Review: Oh My Goods – It’s Got the Goods

Parts of this review may look familiar. Like my last review, Oh My Goods is also a 2015 release from Mayfair/Lookout, by Kennerspiel des Jahres winning Alexander Pfister. And like that review, this is a game that has sort of surprised and impressed me, despite the relatively low fanfare that has been made over it. I’ve also played it a lot for a new acquisition, and now that I’ve played and taught it several times, it has been a hit with everyone. Oh My Goods is yet another big success, but this time, in a small box.

What You Get

  • 110 Cards, 18 x Brick, Stone, Wheat, Wool and 22 x wood. Plus 8 2-sided extra workers, 4 starting workers, and 4 starting charburner buildings.

Because it’s cards only, the cards deserve some discussion. Each card is both a resource, and a building (and when face down, one of the generic titular goods). Some cards (it seems like about 1/3) also have a half-sun symbol below the resource. As a building, the cost and point value are at the top, and the building effect is at the bottom. Buildings on brick, wheat, wood, and wool cards produce goods. Production is indicated on the bottom left as 2 basic resources with an arrow to the produced good. And most of the buildings also have chained production in the bottom right indicating one or more goods or resources with an arrow. Finally, the produced good has a coin underneath showing the good’s value when used. The stone buildings (this is the exception) don’t produce, but have abilities that add permanent resources or let you draw more cards.

Rules are occasionally sparse. And some of the iconography is hard to understand out-of-the-box. But once you get through a game, it all becomes pretty clear. I do wish there was a first player marker. But the game already just fits into the game box. Card quality is average.  Klemenz Franz returns as the artist, and the art is functional without getting in the way.

What You Do

Players are racing to build 8 buildings worth the most points. Players start with just a simple Charburner and a worker, 5 cards in hand, and 7 cards representing charcoal goods on the Charburner. Randomly select 2 extra workers per player and make them available, then shuffle the rest of the cards. Everyone plays simultaneously across 4 turn phases each round, with one exception.

The round starts with everyone drawing two (or potentially more) cards from the deck. Next, reveal cards from the deck until you encounter 2 with suns, and assign your worker to one of your production buildings, which will produce goods of various types. You may optionally place a card face down as a building to build later. Next, reveal more cards from the deck until 2 more suns are encountered. Finally players can produce and build. Buildings will produce goods in various types, which can be used either as money or as more advanced resources.

To produce, you are looking for resources on the revealed cards that match the production needs of the building where you’ve placed your worker. If the worker is in normal mode you need all the shown resources and produce 2 goods, and in sloppy mode [the game’s wording, not mine] you need one resource less, but produce only one good. You can supplement resources with cards from your hand to initiate production, and after initiating production, you can add cards from your hand and/or move goods from other buildings to chain production.  To build, you simply pay goods that equal or exceed the cost of the building. You can buy extra workers if you have specific sets of buildings, but they require all the production resources to produce one good and can only be moved by paying coins.

Once any player has 8 buildings, play one more round, then total the scores from buildings, workers, and every 5 coins in remaining goods to determine a winner.

On the surface, this looks like just a straightforward production chain game, but because you have to place your workers before all cards are revealed, there is a substantial element of risk management push-your-luck in deciding what to produce. This element is what makes the game stand out among your standard Euro games.

What I Liked

Oh My Goods can be a little overwhelming in the first game because you only see a small number of the possible icons early on. But once you get past that initial complexity, the game speed is fast, with very little downtime, due to the fact that players play simultaneously in most circumstances. Multi-use cards pack a lot of game in a small box. The card-based resource production mechanism feels really innovative, and the mix of engine-building and push your luck feels fresh. There are multiple strategies, because there is crossover and branching in the production and chaining resources, and you’re not just limited to the same production chains. Every building can be a viable strategy. This is a really tight resource management, sort of worker placement, hardcore euro game. And there are really tough choices for multi-use cards with what cards to keep in hand, what to use to replace missing resources, chain production, or build for points.

What I Disliked

As you might expect from the undescriptive game name, Oh My Goods is effectively abstract. There are some thematic relationships (wood makes coal, wheat makes flour, coal plus flour makes bread) but they don’t mean much because everything is used as money. It doesn’t feel like you’re making the products, you’re just shuffling the cards around by matching icons. For cube-pushing Euro game lovers, that probably is exactly what you want, since it lets the (really fun) mechanics shine. Because of the simultaneous play, the game doesn’t rely on conflict with other players. And the central resources are shared instead of being fought over. Consequently, interaction is very low, limited to racing to hire an extra worker. This is also a good thing for players who really dislike conflict, but I’d like a little more. There is a little bit of interaction in watching what cards opponents have used, to determine what’s still available in the deck, but that hasn’t been a deciding factor in any of my games so far. This leads to the game being largely multi-player solitaire.

The consequence of the low interaction is that each player is basically dependent on the resources they draw or reveal each round. While you can mitigate the randomness some, the randomness can occasionally really hold you back, particularly if it happens early on. Since this is an engine builder, early bad luck snowballs. In one game, a really bad distribution of brick cards sort of ruined the game for the player who needed brick. This isn’t great for players who take everything super seriously. You could potentially house-rule it to discard 2 matching resources (or any 2) as a wild. The chaining, which is one of the core concepts of the game ends up being underutilized. It’s really difficult to trigger consistently because you have so few workers.

Conclusions

I’m a little concerned that one strategy appears to be a little too strong: building lots of stone buildings and a glassmaker. It’s possible to influence the composition of the deck by holding and building cards with suns on them. Then a successful glassmaker will produce enough to buy a new stone building, granting an extra resource and making it easier to run. And the Stone buildings are almost 3 point buildings anyway (and some of the cheaper 3-point buildings at that). It has been very powerful in the games I’ve seen, but maybe less so if more players compete for it.

But overall, this is still a game I’m happy to pull out almost any time and teach to anyone. It feels really innovative, especially for such a small box. Oh My Goods will be a great fit for players who are looking for a strong engine building experience in a more casual package, as long as they don’t mind a little randomness.

Alexander Pfister has had a very strong year, and I’m now on the hunt for his other games. I was already a fan after Isle of Skye, now he’s one of my favorites.

Bonus

The Designer has released some rule changes that will be in the second edition. There is a new ability to swap out your entire hand at the start of each round, and the ability to run all of your buildings’ chain actions at the end of the game. The limit on owning only two extra workers is removed, but now you can only do one of them each round. Finally, you no longer lose a building if you can’t build it, and extra cards from the market office are reduced. These changes seem intended to make failure less harsh, but they also remove some of the tension.

In a game where seeing the cards you want is crucial, you probably want to swap out your hand every single round, unless you have the exact resources you need for chaining, and the perfect building you want to build. It’s great when you get stuck with bad draws early, but I like the challenge of deciding how to make the best of the buildings you have. I think there are other ways to make a bad hand less painful, by trading cards 2:1 as other resources or extra money.

The chaining at the end is supposed to make chains more important, but it didn’t make a big difference to us. I’d rather have more opportunities to chain during play. It’s limited by workers, so it would be interesting to have the single worker split into two, but allowing you to double up workers. So you could split them up to run more chains, or keep them together for more power.

I think having to choose either a building or a worker takes away not only a really interesting way to make big plays, but makes the interaction less interesting because you know whether you’ll get the worker a round ahead of time. Instead, I’d like to see that limit increased, so you can build multiple buildings at once, giving an extra avenue for strategy by rushing the game.

Oh My Goods is a deceptively small box that looks like it should be easier than it is. Because of that, I think more casual players will like the second edition rules changes. The new rules certainly make the game feel a little less punishing, but for me, the push-your-luck resource management aspect is what makes Oh My Goods so good and unique. I think the first edition rules do a better job of that and that’s the game I want to keep playing.

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