The publisher gifted me a copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
Game at a Glance
- Weird Giraffe Games
- Players: 1-5
- Ages: 8+
- Length: 45
- Mechanics: Area Majority, Hand Management
- Availability: Retail
New Orleans is famous for many things: Creole cuisine, lively festivals, Bourbon Street… but it is also considered the birthplace of Jazz. Big Easy Busking is a game centered around this vibrant city and this unique musical artform that it introduced to the world.
In this game you take the role of a band of street musicians, or buskers, competing to earn the affection of crowds and make the most money over the course of 3 nights in The Big Easy. Songs come in the form of cards which can be played to match the mood of the crowds. Players must spend their energy wisely to ensure they can perform enough exciting songs to leave an impression on their audience.
Everyone starts with a player card that displays the musicians in the band, along with energy tokens and 3 starting song cards. Four energy tokens are placed onto each band member, and crowd cards and moods are revealed for the first night. Players take turns learning and playing songs for the crowds. These actions cost energy, and in the case of playing songs the energy must be paid from specific band members. Once all players have exhausted their energy and/or choose to pass, each crowd card gets paid out to whomever has the majority of energy tokens on that card. All players then return their song cards to their hand, refresh their band members’ energy stores, and reveal additional crowd cards for the next evening. At the end of 3 rounds whoever has the most money is declared the King or Queen of the Buskers and wins the game!
Let’s start with what first caught my eye about this game: the aesthetic. Big Easy Busking is absolutely gorgeous with its vibrant, energetic illustrations. The color scheme pays homage to the Mardi Gras Festival with plenty of purple, green and gold on display, and the song titles in the game often reference culturally-relevant subjects such as gumbo and Marie Laveau. There are also a few song titles that are obvious nods to board game fanatics, such as “Wingspanland”, “I play Blue ‘n Green”, and everybody gamer’s favorite jam, “Mister Meeple.”
Although Big Easy Busking does not reinvent the area control/majority genre of games, I find its unique theme to be charming. It makes the game approachable for people who are not interested in the typically fantasy- or war-themed “dudes on a map” style game. I do have a few friends who are resistant to some of these themes, so having a game like Big Easy Busking in the collection is really handy.
It is pretty straightforward and I would say accessible to a wide range of skill levels. The rulebook does a pretty good job of teaching the game and also provides a link to a how-to-play video online. Once the game has been taught the turns move quickly. The game has a nice flow to it. Despite this, there are some agonizing decisions to make in regards to how to spend your currency as the game progresses so analysis paralysis may become an issue for certain players. It hasn’t been a huge problem at my table yet.
The thematic tie-in for energy usage is very clever. The amount of energy you put towards playing for a crowd has a direct effect on the adoration they have for you (and ultimately, how much money will be landing in your saxophone case at the end of the night). Learning new songs requires energy expenditure as well. Managing these energy tokens can be tricky, as songs require a certain number of cubes to be spent from specific band members. You may have a song that relies heavily on your saxophone player, so preserving their energy stores might be a good idea. Energy cubes can be added back to players in various ways, such as tipping them at the end of a song, but money equals victory points and over-tipping will likely result in a loss. Another thing to consider: energy spent towards a venue may sometimes be pulled back and re-allocated to band members – this can happen when your song matches the mood of the crowd and some song abilities allow for this. There’s a lot to consider and the decisions get more heavy as the game progresses.
Big Easy Busking is an interactive experience, as should be expected from an area majority game. Players are going to be making decisions on where to spend their energy based on what their opponents have done on previous turns. Some crowds are more lucrative than others so fierce competition for prime spots will arise. How you choose to secure the love of a crowd is entirely up to you – maybe you play several small songs throughout the night, slowly earning their praises. Or perhaps you decide to ignore the crowd for a bit, tricking your opponents into thinking you’re spending your attention and energy elsewhere, and then play a big, energetic song as a finale in hopes of winning them over. It’s very difficult striking a good balance between keeping the crowds happy and keeping your musicians energized without going broke.
I was surprised to find that there are no scalability rule changes between a 2 person game versus a 5 person game. No matter the player count, the same number of Crowd Cards are revealed which means in a 2 player game there is much less forced competition for areas in comparison to a 4 or 5 player game. Generally, I think area control/majority games are more fun at higher player counts and Big Easy Busking is no exception. That’s not necessarily a flaw, it’s just something to consider if you primarily play with 2 players.
The components in the game are nice, especially if you manage to get a copy of the Deluxe Edition that comes with custom energy tokens, sleeves for the Song cards, and the French Quarter mini expansion. The deluxe energy tokens are small meeples in the shape of trumpets, saxophones, alligators, fleur-de-lis, and Louisiana – frivolous, but a really fun addition for those who have an affection for New Orleans. I think there was a missed opportunity in not including a first player token, but that is a minor quibble and ultimately I’m happy with the contents in the box.
Some games have variable goals or asymmetric powers that guarantee a high replay value, and this game does not have a lot of that built in. Each game will have different ability songs available to all players which grant special actions, such as the ability to move spent energy tokens around, earn extra money, and return played song cards to your hand. These songs can be very powerful and have a minor effect on strategy, but other than that and the changing mix of crowds and moods, there’s not a whole lot of variability game to game. That’s not to say the replay value is compromised, as I think a lot of the variability will come from players reacting differently to the mix of crowds and to each other’s actions. There is a lot of strategy to explore here and the decisions are very interesting and that leaves me wanting to revisit this one again and again.
Tabletop Mom’s Opinion
Big Easy Busking is not ground-breaking but I think it’s clever, beautiful, and a lot of fun. The designer did a wonderful job with the integration of a very unique theme in this genre of game. It’s highly interactive and it’s been very enjoyable to play with friends and I am so pleased to have this game on my shelf. I think it’s a really good option for people who are interested in area majority but are turned off by the fantasy and war themes that seem to dominate the game genre.
Finding the right balance between learning new songs, playing to the right number of crowds, deciding when to tip and/or pull energy back from the crowd, and knowing when to fight for an audience’s love vs. cutting your loss is a tricky balancing act and results in a really fun puzzle.
I would not recommend it to people who have zero tolerance for conflict in games, but if you don’t mind the back-and-forth of trying to outbid your friends for a good location and are looking for something unique and at a very fair price point, I think it’s a good pick. Big Easy Busking is a hidden gem that deserves more attention.