In Extra Extra, running a newspaper can be lonely business

, | Game reviews

My favorite thing about Extra Extra is that I can’t think of any other boardgames about running a newspaper in the olden days. That’s redundant, isn’t it? I mean, when else would you run a newspaper? There’s something so endearingly quaint about a worker placement game set in a time when people got their news from something made out of paper. It’s every bit as charming as Agricola’s pumpkin patches, piglet pens, and duck ponds. When a game is this cute, who cares if it’s just a worker placement game?

After the jump, read all about it!

I say “just” a worker placement game, because plenty of worker placement games have managed to cleverly hide that they’re worker placement games. Classics like Carson City and Dominant Species have a map where the action unfolds as players jostle each other. The clever Euphoria has sleek dystopian theming with a sexy and unique resource chain. Argent: The Consortium, set in a school for wizards, has so many finicky thematic powers and intricate player interactions that you’re liable to forget you’re placing workers. Voyages of Marco Polo, a recent favorite of mine, is fundamentally worker placement, but it’s also so much more besides.

But Extra Extra doesn’t do a lot to dilute or disguise the worker placement. A lot of your brain bandwidth is spent on set collection, whereby you collect cards. You’ll variously scoop up handfuls of cards with reporters filing stories from cities around the world, pick out cards one at a time using your freelancer “stringers”, or grab select choices off the wire before they disappear. It’s all nicely themed, but it’s simple of matter of whether you cash in your sets sooner or hold out for better cards that make more lucrative sets.

You score points on a tableau, which represents your newspaper layout. In a game with nice theming, this tableau is the best bit. Your sets of cards buy tiles that represent stories, which you then fit onto your page. A hearty two-by-three story here, a quick little two-tile story there. Run a headline along the top. Perhaps a column down the right side. Cram some comics or crossword puzzles into the gaps. Sell some advertising if you want to trade your precious space for a little extra money. Arranging assets in limited space is something you do a lot in farming games. But I can’t think of any game where the tenets of Tetris are as appropriate a fit as they are in Extra Extra. Tetris itself, maybe? No, not even Tetris, because Tetris doesn’t even bother with a theme.

There are a couple of resources in Extra Extra, including the cards you collect and the reporters (i.e. workers) you place to perform actions. There’s also money. At first, the teensy money chits seem like an interface nightmare. Why so tiny? But cash in Extra Extra is a discrete system, elegantly firewalled from the rest of the game, so the teensy money chits make sense. Cash is only ever used to boot other workers. Whatever you spend to boot someone is then placed under your meeple. It fits perfectly! Then, if another player can outspend you, he can boot your worker and perch his meeple atop the money he just spent. This is the only use of money. You’re not mucking around buying stuff. You’re not amassing gold or crystals or mana or coins. There’s no sense of building up an economic engine. This is a newspaper, not a business!

It’s worth noting you never even score victory points. You score “circulation points”. Yeah, okay, they’re technically victory points. But I appreciate a game that cares enough to use terms unique to the subject matter. The news desk, the wire, reporters, the morgue (no, not that kind of morgue, but an archive of stock photography and old stories), the late-breaking story space. Extra Extra takes great care to theme everything.

But for all its thorough and endearing theming, Extra Extra eventually comes back to being “just” a worker placement game, albeit one with set collection and a tableau for each player. Unlike some of my favorite worker placement games, there’s not a lot of player interaction. You’re not jockeying for position on a map like in Carson City or Dominant Species. You’re not constantly zapping each other like in Argent. You’re not racing to China like in Voyages of Marco Polo. And although you’ll probably have a few spending contests where you and another player throw your money at the same action, outbidding each other until one of you runs out of money, this is a relatively small part of the game. If you get outbid, just do that action next turn. There aren’t many actions that can’t simply wait a turn.

Furthermore, this isn’t a game about limited resources. In a worker placement game like Agricola (or the far superior Caverna) players are desperate to snatch up the slow trickle of available resources. There’s nothing like that in Extra Extra. A set of bonus scoring tokens will likely run out, but otherwise, there’s plenty of everything for everybody. This limits frustration, but it also means the bulk of the game is about doing your own thing and not paying much attention to what anyone else is doing. The game ends when someone fills his page, so you’ll want to keep track of how others are coming along. Near the end, you might even count up everyone’s circulation points to see how you’re faring. But aside from an occasional moneyfight, Extra Extra has little direct interaction with the other folks at the table. Running a newspaper can be lonely business.

I’m also disappointed Extra Extra isn’t tuned to a specific game length. You can choose from about ten scenarios, which are really just layout sizes. Do you want a short game publishing a tabloid-sized paper, a medium-length game publishing a full broadsheet, or an epic three-hour-plus grind on the center spread of a “berliner”? Since the only meaningful difference among the scenarios is game length, it’s as if Extra Extra is asking you to just decide how long you feel like playing. That’s a terrible question to ask someone just learning the game. Shouldn’t a developer calculate a default game length and then include a few variants?

The board artwork is busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The important information is highlighted easily enough among the reporters with their fedoras, the copy editors with their typewriters, the his-girl-Fridays and teletype operators, all bustling around the long progression of worker placement spaces, along the hallways, then up and down the staircases of the newspaper office. I like elegance and simplicity as much as the next guy, but sometimes you gotta get busy. The frantic hustle of getting your paper to the press is one of those times.

  • Extra Extra

  • Rating:

  • Boardgame
  • Stories are coming in from around the world, but you have a limited amount of money, a few reporters, and a race against all the other newspapers to get your publication out first! Stories require writing and photos, but advertising, headlines, interviews and features will all help boost your attention and your reputation! Players place their reporters to claim stories, fit their stories into their paper's layout, and get money from advertising or extra stories.
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