2-6 Players (with Expansions)
“Thank goodness it isn’t raining” he thought, as he made his way back to the lab, his arms laden with the final piece he needed for his creation. The metal glinted in the moonlight as he brought the strange canister through the door to the place that would now reside, for all of time. He pulled out an oddly shaped jar full of a strange fluid and began his work. Soon, all of time would be his! Never again would they call him “Mad”!
Steampunked Time Machine is a tabletop card game, recently released via a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Players take on the role of Mad Scientists hoping to build the first ever time machine in a Steampunk Victorian age.
First, I should probably explain what this “Steampunk” thing is. Steampunk is a literary and artistic movement that has gained prevalence in the last decade or so. It basically erases the late Victorian era and rewrites it as if Jules Verne’s works were fact. Think of the “Wild Wild West” movie starring Will Smith or “Van Helsing” staring Hugh Jackman – lots of gear-driven, steam-powered machinery and goggles!
The game has all of those elements in spades: strange mechanical devices, body parts augmented by steam-era technology, and more brass goggles and sepia tones than you can fit in your great-grandmother’s hope chest. So, if you are looking for a game that has the art and the feel of steampunk, this is it.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for it to be a really great game, this game likely isn’t for you. What STM has in expandability, look, and dedication to its genre, it lacks in its rules and game balance.
First, the rules are printed on the paperboard box provided with the game (I’d assume the retail version would have a better package) and don’t even explain the most basic concepts of the game. In order to figure out how to play “parts” – a significant portion of gameplay – we had to venture to their Kickstarter page. The rules themselves need major clarification and overhaul to be understandable to a general retail audience at all.
To play the game, players choose a Mad Scientist from a pool of varying size (this changes depending on expansions and booster packs). We assumed this was a random choice, since their powers vary so significantly; however the rules hold no clarification. Once the character is selected, each player is dealt 7 cards.
The rules don’t state who goes first, so we chose whoever’s character name was first in alphabetical order. The game is played in phases.
First, the Quackery phase. Here you turn over any used Quackery cards (we assumed this meant our flipped characters as well, but again, we aren’t sure), and can play 1 Quackery card, which generates the energy you need to play when flipped. Magic: the Gathering players might find this to be a familiar mechanic.
Next, we enter the main phase, where energy is used to play cards to build our time machine or to help ourselves/hinder our opponents. Note: There are some cards that can be cast…. errr… played… at any time & it is noted in the text. There are some very interesting cards that steal parts or Quackery or allow some diving in the discard pile, but there are quite a few cards that will more than likely just rot in your hand.
Luckily, there is a mechanic that allows you to spend energy to discard or draw cards. This is definitely a nice fix to the stale hand issue that erupts from a random deck game that is so similar to Magic: the Gathering.
Once you’ve completed the main phase, you enter the End Phase where you draw up to 7 cards (unless you have cards that change that), and pass your turn. In the expansions, there are cards called “Allies” and “Villains” and “Inventors” which must be played immediately when drawn.
Allies give everyone a boost, Villains cause global negative effects, and Inventors give alternate win conditions. Assuming (again) that since this happened as part of the End Phase, we finished drawing to the requisite 7 cards whenever this occurred. This is definitely an interesting mechanic allowing for some environmental change to spice up the game.
Turns keep progressing in that order until someone gets all 9 pieces of the time machine.Note: The list of 9 pieces is not in the rules, nor is the count, it is located on the back of the Mad Scientist cards.
Unfortunately, this game is poorly tested and leaves much to be desired. It is definitely family playable, but does involve a decently high reading level. I would recommend it as a precursor to Magic: the Gathering for those children who might be overwhelmed by the breadth of available cards and more sophisticated game play, though you are probably better off with a M:tG starter deck and some patience!
If the game had more consistent levels of Characters and if there wasn’t SO much guessing and research required to play, it might have a chance to be one of the only lights in the steampunk card-genre. Unfortunately, there is a lot of revision and fine-tuning needed before this game can really stand the test of time.