Designed by Gerhard Hecht and published by Corax Games, Steamopolis is a worker placement game with an eponymous steampunk theme, and a literal engine-building mechanism in which you add machines to your steam ship's engine as you progress through the game.
Art is by Dennis Lohausen, and the impressive long tower-shaped board represents the city of Steamopolis, in which 1–4 players (there's a solo mode) are trying to gain votes (points) in order to be elected as the new mayor. They will do so by visiting the eight levels of the city in their steam ship, with the most powerful action spaces located higher up, only accessible by building up sufficient steam.
Having said that, you'll soon find yourself taking powerful actions that let you build your strength and offer you the full breadth of options. You'll feel like you've arrived at the mid-game very quickly, giving you plenty of time to fine-tune your engine and score points. The game is well balanced in trade-offs between scoring points early when they're cheap, or later when you can afford it but they're more expensive. Strategies can be vastly different yet equally successful: will you build a really powerful engine in your steam ship and run it as often as possible, or focus on accessorising it with banners that score you points the more you have? Will you try to get lots of workers out or boost the ones you have to make them more powerful? Will you plan grand mega-moves or take a hit-and-run approach to take advantage of the best opportunities as they arise? These are among the many fascinating decisions to be made that don't occur in the same way in other games.
Even the worker placement and resolution process is unique: on your turn, you will generally either place a worker or resolve all of your placed workers. This means you could put out all five and then resolve them all, but planning will be tricky because other players might place and resolve multiple times in that time, leaving you with very different options than when you started placing your workers. Additionally, the passenger tokens offer incentives to visit certain levels in a certain order, as if it weren't already challenging enough to optimise your resolution! Although it's an interesting dynamic, it does mean that some turns can take a very long time to work out. Even with the game's very clear iconography, you can easily get confused and forget whether you paid that extra resource or claimed your bonus point when you perform your fourth action with another still to come.
It's a very challenging game with a hefty rulebook, and although many rules are simple and intuitive, others are complex and easy to forget. With the rise of online board gaming, I would love to see this implemented on a platform that allows you to play turn-based and take your time, restarting your complicated turns as many times as needed to get the best outcome possible, all while the computer makes sure you don't accidentally cheat. In the meantime, Steamopolis is a fascinating challenge of a game, with decent replayability and plenty of depth - just don't drown in analysis paralysis!
(Review by Matt Young)
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