In this five-round game, players each control a fleet of three airships that move up and along a board. Every turn, players place one of their airships and take the indicated action. Because they are moving in time, each subsequent action in a round must be further up the time stream (ie: your second airship must be placed in a row above the first, and the third must be higher than the second). Airships can only be placed in unoccupied spaces in the time stream, so players may limit their subsequent choices in order to be the first to nab a desirable position. The time stream board is modular and it ‘shifts’ each round (the top board is moved to the bottom and all are pushed up).
There is a lot going on in this game. This means players usually have a very wide choice of desirable actions. They may want to take Mission cards (which will offer ways of scoring victory points); they may take Encounter cards (where characters from history hand out some sort of reward); they can collect gold or buy the crystals they need to take certain actions or power their engines; or they can take on Expeditions to give them points and/or other rewards. Players’ individual boards have various tracks and locations for different coloured crystals. As these are added, they increase the valuable bonuses that the player can reap for taking a particular action. The dilemma for players is that taking actions often involves spending the very crystals the player is seeking to collect.
With a board and set-up that varies with each play and between rounds, and so many attractive choices on offer - and often a cost to pay in precious crystals - Steam Time is fun to play but constantly challenging. If you have a friend who suffers from Analysis Paralysis and who agonises overly over every move, this may be a game you will want to hide, or else introduce the use of a timer - which I guess would be a thematically sound addition to the game.
As an added bonus to replayability, Steam Time comes with ‘expansions’ already supplied. A ‘Saboteurs’ module gives each player a Saboteur marker that they can place on any action space. This bars access to the space unless the player ‘bribes’ the Saboteur by spending a special crystal. The ‘Specialists’ module gives each player a crew of nine advisors, each of whom has a special ability. For example, the Commander allows a player to place an airship at an already occupied location, the Navigator allows a player to ignore the stream of time (ie: to place an airship on a board below his previous airship). Only the topmost Specialist is active, so if a player plays the Commander and then subsequently plays the Navigator, the Commander power is lost. All of this adds up to a game that you are likely to want to bring to the table time and time again.