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Big Easy Busking: A Nightly Battle of the Bands in New Orleans

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz and has been home to many music legends such as Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr, Pete Fountain, and Al “Jumbo” Hirt. In addition to these well-known musicians, there are numerous talented individuals that can be found busking on almost every corner of The Crescent City.
(Photo of New Orleans Musical Legends Park statues was taken and edited by KristaG)

The streets of New Orleans thrum with energy and life that is all their own. How do I know? I’ve been there! Though it has been a while now, the sights, sounds, and even smells are often in the back of my mind, teasing at my thoughts in order to be brought to the forefront. One of the things I miss the most (other than the hot, fresh, late-night beignets) is finding myself whisked away by a random melody on almost every street corner by a different musician and dancing with the crowd. You see, music in New Orleans isn’t just contained to concert halls, clubs, bars, festivals or other venues. The streets themselves are full of it! While I’ve come across street musicians and other buskers before in numerous other cities that I’ve visited, none of them can hold a candle to the lively, talented performers in New Orleans!

Big Easy Busking

Big Easy Busking
(All photos of Weird Giraffe Games product were taken and edited by KristaG)

Big Easy Busking from Weird Giraffe Games takes the concept of being a street performer and turns it into a game that anyone can experience. The game, designed by Joshua J. Mills and illustrated Andrew Thompson with additional graphic design Adrienne Ezell, is a 1-5 player resource management card game mixed with area control where players take on the roles of an entire band of street musicians competing to sway the crowds in their favor. The resource? Your band’s energy. The area? The various crowds scattered on the city streets. Is your band one that goes all out in the beginning and wears themselves out quickly for one big score or are you prepared to be in it for the long haul and hope to reap the rewards from multiple, smaller gigs? You’ll soon have a chance to find out as the game is slated to launch their Kickstarter campaign on May 14th 2019!

Big Easy Busking Set Up

An example of a 3-player set up for Big Easy Busking (click to enlarge).

When setting up a game of Big Easy Busking, it is easiest to break it up into 2 separate parts: individual player set up and the game set up. Each player will receive a Player Card representing their band, 15 Energy Tokens (in the case of this prototype, wooden cubes), their 3 starting Song cards, and 3 $1 tokens. The Player Card, Energy Tokens, and starting Song cards are all of a corresponding color (black, purple, white, yellow, or green). Players will place 4 Energy Tokens on each of their band members to denote each musician’s starting energy. The remaining 3 cubes are placed off to the side in a reserve. Once each player has their play space set up, it is time to set up the actual game. In order to play music on the street, there obviously needs to be a street filled with people. In Big Easy Busking, there are 15 tarot-sized Crowd Cards that are used to represent the crowds on Royal Street (a.k.a. Rue Royale). These cards need to be shuffled with 3 of them being dealt into a horizontal row to form the “street.” A randomly selected Mood Token is then placed on each Crowd. There are 4 possible Moods: Chill, Romantic, Party, or All. The remaining tokens should be set aside for use in later rounds. In addition to the Songs already handed out during the player set up, there are 2 different types of Song Cards: Ability Songs and Hit Songs. These cards should be separated into their own respective decks and shuffled. Ability Songs are marked by a star icon and include text on them. Some of these abilities include things such as resource manipulation, earning extra tips at the end of a gig, or making it easier and cheaper to learn a new Song. Only 1 of these cards is used per game (unless playing the advanced difficulty “Mardi Gras” variant) so the rest will be returned to the box once this card has been dealt to a space within view of all players. Next to this card will be dealt 2 Hit Songs. These particular hits combined with the Ability Song will become known as the “Standard Songs” because all players have access to them at all times. The 3 Standard tokens are distributed between these cards, with the “-1” side face up. The remaining Hit Songs are used to form the Melody Market by dealing 3 cards face up into a pool next to the draw deck.

Big Easy Busking Mid Game

Mid game, the yellow player has earned a few dollars for their gigs, learned a few new songs, won over a few crowds, and has spent some Energy on their recent gigs.

Big Easy Busking is designed to allude to musicians playing various gigs over 3 nights (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) with the crowds and potential earnings growing each night. The way this is done is by having the game played over 3 rounds with each round representing a single night. These rounds are also made up of multiple turns. Beginning with the player who most recently tipped a street musician (or, in our case, the last player who last listened to Jazz just to mix things up a little bit) and passing to the left, each player will take their turn using the following 3 steps: Finish Playing a Song, Tip (optional), and Perform Turn Action. Obviously, there are no songs to be finished during the first turn so play skips straight to tipping or performing one of the following actions: Learn Song, Play Song, or Pass. On subsequent turns, however, if a Song was played to a crowd, it must be completed by first checking to see if the Song matched the Mood of the crowd. If they don’t match up, all of the Energy used to play the song during the gig is placed onto the Crowd card. If they do match, however, the player has a choice to either place all of their Energy onto the Crowd card and get paid $1 from the supply for putting all of their energy into the gig or they can choose how much Energy they would like to spend on the gig and how much they would like to hold back and return to their band, causing them to also forego the extra $1 they would have otherwise received. Once all Energy has been moved from the Song card to the Crowd card, that Song card is discarded unless it was a Standard Song, in which case it is returned to its spot in the middle of the play area and the Standard Token is flipped to a “-2” (unless it is already set to a -2). After the Finish Song step comes the optional Tipping step. As in real life, earning a little extra cash can be rather rejuvenating. In this step, players “tip” their band members by spending their money to earn Energy tokens from their reserve. The money spent must equal the amount of Energy they intend to gain. Once gained, the Energy can be dispersed however the player would like between their band members (Note: a band member can have as much Energy as a player is able to give them, limited only by fact that there are only 15 Energy Tokens per player). When deciding which Turn Action to perform, a player can elect to spend their turn choosing not to perform in front of the amassed crowds, but to spend a little Energy (1 from each band member to be specific) learning a new Hit Song from the Melody Market. The chosen Hit Song card is then added to the player’s hand to potentially be used during a later turn. If a player chooses to Play a Song for a Crowd, each Song designates its own amount of Energy that each band member must expend to play the tune. The Song card is played to a Crowd card with the required Energy tokens sitting on top of it. That ends the action until the beginning of that player’s following turn. Should a player choose to play a Standard Song, they must first pay the fee to do so (either $1 or $2 as stated by the Standard token). If a player does not have enough Energy to either learn or play a song, then that player must Pass. Once a player passes, they are done for the entire round. A round ends when all players have passed.

Big Easy Busking Crowd Cards

At the end of each round, Crowd cards need to be cashed out. There are 2 different types of pay out per crowd: 1st Place and Threshold. Can you guess who would earn which payout on these 2 cards?

At the end of each evening/round, the first thing players need to do is pay out each Crowd card. The player with the most Energy on a card wins the Mood token, the 1st place payout, and the threshold payout. If there are players who are tied for most Energy, they both receive the 1st place and threshold payouts, but no one receives the Mood token. All other players who have enough Energy to earn the threshold payout receive it. The Crowd card is discarded once it has been cashed out. All Standard Tokens are flipped back over to “-1” on the Standard Songs. Each player resets their band members’ Energy (still with 3 in reserve like at the beginning of the game) and returns all their played Song cards to their hand. As I stated above, the game is designed to be played over 3 nights, with each night drawing out larger crowds. When populating Royal Street with new Crowd cards, 4 Crowds are revealed for round 2 (Friday night) and 5 Crowd cards are revealed for round 3 (Saturday night). As with round 1, all Crowd cards are given a random Mood Token. The role of first player shifts to the player with the most money. At the end of Round 3, the player yet again with the most money is declared the winner and earns the title of King of the Buskers!

Personally, I am thrilled to see this as a game. The theme is so unique and well executed that I can’t wait to be a backer. The colors and artwork just scream New Orleans to me and the iconography is perfect! The Mardi Gras beads, the masks, and the Fleurs-di-Lis are well utilized and well placed in the graphics. Though the art may change from the prototype to the final version, I am honestly hoping that the changes aren’t too drastic as it is a large part of what drew me to the game besides the theme! Though the box says the game is for 1-5 players, it’s really more like a 2-5 player game with a solo variant. While this is not something that dissuades me as a solo gamer, I do know that there are several people within my own game groups even that don’t like “dummy” or “robot” player mechanics when gaming alone so I wanted to make sure I pointed that out to anyone reading this review. This being said, Big Easy Busking is a game that can easily be taught, quick to learn, and took me completely by surprise! Typically, I tend to lose area control games…by a lot. Big Easy Busking, however, just seemed to click for me once we got through our learning game. As there is very little reading involved, the game is almost language independent and therefore a great one to use to teach mechanics with and one that can be played with the kids in the group. The only issue we had during any of our games was that the black energy cubes were a little hard to see once placed on the cards as they tended to blend in with the cards, but, otherwise, things went very smoothly. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, are someone who loves music, or someone looking for a unique theme with familiar mechanics, I honestly cannot recommend Big Easy Busking enough!

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