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Steam Park | Review

August 19, 2014
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Designers: Aureliano Buonfino, Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino | Artist: Marie Cardouat
Publisher: IELLO, 2013 | Players: 2-4 | Playing time: 60 mins

Come one, come all, to the Roboburg Carnival! It’s the best day of the year; the robot workers have the day off and they’re looking to spend it riding rides and enjoying a cup of oil (I think that’s what robots drink…). This is your chance to make a spinning-boat-full of Danari, by setting up the best Steam Park in town!

DESIGN

Steam Park is a type of action selection game with simultaneous dice rolling and modular, small-scale city building elements. In just 60 minutes, you and up to three opponents will develop a 3D theme park fit for a robot king, flush with rides and attractions that will help you turn a profit. But be mindful because your rides and robotic patrons are a bit messy; the dirt they leave behind, if not managed, will stick you with a fine at the end of the day. The player who can manage these elements most efficiently, thus turning the greatest profit, will be hailed for their management skills and welcomed back the next year.

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On top of what can be considered one of the most unique themes to hit the market recently, Steam Park immerses you in this robotic world with top-shelf components—rich with color, personality and charm. Inside the box, players will find custom dice, 3-dimensional theme park rides and carnival stands, meeples, player boards, cards and thick money tiles. All of these pieces are designed and illustrated in a whimsical way, making this game a whole lot of fun to look at even before your start playing. Although I was originally taught this game, I have read through the rulebook and found it to be perfectly fine at explaining the premise of the game and the different actions in a way that mixes thematic fluff and concision. I also appreciated the “…for Dummies” option, that makes the game easier for newcomers and families; as well as, the “Boring Rules” sections, which allow you to read significantly less of the rulebook and learn while jumping into your first game.

GAMEPLAY

The Danari money tokens, dirt tokens, expansion tiles, amusement park rides, stands, and visitor meeples should all be placed out in reach of the players. One of each visitor color should be placed into the “visitor bag” and shaken-up. Each player receives one large ground tile, a pig board, six dice, and 3 bonus cards (draw six, choose three). Place the turn order cards, based on the number of players, in the middle of the table, set the turn tracker to “1” and prepare to open your park!

Player’s Turn

Gameplay in Steam Park is unique, as the different phases integrate simultaneous and turn-based play. A full game will consist of six turns, each broken up into four phases:

Roll Phase
IMG_2523During the Roll Phase, all players will simultaneously roll their 6 dice, as quickly as they can, in an attempt to roll the die face which corresponds to a desired action. When a die is rolled to the desired face, it can be “banked” on your player board and may no longer be re-rolled. Once all six dice are banked, you grab the highest available turn order card, indicating that you’ve completed the Roll Phase. Finishing sooner will grant you a benefit in the Dirt Phase, but it also means you have less chances to roll your desired actions. Once all but one player have banked their dice, the remaining player receives three final chances to roll their desired actions, else they’re stuck with what comes up.

Dirt Phase
As your park fills up and new rides are built, your park will become covered in litter and soot. During the Dirt Phase, players receive one dirt token for each visitor in their park and dirt symbol on their action dice. Though not immediately problematic, a fine will be assessed at the end of the game based on the number of dirt tokens you have (eating into your profit!). Also, the player order cards will either add additional dirt to your pile (if you were last), or automatically clean-up a few of those dirt piles (if you were first or second).

Actions Phase
The Actions Phase is where you make the big decisions about new attractions, new visitors and whether to mop up the oil slicks left all over your grounds. In turn order, as determined in the Roll Phase, each player will now utilize their action dice to perform different tasks around their park. Briefly, the options are:

  1. Build Rides: Spend wrench dice to build new rides of different sizes and colors.
  2. Build Stands: Spend stand dice to put new stands in your park, granting you special abilities.
  3. Attract Visitors: Spend visitor dice to add a chosen visitor to the “visitor bag” and draw one out. If the chosen visitor matches the color of one of your rides, he/she/it hops on board and won’t leave for the rest of the game!
  4. Clean Dirt: Spend broom dice to remove two dirt from you dirt pile.
  5. Play Bonus Cards: Spend shovel dice to play one bonus card from your hand and receive the Danari reward.
  6. Expand the Park: Spend any one die to add a 4×4 “park expansion” to your grounds.

Each of these actions can be done multiple times, provided you have rolled the corresponding die-face on multiple dice. Through these 6 action choices, you will work to grow your park, keep it clean, and attract new robots to your rides.

IMG_2555Income Phase
While making your park spectacular is well and good, we all know why we’re really getting into the amusement park business – all the sweet, sweet cardboard dollar bills. During the Income Phase, you’ll earn 3 Danari for each visitor you currently have in your park. You’ll also get new bonus cards if you used any during the Actions Phase; draw 2 cards and keep 1, repeating this process until you have a hand of 3 again. After 6 turns, the game ends! Each player first totals their remaining dirt and pays the corresponding fine back to the bank. Then, whichever player has made the most profit is the winner!

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Steam Park is a game, but it’s also a social commentary about exploiting an already exploited workforce of dirty, liberally spending, blue collar workers on their only day off all year. Okay, not so much (unless you read between the lines…). In reality, Steam Park is over-the-top silly. I actually feel “whimsical” to be an appropriate description for once, as the combination of unique theme and delightful art direction has created a game that bridges the gap between all sorts of gamers. It’s really quite hard not to like Steam Park. Each turn begins with you frantically rolling dice, much like Escape the Curse of the Temple; and seamlessly moves into a turn-based actions phase rife with mini city-building in real space, hand management, set collection, and special power management. All of this crammed into an approachable euro-style game about vacationing robots. Strange. Yet, impressive. Not to mention you can play the full game faster than you can find and purchase tickets to an actual carnival.

This quick play time is a gift and a curse, though. On one pneumatic-powered hand, it makes Steam Park super easy to get to the table. It fits a niche between filler games and heavier games. If there was a category for just “normal games,” where the difficulty and time commitment were just right, I’d put Steam Park at the top of the list. That being said, we here at The League don’t always want that. Steam Park is a nice length objectively. It sounds nice to hear “Want to play a game? It will only take an hour.” But 60 minutes from then, when you’re tallying your final dirt pile and counting your Danari, you may just cry out, “I just needed one more turn!” That’s the trick; the game is short enough to be easy to play and to force you to maximize your efforts. But, it often does feel just one or two turns too short. Rather than ending the game with a sprawling theme park of interesting sights and sounds, you and your competitors will look over at each others’ grounds to find a giant ride of one color and a few tents, or maybe a handful of tiny rides and an expansion or two. You’ll think to yourself, “did I really just lose to a guy who had 7 visitors all game?”

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That aside, there is still a lot to love about Steam Park. It’s not overly complex, but it has enough moving pieces to keep you engaged, even when other players are taking their actions. That time is when you plan out your moves and strategy, because you sure-as-heck don’t have time to think about it when you’re rolling your dice. This lack of complexity, though, is also mirrored by a lack of depth. The tent stands are where the most interesting choices arise, as their variable powers help you craft a strategy and give you options that other players may not have. Outside of these, there is less room to maneuver. All of the rides are the same, the only choice in color; which is primarily dictated by what you and your opponents have already chosen. Bonus cards are important, as is managing dirt, but each allow you to skim only a few extra bucks; these aren’t avenues to fully commit yourself to. Overall, Steam Park is an excellent “next step” game. It dabbles into a number of different game mechanics and does them all well, there just isn’t enough depth within any single option to warrant as many repeated plays as some other games. That being said, this is still an excellent choice for more casual gamers, families, and game groups who want to fit in more than one game in a night. The production quality is top-notch and the gameplay is sound, there’s just a little bit more that could be desired from our group’s perspective.

LEAGUE RULING

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Many of my thoughts can be seen above, but I will reiterate that Steam Park is an enjoyable “next-step” euro game. What it offers is implemented well and the somewhat shallow range of options actually makes it an excellent choice for families and casual groups. More strategic and competitive individuals will find less here, though it can still manage to be quite fun when taken at face value.

 

If your group still enjoys lighter games like King of Tokyo and Ticket to Ride, Steam Park is a perfect choice for aspiring Euro-gamers. If you’ve already tackled Civilization The Board Game and Terra Mystica, you may find that Steam Park scales things back a bit too much. Though playing with the 3D park rides is always fun…

LoNG_Stars_3_HalfSmee’s Two Pence

When the robots rise up one day in the far future, you’ll look back and wonder: ‘Why the $#%@ did I give them the day off?’ Steam Park is a fun game to look at, and does well with following the theme of building your own private little amusement park. Strategy in this game comes from the careful selection of the booths that are available, each one providing a concrete benefit, or tweaking the odds of getting just the right color robot to patronize your park. While I looked forward to physically building my park like a child with a handful of blocks, the placement rules were too limiting, not offering enough opportunity for design. While not a title that I’ll be reaching for with any regularity, it was quick and enjoyable, and gets a thumb up in the Light Games category.

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This game is beautiful to look at and the tactile components trigger a nostalgic feeling of building fictional fantasy worlds when you were younger.

 

While your initial strategic decision may be to build as many of the big beautiful rides as possible, I found that the tactical selection of the limited park stands is actually where you will win or lose this game. These stands add variety of abilities for players to use in order to mitigate die rolls (and even speed them up), clean up their park or increase the probability that you attract just the right clientele to your park. And I cannot stress this enough to new players…DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR DIRT! The end game effects of dirt on your chances of winning can be demoralizing if you don’t pay proper attention and clean up as necessary throughout the game.

 

It’s easy to pick up a heavy Euro that I know my friends will enjoy. The hardest thing for me is to find a game that has universal appeal but is not so boring that I dread playing it when its requested. When I initially played Steam Park, the first thought that came to my mind was “This will be a Spiel des Jahres nominee.” In hindsight, I was wrong but I still stand by my assessment. Overall, Steam Park is a great game to bridge this gap for more casual gamers. In less than an hour, it brings a number of popular “advanced” mechanics to the table in a very accessible way while still being able to bring the more hardcore gamers along for the ride.

 

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Matt H. (Buns)

CONTENT MANAGER/PODCAST HOST : Perpetual consumer of all things board, card and game. Lover of dice, card sleeves, and fancy meeples. Jack-of-all-games, Master of none.