Steampunk Rally: A Rally Good Game!

Pairs well with: Gin on rough terrain (the rocks)
Traitor rating: 4/10 “I could race… or I could screw over Lizzy…” – (everyone)

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Each member of the Misery Farm had several favourite games to come out of Essen 2015. When pressed, all you can get out of us tends to be a pretty diplomatic and squirmy answer, along the lines of “well I loved so many of the games, I couldn’t possibly choose!” or “can’t I just say that I love all of them?” or “I CAN’T FREAKING DECIDE, LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY”. We’re told this is similar to how some human adults feel about their children.

But if we were pressed to decide on a top list of games then we could probably all agree that Steampunk Rally has a pretty damn high spot. It’s one of the games we all actively sought out after Bob enticed a group of us in with her description:

DSC_0617_Fotor“Guys! We need to play Steampunk Rally next. It’s like the hipster Wacky Races, but you get to play as Marie Curie! Only she’s a ROBOT!”

Sold! Literally.

Now we’ve brought (several copies of) the game back to our humble homes the excitement hasn’t worn off.

To start off with, have we mentioned the characters? There are sixteen to choose from, all based on some of the coolest inventors that history has to offer. If you want a team of badass lady-racers (which you know very well your team of badass lady-journalists do), then you actually have a whole range of options! That’s right, A RANGE of female characters!

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Science!

This evening we plummed for Bob as Ada Lovelace, Briony as Marie Curie and Lizzy as Hertha Ayrton. Briony had conveniently hosted a steampunk Hallowe’en party in her house a few days beforehand, and being the cool kids we are we grabbed a few spare steampunky goggles strewn around and got our race on!

Each player gets their little chosen inventor card plus an additional unique card which, together, make up the start of your brilliant machine, which you’ll add bits to as the race goes on via a little valve symbol that lets you know more bits of machine can go there. Being the snazzy and intelligent inventors that you are you can easily unscrew some bits here and there and rearrange your machine as you go along, so you don’t need to worry too much about the order of placement (take that Galaxy Trucker!).

DSC_0624_FotorThe aim of the game is to win the race. You win the race by crossing the finishing line first.* Sounds simple and familiar so far, right? Racing 101. Oh! Also, you’re racing in a giant machine that’s constantly rearranging, powering up, and occasionally exploding – more on that later.

Brimming with overconfidence, having not actually played since the trial rounds at Essen, we opted to play on the super-fancy FUTURISTIC HOVERDROME. More danger, but we could handle it. Robot power! Plus the map is a bit randomised at the beginning, which is always a bonus.

DSC_0613An actual turn consists of a few different phases, which each person does at once 7-wonders-style (or does slowly and in turn order if you haven’t figured out the rules yet, or if you just want to show off your rad moves). The first of these involves taking a card from a selection and passing the rest on. Here’s where you’ll use some of these cards to add bits on to your machine! Propellers, rocket boosters, a forcefield… should we chuck a time machine on there? Yeah, why not!

But the machine you’re building isn’t just about cool gadgets and aesthetics, it’s a beautiful, smoothly-running *cough* mechanism that uses water, electricity and fire power (dice of different colours) to bolster your machine’s defence or SPEEED madly along the track.

DSC_0630_FotorLater in the round is the racing phase! Here you roll the dice you’ve generated that turn and see how much power (how many little winged-wheel symbols) you’ve managed to generate. The misery farmers were off to a flying start! Each of us racing ahead with some efficiently running robot monstrosities, producing the dice and throwing them madly into the machines.

Oh, remember that bit earlier where we glossed over the bit where your machines can explode?

Yeah. Here that comes.

The final phase of a round is a ‘damage phase’, where you calculate all the damage you’ve taken from the terrain you’ve just hastily and cockily rattled across.

“Oh, oh shit. I think I raced a bit too far ahead.”
“Oh crud, me too. Ohhhh no.”

The exploding machinery is probably the most unique mechanic of Steampunk Rally. For each damage you take which you haven’t defended yourself against, a part of your machine (of your choice) will explode and fall off. This can be a useful tactic at some points- sometimes it might just be worth losing some outdated bits of your machine for the chance to speed a bit further ahead. Maybe the force of the explosion is propelling you ahead a bit? Who knows!

But uh, what happens if you take more damage than you even have bits of machine? Back into last place you go.

Every single one of us had, despite being nominally-competent adult human beings, miscalculated the damage we’d take and exploded our machines completely. On the very first round.

“Guys. Guys. Can we just… maybe…”
“Pretend none of this happened?”
“Yeah!”
“Start over?”
“Yep.”
“PRACTICE ROUND OVER, GUYS. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.”

We definitely owed it to the great inventors that we were representing to pretend that that was a practice round and start over. Nobody wants that kind of a disgrace on their shoulders.

THE RACE BEGINS AGAIN!

DSC_0626_FotorSlightly more careful this time, the team of badass lady-racers (or just ‘badass racers’, if you will) had a much more successful second attempt at a race.

The theme is excellently done, as you can tell from our enthusiasm over the characters. Marie Curie has a brilliant robot body because of the radiation poisoning done to her flesh one, but this just makes her even more hard-core than she was already. Which is tough, because Marie Curie is pretty hard-core even in puny human form. Lovelace is also a robot, having downloaded her consciousness into a robot casing.

The depth of the machine parts is also great. You can build some pretty bizarre and beautiful machines!

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Boom.

“I’m becoming a weird spider-tree with legs! FEAR ME!”

“Argh! I keep wanting to attach a penny-farthing to my machine but there’s never room!”

“KAPOW! Oh no, my galvanised brakes!”
“Oh no, you’ve lost your galvanic brakes!”
“Galvanic! That’s what I said.”

Impressively, it also plays with up to eight players. But it does this while still being strategic, rather than a game of luck. You can fit the same amount of players as Camel Cup, for example, but actually involves some skill and planning.

Briony’s playing a giant-machine tactic. Unfortunately, she seems to have got a little bit carried away with building something beautiful and forgotten that she’s actually taking part in a race. Lizzy, going for a “try to win” strategy, keeps losing her galvanised galvanic brakes, but the lack of stopping power definitely seems to be playing in her favour, and she’s speeding to victory.

That's a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn't appear to be going anywhere...
That’s a damn impressive machine, Briony, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere…

The way that the phases work together is good for a larger number of players, so you’re not spending too much time waiting for other people to make their moves. But there’s definitely something lost when everyone races together, and it has a bit less of an exciting or sociable feel to it when you don’t get to watch everyone else’s smoothly running machines creating the perfect amount of water for their steam machines and then trudging along, or completely misjudging their power, going too far and falling in a hole. We prefer doing that part of the game one at a time, so we get to watch each other’s’ triumphs and disasters as they unfold.

Speeding to victory
Speeding to victory

The game is a winner both on theme and gameplay. It’s a great game to get your friends excited, and although there are certainly games that are more in depth, more strategic, and more ridiculous, it plays a pretty good role in our board game collections.

Of course, as always, the real winner is board games. And Lizzy.

*You can also cross the finishing line at the same time (on the same turn) as someone else, but then it’s about how far over the line you get. It’s not literally a case of who moves their character over the line first winning, because that would be madness of a different kind.

Libertalia: How to Pirate 101

Written by Briony, Bob, Lizzy.

Brutus Scale: 6/10
Pairs well with: white rum, dark rum, spiced rum. All of the rum!

This week, the team have decided to try their hand at pirating with Libertalia. More like Libert-arrr!-lia, am I right? No.

Spot the theme.
Spot the theme.

If there’s one thing the team have learned from the game, it’s that not one of them makes a good, or indeed effective, pirate. No sir. They did all the right things: dressed in pirate clothing gradually throughout the evening, drank for hours before attempting to win some loot, didn’t listen to the reading of the rules like any true badass pirate would, and yet the cards still did not fall in their favour.

Probably because they were continuously playing the wrong cards.

Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?
Is it a board because its a ship, or is it ship because its a board?

This has been the overriding theme of the game: you will never, ever play a decent card, but everyone around you will. And consistently at that. A majority of the game will be spent playing a card from a hand of 9 against your opponent’s selection much in the top trumps style of ‘highest card picks loot first’. The board has seven sections (representing days of the week), all of which feature a randomly drawn selection of loot.* Loot may include expensive shit like jewels and other shiny things classic pirates like, bad shit like curses, and the ability to murder another player’s card modelled on a particularly shiny scimitar. The player who placed the highest-rated card will pick whichever loot they find most appealing, and the rest will resolve in rank order. Whoever is left at the bottom rungs of the rank will find themselves lumbered with curses (worth negative points) or something else undesirable. Think, the captain’s old socks.

Furthermore, each player will have the same hand of cards as you, which brings out some great ‘will they/won’t they’ scenarios when considering who will play which card, and when. It also makes the fact that everyone always seems to have better cards than you somewhat baffling.

If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.
If pirates played cards this is almost certainly what it would look like.

Certainly remembering who has already played which card is what the pros would do – but we are not pros. Instead of simple and logical prediction such as ‘Bob has played the ‘waitress’ card, that means she won’t play that card again this round’, whimsical drunken pirate logic quickly turns that into ‘Bob has played the particularly untrustworthy-looking spaniard** this round, and it’s a Thursday and she had brown rice for dinner last night, therefore she will plat the Captain next’. Lizzy and generic male gaming buddy Pete aren’t falling into this trap at all, leading to most of the loot being split between them.

Misery Pirates.
Misery Pirates.

Fortunately for the Misery Farm, they do know how to ruin a good strategy. Despite many players doing well, winning treasures, and reaping large amounts of doubloons, there are some good back-stabbing abilities present in the game (no, Lizzy, put the knife down.), earning it a decent 6/10 knives in the back for our Brutus Scale. Bob and Briony have quickly taken on board (hey-oh!) that conjuring a good strategy is not for them this evening, and so have been killing off other characters, drinking more, and generally trying to mangle everyone else’s plans. Pirates shouldn’t have plans anyway. But apparently they should have spoons, because that’s the closest thing to a knife lying around.

As the game has progressed the playing field has levelled. The game is played over 3 weeks, which means 3 rounds of working your way through the 7 piles of loot on the board. It must be the Pirate Easter Holiday or something. By week three, Bob and Briony are more or less level with the other more sober players, still somehow consistently playing the least effective cards possible. As the player’s hand of cards change at the beginning of each week new characters and cards are dredged up, making the game more diverse with many possible future variations.

We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident's of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.
We wonder is she has starfish on her nipples like the Trident’s of Smallworld. Doubloon for anyone who can confirm.

In week 3 we encounter ‘Granny Wata’ who is supposed to be some sort of mythical sea sprite, but that matters not, for at the Misery Farm table she will be referred to as what she is portrayed as – ‘watery tart’, ‘Lady of Sea Things’, or indeed ‘that naked blue one’. Now, this card is a tricky one as it requires understanding and predicting your opponent’s strategies – the Granny Wata card only gives a player points when that is the only copy of the card in someone’s den (this is where your pirates go after they’ve been played in the ship, they take their boots off and have a nice sit down and a cuppa). In the final few turns of the game, every single player has managed to think the exact same thing ‘Holy shit, I need to play the naked blue card, cos mega doubloons. Quick, quick, quick!’

This, ladies and gentlemen, has led to an entire ship populated only by watery tarts.

*Slow clapping* well done team, I thought we were good at this board game malarkey. Despite this final mishap every single player has thoroughly enjoyed this game. It’s fast-paced, well-themed, diverse, and really forces you to try and put your dick in other player’s ears***. It turns out if you make the stabbing-in-the-back of your friends pirate themed, it sort out cancels out a lot of the resentment someone would normally feel compared to in other games. In addition this game is excellent to dress up and drink throughout. We recommend a good few play-throughs to anyone. Unless you actually are or have been a pirate, in which case it might just trigger some intense nostalgia and you may need to go to bed early.

The lesser known pirates 'see no evil', 'swish no evil', and 'vegetable peel no evil'.
The lesser known pirates ‘see no evil’, ‘swish no evil’, and ‘vegetable peel no evil’.

*We’d like to point your attention to Shut Up and Sit Down’s review of this game, if you would actually like to know how to play it. We do however take issue with their use of a reference pear in this game, as thematically-speaking some sort of citrus fruit would make more appropriate loot in the context of pirate diseases.**** You can also checkout Tabletop’s play-through, where you actually see it being played. Who knew?

** It turns out that there’s actually quite a lot of ‘era-themed’ racism and sexism in this game. Untrustworthy French people, Spanish spies, serving wenches with their boobs out. As long as you embrace it with a laugh and think ‘oh back in those times…’ we guess that makes it alright?

*** In the fun ‘don’t question this’ sense.

**** Lemons would be best in terms of vitamin C content, but lime would make a tasty daiquiri with all that rum.