A while back I bought the out-of-print boardgame Planet Steam for what some would consider a stupid amount of money. I promised then that I would report back once I’ve played it. I’ve played it a few times now, so let’s find out if I wasted my money!
PS is a sort of a heavy economic game, but it’s really not that complicated. Teaching and learning the rules isn’t that tough. It’s slightly more forgiving than Age of Steam, but I think occupies the same sort of niche.
The idea behind it is that you are mining for resources (water, energy, crystal, ore) which are used to mine more resources and also which are sold to make money. The heart of the game is a market in which the prices for the resources fluctuate based on supply and demand, which drives (or should drive, at least) the players’ strategies.
In a lot of “economic engine” games, you set up your engine and let it run for a few turns, perhaps making it more efficient or expanding it as the game goes on. I have mostly played PS with four players, in which there are only five turns. That is not that many turns. As a result, there is never any time that you’re just coasting, letting your machine do its work. The changing market means you are constantly having to rejigger your production tanks to take advantage of very high or very low resource prices (for example, if energy is trading for dirt cheap, you may want to switch your energy tanks to ore, since you can just buy energy.) There is just no time to get comfortable with your situation, which adds to the tension in the game.
I keep talking about the volatile market and it may sound as though it can be affected by random events, but there is almost no randomness in the game (and what little there is doesn’t really make a huge difference). It’s all driven by supply and demand. In the first game I played, nobody produced ore for the longest time, and the price skyrocketed. The first player who was able to switch his tanks over to produce ore was able to take advantage of this. In the next game this didn’t happen because the players produced more ore, but at one point energy was fetching high amounts. It really all just depends on what the players do.
If you’re an old-school nerd, this might sound familiar. It’s very similar to the classic computer game M.U.L.E., which I played but was never terribly good at.
The game itself is pretty gorgeously produced. The board is gigantic, making the box big enough to serve as a shipping container for a toddler, should the need arise. The bits are wood and plastic and solid enough to cause damage when thrown. The cards that represent your storage ships and the character roles are huge. The artwork is a little iffy…
and the brown/black/silver/gold color scheme makes it look “steampunk” I suppose, but also pretty dull and muddy.
I can’t complain about the English translation of the rules, as that’s how I learned the game, and we got up and running without too many difficulties the first time. There are player aids which make things pretty clear once you see what they’re saying (in fact, it could be argued they confuse by displaying too much information).
So far it’s been well received. I don’t think it’s anyone’s favorite game, and some folks weren’t overly crazy about it, but I don’t think anyone I’ve played with outright hated it, and I think a few would be amenable to playing again. (Its size is a huge drawback; it’s not easy to lug it to game day on Sundays.)
Was it worth the money? Oh, probably not. I haven’t played the boardgame yet that is really worth that money. But it’s nice having it, I like it, and it’s not getting traded away any time soon.