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Our Favourites: Planet Steam

(This game is part of BoardGameGuru's exciting import range and provides a challenging economic management game)

The Gurus have played this with 3,4 & 5 players and it is equally good with all three groups.

====What it is & what it is not====

On first glance the production seems to point towards an adventure game set in a sci-fi universe, perhaps with variable player powers and exploration.

It is absolutely not that game - you'll want Android perhaps.

What Planet Steam is, is an economy and efficiency game more akin to games like Power Grid or Age of Steam.

In every turn you will experience two auctions, a detailed supply and demand system and agonising decisions over production levels.

You wont be blowing stuff up or exposing conspiracies here.

As usual, the player with the most points wins, but as is the case in many games, points here are synonymous with money - meaning every purchase doesn't just affect cash flow - it affects your score!

======Features Of The Board=====

The board features dynamic tables for prices of goods and their intrinsically linked supply level on the left - as supply changes, depending on its level the price may alter as well. Crucially this supply is not restocked between turns and will only increase if players are willing to sell to the market. Players usually will do this once the price goes up to a significant level.

On the far right is tank supply. All production in planet steam relies on tanks.

To place a tank and produce anything, players will need available "platforms" in their colour. These will be played in the large grid in the middle of the board (players start with two each). Some spaces are prefilled with "neutral" platforms that block them to the players.

The rest of the board is made up of spaces for the supplies of production bits and goods as well as certain information (chiefly regarding tank costs when none are available in regular supply)

The goods available in the game are Quartz, Ore, Water and Energy. To produce anything other than water, a tank must be upgraded using one of the pieces that slot into its side, designating it as an Energy Tank, Quartz Tank or Ore Tank.

======A Turn=====

(any omissions here - especially costs - are for brevity's sake not necessarily because I've misunderstood the rules!)

In reasonable detail, every turn goes as follows;

First Auction: Players bid for the first choice of "specialist", which will determine turn order and special powers. If available, the winners of each round of auctioning will also get a bonus good.

Second Auction is for a bonus platform, its eventual location decided by the player who picked the Venturer specialist card, crucially shown prior to auctioning.

Next, all players choose where they want to build their own cover for this turn. They nominate a location and roll the dice, on a 4-6 they can place the cover in the nominated spot, on a 1-3 they must place it on another empty space in either of the same column or rows. (See concerns, below)

You can see from this that one player (who won the second auction) will have placed two platforms this turn instead of one.

You want your platforms to be adjacent if possible, and ideally one in the central row (where a water producing tank will work without needing energy)

Next you enter the building section, where in turn order (as determined by your specialist card) you buy tanks, upgrades for those tanks and extremely valuable compressor domes (that increase a tank's production and are the most valuable in terms of end points). In this phase you must always spend one water in order to do anything at all.

You may choose to move your tanks and their upgrades around as much as you like without cost. If two or more tanks producing the same thing are adjacent you achieve "synergy" and your production increases as a result.

You can then buy upgrades for your "carriers", which represent your maximum holding of any of the four major goods, with every upgrade you can hold onto more of the goods at a time, if you're willing to pay the cost.

Once all this building has done, the players produce at their tanks. Each tank costs by default one energy to use (barring energy tanks) and produces one unit of its relevant resource.

The exceptions are the energy tanks (which produce one unit of energy without cost) and plain ol' water tanks, so long as they are in the central column they need not use energy.

Tanks with "synergy" will produce extra goods depending on how many there are - extra production is equal to number of tanks minus one.

e.g. If you have two energy tanks next to each other, they will produce one unit of energy each as normal, and one extra for synergy (2-1) so three in total.

You also get an extra produced good in each powered tank in the column above the energy coupler, a special piece placed by the player who chose the "Fireman" specialist card in the first auction.

Once all goods are produced, the marketplace comes into play.

In order, the players choose whether to buy or sell first Quartz, then Ore, then Water and finally energy, bearing in mind that the prices will change after each players decision depending on the level of supply. This means the last player may see no goods available in the market or an deflated price when they want to sell.

The balance of where you want to be in the turn order for optimum sales and purchases is utterly crucial - mess this up and nothing will go right for the whole game.

Next the players have the option to spend some of their goods on "licenses", one of which is worth $50 at game end, and the other allows them to avoid having to roll the dice when placing platforms and also to place a platform where a neutral platform is currently placed.

After this, the players turns are over and a global "update" phase occurs, where new tanks are made available if possible, and things are rest for the next turn.

New tanks will only be produced if there is at least one of both energy and ore available and the number produced is equal to the lowest supply of either (i.e. it costs one energy and one ore to make a tank). The goods for making these come from supply, so the entire remaining supply of ore or energy will be used up at the end of every turn.

If there is none of either available, no tanks are produced at all, meaning the price of the missing good jumps up.

Once this production is determined, specialist cards are returned to the pool and the next turn begins.

======Game End======

Once all turns are done, players count up their points not yet converted to money (I won't go into too much detail) and I would recommend turning these into cash to enable easier counting.

The player with the most money wins.

======Is it any good?======

I think so, yes.

It is not a game I will ever be wonderful at, despite winning my first game I have since been very quickly out of the running in the later ones.

I do think anyone who likes Power Grid will get a lot from it - if you think of the tank placement as a far more integrated version of the placement of towns in that they directly affect your future turns in much more detail, and they are directly worth points when created or upgraded.

I also like, as in Age Of Steam, that points=money=points, where every decision to purchase you make costs you points as well as money.

My one huge concern with the game is its reliance on the dice for placement of covers - there is nothing to prevent you rolling the "wrong result" every single time you try and place your tile which would undoubtedly ruin your chances.

Without wanting to overstate how this one aspect can affect you, by unlucky rolls you lose synergy, choice and much of your efficiency.

With the game relying on some fairly well balanced systems it just seems odd that a 50/50 chance is given such rein over your success.

======Variants I'd like to test======

A late aside on ideas that we have come up with after our games;

First, an option to pay in order to avoid the dice rolls. Though this would have to be carefully priced to avoid devaluing the building licenses.

Secondly perhaps a specialist who allows you to perhaps attack your opponents platforms - for player interaction perhaps less preferable to....

Thirdly, shared synergy in that you could join up your tanks with your opponents for mutual gain. I don't want people to be able to say "no" to it, but certainly there should be a cost to move your tanks if this variant is to be used.


Whatever your feelings about the game, and whether you agree with my opinions or not, I hope you enjoyed reading the review and get to play games as much as you wish.



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