Review: Steampunk Rally

Game Name: Steampunk Rally Published Year: 2015
Game Publisher: Roxley Games Player Scale: 2 – 8
Game Designer: Orin Bishop Run Time: 45 – 60 mins

 

The greatest scientific minds have converged across time and space in a bid to discover who the best inventor of all time is; naturally, the only way to truly compare scientific achievement is to have them all build giant steampunk engines and race around the Alps.  How else would you compare the contributions of Marie Curie, Elijah J McCoy, and Nikola Tesla?

This is an engine-building, card-drafting race game; meaning you’ll draft one card from each of the four decks, pick one and pass the remainder on to the adjacent player.  You can then use Draft Deckthose cards to build your steampunk engine or discard them for power represented by the one-hundred-and-eight-dice in blue (Steam), red (Fire) or yellow (Electricity).  Alternatively, you can discard your cards for Cogs, which allow you to change the pips on a die, and give you the all-important re-rolls.  After Venting the previously built up pressure in your machine (lowering and hopefully removing engaged dice) by discarding Cogs, you race; which is where you’ll roll all of those dice you’ve just collected.

These dice are then used to engage parts of your machine, some components will require high rolls, some will allow multiple engagements if you apply multiple dice.  Now, obviously; the aim of your machine is to generally move forward, towards that distant chequered finishing line, but you’ll also want it to reinforce itself, to protect against that notoriously difficult Alpine terrain, and possibly generate more Power or Cogs.  If you don’t vent frequently enough you’ll soon discover that you have no open slots for all the dice you’ve just generated, and if you take too much damage, parts of your engine will fall off and you could even spectacularly explode!

In PlayDo not be fooled by this game’s cartoony exterior, this is not the light race game that it looks like, far from it in fact.  Although each of the mechanics, as a standalone tool are straight forward enough, the combination of them in the context of the race is not only a hot molten mess of mechanics, it’s counter-intuitive.  There is a faux-strategy to this game, it makes you think you are making worthwhile decisions; that you are presented with choices that need to be weighed, measured and carefully considered – which incidentally is what I think a game should do.  But you are not doing that at all, you pick the best of the hand you are given – and at the beginning that is only four cards, and not only are your choices limited, so too are the outcomes; power, cogs or parts.

This game wants you to build great big, hulking machine monstrosities to traverse the extremely treacherous terrain.  It wants you to have fun with rolling loads of dice, which in turn make you roll more dice, and turn the spinner and gain cogs etc.; which is great, but if you Big Machineare doing those things you’re not really moving very far, or very fast; which, for a race game is, well…counter-intuitive.  On the other hand, if you build a super lean, economic machine built for movement, you then face the trouble of building up your defence to overcome the terrain, so you stop moving; which, for a racing game is, well…counter-intuitive.  And then when you finally get to the finish line, when you have reached the end of the game, beaten off your opponents to cross the finish line first…everyone gets another go, and the actual winner is the person furthest past the finish line – literal moving goal-posts – which, for a racing game is, well…counter-intuitive.

With a racing game one would expect a huge amount of player interaction; jockeying for positions, overtaking, shortcuts, and with a cartoon steampunk finish, you’d expect to see silly weapons, bombs, claws, trip-wires, rudimental electrical attacks and lasers etc.  Of course you would, it’s a game about a race, between you and your friends/rivals; in fact, if you thought Mario Kart the board game, but with steampunk inventors instead of Italian plumbers, you and I would have had the same thought.  And we would both be wrong.  Very wrong.  For Small Machineplayer interaction in this game, you will pass cards to one player, and another will pass you their cards to you.  That’s it.  You’ll roll your dice, they will roll theirs.  They move their standee and you’ll move yours.  Out of politeness, you may well declare what you are doing, but it won’t really affect them in any way at all really.  There are of course some weapons in the Boost deck, but they are few, far between, very limited and, basically you need dice and cogs more than you need a weapon that doesn’t do much.

The artwork in this game is really quite lovely; provided by Lina Cossette and David Forest.  Wonderful caricatures of some of the world’s most famous and recognisable scientific minds, all with a steampunk glaze –Marie Curie has a bionic arm for example.  Each of the component cards has been crafted with great attention to detail and captures the theme and tone of this game brilliantly.  The standees could have been replaced by plastic models to match the colours and machine of the cockpit cards, but that would have been less amazing art on the board and driven the price up.

One thing I really like about this game, and it is something Orin Bishop and the Roxley team should be praised and lauded for is their efforts in creating a rich and diverse player-scape.  It would have been all-too-easy to focus on white, European, male inventors/scientists but there is a large and diverse selection to choose from in this game.  If you want to play this game to have fun and build a giant machine that creates and spends power almost perpetually; you probably won’t win.  And if you play this game to win and get the furthest past the finish line, you probably won’t have had much fun.

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