Shuffle Reviews: Steampunk Rally

Many games are all about building an engine. Steampunk Rally is about building a car. And then driving it around a racetrack. And then watching it being torn into chunks by bumps in the road, hopefully without blowing up.

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Choose your inventor, and let the fun begin.
At its heart, Steampunk Rally is a card drafting, dice placement game. At the start of each round, players are dealt one card from each of four decks. One of those cards is added to your car, according to a number of quite basic rules (all parts have to be connected to the engine (though not necessarily directly), and then the remaining cards are passed on to the next player. Alternatively, you can discard a card to trade for dice or cogs. Dice are used to fuel your car, and cogs are used to vent it (I’ll explain that later).
Once each player has added (or discarded) four cards, they then place dice onto their car – this is how the car is fuelled. Each card in the car has a number of spots in which to place dice. The spots are of a certain colour (and the colour of dice placed in the spot must match), according to the type of energy required – heat, steam or electricity. Placing the required number of dice will have a range of possible effects – but the most important one is to propel your car around the track. Others may shield your car from damage, and some even provide more dice for you to fuel your car.
The spots on which dice are placed can have a number of pips on them. This acts as a base power requirement for that card, i.e. the total minimum number of pips which must be placed there to activate that card. But multiples of that number cam also be placed, to allow that card to be powered more than once. For instance, if a spot has two pips on it, but it is powered with a die showing a six, it can be activated three times.

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So some of the cards/components are used to power the car around the track. But spaced around the track are some uneven stretches of road. Moving through a space on the track which is marked with a “terrain” icon will cause damage to your car (recorded throughout your turn on a damage dial). The damage is counted up at the end of the round, but this can be mitigated with the “shield” effect on some of the cards. Any unmitigated damage at the end of the round is applied to your car – each damage point causes the removal of one car part. This may not be a bad thing.
This is probably a good point to mention that once dice have been used to power parts of your car they are not removed. Instead, they just block up the pipes. So it may not be a bad thing if that particular car part is destroyed…
But what if it isn’t? What if your car is more resilient, and you don’t take damage? Do you have to drive around a car which has lots of blocked exhausts?
Well… no. Do you remember the cogs I mentioned earlier, which can be used to vent your car? This is where they come in. At the start of the round, after building your car, but before placing your dice, you can discard cogs to vent your machine. This allows you to remove pips from your dice, until you are able to remove dice. In this way, the spots the dice occupy can become free once again. It can take a lot of cogs to do this, however.
The skill in this game comes from deciding whether the car part you have just exhausted is worth keeping, in which case do you want to prevent damage, so you can vent it… assuming you will be able to get the right colour of dice to power it again. For what fells like quite a trivial game in play, there is a lot of planning involved.
There are a number of other elements of the game which increase its replayability. The track is modular, so it can be different every time. In fact, the modular tiles are different on each side, representing two different track, one which is littered with jumps, to add to the tension. Also, at the beginning of the game, the starting engines are all different, each with a different special ability which can be used once per round. These provide outcomes which are similar to the dice spots, but they are a guaranteed action every round, meaning you are never completely stuck.

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All in all, the game is a bit wacky races (but with Victorian inventors, instead of the Ant Hill Mob). For some, trying to construct the largest, most complicated car can be the way to win the game (and I have seen some ridiculously huge cars). For me, it’s about avoiding that temptation, instead keeping it lean, running the risk of near complete destruction every round.
Steampunk Rally is a fairly light game. It requires a bit of planning ahead for the round, but this it isn’t a brain burner. The amount of thought you need to apply is never really beyond your next turn, so it is a game which can be played by younger members of the family – I introduced this to my eleven year old son fairly effortlessly – and he usually puts up a good fight. There is also the potential for a bit of a history lesson, as well – each of the inventors are genuine Victorian Scientists, and the rule book includes a paragraph of biography on each one, some of whom you may never have heard of. But history schmistory… Who wants that, when you can blow cars up?
I have read comments from people that the reason they aren’t so keen on this game is that you build something only to watch it be destroyed. But that’s the thing – that’s why this is fun. You don’t need a completely intact car crossing the finish line….as long as your engine makes it across, that’s it!… well, that’s it as long as what’s left isn’t ripped apart by the bumps in the road on the other side…

Louis Noble is a regular contributor for Shuffle and Play – Check our ‘Contributors page to see his bio!

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