RogerBW's Blog

Steampunk Rally 21 November 2016

Steampunk Rally, designed by Orin Bishop, is a game of racing bizarre inventions… or a card-drafting, engine-building game that uses a racetrack merely as a way of keeping score.

In front of each player is their machine layout, starting with just two components; during the game, they'll add and lose other parts. The layout can be reconfigured freely, but all parts have to be connected back to the cockpit, or they fall off.

There are two core mechanics: first is the card drafting. Each turn, each player (up to eight, though it's best with 3-5) draws one card from each of the four decks. They pick one, and pass the rest to the next player, so that each player ends up with four cards but only one first choice. Three out of those four decks contain machine parts, components such as Rocket Boosters, Boiler, or Arachnolegs, and have to be added to your machine immediately; the other has Boost cards, one-use abilities to help you or do down your opponents, which can be saved until you want to use them. Cards can instead be discarded to generate dice or cogs.

The second core mechanic is the use of those dice and cogs: most machine parts need to be fed dice of a particular colour in order to produce some useful effect (dice of a different colour, or cogs, or or movement along the racetrack). Typically, each three or four pips of dice placed on the card will do something useful… but those dice stay there, filling up the limited number of boxes on the card, until they are "vented" in a later turn. Cogs are spent to modify or re-roll dice, or for venting.

The machine will become damaged, both from its own operation and from hazards along the track; some cards allow it to be repaired. If you end up at the end of the turn having taken more damage than you fixed, you must discard a number of machine parts equal to the excess. If you have no parts left, your machine explodes, and you restart in last place with just your cockpit.

The actual race seems almost irrelevant at times: the core of the game is building your engine of cards to generate dice, convert dice into movement (in effect your score), and then get rid of them; balancing all three of these is essential. But the racetrack has hazards, choices (a faster but more damaging route or a slower but safer one), and ultimately determines the winner (the player who's got furthest across the finish line at the end of the turn after anyone has first crossed it).

One has to take what comes in the draft, and there's no way to make a plan in advance, but there are some tactics that are often useful: for example, rather than spending resources venting a part that's become full, you can allow it to be discarded due to damage and add something else instead.

16 inventors are supplied with the game, from the well-known (the Wright Brothers, Ada Lovelace, Alexander Graham Bell and the inevitable Nikola Tesla) to the more obscure (Sakichi Toyoda, Hertha Ayrton). The rulebook contains potted biographies. Their special powers don't have much to do with their historical interests, but this is only a minor flaw.

One more significant design flaw, at least for me: there are four different sorts of card, distinguished by their borders (light brown, dark brown, light grey and dark grey). They need to be sorted into separate decks before play begins, and become mixed together during play. However, all the card backs are the same, so the sorting has to be done face-up. There would be a little information given out by being able to tell which sort of component was still available in the drafting phase, but I'm inclined to feel that distinct backs would have worked better.

This isn't a game that comes out very often, because it's often tricky for new players to get their heads round; I need to work on a better script for introducing it. There is an explanatory video which may be helpful if people can be persuaded to watch it in advance.

I picked this up on a whim at Essen 2015. Roxley Games, the publisher, has mostly been working on other things in 2016, but an expansion is expected at some point next year.

[Buy Steampunk Rally at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

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