Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Rüdiger Dorn


No. of Players:
2 - 4



With the release of Rüdiger Dorn's new game Steam Time the age of Steampunk finally has begun for KOSMOS, one of the oldest boardgame publishers in Germany. In this game the players take the roles of 19th century scientists who are eager to explore temporal phenomena which have started to appear in the vicinity of some of mankind's most famous monuments, and for this reason the players send out fleets of steam-powered airships to investigate the disturbances and to gather Scientific Prestige (aka Victory Points).

Six different monuments are available for exploration, and in the five rounds of the game the players will send their three airships to the Monument boards in order to gain different kinds of benefits which are associated with the action spaces which can be found on each Monument board. The placement of the airships is featured as a slight variant of a traditional worker placement mechanism, with each action space being blocked for other airship placements as soon as the first ship has been placed there. However, the players face an additional consideration when it's their turn to place an airship, because all six Monument boards have been arranged in a bottom-to-top layout which is meant to symbolize the "Timeflow". In gaming terms, this means that a player's airships only can move forwards in time, and so a player only is allowed to place an airship onto a Monument board which is above all boards with Airships he has placed in previous turns. So, a player may well go for a highly desirable action on a Monument board far ahead in the Timeflow with his first airship, but due to this move he will be restricted to a rather diminished choice of available actions for his following two airship placements. In the worst case, he may have placed his first or second airship onto the topmost Monument board, thus losing him one or two airship placements and the associated actions.


One of the most important actions available to the players is the exploitation of crystal deposits. At the beginning of a round the Deposit action spaces have been filled with a random choice of coloured crystals which which have been drawn from an opaque bag, and a player visiting a deposit with one of his airships is allowed to purchase one or more of the crystals which are available there. Each of the players possses his own Airship player boards, and depending on their colours all newly acquired crystals will be placed in six different generators which give the players various benefits when performing actions on the Monument boards. The size of the benefit depends on the number of crystals placed in the generator, and the more crystals have been inserted the better the generator will work. For example, crystals in the generator powering the Lab will allow a player visiting a crystal deposit to take additional crystals, whereas a player visiting a Gold action space with one of his airships will gain additional coins for each crystal which has been inserted into his Midas Machine generator. Due to the crystals being colour coded, the players have to plan carefully which deposits they should visit, because the efficient use of their generators will create windfall gains which will turn out to be invaluable during the course of the game.


Whereas Crystals and Gold are needed to run a player's fleet of airships efficiently, the players will gain Scientific Prestige (Victory Points) by performing Missions, meeting historic Personalities and planning Expeditions to exotic places. Each of these options is represented by Action spaces which can be found on some of the Monument boards, and they provide the players with different possibilities to increase their Prestige. In this context, the taking of a Mission card provides a player with a possibility to speculate on his possessions at the end of the game, since these cards allow the players to cash in some of their crystals or to gain additional Prestige points for completed Expeditions, airship enhancements etc. An Expedition on the other hand gives a player Prestige or other benefits as soon as the card is taken, but a player will have to spend some of his crystals in order to make up for the wear and tear of the airship sent to claim the Expedition card. A meeting with a historical Personality also brings the player some kind of benefit, but they do not costs any Crystals and so they are usually less prestigious than Expeditions.

All three Prestige related actions once again share the common fact that an action on such a space is performed more efficiently if the associated generators have been equipped with as many crystals as possible, and since the players will constantly gain and lose crystals during the course of the game they will have to plan their action sequence carefully in order to use a generator before it's crystals possibly will use spent in a later action.

At this point it should have become clear that Steam Time is a game for players who love to puzzle out efficient production engines and action sequences. Player interaction remains comparatively low because the players just compete for the action spaces on the Monument boards. However, this aspect of indirect competition has been intensified quite considerably by the introduction of the Timeflow, and so the players have to balance the placement of each airship quite well.

Due to the use of the Mission cards the final outcome of the game can be rather surprising, since these cards are kept face down and they can be used in the final scoring to gain a considerable Prestige bonus. Of course the players may try to memorize the Missions gathered by each player, but on the other hand the missing means to hamper the leading player will lead to each player focusing on maximizing his own Prestige anyhow.

Following the modern trend to include some optional rules, Steam Time also features two modules which change certain aspects of the game. For one, the players may choose to use the Sabotage Module, and this module actually will bring a slight increase of player interaction since the beginning of each round sees the players sending their saboteurs to action spaces of their choice. If a player wants to place an airship at one of these spaces, he will lose a crystal for performing this action, and so the placement of one or more saboteurs at a space may be used to drain some of the current leader's resources. The other module gives each player access to a hand of 9 Crew Member cards. Each of these specialists possesses a unique power which may help in performing the one or other action, but a crew member only remains active until it has been covered with a new Crew Member card. So, only one specialist may be active at any given time, and the players have to find out how long they should keep a specialist in play.

Steam Time has turned out to be a rather convincing variant of the classic worker placement mechanism, and it will certainly appeal to players with a knack for this type of games. Talking about appeal and attraction, the thematic setting and the playing mechanisms correspond quite well, and for my taste the only factor lacking is the game's artwork. While everything is quite colourful and the Crew member cards of each player are completely unique, other cards and Monument boards leave a strange impression of unfinished work. For example, the Personality cards lack a fitting background illustration, and the action spaces on the Monument boards also stand apart quite notably from the (mostly hidden) illustrations of the boards themselves. This certainly is a matter of taste, but in the light of many rather beautiful games being released each year I would have wished for some more lavish illustrations in Steam Time, especially since Rüdiger Dorn succeeded in creating a rather sophisticated and thematically coherent playing mechanism!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany