Strategically Thematic: Kanban

January 26, 2017

Strategically Thematic is a segment featured on The Dice Tower's bi-weekly Throat Punch Lunch videos about games where the theme and mechanics go together really well.

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Hi, this is Ambie from Board Game Blitz, and this is Strategically Thematic, a segment where I talk about theme in different strategic games. This time, I’m talking about Kanban: Automotive Revolution.

Kanban is a game where you’re a manager in an assembly line at a car factory. You’re trying to impress your boss Sandra by working efficiently in your development of automobiles. In Kanban, you control one worker, which represents you, and you move it around the factory to do different actions. Each location in the factory represents a different part of the assembly line in making cars - first you’ll need to get designs in the Design Department, materials are in the Logistics Department, the cars are created in the Assembly Line Department, and they’re tested and upgraded in the Testing and Innovation Department. The last section is the Administration Department, and you can oversee any part of the assembly line from here.

Each department also has a certification track, which you can advance on by training in that department. Basically, once you reach a certain level of certification, you become better at that department. For example, if you get certified in the Assembly Line Department, you can store 5 cars in your garage instead of the usual 4.

One of the interesting mechanisms is that your boss, Sandra, is a worker that’s moved around by the game. Basically, she goes around to the different locations in the factory and judges how well you’re doing your job. There are two modes to the game - nice or mean, so she either rewards you or penalizes you depending on how well you’re doing in that specific area. I think this is super thematic, because it makes you stay efficient in order to stay on top of your job. Whenever she comes around, you have to make sure you're above a certain threshold in each area, so it's kind of like a super stressful performance review each turn.

There are two types of scoring in the game - meetings and factory production. Since you’re a manager, you attend a bunch of meetings to discuss your different performance goals. Basically you can pick different topics to discuss at the meetings, and if you've done a bunch of stuff in that area, you'll get points. But if you discuss it after someone else has already discussed it, you can't get as many points, and you might not even be able to discuss it, because your boss has already heard it from someone else.

The other type of scoring depends on the cars you've built. Since you're at a car factory, it makes sense that you'd get points based on actually making nice cars. For this scoring, you get points for all the cars you’ve made, but only if that model has been upgraded by testing different designs on the car. If you just have a base model that hasn’t been developed at all, you’ll get no points for it.

Kanban is a pretty complex game, and there are a lot of rules to remember. But throughout the game, you really feel like you’re trying to run a super efficient assembly line, and you’re always reminded of the stress of your boss breathing down your neck. All of the mechanics in the game work together to create a super thematic experience, while still being a heavy strategy game. Thanks for watching Strategically Thematic! Let me know what your favorite thematic strategic games are in the comments below!
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