Disclosure first: I do a lot of work for Evil Hat. I didn’t work on this game nor did I work on Don’t Rest Your Head, the game it’s based on. Fred Hicks sent me a print-and-play version of the game so I could give it a try and share my impressions. Those impressions are what follow.
First, let me tell you up front: I think this is a great game. I played a four-player game with some friends (at least one of them a fellow Hatter), it lasted about an hour, and we all loved it.
While playing it, the thing that struck me is that Don’t Turn Your Back is not primarily a deck-building game, as I’d thought it was. There is a deck-building mechanic in the game, but the primary action is actually worker placement. There’s a board in the center of the table that represents the Mad City, and you take turns playing cards to spaces on the board to achieve a variety of effects. The tension (and competition) comes from the fact that the spaces on the board are quite limited, and you’ll wind up fighting over them.
It took us a few turns to really figure out how this game wants to be played, so let me give you a few pointers, for your first game.
1. Don’t generalize. There’s a temptation to try and do stuff all over the Mad City, because all of the spaces do cool things. Resist that temptation. Focus your card-buying on one or two areas of the Mad City, and dominate those areas. Each card has specific areas in which it can be played, so when you buy cards, keep that in mind.
2. Having the an expensive, powerful card is good. Having the right expensive, powerful card is better. One player in my game decided early on that he was going to try to dominate the High School. To enact this strategy, he bought a card that represents a favor from Mother When, the Nightmare who runs the High School. It’s a powerful card but, more importantly, it’s a powerful card that makes it easier to control the High School. That choice ultimately won the game for him.
3. Don’t buy cards just to buy cards. If you’re buying a card that doesn’t support your strategy, you’re buying cruft. Don’t do it.
4. Cull your starting cards as soon as you can. You can play cards to the Wax Kingdom, which takes them out of your deck permanently and helps you compete for an end-game benefit. Every card in your deck at the end of the game contributes to victory, except for your starting cards. However, if you send your starting cards off to the Wax King, they can contribute to victory in an indirect way. Also, it thins your deck, which is generally good.
Bottom line: I like this game quite a bit. I like the marriage of deck-building and worker placement that it uses. I like the creepiness of the card art. And it’s even more fun when you play with Don’t Rest Your Head fans, though that’s not a requirement for enjoyment.