Instant Game Night Reviews: Penny Press
“Is Penny Press a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2015
Designers Robert Dijkman Dulkes, Matt Golec
Artist Mackenzie Schubert
Publisher Asmadi Games
Age Range 13+
Playing Time 45-60 Minutes
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Penny Press is a worker placement game set in late 1800s New York City. In this game, players take on the role of owners of major newspaper companies during the era of “yellow journalism”. To succeed in this industry, you and your reporters will need to be cutthroat and stop at nothing to beat your rivals to the best (and most sensational) stories of the day.
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Penny Press is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
To begin, give each player a player mat and the five matching reporters. Each player should place their scoring marker at the start of the scoring track. Next place the five bonus markers at the “2” at the beginning of the bonus track. After placing the pennies and advertisements next to the game board, players will then need to sort each story tile by its news beat (symbol) as well as by size. Stories with the same news beat and size are stacked in the appropriate place on the game board, with 3 star stories on the bottom, 2 stars in the middle, and 1 stars on top of the stack.
Next, draw headline cards equal to the number of players and set them face up on the table. For each card, move the appropriate bonus token the number of spaces indicated. You will then place all the corresponding stories on the board as the starting stories available to publish. You will ignore the advertisements for these starting headline cards.
Finally, you will place the arrow markers in the appropriate space just above the top story tile. You are now ready to begin the game.
Penny Press is played over a series of rounds in which players will take 1 of 4 actions on their turn:
Assign Reporters: Players many assign any number of workers from their player mat onto any one single story on the board, regardless of how many other players have reports on the same story. There is no limit to the number of reporters that may be on a given story. The only limitations with this actions is that the player may only use reporters who are on their player mat and they may only place those reporters on one story per turn.
Reassign a Reporter: As your action you may choose any one reports who is already assigned to a story and move them to another story on the board. As before, there is no limit to how many reporters can be on a story, but using this action you may only move one single reporter per turn.
Recall Reporters: Using this action, you may return any number of workers from the game board back to your player mat. You may choose to return all five reporters, or just a few. You may return reporters from multiple different stories. This action is effective when your plans have not come to fruition and you're looking to start over fresh!
Go to Press: Going to Press is the heart of this game, and choosing when to publish your stories is the most crucial decision in Penny Press. When you decide you are ready to go to press, you will earn all the stories in which you have assigned as many (or more) reporters to than the other players. Those stories will be placed into your front page grid on your player mat and you will score points according to the types of news beats you covered as well as how effectively you filled your front page with stories (explained in more detail below).
After taking one of the above actions, the player will adjust new beats as necessary by adjusting stories in each beat to ensure they are pushed down to the bottom of the track with no space between stories. Then, players will move the arrow markers up or down to be just above the top story on the beat. In this way, the more stories that are available in a beat, the higher the scoring and scoop points that will be scored.
Play will then pass to the next player in clockwise order and will continue until the “Final Edition” of the game is triggered.
Going to Press:
After deciding to go to press, the player will identify all the stories they have earned by placing at least as many reports as the other players. If any other player had reporters assigned to this story (but not more than the publishing player) they will score “scoop points” for getting a piece of the story but having it stolen out from under them. Scoop points are awarded according to the number that the smaller “S” arrow is pointing to on the appropriate arrow marker.
Next you will pick up each story and return all workers to the appropriate players. These stories then must be placed onto your front page grid. For each grid space that is not covered, you will lose the number of points indicated in the space. So, players will be strategically trying to collect appropriately sized stories to minimize the number of open grid spaces.
When placing stories there are several rules. First, you need to identify the top new beats of the day. These are the news beats which have the highest point value on the board. If there is a tie, all the news beats tied are considered top stories. If you have any stories from the top news beats, these stories must touch the top of your front page, since they are in such high demand. You must arrange your front page in such a way as to fit as many top stories as possible on the top of your front page. If you still have top stories remaining after filling the top, you must place any additional stop stories on the rest of your front page before placing any other stories.
The other rule for creating your front page allows players to create an “exclusive” story for their paper. This story must not be from one of the top news beats and also must be touching the top of your front page. If you are able to achieve this, your exclusive story will score double points!
The rest of your front page stories score the number of points as pointed to by the main arrow on the arrow marker. Add up the points from your published stories and then subtract points for any open grid spaces. If you had any stories you did not have room to publish, you will lose points equal to that story's beat value. You will also have to place the story back into the supply on the game board.
After scoring your front page, you will remove all the story tiles and place them next to your player mat. You will then take a penny token and place it in the lowest open spot on your mat.
The final phase of going to press is drawing a new headline card. You will then adjust the appropriate bonus marker and add stories just as you did at the beginning of the game. Then you will take an advertisement tile and place it in the appropriate vertical grid space on your front page. If this is your first published story, the advertisement goes in the bottom row. As you publish more front pages, your advertisement moves up one row each time. You will only ever have one advertisement on your front page.
The “Final Edition”, or game end, is triggered when one player goes to press for the third time (in a 4 or 5 player game) or a fourth time (in a 2 or 3 player game). As soon as this happens, all arrow markers should be flipped over to their red side to indicate that they should no longer be moved by the players. This means that in the final edition, even if stories are published from a beat, the value of the remaining stories will not be adjusted down.
Once the player that triggered the Final Edition has scored their front page as normal, they will not draw a headline card, and instead, play will pass to the next player. All players except for the player who triggered the Final Edition will get one final turn in which they can take one last action (assign or reassign workers) and then will have the opportunity to publish one last front page. Remember that the news beats are not adjusted in the Final Edition and that players do not draw headline cards.
Once each player has had a turn in the Final Edition, the game has ended. Players will have been moving along the scoring track throughout the game when they published home pages, and now they will add to that score any beat bonus points they earn. To do this, players will add up the stars of their published stories for each beat. The player with the most stars in each beat will earn the number of bonus points as indicated on the bonus track. In the event of a tie, all tied players receive the full amount of bonus points each.
After awarding bonus points, the player highest on the scoring track is declared the winner. In the event of an overall tie, the player with the most stories wins. If still tied, the players share the victory.
Penny Press is a game with a lot for us to like, starting with the theme. Not only is the theme unique but it is also strong and immersive. The mechanisms and actions you take in the game all tie into the theme so well, it really gives you the feeling of chasing after that next big story and trying to snag it out from under your competition at the last minute.
We want to be clear about one thing - Penny Press can be a very mean game. But, the newspaper business in the late 1800s wasn't exactly a walk in the park, was it? So again, the game's theming is consistent and strong all throughout. That being said, not everyone is going to enjoy the "take that" nature of someone coming along and assigning more reporters than you to a story they don't even need, just to stop you from going to press. So you really need to be careful the type of game night group you bring Penny Press to.
If your entire group are confrontational or at least open to the idea of confrontation in a worker placement game, they are likely to really enjoy Penny Press. Equally though, if you have a mild mannered group, it is still possible to play Penny Press in a less confrontational way, where you are always doing what's in your best interest as opposed to seeking out ways to ruin an opponents next turn. I think where Penny Press treads dangerous waters is in mixed groups. It will only take one overly eager player who is hell bent on ruining your front page to ruin this game for everyone.
Aside from the potential negative player interaction, we really can't find much to complain about with Penny Press. Going to press and organizing your stories on your front page is so satisfying, and the push/pull with your reporters trying to cover as many stories as possible is a fun puzzle we really enjoy.
Provided you have the right type of group together, we would highly recommend Penny Press as a simple worker placement game with a unique theme and a good depth of strategy.
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Penny Press Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
Penny Press isn't particularly colorful or bright, however, the overall production is eye catching. The vintage-looking board and box cover combined with the splash of color provided by the meeples and scoring tokens is enough to make this an attention grabbing game.
Penny Press is simple to set up but does take a bit of time to sort all the stories by size and beat type. The game itself moves a pretty good pace for the most part. When players are assigning or reassigning workers, turns flow very quickly. However, as players move closer and closer to going to press turns become increasingly more AP prone. And the act of actually going to press can be a bit of a drag on the game flow, as the player goes through the various steps in the process. Overall, this is a fairly agile game but it does have several points at which the game speed can slow to a crawl.
Penny Press is a memorable game in our opinion, thanks in large part to the theme as well as the concept of actually placing stories on a front page grid. We think having actual stories printed on the story tiles would have solidified this even more but even still, we find Penny Press to be a difficult game to forget!
Easy to Teach and Play
Aside from going to press, Penny Press is a very simple game to teach and play. The main concept of placing reporters to win stories is intuitive, and the possible actions on a players turn are streamlined and limited. The only slightly difficult concept to grasp is the process of going to press, but after the first time publishing a front page, we have found that players retained the concept well. Overall, we find Penny Press to be easy to teach and play.
For the reasons mentioned above, Penny Press doesn't quite score full marks here as a newbie friendly game. With the right group, Penny Press is sure to be a hit. But with a mix of reserved gamers and aggressive players, we fear Penny Press will frustrate many with so many possibilities for negative interactions on each turn of the game. So again, be mindful of the type of audience you have before choosing to bring out Penny Press at game night.
Penny Press is a highly interactive game which flows in such a way that players are almost always intently focused on the player who is taking their turn. Will they go to press and steal your story? Will they assign workers to the story you've had your eyes on? You will find yourself on the edge of your seat during other players' turns and you will breathe heavy signs of frustration or relief when the it is finally your turn again. The opportunities for interaction (both positive or negative, or playful) in Penny Press are available from start to finish!
Good Rule Book
The rule book in Penny Press is well written with clear rules explanations and supplementary illustrations. We did feel the sections were many not quite chronologically organized, as the end game scoring appears on page 5 of 11. We understand why it was done this way but this does tend to slightly disrupt your reading and understanding of the game flow. This is a minor quibble though, and overall the rulebook is very well done.
Penny Press is a quick playing, highly interactive game. This makes it difficult to lose attention as a player during the game, as you are constantly thinking of your own strategy or biting your nails as other players take their turns. We find this game does a fantastic job of holding attention all throughout.
Penny Press is about as thematic as a worker placement game can be. We were a bit disappointed that there wasn't more flavor text on the headline cards, and we would have loved to have seen real story headlines on the story tiles, but even still, every mechanism in the game meshes so well with the theme, all the way down to the bonus track, which acts as a demand tracker to show what the most in demand stories are of the day. We really find the theme of Penny Press to be extremely enjoyable and immersive.
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with Penny Press. We have played at all player counts and the first thing to mention is that the game does scale quite well. Our least favorite player count was two due to a seeming lack of stories to try and claim, particularly when the headline cards you draw only allow you to place two stories on the board. That being said, we would gladly play the game at any player count and have an enjoyable time.
My primary gaming group is my family, and we are middle of the road gamers who don't mind some negative player interaction but also prefer it in small doses. I found that in all of our plays, our group self-regulated quite well. Players would sometimes (but not always) make moves to stop certain players from going to press, but at the same time everyone kept the bulk of their focus on their own goals and objectives.
Overall, Penny Press is a unique entry to a crowded worker placement genre. We have really enjoyed our plays and (with few reservations) would recommend to just about any game night group.