Total Game Play
Designer(s): Eric B. Vogel
Artist(s): George Cotronis, Fred Hicks
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Welcome to the Mad City. You were asleep but now, now you’re awake and you have to deal with the horrors and nightmares that surround you. But you were given a glimmer of hope in escaping this hellish world: gaining the favor of the Wax King. Don’t Turn Your Back is a combination worker placement and deck building game with points gained during the game as well as having a point burst at the end of the game. Its dark theme is embodied in the nightmares that comprise of your deck. This game has an utterly unique approach to worker placement and a fun dynamic that draws me in every time.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
While I don’t have the exact count of how many times, I have played this game, I will say it’s definitely in double digits. Probably over twenty. We have had this game in our collection for quite some time and it is in a very loved box.
Don’t Turn Your Back uses both worker placement and deck building as its core mechanics. The player count for this game is 2 – 4 players. I have played this game at all player counts and I have found that I have the most fun at four players.
The game is played in eight rounds, and each round consists of four phases. The bulk of the game is played in phase two where players will place a card from their hand into a spot on the board. Each player will only place one cards at a time moving clockwise around the table until all players have played all their cards.
The setup for this game is on the simpler side. Each player will get their own board, a starting deck, and an acquisition deck. Six cards will be drawn from the acquisition deck and place in a row. 4 cards will be drawn into the players’ hand. The main board only has the setup of placing out the deck of laws (seven random cards will be chosen, the first admonishment is in every game) and placing every player’s piece on the start row of the Candle Tally.
Phase One: Place Cards
During this phase, each player will take turns placing one card to the board. There are limited spaces to play so the timing of when to play cards is very important. Cards played to the Highschool, The Slumbering City, District 13, and the Wax Kingdom will not activate until the later phases. The effects on cards played to the Bizarre Bazaar will happen immediately. Cards have dictated places where they can be play listed on the left side of the card. These tags will match the location to make a full oval.
If a player ever passes, they have passed for the rest of the phase and can no longer place cards they might have. The phase ends when ever player passes.
Phase Two: Acquire Influence
This phase specifically addresses the City Slumbering Section. Players with cards in this area can purchase more cards from their personal display. The pain value of the card is the total cost that a player can spend to purchase the cards of their choice.
Phase Three: Score
The third phase involves scoring the High School and District 13. In the High School, the player with the highest pain will score points equal to this value. Other players located in the High School will gain points per card they have available in that location. The number of cards spent by the winner will be removed from the High School starting with the card to the left. All other cards will stay on the board.
In District 13, what will score you point varies depending on the law. Perhaps the most pain is desired. Perhaps it’s the least pain. Maybe the District just wants a card from each of the players. The ever-changing laws are something you have to adjust to during every round. After scoring a law, a new one should be drawn.
Phase Four: Clean Up and Draw Up
Lastly, we have to clean up the board before going into the next round. Cards from the City Slumbering, District 13, and the Bizarre Bazaar will be returned to the corresponding player. Cards in the Waxed Kingdom will be placed in the face-down encased pile. All players will then draw up to 4 cards and the round begins again!
The game end is triggered when round 8 ends. This is also denoted by the last law being drawn. The only end game scoring that occurs is the points awarded from the Wax Kingdom to the player who has encased the most pain.
Who Will Like it?
This game is a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys having an additional layer to a worker placement and/or a deck building game. It has a similar feeling to Trains or Clank!. While this game can look a little intense, it’s a great game for light to midweight gamers.
What I Think
Don’t Turn Your Back fascinates me because it combines two mechanics in such an elegant manner. And in a way I would never expect.
What did I like?
I love that this game uses the cards as the workers. Each worker then can be unique with different abilities. Don’t Turn Your Back also does a great job in limiting each card. By dictating which locations a card can go to, each card comes with advantages and disadvantages.
What didn’t I like?
The most popular district is the Bizarre Bazaar by far. So much so that a lot of rounds start by placing out your action cards. I don’t particularly like this repetitive strategy in opening a round but it does make the beginning go quite quickly as people generally feel like they have a more limited scope of choices.
Don’t Turn Your Back is a fantastic game with a fun theme and innovative use of mechanics. Each game is unique in choice as one strategy won’t guarantee you the win every time. While I’m not a huge fan of the randomization of the market, each player does have access to all potential cards in the game.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook for Don’t Turn Your Back is straightforward and easy to understand. Each phase is clearly outlined and reference to all cards and areas are explained in the rulebook in a place that is not in the way. The game didn’t take long to learn but it did take some time to understand that the Face Merchant is the best card.
I did not realize how important encasing cards would be during my first play. Most of the table didn’t realize the power of the Wax Kingdom. I was almost the only person who was encasing cards and I was doing that just because trashing cards from my deck is in my blood. If I’m playing a deck builder, I’m going to find ways to trash cards.
After that first play, I became a little too reliant on the Wax Kingdom. You cannot win this game by focusing on one area. You need to play to all of the locations that score points to get those winning scores.
I really love this game. It has such a great vibe with a fresh take on the type of mechanics it uses. This is a game I actively love to go after and would play anytime. It’s something I truly enjoy.
*See my rating scale Here