Why Are We Waiting Again? - A Review of In Front of the Elevators
Some games fit into a particular mold. The players finish it, reflect on their play, and say “yeah, I would rather play this similar game” or “I think this other game does the theme better.” Not many gamers who play a game from Japanese designer Saashi say things like that, due to his odd themes and unique choices for gameplay. The same can be said with his with his latest outing, In Front of the Elevators.
Starting with the theme, Saashi is one to imagine games with strange settings and ideas. We’ve seen games with coffee, photographers, orchestras, and public transportation all release from his own studio, Saashi & Saashi. As for comparisons, his newest might be the most ‘out there.’ Families waiting and cutting in line for elevators at the department store? That might be as… normal of a theme as there can be in relation to the real world. We’re so accustomed to fantasy, sci-fi, and alt-history games that when one uses something this relatable, it produces almost no excitement.
But, in traditional Saashi fashion, the mechanics interlock with the oddball themes that only he can pull off. Players are doing what they can to place cards in three separate elevator lines to position their family members (aka, their respective player colors) to score points based on their spot in line, most of the time scoring the most when they are third or fourth in line. Each elevator also has two members of families that will score double points (kids on one, adult women on a second, and adult men on a third). Each of the six regular cards also have a picture on top that shows who they cut in front of.
So maybe the theme and mechanics aren’t as interwoven as I first led on. But to be honest, I couldn’t envision the theme to be any other. We’ve all seen an instance where someone allows another individual to cut in line. But the reasons behind why grandpas cut in front of girls and why dads cut in front of grandmas in In Front of the Elevators is left up to interpretation. The light-hearted theme Saashi picked fits with the gameplay ideas he introduces.
But there are two additional rules that add for some great thematic connections. The first is the cafe rule. If three of one family member (grandmas as an example) are placed into the same line, they ditch the line to go get coffee, while giving the person who made the set a victory point when scoring happens. It’s as if they all know each other, tell one another “forget the shopping,” and go catch up on life. The other is the lost child card. There is one in each color, and when played to a line, a family member of that player color much go to the back of the line to accompany their child lost in the department store.
Each of these cards can be used in an offensive and defensive manner. You start off with a pair of cards in your color, but after playing the first card to a line, you draw from one of three stacks. The key here is that each card’s back matches up to the cards of each of the player colors. So if I go to draw, sometimes I can draw one of my own or one of the opponents’. I could then use that card to reposition one of my own family members, or put it in the back of a line so it doesn’t score, or make a cafe set to score a point and remove those cards from the round, once again moving the line around to best fit my needs.
In addition to having player colors and matching backs, there is exactly one of each card in each color. So part of the strategy can be used in card counting, which is a big help in knowing who has your cards in their hands or which could be in the draw piles. Same goes with the cafe sets. One can look at which three cards were taken out of the game to know if their next use of that family member is a safe bet.
So I’ve described the game, and I think we’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t very many things like it. Fellow Cardboard Reality host, Nick, says it most resembles Parade, but having not played it, I must pull from the card games I have got to table. Where does it fit in terms of other card games I’ve played? Based on weight, it’s lighter than some of the thinkier games, such as Arboretum, Race for the Galaxy, or Schotten Totten. But on the other end of the spectrum, I think it has more strategy and tougher decisions than games like Love Letter, Sushi Go, and Coup.
Maybe the game I can most compare it to at an emotional level is Jaipur. While not similar in terms of mechanics, both In Front of the Elevators and Jaipur are focused on manipulating the cards to help yourself more than others. Jaipur’s focus is based around collecting sets of cards, trading goods in your hand with the open market, and cashing them in for a higher value than your opponent. In Front of the Elevators produces tension through positioning, using all cards to better your potential points, worsen your opponent’s, and playing the right card at the right time.
Like I said in 2017 when reviewing Coffee Roaster, you either love or hate Takako Takarai’s art, which is the same artist picked for all games from Saashi & Saashi. It’s no different here, but all the focus is on the family members and no other art. So if you’re not a fan of Takarai’s art, I can say it gets a pass here because of the minimal use. I’m always a fan, and this one fits the bill, like all of the Saashi & Saashi designs.
In terms of player count, I’ve played at three and four players. Two is the outlier of the counts due each player using more than one player color. With three, one family color is removed and one random card is removed from the neutral player, meaning you’re missing one crucial piece of information for card counting. That’s actually a good thing because it keeps it having all the information in the open like you see in the four-player game. I think it plays best at three players, with four still being fun.
As for some of my thoughts, it doesn’t always feel like you’re in control, even with some of the ways it tries to mitigate luck. Some of your early decisions feel like a shot in the dark. If a card is put in line, you are just hoping that it’s a worthwhile place to put them. That card can be gathered with others for the cafe rule, sift to the back, jolt to the back to be with a lost child, or stand right where you first put them.
I don’t feel tension or progression either as I play the game. I gave examples of games it’s lighter and heavier than, but I don’t know of many instances that I’d pick In Front of the Elevators over some thinkier games. While unique, I’d much rather experience the tough decisions of an Arboretum and Modern Art or the “start with nothing and end with the world” feeling I get from Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome.
Card counting is key to the game, but it’s also not on the level you’d see in Arboretum, which is a good and bad thing. On one hand, figuring out where the one card you’re looking for isn’t that difficult, due to there only being 35 total cards in the deck. But to counter, it doesn’t feel like there is much tension. There isn’t a mass of information you are tracking, and when you take a card, it’s more “I hope this is good” early on and “I know what this is” near the end of a round. There isn’t a good middle ground where you can track information and take advantage of the cards your opponents either poorly used or discarded.
I gave the example of Jaipur earlier that it has the most emotional connection to. And while I enjoy Jaipur, I’ve not played it in quite some time, and I’ve not had the urge to either. I feel the same thing will happen with In Front of the Elevators. It’s not bad, it’s fun and quick. It just doesn’t feel like one that I will be itching to play very often. Novel and unique doesn’t always translate to revolutionary or outstanding.