Penny Press Review
Penny Press puts players at the head of rival New York newspapers as they battle for the highest circulation for their daily publication. This is done sending reporters out in the field to cover hot stories and publishing the best newspaper you can in a timely manner. While the theme isn’t wholly unique, it is one that’s rarely used and full of potential. Does this game deliver the quality newspaper experience that we didn’t know we wanted?
The game is played on a huge board with a lot of cardboard pieces and cards. It looks intimidating at first, though it’s not that to get a handle of everything. Around the edge of the board is the circulation track, used to indicate the score of each player. In the middle of the board are the five news beats that you’ll be covering: War, Crime & Calamity, Politics, New York City and Human Interest. This track is populated with the news stories below based on the news cards that are drawn. The final element at the top is the bonus track, which tracks the total number of bonus points awarded for being the best at each news beat.
Each player will also manage a few things of their own. Placed in front of them is their front page card, used as your area to build your newspaper. You’ll also have five reporter meeples that are used to report on specific stories. Finally, there’s a stack of headline cards that are drawn at the start of the game and after each player goes to press. Besides featuring a neat headline, they also show instructions on how to increase the bonus track, the news beats and where players should place advertisements on their front page.
On your turn, you can perform one of four actions. You can assign any number of reporters to one of the news stories on the board, reassign one reporter from one story to another, recall any number of reporters back to your player mat or go to press. The first three actions represent players rushing out to get the best coverage on any given story. As reports move between stories, the news beat track increases and decreases based on the number of stories on a track, as well as the number of stories that are covered. The more stories there are and the more covered stories there are, the higher the track. This is used to determine which stories must be headline news, as well as the number of scoop points rewarded should competing journalists fail to get a story out in time.
When you have the stories you need, it’s time to go to press. Any stories where you have at least as many reporters as any other player can be claimed. For stories you claimed that had rival reporters on them, they get points for being scooped based on how popular that news beat is. Then it’s time to build your newspaper.
If you have a story in the top news beat, it must touch the top row of your front page. If you have any other stories touching the top row, you can designate one of them to be an exclusive, which is worth double the points. Ideally, you want to build a front page that fills the entire area, as empty spaces and unpublished stories lead to negative points. However, after your first printing, you need to run ads, which usually block off one square in awkward ways. Depending on the what stories are available on the board and where your ad is placed, you’re probably going to run into a situation where you can’t fully cover your board. At this point, you’re going to have to make a judgment call on how to publish your next edition without taking too much of a penalty.
When someone has gone to press three times, they trigger the final edition. Remaining players have one last opportunity to assign or recall one reporter and/or go to press. This part is a bit of a scramble, as there isn’t usually much left in terms of stories to work with. Also, what’s left are usually the stories with the highest star values, making the remainder really lucrative. Once everyone done, bonus points are awarded based on the players who got the stories with the most stars in each news beat and a winner is declared based on who has the most points.
Right off the bat, the game caught my attention with a great theme. The concept of running a newspaper, sending reporters out to cover stories and building a front page is fantastic. None of that would matter if the game sucked, but it works extremely well. While most of the actions are fairly simple, there’s definitely strategy involved with how to manage your reporters. There are times when a rival player is about to go to press and you can squeeze out a few extra points by intentionally getting scooped. Depending on whether you’re playing for the most stars or stories that will fit your paper can also be a huge factor in how you proceed.
I also love the aspect of building the paper. Initially, I thought this might be a little too convoluted, but it makes perfect sense. It’s also quite the challenge when you can’t build an ideal paper. At that point, there’s a lot of pros and cons you need to weigh out in terms of when you go to press. Do you wait until you can run the perfect paper at the risk or not being able to publish all three editions in time? Or do you rush out the door with less-than-perfect newspapers, but you also cut off your opponents from being able to go to press three times?
Backed by a great concept and really tight mechanics that bring the newspaper business to life, Penny Press is a hidden gem of a board game. At three-to-five players, the game really shines. With two, the minor rules change and the smaller player count does hurt the game a bit, but it’s still enjoyable. If you have any interest in the theme of running a newspaper, or with uniquely themed board games in general, this one is worth grabbing hot off the presses.