Soda, pop, cola, Coke, or soft drink: no matter the name, carbonated water and sugar have gradually found their way into almost every American household. How did this come about? In a nutshell: marketing.
Spreading the Fizz
Top Pop, developed by Talon Strikes Studio, puts you in charge of a 1960s cola company with dreams of dominating the United States market. The key to success? Gaining control of cities. Bid wisely and become the Top Pop!
Once You Pop…
Top Pop is delightfully uncomplicated. Your objective is to collect City cards with the highest bid. Each card features a number that represents the number of copies of that City in the deck. Bids are determined by stacks of colored bottle caps. If you have the highest stack on a City, you claim that card. Accumulating the majority of one City, as well as possessing a variety of Cities, will earn you points at the end of the game.
On your turn, you’ll collect any Cities you’ve won, play a new City card to the table, grab a cap or two from the supply, place stacks of caps on various cards to bid on them, and finally draw a new card into your hand. Simple as that!
The central mechanic in Top Pop is the stacking of caps. Each stack represents a player’s bid. While you can have stacks on multiple Cities, you cannot place multiple stacks on a single card. To increase your bid, you add caps to your existing stack. If you wish to outbid someone, you must raise the stack with at least one cap of your color and one belonging to the current high bidder.
To help you with your bids, you receive one free cap of any color during your turn. However, since each bid requires caps of the player’s color and possibly caps of other players’ colors, that single free cap won’t be enough. So, how can you obtain more caps? There are two ways: by playing City cards and by winning bids.
On each turn, the active player must play one of their City cards. The placement of this card is crucial. If you place it in front of yourself, you gain an additional cap in the color of another player, which is just enough to outbid them.
The other method of gaining caps is a bit trickier. When a card is won, the losing players reclaim their stacks. The distribution of the winning bid depends on where the card is placed. If a player wins a card in front of them, the bid goes back to the supply. However, if a player wins a card in front of someone else, the winning bid goes to that player instead. In essence, players want to win cards placed in front of themselves to prevent opponents from gaining extra caps. But placing cards in front of opponents is how players acquire the caps needed for higher bids. It’s a clever dilemma that adds significance to each card and cap.
At the end of the game, players collect any remaining winning bids and score their collected City cards. If a player has the majority of a specific City, they earn 2 points per card of that City. In case of a tie, they score 1 point per card. Players also earn points for each different City in their collection, with more points awarded for a wider variety.
The base game includes Night cards, which must be placed face-down, adding an element of uncertainty to players’ strategies. Advanced players can introduce bonus cards, each offering a game-changing effect to the player who most recently claimed a card with the corresponding number. Additionally, a range of scenarios with different ability cards and rule variations ensures that Top Pop stays fresh and engaging.
…You Can’t Stop!
Top Pop offers an enjoyable poker-like experience, featuring clever plays where players can snatch uncontested opportunities and thrilling moments when someone dramatically places a large stack of caps on a highly sought-after card, leaving others astonished. Bluffing and intense bidding battles are plentiful. All of this action is packed into a quick 20-30 minute game. As the deck runs out, the game naturally comes to an end, as the caps fountain dries up.
Compared to poker, Top Pop is lighter and somewhat more predictable. Counting cards provides a significant advantage, even with the face-down cards. While diversifying your collection with singleton cards is a smart move for the end-game diversity score, most players will prioritize acquiring the majority in particular Cities, leading to clearer strategic choices. Once a player claims a City with a certain number, it’s highly likely they will bid aggressively whenever the next card with that number appears. That face-down card they seem coy about? Chances are, it’s another card with the same number. As the game progresses and most of the cards are revealed, bluffing opportunities diminish, especially when players are rushing to make their final moves.
Caps cannot be hoarded as easily as chips in poker. Outbidding your opponents requires a substantial investment of caps. Since each claimed card unlocks previously-committed stacks, players rarely maintain the lead for long. Caps themselves hold no scoring value at the end of the game. These sudden shifts in bidding power only add to the excitement, preventing any one player from overpowering the others purely through accumulated caps.
That being said, Top Pop isn’t entirely free of potential issues. There is a possibility for kingmaking, leading to some less enjoyable moments. In a three-player game, for example, two players may strategically box out the third player using specific card powers and avoiding bids that would benefit them. In response, the targeted player has limited options other than persistently betting with their meager caps. While this situation won’t arise every time, and it’s less likely in games with more players, it’s still worth mentioning. Your personal preferences may ultimately determine how much this affects your overall experience.
Overall, I find Top Pop to be a delightful game. It captures the essence of poker night in an accessible package, offering smooth gameplay and engaging mechanics. While it may not be an absolute must-play, it certainly serves as a refreshing diversion from more intricate games. Back Top Pop on Kickstarter today for all your bidding and bluffing needs!
For more information about Top Pop, visit Ratingperson.