WATCH is an intriguing, somewhat abstractly themed, game from the mind and imagination of Daniel Newman. It has nice production values with a mix of cardboard counters and shaped wooden/metal pieces, four player boards (the same except for the coloured edges). Then there is a folded, double-side printed (German/English) Factory board, 1 majority tracking board and 1 Tally board plus a pack of square 'Market' cards with rounded corners. For Solo play there are specific cards, watches, 'closed' markers and the back of the player boards.
Finally there are some special pieces: a 'hand of the Watch' bullet-shaped pointer token, a black token, 45 value-marked crates, a single black token, a die and 8 debt markers. The aforementioned metal pieces are three sets of gear wheels; 28 Bronze valued at 1, 12 Silver valued at 5 and 10 Gold valued at 10.
WATCH is a 1-4 player 60 minute game that features some solid illustrations from Harald Lieske. Nice to see old friends Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games and Uli Blennemann in the credits list.
The game intelligently strings together but is not accordingly themed. The players are newly arrived workers in a Soviet watch-making factory where their actual paid employment is making gears of different metals and sizes. Using the natural skills and abilities they have been born with, the players devise ways of smuggling gears out of the factory to sell on the Black Market and thus enhancing their poor wages. Sneaking around the Warehouse, Workshop and Loading Dock has taught you a lot about what goes on in this old factory. While spending time in the Foreman's Office, going through draws and cupboards has unveiled evidence that proves corruption on high as well as files on some of your fellow workers. It is also what you already expected, this heavy bricked building filled with different types of old, heavy machinery, used to be a WWII Munitions foundry.
The Factory Board is split into four large pizza-wedge type sections and each of these sections is split into alternating light and a dark wedge-shapes. The central sector, where the wedge points meet, has a shape created that is the size of the round-edged square cards. It is here that cards are placed to determine what occurs in each section.
The majority of the other components are placed surrounding this board, ensuring players can reach them as, and if, necessary. The Black disc and the Bullet-shaped hour hand begin on specific spaces, page 4 of the English edition Rules Booklet has a great photo of the complete setup and the following pages of Game Play explain how the 12 Rounds of play have you placing a worker and then hoping you have chosen the wedge away from the spying eyes of the Watch.
In the first round the players put their workers (in standing position) on one of the Factory board's action spots and then carry out Phase 3 (Actions) before the next player, by clockwise order around the table, does the same, though only one worker can be on each action spot.
From the second round onwards the round begins with the worker closest to the Watch Hand (clockwise) and the phases are played through in order. The Dark Brown segments are known as 'Risky' because any player being caught on them has to pay a Bribe to the Bank or take Debt Tokens. Try to ensure you have enough Rubles (or a card that prevents you from being caught or paying fines etc) before moving into a space that is likely to be within the eyes of the Watch, so that you can pay any necessary Bribe. Taking a Debt Token gives you an immediate 5 Rubles but costs you 8 Rubles to return it any time later on. If you still have Debt Tokens in hand when the scoring is made they will cost you 10 points each.
The rules booklet is thin, just 12 pages including front and back covers, and filled with examples in white boxes. For example when you place or move a Worker they are positioned standing, but once they have completed their actions they are laid on their side. This means that you should be careful whilst playing, no rowdy actions, no knocking the table legs 'accidentally' etc.
Another reason to be careful about knocking anything in play is that the players each have their own board with 20 tokens (at the beginning) covering the Upgrade spots. Later in the game, when some of these have been removed, an accidental knock could reposition them.
Part of the game play is about anticipation and guessing, as well as expecting the other players to take the action that you think is better for them to take - ie you are hoping to manipulate them (in whatever way you can - bluff double-bluff, conversation etc - it's all fun in deceit and war) into moving their Worker/s into the segment where the WATCH can 'see' them.
The Factory Board is a rather depressingly dour Eastern European rondel, split into segments for different actions. The four lighter sections are the Watch, Making cash by Selling Gears, Producing Gears and Scrounging. The darker sections are Smuggling, Overtime, Upgrade and Search Files, all advantageous if you don't get caught by the revealing of the Watch cards. The Watch action is always carried out, whether there are workers there or not. The player who takes the Watch Action chooses which Watch cards are revealed.
Players carry out the actions according to, a) the description on the occupied action spot, and b) on the majority track board. There are six tracks on the Majority Track board, two for each Gears, Cash and Crates. By clever use of this board, players make bonus gains depending on the spaces of the track. Doing well on these tracks greatly affects your final resource scoring so although you might feel like ignoring it at times it is essential that you don't let anyone run away with it.
The Hand of the Watch turns from 12 to 3, to 6, to 9 and back to 12, moving once per Round, thus 3 times round the clockface throughout the game. Knowing where it will start each Round can be a decider as to where you place your worker - nearest (clockwise) to the Hand starts the next Round and going first may be just the advantage you need on occasion.
After the Hand has turned a new Market card is placed in the central position.
Each Market card has four sections, one of which will always have the 'Eyes' symbol. When placing the card in the centre of the board it always has to be placed so that the section showing the Eyes intersects with the 9 and the 12. The sections of the Market card intersect with the 2 parts of each location and affect their actions.
When you search the Document Files in the Foreman's Office you may find and keep Document cards. These are generally like 'get out of jail' cards and can be played when required, usually when something not-so-good is about to happen to you. Something we have discovered is not to rush to play them without first considering the possibilities. Not often agreed, but there may be times when holding onto the card/s is more useful than using them on a minor disadvantage.
There are slight Rules changes for when you are playing Solo or just Two players.
With two players you should prepare for a third player during setup. This 'dummy' player has decisions, such as moving, determined by die roll. Bribes attributed to the third player being caught are paid by the Bank. Other than this the game plays out as usual.
There are more rule changes for Solo play, including the use of Robots (workers of any other colour), specific Solo cards, Watch Tokens, do not use the Majority Tracks Board or the Watch Hand.
In fairness I tried both 2-player and Solo games but didn't really feel it.
Scoring and Winning:
Throughout play you are collecting Points for smuggling, saving, using, Coins, Crates, Gears etc. You also gain points for unlocking the points on your Player Board.
Your score good points if you have collected Document cards. 25 points for having one card in each of the four colours (you only count this once) and then you separate all of your Document cards into sets of each colour, scoring each depending on the number of cards in every different colour.
Most points wins, but if you are playing Solo you have to check your score against benchmarks of 75, 100, 125 and 160.
WATCH is definitely different from any other game I have played. It is a management game but neither worker placement nor area control. It is a Business game of sorts but you don't truly buy and sell like you do in games that are constructed around a stock market. The premise is of Munitions, Corruption and Production all tied neatly into a WWII background all sounds promising, but it is chrome that shouldn't be the reason WWII enthusiasts involve themselves.
The grim, dreary-looking board, lends atmosphere to how WWII Russia is always depicted, featureless greys and browns, in books and movies, but it doesn't enthuse visually. The series of mechanics, the movement, the Market cards, the different boards and Tracks, are what drive WATCH, but you have to get past the aesthetics before you can enjoy the enrichment of the challenge.