Gentlemen, Start Your Turbines | Steampunk Rally Review
Racing is the most directly competitive type of competition humanity has ever devised. A group of competitors, doing the same thing at the same time, with the winner decided by whoever it is that finished first. Whether it's a footrace or the Indie 500, the Kentucky Derby or Mario Kart, racing activates something at our core that makes us want to be better than our opponents. That exact feeling is what Roxley Game Laboratory had in mind with Steampunk Rally.
The Scientific Method Behind the Scientific Madness
Steampunk Rally, a game designed by Orin Bishop, is first and foremost a racing game. Competitors start in the same space, and they want to be the first one to make it to the last space. The players, who play as scientists from the turn of the 20th century, use each turn as an opportunity to build their racing vehicles into miraculous steampunk contraptions that would boggle the mind of even the great Mr. Reuben Goldberg himself. This sort of one-upmanship is where the real genius of the game shines through.
Front and center in Steampunk Rally is Nikola Tesla. The irony here is impossible to escape. Most players will probably be more familiar with a more modern meaning of the word Tesla that would also fit into a racing game. But Tesla's invention of AC, as well as the induction motor have become infamous in recent years. Almost as shameful as the fact that Tesla's legacy is virtually nonexistent because he was on the losing end of a rivalry with Edison. All this makes Tesla the perfect avatar for the game. History may have overlooked him, but he will prove he is the better inventor on the raceway.
So the steampunk inventor affectation is much more than just a gimmick to give the game a theme. The aesthetic adds to the gameplay. To get to the end first, you'll need to win the race. To win the race, you'll need the fastest invention. And to have the quickest machine you'll need to be the best scientist. Everything in the game boils down to the core need to be considered "the best."
Steampunk Rally's Gameplay
Each turn in Steampunk Rally is divided up into four phases: the draft phase, the vent phase, the race phase, and the damage phase. In the draft phase, each player draws four cards- one of each type in the game. Then the strategy kicks in. Each player will keep one card, passing the remaining cards onto a player to their right or left depending on the turn. Then the process repeats itself. Every time players need to find what will be the best for their invention. But they also need to make sure they don't accidentally give their competitors a leg up.
On top of that, cards serve two functions in the game. Players can attach parts to their machine. But they can also break the pieces down into raw materials like dice and cogs. Those can also be very helpful in the race. So while most race games focus on a brute force approach, Steampunk Rally requires the finesse, dexterity, and attention to detail that one usually only needs for plate spinning and cat burglary.
In the race phase, dice are used to power your machine. Red, yellow, and blue dice, each standing in for fire, electricity, and steam respectively, fit into different slots on the cards. Based on the roll, a player gets a certain number of actions in the race phase. They can build up shields to protect them from damage, generate more dice to take more actions, or, of course, move down the raceway. In the vent phase, players can use cogs to get rid of bad rolls. And in the damage phase, unshielded vehicles will see their parts drop off.
Playing Steampunk Rally
All in all, Steampunk Rally is a bit of organized pandemonium. Fortunately, the game doesn't shy away from that. The chaos might be one of the best parts of the game. It adds to the feeling of being a fervent scientist, zipping down a raceway to prove your discoveries are the most important.
There is a bit of a learning curve to the game, but nothing insurmountable. The "this-or-that" nature of the draft phase probably takes the most explaining out of everything. But the process is pretty rhythmic, and after a few practice turns, it is easy enough to understand.
The artwork on the game is also beautiful. The double-sided map tiles, the inventors on the character pieces, and the invention cards are all lovely. The steampunk motif isn't usually my thing, but I remain completely enamored of the artist flourishes that make each inventor unique.
Consider Ada Lovelace, a woman who lived from 1815 to 1852 and who proposed the idea of an automatic computing machine. Now imagine her rendered as a robot in a boardgame. I laughed out loud. Every detail is well thought out, and that helps to complete the world the game has built for the players.
Steampunk Rally is a beautiful and exciting game. Building up the machines and pushing them to their limits is almost as much fun as watching them fall to pieces. On top of that, the playthrough is quick, maybe 45 minutes per round. That means that any group of players could try out a couple different characters or raceways in a single sitting. It does require a little bit of explanation up top, but there's no reason Steampunk Rally couldn't be a perfect fit for your whole family as well as your gaming group.
Steampunk Rally started life as a Kickstarter project. But it's available now on Roxley's website. And, it will be popping up in Barnes & Nobel stores very soon. So, one way or another, secure yourself a copy soon.