Surf's Up, Dude!
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Players compete to have their surfers catch the biggest waves and ride them all the way in to the beach -- but be careful of sharks and other surfers cutting in!
Average Rating: 3.5 in 1 review
Surf's Up Dude! (Jolly Roger Games, 2008 - Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum) is a game that has been over a year in the making and has a fairly unique theme among modern games - that of surfing. Those two factors have put the game high on my radar, and I was pleased to finally get a finished product in the mail. The idea sounded fun, and Alan Moon is a superb designer best known for Ticket to Ride.
Interestingly enough, I disagree with the three stats on the box. The game mentions that it is for ages ten and up, while younger kids will grasp the mechanics; 45 - 90 minutes, yet I would be surprised at any game that lasts much longer than 45 minutes; and 2-6 players, but the game really only works with four or more. Surf's Up Dude is a light game that does a decent job in simulating the theme of surfing; and while it has some strategy, it depends greatly on card draws and the vagaries of a die roll. Teenagers find it greatly enjoyable, and most adults will also, as long as they don't mistake it for a heavy strategy game.
A board is placed on the table, with six zones in which waves will occur, starting from the ocean and heading to the beach. Players place three surfers on a "Ready" position - next to the first two waves; two surfers on a Paddling Out spot, and one surfer on the beach. Each player is given one "Bail" card and six other cards from a deck of eighty to start the game. A pile of eighteen wave tiles are shuffled, and then the youngest player starts the first round, becoming the active player. A quick note about cards; cards have a name on them and a number, which delineate two different things in different phases of the game.
In each round, the active player draws the top wave and places it in the first position, pushing other waves (if any) one space down. If the wave has an asterisk, a second wave is also placed. Then, starting with the active player, each player may play a card or pass. This continues until all players have passed. When playing cards, a player may use a Pipeline, Monster, or Baby card to place a surfer from the Ready position on an open position on one of the first two waves; as long as the name of the wave matches that on the card. There are also some Wild Waves, allowing a player to get on any wave, as long as there is an empty spot. (Monster waves can hold five surfers, Pipeline waves - four surfers, and Baby waves - three surfers). A player can also play a "Prime" card to move a surfer already onto a wave into the "prime" spot of that wave, displacing the other surfers. Players may also play a "Cut In" card to put a surfer from the Ready position onto an open spot on the third wave.
Once everybody has passed in a row, the active player rolls a Wave die. If a letter is rolled, all surfers on matching waves must participate in a competition. ("M" means monster waves, etc.) Each wave has a separate competition, every player who has a surfer on the wave must participate. A player may discard a "Peace" card to skip a competition for a specific wave. If not, then players play one card face down in front of them, and then reveal them simultaneously. If any player used their Bail card, their surfer is removed from the wave - placed in the Paddling Out area; if multiple players played the Bail card, then the rightmost one is removed. Otherwise, players then play a second card simultaneously, and the two cards are totaled. The player with the lowest total (Bail cards count as zero) is removed, with ties causing the rightmost surfer to exit. The player with the highest total places his surfer in the prime position on the wave, with other surfers adjusted accordingly. A wave with only one surfer has no competition. All cards except Bail cards are discarded upon using.
If the wave die shows a shark, then the active player chooses a wave that the shark attacks. All players with a surfer on this wave play one card face down. After revealing, the total of ALL cards played (Bail cards count as zero) must be nine or greater, or ALL surfers fall off the wave. If the surfers stay on, the player who played the highest numbered card moves to prime position. Cards are discarded except Bail cards.
Starting with the active player, each player then takes three actions. They may use an action to draw a card, move a surfer from the beach to the Paddling Out area, or move a surfer from the Paddling Out area to the Ready area. After everyone has taken three actions, the die is passed to the left, making that player the new active player.
When waves reach the beach during a turn, each player with a surfer on the wave gets a trophy that corresponds with the type of wave: gold trophies (8 points) for Monster Waves, silver trophies (5) for Pipeline Waves, and copper trophies (3) for Baby Waves. The surfer in the prime position takes one Beach Babe card (3 points), and all surfers on the wave are placed on the beach. The wave is removed from the game, and play continues.
A few waves are shuffled near the end of the pile, and three of these have a whistle icon on them. When the second whistle is revealed, then the game continues; but starting in the following round, no more surfers board waves. Players draw three final cards; then the die is passed around and rolled, as the final waves come in. Once the last wave comes in, the player with the most points wins the game; ties are broken by the person with the most Beach Babes.
Some comments on the game...
- Components: The game looks really striking - the board is a
beautiful beach and oceanfront; and the waves are thick, laminated
cardboard tiles that move easily on the board. The back of the board
looks like the brightest Hawaiian shirt that you've ever seen, and the
artwork on the cards is quite well done - everything helping to invoke
the theme. The surfing pieces are large meeples that look pretty
good, although I got a couple of slight variations. The trophies are
good, and extra counters are included in case you run out of trophies
(why not just add in more trophies?). A few color problems exist -
the gold and copper trophies are hard to tell apart in dim light, and
there are some dark blue and black surfers which are VERY hard to tell
apart. The cards are good quality, and everything fits inside a large
square box. There is a cardboard insert that is glued inside, but
I've ripped mine out since the meeples and trophies kept sliding
underneath it. The game has a decent paint smell (not as bad as Blood Feud in New York), but the whole thing has high quality - possibly the
highest I've ever seen from Jolly Roger Games.
- Rules: The rulebook comes in an eight page small booklet that
does a good job explaining the rules, although some illustrations and
examples would have been nice. Still, the game is so thematic that it
all makes sense when I explain it, and the game has such an easy feel
that most people won't be intimidated - even with the different types
of cards. I've run the game with non-gamers and teenagers and have
not run into a problem with learning yet.
- Theme: Say what you will about the game's lightness, the theme
comes across strongly. Bigger waves can support more surfers; it
makes sense as the waves come into the beach and the surfers paddle
back out to them. Sometimes the theme is a bit lopsided (it's odd for
many women to get into the "collect beach babes" mode), but collecting
trophies, staying on the waves, and everything just fits.
- Hand Management: I enjoy the simple card system in the game.
Cards are either played as an action (to get on a wave, cut to the
front, etc.), or as a number. This leads to some interesting choices
as players have to figure out whether they want to keep high value
cards for their number - or use them for the action. I won't say that
the choices are particularly strenuous, but it does give people a few
decisions. You can save up cards and be assured of staying on the
waves, but you'll get fewer people on them! And when is the best time
to play the bail card?
- Advanced: In my rules summary, I mention the advanced version of
the rules; because I can't see why anyone would want to play with the
basic game. In the basic game, players only play one card in a
competition. The advanced game forces players to play the Bail card
more often, and forces hand management to be tighter and more
enjoyable in the long run. I recommend that everybody simply start
with the advanced rules - even with new players.
- Fun Factor: Surf's Up has proven to be popular in my groups - I
wasn't as enthralled as everybody else, but a lot of fun was had by
all. People especially enjoyed the competitions on the wave, and the
hand management makes most folks, especially casual gamers, feel like
they have a lot of decisions to make - even if it's really only a few.
Theme, of course, has a lot to do with this; and while I don't think
it's one of Alan's best games, it's one of the best merging of theme
with mechanics that I've seen.
- Players and time: Surfs Up Dude is a fast game, with the longest
game I've played so far still coming in under an hour. However, the
two player game is a complete dud; as there is little competition, and
the game comes across rather boring. A three player game only
slightly improves on this; a four player game is when competition on
the waves starts getting interesting. I think the sweet spot is five
Do you want a game about surfing? That's the question you need to answer when deciding if you want this game, as the theme is well presented. Surf's Up Dude! will make an enjoyable family game with high, flashy components and solid, easy game play. It is best played in a group of five or six; Surf's Up Dude isn't a deep strategy game, but it makes no pretenses and will have wide appeal regardless. I've not surfed, and this may be the closest I'll ever get. Yeah, I'm okay with that.
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