Watch board game: A four-sided review

The Watch board game is a worker placement euro game with a strong emphasis on timing and competition for victory points. It’s for 1-4 players and takes around an hour to play. And while the box says for ages 14+, young gamers of 10 should pick it up just fine.

The theme puts you in a post-WWII Soviet watch factory, where you spy on your competitors while trying to smuggle out old wartime munitions. It’s certainly unique, interesting and works well enough. But this is very much a mechanical euro game. Players take turns to choose an action (usually to gain or upgrade resources), then place one of their player discs on a scoring track – with only some players ultimately scoring on each.

In the box you’ll find a sturdy main board, plus six thick paper boards; 85 wooden tokens, 100+ cardboard chits, 50 metal gears, 54 square cards and a dice. The square cards are ‘Power Grid’ sized and generally the art, iconography and component quality is good/standard. Some have complained about the thin boards, but they’re no worse than those in games such as ‘Castles of Burgundy’. While the trade off – the cool metal cogs – are a nice thematic touch. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £40 delivered – good for what you get.

Teaching the Watch board game

The board has eight worker placement spaces split into four areas, each with a safe and risky space. Once workers are first placed, they never leave the board, so are blocking spaces and limiting options. A ‘start spot’ marker moves a quarter round the circular board each turn, meaning you can consider turn order when choosing your next action. At the start of each turn, all players move to a new space and then the watch cards are revealed and any fines paid (see below). In the new turn order, each player then take their action before assigning a token to the majority tracks.

Six of the action spaces give/let you exchange for one/two of the game’s three currencies – cogs, money and crates. Crates are more work to get, but give you guaranteed end game points. All three currencies can also give end game points on the majority tracks, more on which later. One currency action space also lets you manipulate your position on one of these tracks. Another lets you draw cards, which only come in three types but which are all useful. While the last – the ‘watch’ space – adds the first real spice to the game.

The ‘watch’ action space triggers every round, whether or not someone has placed there. Each of the board quarters has a card associated with it. And 1-3 of these will be chosen each round to be spied on – either randomly, or by the player choosing ‘watch’. If your worker is on the risky space in a quarter, and that one is spied upon, you have to pay a fine. And those fines go to the current (or most recent) player to choose the watch action.

The majority tracks

The majorities board has six rows, two for each of the game’s three currencies. The top line of each is worth more points, but the lower has better bonus spaces (which give currency or crate conversions). Five tracks give end game points for those coming first and second, with the other only rewarding first place. The position of your tokens on the tracks is irrelevant, with ties resolved by evenly sharing the spoils.

Players start with 20 tokens: five for each worker placement area. When you do an action, you take the next token from that section’s row and place it onto any row on the majorities board. Taking the token from your player board has two other effects. It either improves that action the next time you take it, or gives end game victory points. But on the downside, the size of fine you pay if caught by the ‘watch’ action equates to the row you’ve progressed furthest on. Early on, it’s just one coin. But with a completely empty row, it’s seven.

The game ends after 12 rounds. Players score points on crates and revealed player board spaces, plus the majority tracks. The majority tracks, they each score points multiplied by their currency. This can be a big swing. Winning track five gives four points per crate – but second only one point for each. You also score points for cards in set collection style (cards are in four colours), the twist being you also score any cards you’ve played. Finally, you lose points for any unpaid loans you had to take to cover fines you couldn’t pay or actions you needed to fund (usually a minor part of the game).

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The Watch board game is a very interesting, of sometimes unforgiving, design. It is usually possible to pivot quickly by converting currency. So being shut out of a scoring track isn’t game over. The game is light on rules and options, but this is necessary to make competition king. Whether that is enough for your group will vary massively. But those who like this kind of experience are likely to get a kick out if it.
  • The thinker: This is a very rewarding tactical experience, which I think a lot of strategic players will also get a kick out of. It has a classic German euro feel, with a quick play time and light rules plus plenty of ways to mess with each other. However, it’s easy to get repeatedly locked out of spaces you want. And the potential to be blocked from scoring a currency will frustrate some people. I’m not often in the mood for this kind of cutthroat experience. But when I am, this is a game I’d enjoy.
  • The trasher: for me, the Watch board game ticks every possible box for a euro game with no direct interaction. The majority tracks can fill in a hurry, thanks to some actions and cards allowing you to move or place extra tokens. You snooze, you lose! And you can’t afford to let someone sit on the ‘watch’ token collecting the fines. But going to that action space can feel like a wasted turn – and you only get 12! My only real issue is that, while the theme is unique and cool, it has led to a very drab looking beige game. With the exception of the cool cogs. But even they are a bid fiddly for those with bigger hands.
  • The dabbler: Yay, another beige-athon! Cool theme idea, but some of the action names make no sense. I’m ‘watched’ for doing ‘overtime’, but not if I ‘scrounge’? And why does a Soviet theme mean everything has to be shades of brown? As for the actions, they’re just repetitive. What do I do this round? Great, I got some cogs. This round? I got some money. Next round, I changed some cogs for a crate. I. Don’t. Care. Get me out of here.

Key observations

I’d recommend the Watch board game with three or four players. It plays fast and tight and needs the numbers to create that vital and wonderfully tense competition for majorities. But the two-player experience felt completely fudged, with a random dice roll deciding which space it blocks and which majority space it takes each turn. It just cheapens the central element of play. Try as you might, you can’t ‘read’ a random dice roll…

Solo play is even worse. You have less choice, as several action spaces are permanently blocked. While the same dice roll as for two determines another blocked action spot each turn. And the majority board is replaced by a random card (of six) that tells you how each currency will score at the end. It’s boring. This is a 3-4 player game. I know from painful experience that putting ‘3-4 players’ on a box isn’t good for sales. But at least it’s honest.

We also struggled a bit with game flow. Everything works, but it doesn’t feel intuitive. Even after four games I was still glancing at the turn order structure to make sure we weren’t missing anything. And we were often still forgetting to do the ‘watch’ action if someone hadn’t placed on it. Something as simple as a neutral worker going on the space may have fixed that. But it was a genuine niggle that kept breaking the flow of play. May just be us though.

Finally, I don’t know what they were thinking when it came to the score board. I don’t care a jot about the thickness of the cardboard. But a shonky snaking score track that only goes to 50 in a game where 200 points is a distinct possibility? And a single score marker movement can be more than 50? A minor niggle, perhaps. But it’s an absolute dog’s breakfast.

Conclusion: Watch board game

Watch is a well-designed and executed old school one-hour euro game. It plays really well with three or four players and it’s great to see a unique and well implemented theme. But each strong positive comes with a minor negative. It’s not pretty. It had (for me) flow issues. And it’s bad with one or two players. So ultimately it won’t be a keeper for me. Not because I don’t like it. But because there are other games on my shelf it won’t replace (Ra, The Court of Miracles and Manhattan spring to mind). And I don’t play this kind of game that often.

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