|Components & Design
“Mommy *whirr*! Mommy *whirr*! Can… I… *click* ride… the… Kraken… ride *whirr* *click*?”
“Yes *click*. But only… *whirr*… twenty times *sproing*. You… have an *click* … oil change… today *whirr* *sproing*.”This should be something none of you have done before: build a fair for robots. Not a trade fair where you look at new robot models but a fun fair with rides and booths for robots. No cotton candy, though. It jams the gears something awful. A fun fair for a robots sounds like a pretty odd thing to build, but are you going to tell the mechanical citizens of Roboburg that they can not have their six days of fun in a full year of work? Because I’m not. First, they are all very strong robots, and second, they have money. And for robots that have money, I’ll be happy to build a fun fair.
Me and, apparently, everyone else. The other players build their own parks to take your robo-customers away, and being faster than them goes a long way to victory. Not “faster to get your economic engine running” like many other boardgames would have it, but literally, physically quicker in rolling dice. That’s the first part of each of the six rounds: all players roll their dice as quick as they can, place dice they want to keep on the aporkable mechanical piggy bank board and re-roll the rest, until they are either satisfied or panicking that the other players might be faster. You’re really going to wish for a dice rolling robot after a while. But he’s at the fair having fun, so here you are, doing all your own rolling.
Finishing early in the roll phase rewards you with going early in the action phase as well, but it also grants you some extra park cleaning. Dirt is the curse of every fair, and Roboburg has especially steep fines for fairs that leave behind piles of coal dust and puddles of oil. Not cleaning up properly can quickly eat your profits. The extra cleaning from going early is a welcome help there. On the other hand, finishing last with your dice rewards you with some extra dirt you must get rid of.
The second phase is more sedate. In the same order that they finished rolling, players use the actions on their dice. The most important action is to build a ride on your fair. Rides come in six colors – with different illustrations by the great Marie Cardouat, of Dixit illustration fame – and from one to three squares in size. The bigger the ride you want, the more Build Ride results you need. But no fair only has rides, there’s always stands as well. Building those is another action, and although stands don’t attract visitors you will still want some because each stand gives you a very nice bonus. Some upgrade your dice results, letting you use one type of action as if you had rolled one more of the relevant symbols, others bent other rules in your favor. They are all great to have, but you’ll rarely manage to have all five of them. Unfortunately, you have very little space for rides and stands because only rides of the same color and stands of the same type may touch, between everything else there has to be one square of space. Even diagonally. That doesn’t leave a lot of space on the 4×4 fair ground you start with. But you can use any die result to bribe a city official and expand your grounds with a teeny weeny 2×2 expansion board. Aren’t they generous.
Once you have some rides in your park, you can start attracting visitors. To do that, you place one robople – there are robot meeples in this game! – into a bag for each Attract Visitor you rolled, and then draw the same number from the bag. That wouldn’t make much sense if there weren’t six robople of different colors in the bag to start with, so right from the start you have no guarantee that you’ll get what you want from the bag. Drawing the wrong color is bad for you because robots can only sit on a ride that matches their color. Apparently, robo-butt Model 43XD (The Pink One) is incompatible with all seats except the ones made to fit. It’s almost as bad as audio cables. Robots placed on a ride will stay there until the end of the game – they work in the same spot in the factory for 359 days a year, of course they can ride the same ride for six days straight – and give you income every round. They also produce dirt every round, which is much less fortunate, but with six days sitting in the same spot, some oil leakage is to be expected.
To get rid of the dirt, you either have to finish your round early enough, or you have to spend some Clean Dirt actions – probably both, because that stuff really piles up. The final action lets you play one of your three bonus cards for extra money. All bonus cards list requirements to earn that money: have a certain color of visitors on your fair, or a certain color of spots, roll one type of action – for all Bonus Cards, the more of the required thing you have the more money you receive, up to a respectable 13 Denari. Playing your bonus cards right can create a lot of income for you, and that’s all that counts after the six days are over.
To be honest right of the bat here: the first time I played Steam Park, I was expecting something rather different. Without any reason I can remember, what I expected was an economic game to build a theme park, sort of a boardgame Rollercoaster Tycoon with a steampunk theme and Marie Cardouat’s illustrations. That’s not what Steam Park is, and once I got over my initial disappointment – which lasted about two minutes – I had a lot of fun with the game that it actually is: a not too heavy game that doesn’t have a trace of economy but does have an enjoyably hectic rolling phase and a great balance between luck and tactical considerations. It’s not big on interacting with other players, but you do compete for some pretty scarce resources with the rides and stands.
If there is one thing that still disappoints me about Steam Park, it’s the dirt. I really like the idea of it, how fairs with more visitors produce more dirt and you have to work to get rid of it. I just wish it was more punishing. Getting rid of your dirt is a nuisance because it takes dice you would rather use for something else, but at no point during any of ours games did it threaten to pile up enough to eat my points. Especially after you build Toilets, cleaning up is just an annoying chore, nothing else. I would prefer that cleaning your park was harder, but as it is the balance is great for a family game, and the overall weight of the game makes it clear that that is the intended audience. Keeping that in mind, Steam Park is a great way to pass the time, not all games have to make your head smoke. And looking good certainly doesn’t hurt, either.