Monday, 11 April 2016

Board Report: Steamworks / Bausack

It's actually been two weeks of gaming club meetings since our last Board Report, which means that I have two weeks worth of games to share with you all. I'd been considering saving one until next week, but I have a feeling that might get out of hand, so instead you get a double-whammy of reviews from me today and I'll just have to play something new some time this week. So sad.

Steam Works

I always get a little bit worried when I'm asked to play a Kickstarted game, because I find that fidelity to a theme can often get in the way of good mechanics and turn what could be an otherwise fine board game into some kind of role-play opportunity, sacrificing the actual-play somewhere along the route. Steampunk, being what all the cool kids are into these days, always seems particularly susceptible to this.

Thankfully, this one doesn't seem to suffer from that at all. Each player is a unique engineer with different starting cards, but apart from that little bit of colour and the delightfully Vancian names given to many of the machine components, the whole thing feels very elegant. Each player has four possible basic actions each turn, as well as the ability to use any machines that have been constructed out of the various power sources and mechanisms in the game.

It's far too complex to explain the mechanics here, and I'm sure there's people on the internet that have done a much better job in video form, but there are three things that really 'pop' for me about this game.

Firstly, it's a worker placement game that requires you to spend money in order to place workers, so economic management is an absolutely key part of the game. Unless they've got some kind of minting machine working away, every player is going to have to take sub-optimal options every now and then due to limited finances. In this sort of game, often the money just flows for some players while others have a hard time of it, whereas Steam Works' system of 'pay to play or earn for not playing' seems to level the playing field and make the whole thing considerably more tactical. The other cool thing about the workers is that everyone gets more as the game winds on, there's no race to get your workers to the village to get busy making more workers like you see in so many worker placement titles, a mechanic that I generally dislike as it's just so different from all the other things workers can do and so dramatically changes the game for single players. In Steam Works, everyone is on the same level.

Secondly, most of the mechanisms do different things depending how they're powered, so players have to really plan ahead to decide if an entry-level clockwork power source should be used for early-game advantage, or a more exotic steam or electrical source should be plugged in to provide a greater late-game bonus instead. This mechanic (ha!) works really well to add variety to the game, as it virtually ensures that though they're built out of similar parts, no two machines are likely to be the same.

Finally, core of in Steam Works is that players can use both the machines that they have built or rent them from the other players for victory points (earned by the other player, but not actually PAID by you!). This is a sweet little concept that provides the interaction between players in the worker-placement race aspect of the game, but it also means that as more and more machines enter the game, the number of possible options for players each turn grows dramatically. In a 5-player game, it's just overwhelming, we'd just got over new-play anxiety to be hit by decision paralysis caused by the sheer number of options. I eventually decided just to just play my own game and set a task for each turn and see how to best complete that task rather than trying to consider all the possible options for myself and all the other players, but I know that I missed some critical things in the closing stages that would have made the difference between winning and my eventual second place. In future, I'd want to play this with no more than 3-players, or if I have to play a bigger game, I'd limit your options to just using the machines of your neighbours just to keep the playing-time down a little and stop my head from exploding from all the different possibilities.

I would play it again, though, with the caveats above. It was a fun little experiment and after playing it once I think I just about have an idea of how to go about playing. Good times.


I've wanted to get my grubby little claws into Bausack since I first saw it on BGG, as it looks like exactly the kind of game that every kid who grew up building exotic Lego creations can't help but like. To be precise, I still haven't played Bausack, but it was re-released recently as 'Bandu' and is surprisingly affordable for a game with so many of unique pieces. Copies of the original go for far too many pounds for mere humans to pay these days.

I've heard some talk that this version isn't as nice as the original, but if that's the case, the original must be something incredible, because the pieces of this version are beautiful. The weight in your hand, the variety... I'm not the kind of guy that buys into needing to have top-quality parts most of the time, but these are something else.

Anyway, the game, the game. Players select pieces of wood from the bank and then run an auction where each successive player must pay either to use or to avoid the piece selected, based on the choice of the player who started the auction. Whoever ends up with the piece must add it to their structure, and if their building tumbles it's curtains. It looks like a manual dexterity game like Jenga, and of course it is, but at its heart it's a gambit game, pay big money to get the good bits early and run the risk of being lumped with nasty ones later on, or take inferior pieces early and hope to use your economic advantage to keep yourself in the game.

In my first attempt, I was far too economically conservative, refusing to pay anything at all early and ending up with a tiny but precarious castle that toppled mere minutes into the game and left me looking sheepish at my untouched pile of useless money as my empire lay in ruins in front of me. The second attempt was a little better, even though I ran out of money too quickly having gone a long way the other way. Maybe there's a middle course that would have allowed me to win something...

And yes, for once I have an actual game-play picture, taken by one of the other members of the club just moments before I upset the whole thing by giggling too hard at the absurdity of my creation and knocking the table with my elbow. It wasn't quite the kind of creation featured on the box, but the implosion was beautiful. Someone has to lose, I do think one should try to go out with a bang...

As to the game itself, it seemed that my position on the table was really important, as my substandard play in both games caused my clock-wise neighbour to be able to win without too much risk at all. It's hard to tell if that's a flaw in the game, if I'm just terrible or if he's just a master of Bausack strategy, but I'm going to be happy to play a few more games to find out.

Ongoing Gaming Goals

There's been a small but vocal sub-set of the readership who thinks that I have too many gaming goals and not enough real-life ones. To them I say "Pah!".

Try to get a Diplomacy board running
Getting a Dip game up and running is looking less and less likely this year, but I'm not ready to give up hope just yet. The current plan is to run a game over two successive weeks of Nerd Club and see if we can't get it working that way. If not, there's still the possibility of getting a college game up.

Get all Train Valley Achievements
I'v tried a couple of times, but I just can't wangle that last elusive achievement. Train Valley probably isn't over for me just yet, though, even as I give up hope of ticking of the 100% completion, as there's new DLC and new challenges released in the last few days.

Play Pony Island
The Pony thing happened, and I was very glad that it did. I made a Let's Play video somewhere down the track for those of you that like that sort of thing (part one is up now), but for those of you that don't have a spare three hours, let's just say that it was a true laugh-out-loud joy; which isn't something that I get to say about a video-game often. I have now uninstalled the game...for reasons, but I'll look back on it with fondness and look forward to seeing what Daniel Mullins Games produces next.

Regain Nova I rank in CounterStrike (again)
Yes, I've slipped back into the Silver ranks once more after a few bad days in a row. Time to put a little time into getting back to respectability.