The year is 1899. Time has gone askew and there are strange happenings being observed all over the globe in places like Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt and Easter Island. A new resource has been discovered, strange crystals, that allow steam driven flying airships to be created and powered. It is with these airships that players will travel through time and space to discover long lost knowledge, cultures and hidden treasures and search and use these crystals more effectively than their opponents.
Steam Time is a 2-4 player worker placement game (designed by Rüdiger Dorn) with an ever changing board, upgradable airships, encounters, missions and adventures. Players will visit various locations following the flow of time to perform various actions in attempt to gather the most Esteem (Victory Points).
Set-up in Steam time is fairly straight forward. The game board is set-up and each player receives on airship board, three airships, three discs (one for the starting esteem space, one for the steam track and one for the time portal track) and eight gold. Players receive various coloured crystals to be placed on the corresponding space on the airship board based on turn order. The TIME crystals (clear), money, encounters and missions are placed on the corresponding space on the board. The rest of the crystals are placed in the bag.
The expedition deck and upgrade stack are created based on turn number and the effort deck is created as detailed in the rule book. The monument boards are now selected based on player count and laid out to complete the game board. Each monument board will have various action spaces and the required crystals, mission spaces, expeditions and upgrades are placed appropriately.
Steam Time is played over five rounds with each round having three phases as shown below:
- Income Phase (this does not happen in the first round).
- Action Phase.
- Supply Phase.
Players receive income in the form of money, esteem, crystals or steam based on the upgrades they have acquired. This phase does not take place in the first round as no players have had the chance to purchase upgrades yet.
In the action phase players can either take the first player token or place an airship. If the first player token is taken the player who took it has the option to convert one steam in to one esteem up to 10 times, or convert one steam in to one TIME crystal once. The current first player cannot take the first player token as their first action.
Players may place an airship and execute the corresponding action. The actions available are:
- Missions – Players can take a mission card which allow players to convert resources in to esteem at the end of the game. They are effectively end game scoring objectives that players can work towards.
- Encounters – Players can draw the depicted number of encounters to meet some of the famous people from history. There are two possible types. All blue encounters give the player drawing them a choice of which resources to receive, and blue and purple encounters where the player drawing does not get a choice and all other players get to do the purple part of the encounter if they choose.
- Gain Crystals – Players can purchase crystals for two gold each and place them in the corresponding spaces on their airship.
- Upgrades – Players can purchase upgrades with crystals based on the effort card displayed on the main game board. The upgrade is placed in the upgrade slot of the airship and will only activate during the income phase at the start of the next round.
- Gold – Players receive gold as shown on the space.
- Expedition – Players can pay the depicted cost to go on an expedition. Players will receive various bonuses (resources, crystals, steam, movement on the time portal track or esteem) based on the expedition.
When selecting actions players must place their airships with the flow of the timeline (apart from Mr. Time, who can break this rule). This means that when a player places an airship, their next airship cannot be on the same monument tile or below. They must place their airship on the monument board above their last placed airship working from the bottom of the board to the top.
All the action spaces are coloured and are linked to the number of crystals on your airship of the matching coloured space. Every time you perform an action on the board you get a bonus action. For example, the Gain Crystal action space is black and the corresponding black space on a player’s airship is the Laboratory. When performing the Gain Crystals action players will check how many crystals they have in the Laboratory and perform the bonus action.
In the case of the Laboratory players will receive one TIME crystal for every crystal they have stored there. The Upgrades action allow players to move along the Time Portal (A full revolution of the Time Portal allows an additional action using Mr. Time). The Missions action space gives players extra esteem and so on.
TIME crystals are wild and can be used for any colour on a player’s airship. However, if there is a TIME crystal in a slot when a player receives a crystal of another colour, they must move the TIME crystal to the right to make space for the coloured crystal. Therefore, TIME crystals are typically used 1st before any coloured crystals.
When a player is required to spend crystals in order to pay for anything (e.g. Expedition, mission, encounter etc) they must spend the crystals from the right most slot.
Steam is a very powerful resource in the game. It can be used to convert any crystal in to any other coloured crystal. If a player doesn’t have the required crystals (or doesn’t want to spend the required crystal) they can spend a steam to convert any other crystal in to the required colour.
Once a player completes a full revolution on the time portal track, they get an additional action with Mr. Time. Mr. Time bends the flow of time and can be placed on any action space, even one that has an already placed airship.
The last phase in the round is the supply phase. All players take their airships back, the monument board at the top is removed and placed at the bottom of the flow of time, all crystals are removed and returned to the bag, all expeditions, missions, upgrades and effort card for the round are removed from the game.
New crystals are placed in the appropriate slots on the monument boards along with new missions. The expeditions and upgrades for the next round are placed in the appropriate areas. A new effort card is revealed.
End of the Game
Gameplay continues as described above for five rounds. At the end of the five rounds any completed missions are scored and the person with the highest esteem wins.
Steaming Ahead - Final Thoughts on Steam Time
Steam Time is a game that has flown under the radar for me and I suspect for many other people as well. It is a fantastic game and one that deserves more play and more buzz. There is modular set-up for the main board with respect to how the monument boards are initially laid out, the board changes every round, there are different upgrade tiles, missions, encounters and expeditions used each game.
There is variability with what crystals are pulled from the bag and the artwork and table presence looks great. There are different routes to victory for a player to take with upgrading different parts of their ship for bonus actions. The mission cards add focus to a player’s game if they choose to take them. Games can be won by selecting the right mission cards or picking the right expeditions or the right upgrades. There are multiple options open to the player in how they want to play the game.
Steam Time only has five rounds, which fly by quickly. The box states 90 minutes but with two players who know what they are doing it can be over in half of that. I am really enjoying playing Steam Time at the moment and would highly recommend it.