Pests is a board game where players take the role of an exterminator trying to clear the house of their infestation before rival exterminators clean the house first. Players must exterminate all their pests, seal the nest, and capture the queen to win the game. The game was designed by Michael McFarland and decked out in art by Todd Jakubisin. Pests is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter and requires $9,500 to meet their goal. I had the absolute joy of playing a prototype of Pests, and these are my thoughts to help inform your backing decision.
The first obstacle when playing any new game is the rulebook. In the case of Pests, the rules were presented concisely with all the important details highlighted, so you can skim over it and get started playing faster. The other thing I look for in a rulebook is clarifications to odd gameplay questions, and the Pests rulebook is very robust. Not only was it able to clear up any strange scenarios that were encountered, but it is structured such that answers can be found quickly and not hold up a game. For example, on a player's turn, their queen moves first based on a die roll. If a roll sends the queen into a wall or a door to the outside, that might cause some confusion on your first play. Instead of having to go back and actually read the whole section on the queen's movement, there is clearly distinguished cases, so you can jump straight to the answer. This created smooth gameplay even on my first play when I was learning all the rules. If you prefer to watch a game played instead of reading rules, Spontaneously Combustible Games has a great how-to video for their game.
The modular tile board that builds the house makes every game different and creates of lot of options for different strategies. You can try to get your nest room as close to the entrance (starting point) as possible or far away from other players to avoid them unsealing your nest. You can play room tiles around your opponent's nest room to try to create places for their pests to spread out to and hopefully allow their queen to wander far off. Some games I played had a well-connected house that was easy to move around in, and some were odd shaped with courtyards and long hallways going off in one direction.
Pests is really interesting because your queen is your opponent -- you need to chase it down and trap it before it drops pests all over the house -- and, at the same time, the other exterminators are your opponents. You need to race against other players to be the first to clean out your infestation but need to decide between focusing on your queen or slowing down the other exterminators. There is plenty of player interaction in Pests. Half of the toolbox cards are offensive with "take that" abilities that give bad effects to an opponent. I found the effects to be very fair. They were not extremely devastating -- players can recover in their next turn -- but sometimes that is all you need to get ahead. As previously mentioned, there is some interaction with placing rooms around other player's nest rooms. Players can also break another exterminator's trap releasing the pests or queen trapped within. They can go into an opponent's nest room and unseal it to allow more pests to enter the house each turn.
There are many actions to choose from each turn, but the game is very simple and decisions are not overwhelming. Pests is an excellent light strategy game, perfect for playing with the family or competitive gamers.
The exterminator theme is uncommon and was felt throughout the whole game. You truly feel like an exterminator chasing bugs or mice through a house. Every action fits the theme from pests entering the house from an unsealed nest to playing a toolbox card to use a bug bomb, eliminating all the pests in a room. Both the artwork and abilities of the exterminators work thematically. For example, the yellow exterminator is for flying bugs which move faster than crawling bugs so they have to deal with their queen moving two rooms per roll. Aside from bugs and vermin, there are two exterminators who have to remove more interesting pests. There are exterminators for unwanted house guests and ghosts. The character and queen art is different for each pest type. The vermin exterminator carries a giant mallet, and the unwanted guests exterminator wears a tie and is armed with an envelope that I imagine contains an eviction notice.
There honestly wasn't anything I didn't enjoy in Pests. There are dice rolls for exterminating and the queen movement which introduces luck. For exterminating, there are ways around rolling the die to exterminate pests. You can drop a trap to catch seven pests, or you can play a defensive toolbox card to eliminate pests. There is a card that lets you control your queen for one turn, but, for the most part, its movement is based on the luck of the roll. This can be prevented if you trap your queen; then the roll does mostly nothing. I found the minor luck element of Pests to be enjoyable and keep the game balanced. If a player has their queen trapped and is about to win on their next turn, without the dice roll, there would be very little to stop them from winning (only a few toolbox cards can help -- hopefully you have them). But, before the player just celebrates victory on their turn, they need to roll the queen die with a 1 in 6 chance of breaking their own trap.
If a player rolls their color, the queen manages to break free of the trap and drops a pest in their current room. This makes a simple die roll extra exciting near the end of the game. Players can also be eliminated if all their pests are in the house at the end of their turn. This is a possibility but has never happened in any of the games I played. You can see how many pests you have left and will realize when you need to remove some pests from the house instead of trapping the queen or messing with an opponent exterminator.
Now, for the basic details of the game: Pests plays with two to six players and takes upwards of 75 minutes. Games with two or three players are much faster and often finish in 30 minutes. The game is still fun with two players; however, with four players, the house can become more challenging (since more rooms are placed around the entrance before the nest rooms are placed). The prototype box I received lists the game as suitable for ages 13+, but I agree with the minimum age of 8-10 listed on the BoardGameGeek page. There is no content in the game unsuitable for young children, and the strategy is not so heavy that a 10-year old wouldn't be able to learn it.
Pests has great artwork, a fun theme, strategic gameplay, and tons of player interaction. It is an all around enjoyable experience well worth backing! You can get a copy of Pests for $39, which includes shipping and any stretch goals. If you just can't wait to try it out, find links to digital and print & play versions on the Kickstarter campaign page.