Talon Strikes Studios, the owners of soda pop companies are promoting their distinctive brands in key US markets. Designers Mark McGee and Joshua J Mills have put together an unusual set collection and bidding game, with the added bonus of a rule set that allows players to gradually add 'scenarios' and further complexity as and when they need it to quench their thirst.
The cards in the game all show a US city, with the number of cards and cities depending on the number of players. For example, with three players you'll just use 25 cards covering New York, San Francisco, St Louis, Las Vegas and Chicago. You'll add cards for Seattle and New Orleans when you have a full complement of five players. The city cards all bear a prominent number showing how many of that city's cards are in the deck, and for each city one card is a 'night card' which means it is played face down (so other players probably won't know which city it represents).
Players all start with a hand of three or four cards and between 1 and 3 bottle caps of their own colour (the exact number of cards and bottle caps depends on the number of players and the turn order). Players get to play a city card in front of themselves or an opponent. If you play the city in front of an opponent, you collect a bottle cap of their colour from the central reserve. Regardless of where you played the card, you also get to choose from the central reserve a bottle cap of any colour. You then place out bottle caps on any of the city cards in front of any player. You can stack caps but if your stack is competing against another stack already on the card, it needs to be higher and it must contain a cap of the colour of the previous highest. Your own colour must be on top of your stack to designate ownership and at the start of your next turn you'll get to claim for your scoring pile any cards on which you have the highest stack. If the card is in front of you, the bottle caps in that stack will go to the central reserve; if the card is in front of an opponent then, tho' you get the card, they get all the bottle caps in the stack. The caps in lower stacks are returned to the player that placed them.
You proceed on this basis until a player has collected six city cards. The city sets are then scored on an area control basis (points go to the player with the most cards of that city) and on the basis of diversity (points for all the different cities in your score pile).
The placement mechanic where you are rewarded for putting a card in front of an opponent but at the cost of benefitting them later sets up a fascinating dynamic. This is also a game that ramps up in terms of interaction as the game progresses because bottle caps are initially in short supply but players are increasingly able to compete and overbid each other in later turns. With higher player counts, in particular, the night cards allow scope for an element of bluff: do you bid for a card unseen that may or may not benefit your scoring, or do you risk allowing an opponent to get the card cheaply? And, of course, as more cards come into play, you might be able to deduce what city is on that night card...
Top Pop is on Kickstarter right now. Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of the game where the 'bottle caps' are just wooden discs but in the finished version of the game these will be stackable shaped bottle caps, adding further to the game's appeal, as does the art from James Churchill and Christina Pittre. And we mentioned that players can add further dimensions to game play at their own pace... The game incorporates a set of 'city power' cards that, if you include them, are activated when a player wins a card of that city. These further spice up play. The rules also suggest a dozen 'scenarios' which should be played in conjunction with specific power cards and which apply special conditions to game play. Alternatively, there are options suggested for a 'lite' version which simplifies play and shortens the game. Click here to check the KS out for yourself.