Gather round, and let your Aunt Emma tell you all a story, a story of wow this is kind of creepy I’ll stop.
In any case, our story begins in the mists of May of last year, when I was spending a lot of time looking at board games on Kickstarter. At one point, I decided to drop some of my money on What’s He Building In There?, a competitive game of mad science and supervillainy, where each player controls a mad genius and his henchmen, trying to build the best doomsday device while also constructing an escape plan on the side (because nobody wants to be stuck in town when your IQ-Reducing Idiotifier goes off). However, you’ve only got a limited time before Scotland Yard turn up to ruin everything, so you’ve got 15 turns to efficiently use all the resources at your disposal to make your plans the best they can be. Over those 15 turns, you’ll be sending people to markets to buy your raw resources, turning your henchmen into raw manual labour, and sending your doctor to do all the heavy thinking, as well as advancing on the Social, Security, and Exotic Pets tracks, because nobody’s going to take your Evil Doctorate seriously if you don’t have a komodo dragon or two in your heavily-fortified lab complex. On another note, just writing that phrase has made me want to put D.Ev after my name, and I encourage all my readers to do the same.
Anyway, to get back to the story, the estimated delivery on the project was August 2013. Now, I was never really expecting it to arrive on time, because Kickstarters never do, but I started to get seriously concerned around November, when I started seeing the game in shops. At first, I thought it was just my game that hadn’t come, but looking at the project, it became clear that nobody’s had. As time wore on and Baksha Games were less than forthcoming with replies on why all this was happening, I pretty much lost all faith in the game actually turning up, or in it being any good. The latter thought was not helped by me picking up a copy of Baksha’s previous game, Good Help, to which WHBIT is billed as a sequel, and finding that it was…well, it’s not very good. At all. Finally, a couple of months ago my copy turned up, and I eventually broke through the mists of apathy and disappointment around it to try it out.
The first time I played WHBIT, my thoughts on it were basically AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAactuallythisisprettyfunAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA… You swiftly become aware that 15 turns is not very long at all to bring your plans to fruition, especially when you only have one doctor, and he’s the only one that can perform almost half the actions on the board, including producing the all-important Genius Labour, which you’ll need to build all your inventions. Efficient play is a very big part of this game, and that ties in nicely with the hectic, industrial feel of it all, even if it does feel like it’ll give you a migraine when you realise it’s round 7 and you haven’t got anything done. This stress is lessened somewhat with more players, as the game plays with 2 to 6, and the main balancing mechanic for this is that you only get as many resource markets available as there are players. Thus, when you’re only playing with two, you can end up waiting for several rounds for either of the resources available to be useful to you, but with more, it’s a lot more likely to get something you want. There’s another advantage to having more players, and that has to do with how the game manages inventions.
See, the invention system in WHBIT feels kind of like Craftsmen, in that you need raw materials to make refined materials, which you need to make Intermediate Inventions, which you will need (along with more raw and refined materials) to build your main objectives. Inventing any of the intermediate components requires Genius Labour, which you’re only going to get a finite amount of, but if somebody’s already invented the thing you want, you just pay them for the designs rather than making it yourself. In two-player games, you’re probably going to invent the majority of the things you need yourself, which ties up your doctor for most of the game producing Genius, but with more, it’s more likely that you can buy the designs you need off your rivals, and your henchmen can help generate money to do that with.
Another thing I like about WHBIT is its inclusion of something we don’t see in a lot of competitive games: a failure state. When you get dealt your Doomsday Device and Escape Plan at the start of the game, as well as noticing the cool way in which they interlock to form a privacy screen, you’ll see that each of them have three stages, each granting more points but requiring more materials, with stage 1 being relatively manageable and stage 3 infuriatingly impossible. Now, the corollary of this is the fact that, if you are unable to complete at least stage 1 of both your Doomsday Device and your Escape Plan, you cannot win the game. You can get as many points as you like for exotic pets and intermediate inventions, but you’ll never quite escape the shame of how you either blew yourself up with your own master plan or fled town with not even an apocalypse to show for it.
To be honest, shady Kickstarter practices aside, there really aren’t many things I don’t like about this game. Sure, the first-player marker is the same white cylinder as the turn marker, the victory point track is both tiny and extraneous, and the Direct-Effect Inventions (which give you interesting new abilities) seem weirdly underpowered, but to an extent, these all feel like quibbles. What’s He Building In There? is, at its heart, an exceptionally solid game, marrying hardcore Euro worker placement with interesting theme and enjoyable new mechanics, and I’d honestly recommend it to anyone at least once. Just watch out for the headaches. Also the tarantulas. And did I mention the death rays?
What’s He Building In There? was designed by Sean Garrity and released earlier this year by Baksha games. Copies are available of this terrifying brain-melter of a game (that’s a recommendation, by the way) from the good folks at Gameslore, where it’ll set you back a shade over £30. Oh, and follow Emma on Twitter where she’s @Waruce!