Play Time: 5-20 Min / Players: 2-6 / Complexity: Low / Age: 8+ / Publisher: Cheeky Parrot Games / Designer: Andy Bell
Ulterior Design Ratings and Summary
Kids rating from our daughter (9 )
Teen rating from our son (15).
Ulterior Design has a cool unique theme and packs an engaging game in a very short play time. Although it has a simple rule set there are still some interesting decisions here, but it can be a little cutthroat at times.
- Very easy to learn
- The artwork and metal trophies look great
- Can be played quickly
- Decisions are interesting and engaging
- Plenty of interaction.
- Can feel like you have less influence on the game at higher player counts
- Full rules can be a little cutthroat which may be an issue for younger kids but there is rule variation that addresses this.
Big thanks to Cheeky Parrot Games for providing a copy of this game for review. As always, we provide our own unbiased perspectives on games we review and receive no payment in exchange for our reviews or opinions.
What You Will Find in Our Ulterior Design Review
When I first heard about Ulterior Design from publisher Cheeky Parrot Games I was immediately intrigued by the theme. Designer Andy Bell has created a simple card game which has you competing to create the trendiest home in the hopes of winning over judges from Decor Rate magazine. Simple and snappy card games are generally well received in our household, so I was keen to see how the family enjoyed this one. Now that we have thoroughly explored what Ulterior Design has to offer, we’re ready to share our thoughts.
How to Play Ulterior Design
Ulterior Design is very easy to learn so you shouldn’t have trouble teaching it to younger kids or non-gamers. There is even a short video on the Cheeky Parrot Games website that runs through how to play so you don’t have to read the rules.
The goal in Ulterior Design is to be the first player to win 3 trophies for your home decorating efforts. The game will start with one decor card in the centre of the table representing what is on trend and with each player selecting one of four cards from their starting hand to place in front of them representing their home decorating efforts.
Each décor card can include one or more lamps, plants, or paintings, they can even be blank. What you are trying to do is ensure your home matches the same number of lamps, plants and paintings depicted in the trending décor cards in the middle of the table.
Each turn players will get to play just one of their three decor cards. The catch is you must play a card so that it covers either the left or right half of a previously played card, and it must be placed upright. You have three options for where you play your card:
- You can play a card in front of you to spruce up your own home in the hopes of more closely aligning to what’s hot right now as represented by the trending cards in the middle of the table.
- Or you could try to influence what’s trending in home décor by adding a card to the centre of the table.
- Finally, you can sabotage your opponents by adding a card to their home that messes things up for them.
I find the last part a little amusing, it gives me images of people sneaking unwanted pot plants and other items into their neighbours’ homes while visiting. Imagine living in that neighbourhood and finding someone else’s unwanted painting randomly hanging in your hallway!
Once a card has been played, an event card is revealed, and the active player replenishes their hand by drawing another decor card. This is where the tension is, an event card could be an empty doorway in which case nothing happens, or you may have one of the judges knock on your door unannounced ready to judge your home. There is also a reshuffle card in the deck which requires you to shuffle all event cards and draw another one. This can be quite brutal if you have decided not to focus on one décor item because the judge has already visited but because of the reshuffle they suddenly visit again when you are unprepared.
The four judges each look for different things, one is interested only in ensuring the number of pot plants matches what is trending, another is interested in lamps, one in paintings and one judge doesn’t care what sort of decorations you have as long as the total number matches what’s trending. The person who matches closest to what’s trending for that judge’s area of interest wins one of the gold trophies, in the event of a tie, the tied player who has waited longest for their turn wins. Once someone accumulates three trophies, they win the game.
Ulterior Design Gameplay Experience
Ulterior Design is such a simple game, all you do is play one card from your hand, flip an event card, and replenish your hand. There’s not even any text on the cards to read, its all pictures. But somehow it still feels like you are presented with some meaningful and interesting choices each turn.
I love the fact that you can choose to improve your own situation, change the trend or sabotage your opponents. It makes me feel like regardless of what décor cards I am dealt, I have viable options. I don’t ever feel like I have been dealt a bad hand. If my cards don’t really align to what’s on trend, I can easily palm them off to my neighbour with a smile on my face and ruin their carefully decorated home.
In fact, my wife and I have a good laugh when one of us has a perfectly trendy home matching flawlessly with the cards in the middle and the other one manages to ruin it all. ‘How about I gift you 4 pot plants and cover up that lamp and portrait that is right on trend?’ It’s something I think Ulterior Design does so well, it manages to pack a good amount of interaction and decisions into a game that takes minutes to learn.
The strategy is not incredibly complex here but there are still some layers to consider. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to match trend perfectly in every area to be successful, you just have to be the closest to the match. As the game progresses and certain judges have already been revealed through the event deck you can also get more targeted and start to ignore some of the items that have already been revealed.
Games are quite snappy too, my daughter (9) just loves Ulterior Design, and we can often get through a game in less than 10 minutes, higher player counts extend this a bit but not by a lot. There is a lot of fun packed into a game that is so short and simple.
One thing to watch out for though is that younger players may find it a little cutthroat, especially at higher player counts where there is more chance other players will interfere with your home. While this is mostly fine at our house, I have noticed my 9 year old daughter at times gets a bit upset when her home is messed with too much and attempts to cover her cards. The flip side is this aspect of the game introduces some fun player interaction and choices. For those that really find this sort of play a problem, there is a rule variation that removes the option of playing a card to another player’s pile.
The other thing to watch out for is that at higher player counts it can feel like you have a little less control and are more at the mercy of the luck of the event deck. This is mainly because more can happen to change the situation between your turns as other players can impact any player’s home or the trending pile. If you happen to strike a judge on your turn it gives you the best shot at winning the round because you most recently influence the state of the game. The rules balance this out a little by awarding any draws when judges are drawn to the player who has waited longest for their turn, but it still is a factor. While my son enjoys Ulterior Design, the luck of the event deck is the part he tends to grizzle about a bit when he is on the wrong side of it.
Overall Ulterior Design is a clever mix of simplicity, player interaction and meaningful decisions. All important ingredients for a family game in our house, the bonus is that it can be played in such a quick time frame.
Overall, the components for Ulterior Design are fantastic for such a simple game. The artwork on the cards looks great and is clear. It also includes gold coloured metal trophies for the winners of each round which is a nice touch. The box fits everything nicely without being too large and it has a useful rules reference on the lid which is a great idea.
I love the theme in Ulterior Design, it’s unique and really appealed to our kids. The thought of competing with your neighbours to create the trendiest home is quite an amusing concept, especially the thought of sabotaging their efforts by sneakily adding unwanted items to their home.
Final Thoughts on Ulterior Design
Ulterior Design packs a lot of game into a simple set of rules and a short play time. The components look great and there are plenty of interesting decisions here to keep the whole family engaged. We all really enjoy Ulterior Design but at times the full rules were a bit too cutthroat for my 9-year-old daughter, some younger kids may need to use the adjusted rules to make the game less cutthroat.
Is Ulterior Design easy to learn? Yes, very easy to learn.
What will Ulterior Design teach my kids? The main lesson here is about prioritising the aspects of design you are targeting and recognising when its best to improve your own house, sabotage or change trend all together. So a good awareness of not just your own situation but the state of everyone else’s homes is important.
What age is appropriate for Ulterior Design? The box says 8+ but the rules are simple enough that kids a few years younger should be able to learn this game easily. Some youngers kids may find the full game a little too cutthroat. However, there is a rule amendment in the rule book that removes the ability to play a card to an opponent’s home which results in a less cutthroat game more suitable for younger players.
Does Ulterior Design have good replay value? Yes, the player interaction here provides plenty of replay value.
We hope you enjoyed our Ulterior Design review. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.
About the Authors
We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time. If you enjoy our content and want to support us you can do that through our Ko-fi page by clicking on the button below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Big thanks to Andy Bell designer of Ulterior Design for providing the content for this FAQ section.
Can I look through the discarded judges?
Absolutely. This is not a memory game, and focusing on judges who haven’t come out yet is a valid strategy. Of course, if your group wants to house-rule that this is not allowed, then go for it.
Can I play a card underneath existing cards?
No. Cards must always be played so they overlap existing cards.
How does the ‘all items’ judge work?
Count the total number of trending items, and compare this with the total number in each person’s house. It is the difference of the sums that matters, not the sum of the differences. Ties are broken the usual way, by the person who has waited longest since their last turn.
Do I draw another event card after reshuffling the event deck?
Yes. This means there is always a chance of getting a judge, even when all four judges are in the discard pile.
Big thanks to Andy Bell designer of Ulterior Design for providing these strategy tips for us.
- Once a judge has come out, you may choose to stop focusing on the item they care about for a while.
- It is generally a little better to change what’s trending to match your home, than to change your home to match what’s trending, as this affects other players as well as yourself (though this is not always the case of course).
- If anyone is ever right on trend, it is a good time to sabotage them (especially in a two-player game), as if they are still on trend on their turn, their only move will be to sabotage someone else.
- Particularly in a 3 or more player game, it can be a valid strategy to try to match the player after you, hoping they will change the trend to match themselves, giving you the award in a tie-break.