Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Reverse Deck-Building in ‘Shake Up’

Shake Up cover

It’s time to trim the fat in this tech company. As a business consultant, it’s up to you to come up with the best proposal about which employees to keep and which ones to, uh, “retrench.” Who will survive this Shake Up?

What Is Shake Up?

Shake Up is a reverse deck-building game for 1 or 2 players (up to 4 players with two copies), ages 10 and up, and takes about 20–30 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $12 for a copy of the game (or $22 if you want two copies to accommodate more players). While the theme may not be quite as accessible for younger kids who don’t know about layoffs and reorganizations, the gameplay is fine for kids.

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Shake Up components
Shake Up components. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Shake Up Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, though it is pretty close to final quality. There may be some tweaks to the card graphics and text, but the graphics and gameplay are fairly complete.

  • 23 Los Hope Employee cards
  • 23 Desperatech Employee cards
  • 12 $1k Income/Loan cards
  • 14 $2k Income/Loan cards
  • 12 $3k Income/Loan cards
  • Guard Dog card
  • 4 Player Aid cards
  • 14 AI Solo cards
  • 50 custom card sleeves
Shake Up loan/income cards
Loan/Income cards are double-sided. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The game consists entirely of cards. The loan/income cards are red on one side and green on the other, showing values from $1k to $3k. I do wish the numbers on the income side were a little larger just to make them more obvious at a glance, but they get the job done.

ShakeUp - card upgrade
The Junior Marketing Executive turns into a Marketing Executive. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The company cards are fun: I really like the illustrations of the various employees and the subtle differences that happen when they’re upgraded (like the HR Manager who switches from a pink turtletop to a black turtletop when she gets promoted, or the Sales Manager who grows a little smarmy mustache). There’s also a good mix of male and female characters and different ethnicities—probably a smaller percentage of white males than you’d expect from an actual tech company, though they still make up the largest demographic.

The card sleeves are heavy plastic with the Shake Up logo on the back, and are actually a necessary part of the game: it’s how you can tell whether a card has been upgraded or not, because you flip the cards over in their sleeves.

How to Play Shake Up

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

Shake Up is a reverse deck-building game: each player starts with a full deck, and over the course of the game can remove cards from their deck (but not add any). Unlike many games, you aren’t allowed to look through your own discard pile, and you’re also not allowed to look through your loan and income piles—you can only see the top card of each deck.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to make your company as efficient as possible, either through upgrading your employees or earning enough income to pay off your debts.

Shake Up setup
Starting setup for 2 players. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Set the income/loan cards in the center of the playing area, separated by denominations. Each player takes 3 $2k loan cards to start their loan stack. Each player takes a company deck and shuffles it. The first player draws 3 cards, and the second player draws 4 cards.

Gameplay

On your turn (except for your first turn), you may first retrench 1 card from your hand, putting it into your retrenched pile. These are employees that you have fired from the company, and will not be shuffled back into your deck.

Then, you may play any number of the cards from your hand, triggering each one’s effects if you want. There are cards that will let you gain income or discard loans, and cards that will force your opponent to take loans or discard income.

Shake Up employee cards
The different departments (distinguished by background colors) have different types of effects. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are also cards that upgrade other cards, which will either make the card’s effect more powerful or reduce that employee’s salary (thus getting you closer to being profitable). When you upgrade a card, you take the card out of its sleeve and turn it 180 degrees, so that the portion with the colored background is right-side up (instead of the plain white background).

At the end of your turn, you discard all of the cards you’ve played and that are left in your hand, and draw 4 more cards.

Game End

There are three ways for the game to end: a technical victory, an economic victory, or a timed victory.

As soon as your deck runs out (even in the middle of a turn), you may call for an audit, either technical or economic.

For a technical audit, look through your discard pile and your hand: if you have at least 12 upgraded cards, you win immediately!

For a financial audit, look through your discard pile and your hand. Compare your total income to the sum of your loans and employee salaries (shown on the cards). If you have more income than costs, you win!

In either case, if you call for an audit and you were incorrect, you take two $3k loans and then end your turn.

Finally, a timed victory occurs if any player tries to take a loan or income card but that stack has run out. The game immediately ends, and everyone compares their income to their costs (loans + salaries). The player with the higher net worth wins, with ties going to the player with more employees left in the company.

Guard Dog

If you have two copies of the game, you can play with 3 or 4 players, but then you’ll need to use the Guard Dog card. Whenever any player is affected by somebody else’s card, they take the Guard Dog and place it in front of them. They cannot be affected by another player’s card until the Guard Dog moves. This spreads out the attacks so that it’s harder to gang up on one single player.

Shake Up - solo game
Playing the solo game. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Solo Game

The solo game uses the deck of AI cards—the difficulty can be increased by removing the cards that say “Easy” or “Medium.”

You play as normal, but there is no second player. Instead, at the beginning of your turn, you flip over the top AI card. Some trigger at the start of your turn, and some trigger at the end of your turn. Often, there will be effects that happen based on whether you have a particular type of card (in your hand or played this turn).

Shake Up solo cards
Solo cards will take effect either at the start or end of your turn. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Your goal is to win via an economic victory before you go through the AI deck twice. Your score is based on the number of AI cards left in the deck, plus 1 point per $5k net worth. If you go through the AI deck twice before you achieve economic victory, then you lose.

Why You Should Play Shake Up

I love deck-building games. Since the genre was created in Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino, there have been countless variations introduced by other designers: deck-building with a randomly rotating market, deck-building with a board and movement, dice-building games. I love the way that you start with a few basic cards and then add cards to it that pursue a particular strategy. Maybe you go for card draws, so that you can play a lot of cards every turn. Maybe you boost your income so that you can make a lot of money to buy more powerful cards. Or maybe you weed out weak cards from your deck.

That last approach, weeding out cards, is one that isn’t included in every deck-building game, but it’s almost always an extremely powerful technique when it’s present. If you can take the weaker cards out of your system, then it makes your deck even more efficient, because you can get to the cards that drive your engine even more often. You’re more likely to get the card combinations you’re trying to build when there’s not so much chaff in your deck.

Shake Up takes the deck-building genre and turns it on its head: you start with all of the cards, and the trick is how to slim down your deck to pursue a particular strategy. When you begin, you have cards that give you card draws, cards that upgrade other cards, cards that give you income, cards that remove your loans. All of those cards can help, sure, but it’s too slow. By the time you remove a couple of loans, your opponent has time to give you a few more loans. You collect some income, and your opponent steals it away.

Shake Up - hand of cards
Should I fire 2 people with my HR Director? Who should I upgrade with the R&D Exec? (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But if you start firing—ahem, I mean retrenching—some of your employees, then you can get to the other cards more often. Sure, getting rid of some cards that remove loans may not be great, but maybe it will help you outpace the loans by getting your income cards more quickly. Or take the other approach: keep the cards that let you attack your opponent, and don’t worry so much about your own income yet.

It’s a fitting theme, too: the idea of taking a bloated tech company and slimming it down (okay, maybe a bit too painful for those who have been in that position) seems perfect for a game in which you start with a full deck and whittle it down to an efficient engine. Though I’m not entirely sure how, thematically, upgrading an employee reduces their salary—but I’ll let that slide.

Shake Up is pretty easy to dive into: there’s a sheet that describes all of the employees and what they do, and most of the actions are straightforward. The hard part is deciding who to get rid of, particularly since you can get rid of one person for free every turn. Nearly every person seems useful, though, so your first impression is to hang onto everyone. But then it takes so much longer to get to your upgraded cards, and Shake Up is a race to the finish line.

I do like that there are two different goals, too. Do you try to upgrade cards aggressively, or make enough money to get the company out of debt? They’re not completely separate goals, mind you: having upgraded employees can make it easier to make money and get rid of loans (and reduce salaries). But you’re always having to do a little bit of guesswork about your total salaries, loans, and income so that you can call an audit at the right moment.

The Kickstarter campaign also has an optional expansion that introduces various other mechanics, though I haven’t gotten to try those myself. It also includes another victory condition, where you get bought out by a big company if you have enough technology.

My main complaints are: that you can only play with 2 players if you get two copies of the game, but $22 isn’t bad for a 4-player game anyway; unsleeving and re-sleeving cards can be a little tedious, particularly at the end of the game when you have to reset everything. I don’t have a much better solution for how you’d keep track of upgraded cards, but it does take a little bit of extra time to put away.

All in all, I found Shake Up to be a really clever concept and I’ve been enjoying the prototype. I’d love to play with 3 or 4 players to see how it feels with more players, and I’m excited for the expansion as well. There’s only about a week left to go in the Kickstarter campaign (unfortunately the prototype took longer to arrive than anticipated), so have a look soon!

For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Shake Up Kickstarter page!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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