Steampunk Rally is a board game for two to eight players ages 14 and up designed by Orin Bishop, with art by David Forest and Lina Cossette. Published by Roxley Games, Steampunk Rally has a suggested price of $49.99 and can be found for about $35 online.
In the game, players take on the role of inventors taking on Nikola Tesla’s challenge to race through the Swiss Alps or a floating Hippodrome. But this race is set in a steampunk universe, and the inventors constantly modify their vehicles as they try to end farther past the finish line than their opponents.
How it Works:
Players choose from one of 16 inventors and take the two parts of their invention that belong to that inventor. They set up the board, choosing either the Alps or the Hippodrome to race through. The board is made up of six pieces, although there are eight total, so multiple setups are possible.
Now they’re ready to play.
Each round of the game has four phases.
First, players draw four cards, one from each deck. Three of the decks provide Invention parts or dice and cogs to power the invention, and one has events players can use to their advantage. Players choose a card play it or keep it for later (if it’s an event), and pass their remaining cards to the player on their right or left depending on which round it is. When all the cards are gone, it’s time to move onto the next phase.
During the Vent phase, players can use their cog tokens to reduce the pips on the dice that have been assigned to their inventions. This is important because a spot on the invention can’t be refilled until it’s empty. And dice let players move, shield themselves from damage, remove dice, and generate more dice and cogs.
Now it’s time to race. All the players roll all the dice they’ve gathered and assign them to empty spaces on their invention. Each space will require a particular color and may require a minimum number to use. Everyone works at once, using their dice, moving, taking damage if the board requires it, and generating dice and other resources they can use. Players can also use cog tokens to reroll a die or add a pip (dot) to it. As they take damage or use shields, they adjust a dial that tracks their damage appropriately.
Then it’s time to assess the damage. Any player with a damage dial that has a negative number must discard parts on their invention until they’ve reached 0.
They discard all the dice they didn’t use and start again.
After one player has crossed the finish line, everyone plays one more round. The player farthest on the racetrack wins.
Why you might buy Steampunk Rally:
This is a very good game. It’s tough, and you can decide how you want to build your invention to maximize your resources. But everyone can see your invention, so they can try to avoid passing you cards that will help you.
Each inventor plays quite differently, and the board has multiple options for setup. In fact, the Hippodrome board is quite brutal. So Steampunk Rally will never get old.
You can play with up to eight people, which is unusual for a strategy. I didn’t try it, but since play is simultaneous, it won’t make the game go on forever.
It’s just plain fun to put arachnolegs on a vehicle. And you can arrange and rearrange your invention as much as you want during the first phase of the game.
The game looks beautiful, and most of the symbols are clear. There are optional tokens you can put on the board that have very small images, but you don’t need to play with them. (I liked the game better without them.)
Of the 16 inventors, there are plenty of familiar faces — Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, Sakichi Toyoda, the Wright Brothers, Tesla, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and George Washington Carver. There are other lesser-known but no less important figures Ada Lovelace, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Elijah J. McCoy, Hertha Ayrton, Margaret Knight, Lise Meitner, and Guglielmo Marconi.
It’s fantastic to see such diversity, and the rulebook has a short bio of each. It doesn’t gloss over the unpleasant aspects of its subjects, but it doesn’t dwell on them, either.
The rulebook is well written, which is especially important in such a complex game.
Why you might not buy Steampunk Rally:
This is a complex game. It’s not the most intuitive, and new players will be at a distinct disadvantage until they figure out what’s going on.
Because everyone is playing at the same time, you feel a bit like you’re playing alone. Event cards allow you to interact with (and sometimes attack) your opponents, but most of what you’re doing is staring intently at your invention trying to figure out the best way to optimize it.
Some inventors are much harder to play than others. I think they’re balanced well, but it takes more puzzling to optimize them. That’s not all bad, since you can give a more straightforward inventor to a new player.
Some games make cheating harder than others. This is a game where, because people are playing at the same time and assigning dice, it’s easy to sneak in a flip of a die or reuse a die that was played on a previous turn. That’s not a weakness of the game. People shouldn’t cheat. But some people do, and you won’t want to bring this to the table with them.
I like Steampunk Rally a lot. I love dice, but I don’t like being at their mercy. Steampunk Rally gives lots of real choices while you’re chucking tiny dice in three different colors.
It took a bit to grasp how to play and a bit longer to figure out how to play reasonably well. I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust the possibilities, which is quite a feat.
The racing is fun, and I love eking out a win — or losing dramatically — as my invention is falling apart when I cross the finish line.
I probably won’t teach this to very many people, but for a regular group, this game is a winner.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Steampunk Rally from Roxley Games. That does not affect by ability to give an objective review.