By Bob, Briony, and Lizzy. Go team!
Brutus Rating: 2 or 3 grubby knives in the back, depending on the number of players.
Pairs well with: Oil, petrol
Steampark is a beautifully steampunky game in which you can build your own little rollercoaster theme park with such mechanic-altering extras as casinos, tents and toilets. If there’s one thing Briony has learned from years of Rollercoaster Tycoon, it’s that you should never ever think “that’s enough toilets now”!
Yet another Essen find; this one is light, frenetic, and sometimes blackly humorous, bordering on the dystopian. Bob obviously had to buy it as it was the gothest game at the convention.*
Team Awesome Blog came together with our generic white male friend (this one we call ‘Andy’ for short) for a game together as we wrote this review. For the sake of maintaining a strong sense of ethics in board-games journalism we should disclose that we forgot to invite Dr Photographer to play on this occasion and all of the photos are reconstructions.
As the many, many pieces of game are unpacked Briony looks more than a little apprehensive. She is, after all, the team’s dice-hater and the handfuls of dice coming out of the box do nothing to alleviate her fears. Contrary to popular belief, it’s entirely possible to develop post-traumatic stress disorder from playing Risk, Warhammer and Blood Bowl too many times. Dice! So many dice!
Plethora of dice aside, there are some friggin’ awesomely-designed rollercoasters and tents and such, easily making up for it. It’s a very enticing game.
Right, we should cover the rules. Each player is allocated a plot of land in the form of a grid of squares on a small board, on which they can construct their steampark. Rollercoasters, or any other buildings, cannot be built within one square of anything else, making board-space efficiency a good part of the game. Each player also receives a buttload of dice (that is now the official measurement of ‘too many’ dice. It’s approximately 6). Instead of numbers the dice have a different symbol on each face which corresponds to an action you can take during your turn.
There are 4 pucks in the middle of the table which only become available once a player has finished rolling their dice, and which determine turn order. The sooner you finish rolling your dice, the better puck you pick. This phase is particularly stressful as all players roll at the same time, and can re-roll the dice as many times as they like in order to get what actions they need, until there’s only one player left to roll.
Seems nice, right? Light-hearted fun? Forgiving of bad rolls? No. Instead, it becomes a stressful dice race!
Suuure, Briony says. She could get the perfect set of dice she desires with enough time, but Bob has already finished rolling and can now grab the first player puck! Panic for everyone! This gives her park-building benefits, while getting the last puck actively punches you in the guts by filling your park with ‘dirt’. Ultimately the dice-rolling stage is more like the ‘throw your dice around the room, swearing violently, resenting anyone who looks remotely calm or close to finishing, madly panicking to find said dice, praising the ones who rolled correctly, and hoping that everyone else is having as much bad luck as you’ stage. Andy’s method has been to roll a perfect selection of dice and then knock half of them off of the table. We’re going to rename it ‘The Panic Stage’.
In addition you must place your rolled dice onto a flat cardboard mechanical piggybank otherwise they don’t count. Because that’s what all the other board-games are missing…
We’ve given this game an ambiguous Brutus rating because of the way that taking a puck can royally screw your competitors. In a larger game this won’t make too much difference: if one extra person finishes ahead of you then you’ll maybe have just a small amount more dirt in your park. If it’s a two-player game then the difference is much greater, lending a distinctly more cut-throat flavour to the game.
Back to our team play-through. ‘The Panic Stage’ is over. Looking around the table we each have 6 dice which represent the actions we would like to take for that turn (or to the nearest approximation of that). Now each player can do stuff and things according to this, beginning with whoever has most effectively managed the Panic Stage to get the first-player puck. Unfortunately, Bob doesn’t actually know what to do with this mighty privilege, and a chorus of sighs ensues. Briony got the last place puck as she was writing (taking one for the Misery team), and as such this is all of the suck. To better deal with her frustration she decides to build a super-awesome octopus-coaster. It’s holding tiny teacups with its tentacles. Adorables.
In the interests of staying calm, let’s move onto some of the scoring components of the game. Lovely, rational scoring. Or not. Victory in this game is determined by cash moneys (what is the point in running a steampunk theme park if not the money?), which is made by having little robot meeples ride your theme park rides, forever.
You also have two cards that have a bonus feature for scoring, for example ‘For every purple rollercoaster you own, take 5 more money at the end of a round’. These are essentially your victory cards. Playing a victory card is one of the options given by the dice. The dice decide all, and it is supremely irritating when you’ve especially built a purple octocoaster to please your victory cards, then forgotten to make sure that at least one of your dice allows you to play a victory card. Once every player has finished the round ends and you collect your park revenue, which is the sum of all of the things you have built plus any bonuses from cards. And then there’s dirt. Dirt is bad (but calling other players ‘dirty’ is fun). Dirt is made by the meeples riding your rides, by building rides, by being too far back in the turn order, by making the eighth ‘Tim Burton’s theme park’ joke of the evening, etc. Dirt seems to build up more rapidly than you can clear it away by rolling the appropriate dice, and punishes you at the end of the game by taking away your revenue. Dirt is bad.
There is another slight hitch in our fantastic upcoming parks. You know when you’ve built your first attraction in Rollercoaster Tycoon and it’s utterly underwhelming? Think, Ferris Wheel. This is the current state of your mechanical park. In order to get a really awesome park you need to invest both into getting more people to ride the rides, and in park maintenance. To get more people (or, in this case, fun-consuming robots) you should roll the ‘get visitor’ action with the dice, and then selecting randomly from coloured robots in a bag. Only robots of the same colour can ride on a correspondingly coloured ride so there is some mileage in a strategy that has attractions of many colours. There’s some chance involved with this but being persistent pays off.
How many rounds does a game of Steampark have you ask? 6? Does it ever really end? Those robots are going to be riding and having fun forever while you age and eventually die. But for us mere fun-lacking mortals we only get 6 rounds to make our parks the best.
And here’s the happy ending to our playthrough: Briony stopped writing and turned her game around, winning the first player puck for most of the game. This is a viable strategy because you can almost always find a use for all of the dice mechanisms, even if they’re not ideal. Andy slowly but surely generated little more than a pile of dirt, and is probably still sat there quietly contemplating his little mound. Bob and Lizzy were solid throughout, but victory was ultimately Briony’s. The real winner, as ever, was board games.
In summary this game has some great design aspects and some cool mechanisms. To be honest there are slightly more mechanisms than necessary, but that doesn’t draw away from your goals. It’s simple to learn and has a relatively short play time with a distinct lack of hatred for your fellow players. I recommend trying it, and at the very least you should find someone who owns it and stare at the pretty little components in awe.
*In fact Chris (friendly robot boyfriend) very nearly simultaneously bought it for Bob as it was the gothest game at the convention. Being deeply predictable sometimes has its dangers.