Some things just go well together: peanut butter & jelly, Sifl & Olly, milk & cookies, board games & friends. The latter is probably my favorite combination, so when a board game mixes two great things together, like steam punk & time travel, I’m sold. Steam Time does just that.
The theme/setting of Steam Time is this: In the current year of 1899, a fantastic discovery of unusual crystals, with spacetime bending properties, has sparked the invention of time travel machines in the form of steam-powered airships. You are the captain of one such airship, and you have been tasked to explore the numerous temporal rifts that are being reported. Ultimately, you want to gain the most glory by managing your resources (steam, crystals, money, and time) better than your competitors.
Before jumping into your first time travel adventure, you’ll need to set up the game board. The game board is actually really cool and comes in three pieces that fit together to form an upside down “L”. Game cards, upgrade tiles, crystals, and the score track are all on the game board. In the space created by the “L”, you’ll build the time stream, which contains the available actions for each given time period. Not all actions are available in each time period, and the same action will often yield different results in a different time period. For example, the Mission cards will always be different in each different time period. You’ll also need to set up your own personal airship board. With your personal airship board, you’ll keep track of your steam, money, various crystal types, and any upgrades you purchase.
The rulebook for Steam Time is very well done. In each section, a member of your crew addresses you with a game tip or special rules that need to be pointed out. For example, your Engineer informs you that running generators at full capacity will cost money. This really adds personality and flavor to the rulebook. There are plenty of examples and illustrations as well.
The game is played over five rounds, with each round consisting for an Income Phase, Action Phase, and Supply Phase. The Income Phase is actually skipped the very first round because no one will have upgrades during their first turn. However, for every other round, during the Income Phase, if a player has purchased an upgrade they will receive a bonus from the supply as indicated by their upgrade.
Next is the Action Phase, which allows players to do one of two things: either take the first player tile or place 1 airship from their hanger and perform the corresponding action. The first player tile can only be taken once per round. In addition to securing the first player spot for the next round, when you take the first player tile you may also either convert 1 Steam into 1 Victory Point (up to 10 times) or convert 1 Steam into 1 Crystal.
If you aren’t taking the first player tile, or if it has already been acquired this round, you’ll focus on placing your airships. Available actions are: obtain a new Mission card, select an Encounter card, gain crystals, buy an upgrade, acquire money, and go on an expedition. Not all of these actions will be available in every time period. Some action spaces will offer additional rewards when taking that action, such as gaining extra Steam, Victory Points, or advancement of the Control Disc. These are nice extras so get them where you can. If you have the correct crystals in your generators that correspond to your selected action, you’ll also receive a bonus. Bonuses often scale and increase based on the number of crystals in your generators.
As in traditional worker placement games, each round the available actions are only available to the first player to select it. The neat twist that Steam Time adds is that the boards that make up the time stream shift at the end of every round. And, you can never move backwards in time, only forward. This is a big rule you’ll have to plan around. The shifting board and the direction of time combined with resource management really make this game interesting. There is certainly a lot that needs to be taken into account in order to properly formulate a winning strategy.
The Supply Phase is essentially just clearing the board and getting it ready for the next round to begin. You’ll remove everything from the board and then replace it accordingly based on the new cards/tiles that were revealed. The Missions, Upgrades, and Expeditions are all randomized during setup so each game will be slightly different.
At the end of the 5th round the game concludes and everyone will now check to see if they can complete any missions, and if so, gain the appropriate amount of victory point for doing so. Whoever has the most victory points wins.
Included with the game are two variant modules. One is called Sabotage, which allows players to “sabotage” an action space. Doing so forces anyone that uses the action to pay an extra crystal. The other module is called Specialists. The Specialists module adds an extra dynamic to the game in which the players employ various “specialists” that can break the normal rules of the game and/or award bonuses. These two modules really extend the replayability of the Steam Time.
Top notch. That’s really the only way to describe the components in Steam Time. There are plenty of cardboard coins, tiles, and boards. There are also wooden airships and control discs, not to mention lots of cards, plastic crystals (in assorted colors), and a fabric bag. Steam Time also comes with enough plastic baggies to nicely divide everything for easier setup and storage. The game has a slightly large footprint but it looks great on your table. Another neat thing about Steam Time: each of the Encounters feature an actual historical figure, such as Alfred Nobel, Marco Polo, or Isaac Newton. Similarly, the Expedition cards feature locations, although some mythological, such as the Library of Alexandria, the Eiffel Tower, Atlantis, and Eldorado.
Steam Time is certainly worth playing. It quickly moved to the top of my “Games I Want To Get To The Table Again” list. While I wouldn’t consider Steam Time a “brain burner”, there is definitely a lot of information to take in, which is one of the reasons I really like it. If you are a fan of worker placement games just go ahead and purchase Steam Time as you’ll undoubtedly really enjoy it. The rules are easy to teach, but the depth of strategy and the numerous ways to gain resources and build your victory point engine will challenge seasoned gamers.