Gaming Unplugged: Steam Park

So it turns out the robots love amusement parks. In the board game Steam Park, it’s your job to provide fun rides and handy stands to give these robots the best time of their lives. Steam Park is a fun and innovative game from Iello games, the publisher of the very popular Kings of Tokyo.

Steam Park is a management game where each player decides how to build, expand and maintain their theme park to attract robot patrons. I realize it sounds a little odd but trust me Steam Park is a great little strategy party game. The game mechanics use strategic planning and speed to move the game along really make it interesting.

One of Steam Park’s high points is the art direction of the game. There is a very whimsical and fantastic feel to all of the rides and stands that the players use to build up their parks. The illustrations are fun and very appealing to the eye. The art direction is very creative and I feel has hints of a Miyazaki movie built into it, especially the rides.

steam park

The game play is a good mixture of speed, planning and sacrifice. The object of the game is to collect money and improve your park while trying to keep on park maintenance. This is all done with rolls of the dice. Each player will try to build the biggest and best theme park to attract the most attendees. Players can build rides that come in different sizes or stands that have strategic use. Each stand has its own special ability. Instead of taking individual turns like in other management games, like Stone Age, Steam Park adds a twist of simultaneous play with benefits for being faster than the other players.  Steam Park also is a game designed to be played quickly.  After six rounds the game is over and the player with the most money wins.

Each round starts with all of the players rolling six dice simultaneously. This adds a layer of excitement not normally seen in a management style game. The players are rolling dice looking for specific results. Each side of the dice represents a different aspect of managing the parks. If a player wants to build rides they’ll be trying to get a different dice face to show up as compared to if they wanted to build stands or attract customers.  With everyone rolling at once the board can get a little hectic, but fun.

The rolling phase does come with extra attributes. This phase is all about speed. Players can re roll any number of their dice. But if a player is too slow getting the dice roll that they like it could affect their park in a negative way. There are bonuses for getting the dice roll you need first also. Players must also lock their dice once they’ve decided what actions they are looking to complete. If one of your dice flips over after it’s been locked, that’s really unfortunate for you. You suck it up and deal with it. I did when it happened to me.

Next, depending on how fast you were at rolling your dice players take turns spending their dice to either, build rides, build stands, clean dirt, draw robots or expand their park. Different dice faces allow the players to do these different actions. Rides entice robots to visit your park and stands give you special abilities. All the things you want for your park come at a price. Most of them will also make you take on more dirt in your park. The more dirt you have the more dice you have to sacrifice in later rounds to remove it.  You’re dice choices are the largest part of the strategy to the game.

Building rides is where the money is. Without rides you can’t get robots, without robots you can’t gain money, and without money why are you playing this game? All of the rides are these fantastic Studio Ghibli looking wonder buildings. There are six different rides with three different sizes. The larger the ride the more dice you must spend to build them. You’re welcome to build multiple rides per turn but never the same sized ones. So if you roll four ride dice you can build a size three and size one but not two size two rides. Also when placing your rides in your park there are different placement rules everyone must follow. With the limited amount of space that the players start with you need to realize what you’re building and where you’re putting it during while you’re rolling. You can expand your park also, but again that will cost you dice.

rides

Stands are your other building choice. There are different types of stands that allow you to improve your dice rolls and assist in your robot picks. I think the most helpful stands to have in your park are the Direction stands, covered in arrows, and the Toilets. Direction stands allow you to temporarily use robots of the wrong color for your rides and the toilets double the amount of dirt that can be removed per die. There are also Security, Promotional and Casino stands, all with their own bonuses. Build them and use them wisely.

I know you’ve seen me mention “dirt” a lot through this article. Dirt is bad. The more dirt your park has at the end of the game the more money you lose at the end of the game. You can actually have so much dirt that you automatically lose.  Dirt piles up with everything you build and every robot you have in your park. Robots are the key to winning but they do come with that one drawback. The more robots you have making you money, the more dirt they leave behind every turn. You can roll shovels with our die and each shovel roll allows you to remove one dirt and if you’re fast in your rolling you can remove extra dirt. If you’re too slow in your rolls though you will gain extra dirt. So again….dirt bad.

steam park 2

There is one last element to Steam Park that could change your strategy. Everyone always has at least three bonus cards. You can choose to ignore these cards altogether or you can use them to gain extra money. All of the cards have different ways to earn money. Some will give you money for stands, some will give you money for even the dice you roll. There are many different ways to use these. But again if you want to use a bonus card you have to roll a die for it, so they take away from your ability to perform other tasks.

I realize that this must be the longest board game review I’ve written and if you’re still with me, bully for you! Steam Park may seem like an overly complicated nonsense game, but it’s not, I promise. The game is simple, fun and fast paced. It’s also short. There are only six rounds per game. It’s an excellent strategy party game. I would like it better if it supported more than four players but you can’t have everything. I like Steam Park because it’s really different than other management style games and a lot easier to jump into. It’s definitely one of my new favorites.

Gaming Unplugged: Malifaux

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.

Malifaux

It’s Christmas time so I figured this month we’d go with a little brutality, magic, and horror. Festive I know. It’s time to cross the dark portal and horde your soul stones in Malifaux.

This is the first time in Gaming Unplugged I’ll be focusing on a larger scale game. Malifaux is a traditional style table top miniature war game. This war game in particular is on a smaller scale then some of the bigger powerhouses in the genre. What’s good about that is it keeps the price point down, and therefore makes a good gift for that person you know who wants to declare war.

Malifaux does everything it can to separate itself from the major war games already on the market. First off, the armies are small; starting out with four to six figures is enough to get right into a full blown game. Second, it’s army choices are not like any others you’ll see. It’s like the creators got together when deciding on factions and said, “Pick any style you want! They don’t need to mesh.” The major factions in Malifaux range from western to demons. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. Even people who don’t want to resign themselves to one style or look of characters can choose to make a mercenary army comprised of units from all the other factions. Lastly, Malifaux is the only war game I’ve seen that doesn’t use dice as encounter deciders; in this case they use cards.

Malifaux

A big pull of Malifaux, at least for me, was the scale. I used to play Warhammer 40k and that game is big. it’s huge, it’s sort of absurd. With Malifaux, a single purchase of a base box starts you with any army ready to go (some assembly required). After that, you only need a rule book and a deck of cards. It doesn’t even have to be the Malifaux brand cards, although it should be. The figures are inexpensive enough you have the option to have two different factions without breaking the bank. You want steampunk and magical beasts? No problem. Get them both and decide which one you like playing more.

The most interesting thing Malifaux has going for it is the different army/factions to choose from. If there is a subgenre of fantasy you like, Malifaux has it. There are seven overall Factions to build your crew from and each of them has different leaders with a little different style between them.

The Guild (Old West) – Fire, Guns, Steampunk

Resurrectionists – Undead, Serial Killers, Japanese Ghosts

Arcanists – Magical Beasts, Ice Monsters/Magic, Steampunk/Electrical Magic

Neverborn – Demons, Witchcraft, Nightmares

Outcasts – Criminals, Mercenaries, Assassins

Gremlins – Goblins and pigs

Ten Thunders – Treasure Hunters, Asian Mystics, Evil Spirit Possessed People

There is basically anything for anyone.

The Malifaux gameplay is very original but can be confusing. Certain creatures have stats that others don’t and the rule book doesn’t always explain the finer points in the best way. What sets Malifaux apart from other table top war games is the fact that battles are decided with a deck of cards instead of the tradition dice rolls. You are also given a chance, every turn, to “cheat fate”. What that means is if you don’t like the current outcome of a duel you can draw another card in the hopes that you’ll have a more favorable result. The catch is you could have bad luck and wind up with a worse outcome than before. Let’s say your opponent attacks one of your figures and the initial result is your figure is going to take one or two damage. You could cheat fate and draw a new card to hopefully take no damage. You could also draw a card and wind up making it a critical hit instead of just a regular one, therefore doing more damage. It’s an interesting way to handle things, but can also draw battles out a little bit. Not only can a defender cheat fate, so can the attacker if they so wish.

Malifaux

Like any other war game there will be work that goes into getting your army set up. First and foremost, you will have to assemble your pieces. Your characters do not come with arms and/or legs attached. They are also metal, so basic super glue isn’t always strong enough to hold everything together. I don’t know how many times the legs of my steamborg executioner fell off. Get yourself something good for metal.

I really like Malifaux for its style and it’s scaled down take on the traditional table top war games. It’s easy to get into and plenty of fun to play. I do wish there were more customization options, though. One thing some of the other miniature war games have going for them is being able to choose your army’s weapons and armor. In Malifaux, all of your figures have predetermined load outs. Also some of the finer rules, such as what the hell happens with “terrifying units”, is a little muddy and takes constant rechecking in the rule book for how to handle it. Over all, though, Malifaux is fun and will eat up hours in your day before you know it. And that’s a good thing.

All pictures belong to Wyrd Miniatures.

Gaming Unplugged: Elder Sign

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.

elder sign

I realize Halloween is a week past, but I want to keep the scary going. Also, it’s completely cooperative so it can be a family game. Look how I tied Halloween and Thanksgiving together! Elder Sign gives you and your friends a chance to fight terrible horrors in an effort to save all of humanity from one of the many ancient gods.  The idea is simple, through the rolls of dice and the use of special items, uncover elder signs to lock away the elder god before he awakens and really wrecks everyone’s day. Oh yes, and it all takes place in the realm of H. P. Lovecraft.

You and a group of other investigators are looking into strange happenings at a fairly creepy museum. As you go room to room there are puzzles to be solved and monsters to be dealt with. All of these problems are handled with the rolls of dice. This game is nearly impossible to win, by the way. As you close down certain rooms and handle certain creatures you gain elder signs. These signs are used to keep the ancient god at bay, if you collect enough you win. But to make it a little harder, with some of the elder signs you gather, more monsters will be released into the museum.

Each of the investigators you can choose to play as have slightly different stats and starting equipment but the gameplay doesn’t differ from person to person.  The private investigator might start with a weapon whereas the scholar might start with a spell.  The other difference is how much sanity or health each character has starting out. Sanity and health keep you character alive, run out of either and you must retire that person. I’ve played where as long as there are still investigator cards left you’re more than welcome to pick up a new one. This is usually a good idea considering the difficulty of the game. A few unlucky rolls of the dice, and you could find yourself dead or insane rather quickly.

You and your group go room to room, which are picked at random, to find awards and hopefully seal away the big bad for another time. This is done by using dice, and consumable items be they spells, weapons, or mystic items. Each room has a certain combination of dice that must come up on your rolls to take the room off the board, instead of numbers though the use symbols. The catch is certain rooms need rolls to be in a certain order and every time you roll the dice, you will lose one or more. This happens even if your roll fails. This game can be punishing.

I realize from what you just read, this game seems confusing, and the bottom line is: it is. There is kind of a steep learning curve, and it will take more than one play through to get the hang of it. And you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned the difficulty of Elder Sign a few times.  I think the bottom line is defeating Cthulhu isn’t supposed to be easy. Dice get locked, monster appear, bad stuff happens. You might be asking yourself why you would want to play something so challenging. Well a lot of the fun is teaming up and helping each other. I really enjoy the wave of cooperative games that have come around recently. The creators added some great theme and style elements to the game. Flavor text brings fun story elements and provides atmosphere. The artwork is wonderful. Everything looks like it’s out of an old pulp book, but with a little more high end quality to it.

Elder Sign is extremely well thought out and put together. You can tell the creators have a love for the source material. It may crush your soul at some times, but that’s half the fun. If ancient evil gods and their minions were easy to deal with that wouldn’t be fun, and it wouldn’t fit into the atmosphere of the game. Elder Sign is a tough game meant to be played with friends, hopefully ones you won’t get mad at if they roll poorly. Go get it just in time for some Thanksgiving Day fun!