Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Good Games Publishing. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, though I actually also really like the art here, too. It’s super thematic!
So, my favorite game growing up was Rollercoaster Tycoon. Not only was it a delightful game about building a park that you’ve always dreamed about going to, but it also had questionable policies around how fast you could make a ride launch and little kids can be sociopaths.
Given my love for that style of game, I was over the moon about getting a chance to review Unfair, a game about building your own theme park (potentially at the expense of your opponents). It’s coming to Kickstarter on August 16th, so this is a preview of the game as it was given to me for review. As such, I may not necessarily comment on art (unless it’s really really excellent or thematic, like War Co.) or piece quality or stuff, as some of that is liable to change based on reward levels and stretch goals. I will try to focus on as much of the gameplay as I can cover, instead.
So setup’s a bit complex, so stick with me.
The first thing you’ll notice is four “Theme Packs”, which are various themes and rides that your park could have. You’ll need one per player, and generally the game recommends them like so:
- 2 players: Use Robots and Pirates
- 3 players: Use Robots, Pirates, and Vampires
- 4 players: Use Robots, Pirates, Vampires, and Jungle
Each one of these packs has a white overview card:
You should set them aside now; you won’t need them for the remainder of the game. Generally they’re just used to describe what each of the themes contain or to let you randomly choose themes once you’re a bit more familiar with the game.
Next, you’re going to want to give players 20 money, a Main Gate card, a Loan card, and a Player reference. You may want to keep them laid out like so:
Set the rest of the money aside where all players can reach it, as you generally do in games involving money.
Now, you have several different types of cards that must all be organized into their own piles. Note that you should combine cards of the same type but different themes, as you’ll be using them all together in one big pile for the game.
These piles are:
- Red Park cards. Shuffle these and place them face-down on the Park spot on the board to form the Park deck. These are various rides, upgrades, and staff you can purchase to improve your park.
- Green Event cards. Shuffle these and place them face-down on the Event spot to form the Event deck. You can probably see where this is going. These are various events that can help you or hinder your opponents.
- Blue Blueprint cards. Shuffle these and place them face-down on the Blueprint spot to form the Blueprint deck. Blueprints are a lot like Tickets in Ticket to Ride, as they’re optional objectives that can either score you points if you succeed or cost you points if you fail.
- Purple Showcase cards. In a surprising turn of events, deal each player two Showcase cards. These are special rides that you can build.
- “Unfair” City cards. These cards have red text on the back. Shuffle them and put four on the City card pile, then add the Closure card on top of it, with the “Public Notice” side face-up.
- “Funfair” City cards. These cards have blue text on the back. Shuffle them and put four on top of the already-made City card pile. Put the remaining Funfair and Unfair City cards back in the box or somewhere where you can’t see them again. They’re gone.
Now, you’ll deal each player their hand of five cards. Now, a player may have no Attraction cards in their hand, in that no cards say “Attraction” on them or have one of these symbols:
That player may reveal that they have no Attractions in their hand, discard that hand, and draw five new cards. This repeats until every player has at least one Attraction card in hand or chooses to keep the hand they have. Note that you can’t see the Market yet, so it might be possible that you have nothing to build if you do that, but you do you. It might be worth doing this early so that you can organize the rest of the game while people are re-drawing cards.
Finally, fill the Market by drawing the top six cards of the Park deck and putting them in spots 1-6 on the game board. If you’ve done everything correctly, your game area should now look like this:
Now normally, this is where you’d begin playing the game. There might be one thing that you want to do, first. There are three cards called Game Changers:
These cards significantly alter the game, and may be useful to you if you’d prefer a shorter game (First Date) or a conflict-free game (World Peace). If you end up picking any of those, put them in play, now. The game recommends starting with First Date, and so do I.
So, the game itself is divided into eight rounds (six, if you’re playing First Date), each with four steps:
- Events Step, in which you draw and (optionally) play Event cards (and a City card!).
- Park Step, in which you can:
- Draw Park, Event, or Blueprint cards
- Build Park cards in your hand or from the Market
- Demolish a Park card in your park, discarding it and its Upgrades (if any)
- Collect Loose Change that guests might have … dropped in your park
- Guests Step, in which you collect money based off of how many guests your park is attracting
- Cleanup Step, in which you reset your parks and the Market to prepare for the next round.
I plan to describe each of these steps (and the Game End) in detail, but it might be prudent to also explain the cards that you’ll be seeing, so let’s do a Meet the Cards section? Everyone likes those.
Meet the Cards
Event cards are fun! They’re designed to let you control a bit of the game’s flow, either to help you (the top half) or hurt your opponents (the bottom half).
Some Event cards also have types, like Inspection, which can be blocked by certain other Event cards or abilities.
Additionally, some Event cards or abilities can close or re-open Attractions in your park or another player’s park or temporarily (or permanently) block some Staff Members. If this happens, flip the affected Park card over (face-down for closed, face-up for re-opened). At the end of each round, all Park cards are turned face-up, so … don’t worry if your Attractions get closed.
City cards are basically the city working with your Park! At the beginning (roughly the first half of the game), they’re super excited to have a new park or two or three in town, so they’ll try their best to help you get started (Funfair). However, all good things must come to an end, and honestly most cities really only have room for like, a couple theme parks at best, so in the latter half of the game the city might get … a bit Unfair?
These also serve as the round number indicator, so if you’ve drawn the last City card, the final round has started.
The main gate of your park welcomes visitors to your park! It also sets some limits on how big your park can get.
By default, your Main Gate gives you 1 Star (more on that later), sets your park capacity at 15 (x 10,000) guests (more on that also later), and lets you build 5 Attractions. Currently, all players get the same Main Gate, but who knows if that could change in later expansions?
So your park in Unfair is primarily composed of Park cards. These will be your rides, your staff, your attractions, and even ways to make your rides and attractions better! There are some things that are common to all park cards:
- Title, which is the name of the card.
- Type, which is the type of the card. Generally attractions have a few types:
- Stars, which is a measure of how many guests that Park card attracts.
- Build Price. Each Park card costs some amount of money (measured in $100,000 increments) that you have to pay to build it.
There are sub-types of Park Cards, which I’ll talk more about below:
- Attractions are the core of your park. When you pay their cost, they are immediately played to the right of your Main Gate, in the order they were build. Note that you cannot change their ordering once they’ve been placed down.Interestingly, some attractions are part of visual panoramas as well, so that’s pretty awesome.Attractions also have a few sub-types:
- Thrill Ride
- Leisure Ride
- Theatre (as an American, this hurts me to type a bit)
- Food Outlet
- Nature Area
- Upgrades make your attactions better. Generally they help attract more guests, make your rides more valuable at the end of the game, and help you score blueprints. That said, not every upgrade works with every attraction — thankfully, it’s clearly indicated when that’s not the case.Some rides already have upgrades on them! Water slides, for instance, have the splashdown upgrade, and a monorail might have built-in air conditioning, as they typically do. If they do, they’ll note it on the card.Speaking of which, you cannot build the same upgrade twice on a card, unless otherwise stated. This makes sense — you can’t double your air-conditioning on the monorail! Guests would just freeze. The one kinda-exception to that is that you can have multiple different themes on a ride, like Robot Pirates. Maybe a bit incongruous, but still pretty funny. Also note that this is for a specific upgrade, not a type of upgrade. You can have multiple Guest Services on an attraction, but only one set of Restrooms.Just like attractions, upgrades also have themes:
- Themes, like Jungle / Vampire / Robot / Pirate
- Guest Services
- Staff Members work tirelessly to help improve your park, or get you out of bad situations. On top of that, they’ll even get you some points once the game’s over! You can hire as many staff members as you want. At least, as many as you can afford. When you hire a staff member, place them on the left side of your Main Gate, away from your Attractions and Upgrades.
- Resources are just cards with special effects that improve your park. You place them on the left side of your Main Gate with staff members, too. The only one I’ve seen so far is one that ups the capacity of your park, so who knows what else there is?
Showcase cards are really special attractions, in that they’re big, expensive, and powerful. So powerful, in fact, you can only build one at a time!
That being said, a big attraction like that is only really worth it if you have enough guests in your park to take advantage of it, so you can only build a Super Attraction if you are currently generating 5 stars in your park. You also still have to pay for it, and it’s expensive.
If, at any point, you decide it’s not worth it to build them, you can return both to the box for 10 free coins, instantly. That might be handy, but you can’t undo that once you’ve decided to return them to the box.
Blueprint cards are, like I said, very similar to Ticket to Ride’s tickets! For those of you who don’t know what those are, basically, they specify a condition and will reward you if you fulfill that condition. That being said, if you fail to complete that condition, they’ll subtract 10 points from your score, which can really wreck you.
The Event Step has three parts:
- All players draw one Event card. This is done secretly.
- The top card of the Funfair / Unfair City deck is flipped and revealed. If it’s Funfair, a good effect happens to everyone! If it’s Unfair, a bad thing happens to everyone! Bummer. The deck is set up such that there are four good events then four bad events, then the game ends. Make sure not to put all your eggs in one basket, otherwise you’ll get wrecked when things start to get unfair.
- Each player may play an Event card or pass. If you have more than one Event card that you want to play, you can play as many as you want during this step, but only one at a time per player. Unlike other games, once you’ve passed you can go again! This section only ends when all players have passed in a row. Note that if you try to get clever and pass so that you can go last, you might not get to go at all!
Note that some Events are typed, meaning that they could be “Inspection” events or “Intrusion” events, and can be blocked by other Event cards. Just so you know.
Additionally, some events move cards around, even between players’ parks! If that happens, the card keeps all money or tokens that are currently on it, as you’d expect, potentially.
During this you might have Park cards that can activate, so just … use them when you need to. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward, and you do not have to play an Event card if you don’t want to. You would just pass.
During the Park Step, you have three (sometimes four, if a card allows it) Park Actions to help improve your park before the guests arrive this round. On a turn during the Park Step, you may take one of any of the following actions:
- Draw. You may draw cards. Once you start drawing cards, there’s no need for the next player to wait, so they can take their next Park step while you’re doing your thing. I believe the game asserts that it’s (currently) impossible for you to have any effect on another player by drawing a card. You can draw cards as follows:
- You may take a Park card from the Market.
- You may take two cards from the Park deck, the Event deck, or the Blueprint deck and keep up to one. Yes, you can discard both if you want. Note that if you keep a Blueprint, you cannot discard it by normal means. Just FYI.
- You may discard a Park card from your hand to draw five Park cards and choose to keep one. The rules don’t explicitly allow you to discard all five if you don’t want them, and I think you generally want to have Park cards in your hand if you can help it, since that gives you more options.
- Build. You may build a Park card in your hand (or a Park card in the Market) by spending the required amount of money and then adding it to your park, if you can find a place that it fits. Remember, only 1 Super Attraction, only 5 attractions (including Super Attractions, mind you), and no duplicate upgrades! You can totally build Upgrades on closed attractions, if you want. Also remember to put Attractions and Upgrades on the right of your Main Gate and Resources and Staff Members on the left, for consistency.
- Demolish. You may demolish any Park Card that you want. Maybe it’s a Staff Member you’re firing or you’re destroying an entire ride to make room for a new one. You put that card (and its upgrades, if you’re demolishing an Attraction) into the park discard pile. I don’t see this used much, but it can happen.
- Loose Change. Strapped for cash? Guests drop money all the time. Using this action lets you take one money for each Attraction in your park, even if it’s closed.
As mentioned, most players get three of these Park Actions per round (which comprise the Park Step), but I hear some cards might be able to help you get a fourth…
During this phase, the park opens! You attract guests to your open rides based off their star counts (to a maximum of the park’s capacity). For each star up to the capacity of the park, gain one money from the bank.
Note that if you have other effects that cause you to gain money (not stars), they are uncapped, meaning you could gain like, 40 money on a turn if you’re doing really well (this happened to us!). Collect all that, and then move on to Cleanup.
The Cleanup Step has several things that happen in no particular order:
- Empty the Market and refill it from the Park deck. If you run out of cards in the Park deck, reshuffle the discard pile and make that the new Park deck.
- Discard any Event cards still in play. Some Event cards last for the entire round, but nothing should persist past that.
- All players must discard to the hand limit of 5 cards. Note that Showcase and Blueprint cards do not count against this hand limit. Park cards and Event cards, however, do. Note that you do not draw new cards; you only discard.
- Turn all face-down cards in your park face-up. Your closed rides are open again! They will probably get closed again, especially if you’re in the Unfair stage of the game.
- Pass the starting player marker. That signifies the end of the round, formally, to our group.
As mentioned, gameplay then proceeds for 8 (or 6, with First Date) rounds until the game ends.
The game has ended! Here’s how you count it:
- Blueprints. If a player completed a Blueprint, they get that many points. If they completed the Bonus Goal, they get that many additional points. If they failed to complete the primary part of the Blueprint, they lose 10 points. Tough!
- Attraction size. This one is actually really interesting. You score for each icon present on your Attraction, including the ones on the main Attraction card, according to a lengthy table that I’m not going to reprint here. But, if you were to have, say, 25 icons on your Attraction, you’d score 310 points, which is disturbing. I’ve seen 10-12 on large rides, before, which is 55 – 76 points, respectively. It’s a good way to get a lot of points, but so are blueprints!
- Coins. Each pair of coins is worth one point, so if you have 55 coins, you get 27 points.
- Other cards. Staff Members also give you extra points at the game’s end, so just … add them to your score. Some other cards will give you extra points if you’ve played them, but cards in your hand are worth 0 points. So, play cards.
- Loans. If you’ve taken loans, this is where you pay up with your points. You lose 10 points for each Loan you’ve taken during the game, up to -40, which seems like kind of a lot, so … don’t spend more than you have?
Player with the most points wins! Now, don’t let other players leave — have everyone break up the decks by theme and card type to make putting the game away a LOT easier. Parallelization!
Player Count Differences
With this, I’d say that it definitely takes longer with more players (for obvious reasons, since you play 8 rounds regardless of player count, so it will naturally be a longer game), but you also get access to additional themes / ride options with more players, since you’re playing with a larger deck. This means you could open the Vampire-Robot-Jungle-Pirate-themed Monorail you’ve always dreamed of.
It does, however, dilute the deck a bit (since there are more cards that aren’t theme X, for instance), so if you’re looking to profit off of themed rides (as one of the Pirate-themed Showcase rides does), there are more themes for people to use that will let them avoid adding a Pirate theme to their ride, if they want.
Also, with three players we seemed to have kind of a détente where nobody wanted to be the first player to attack, lest the other two team up on them, so it seemed like a pretty good balance to avoid conflict. With two players, you might as well attack when you feel like it’s the right time.
I’d probably prefer this game at 2 or 3, just pretty much purely based on time commitment. Maybe 4 if First Date was in play.
I haven’t played this as much as other games, unfortunately (the negatives of a preview), but I think I’ve formed at least some cohesive ideas on ways to play well.
- Seems generally better to try and play wide rather than deep. If you play deep and there’s going to be “take that” elements happening, you’re going to get hit hard on your biggest ride or your major source of income. If you’re making a lot of little things all work simultaneously, it’ll be harder to target you and your opponents are more likely to go after another player who has put too many eggs in one basket. Also, it makes your general score harder to track, so players are less likely to notice that you’re in the lead and then go after you.
- Money makes the world go round. In most games, money is generally a thing you want, but in this not only does it let you buy expensive things, but it’s also worth 1 point for every 2 money, one of the lowest points:money ratios I’ve seen in a game. This means you should be trying very hard to make as much money as possible, and there are definitely cards that can help with that…
- Staff Member income synergies are almost a must. Generally you need to get a lot of money if you want to be successful, so taking advantage of Staff Members who can get you more money is usually pretty helpful. On the other hand, these are the cards you need to block other players from getting or using, as a money advantage is really helpful in this game.
- Don’t fear the Blueprints. Generally, they can get you a lot of points (average Blueprint score in my last game was ~25, if you got one?), and if neither work with your park you can just discard them. That said, you may lose upgrades later in the game that invalidate that Blueprint, which would cost you another 10 points.
- Robot Theme on a ride is generally very helpful. Not only do you get the benefit of another icon, but it lets you immediately build another upgrade for free on that ride. Got an expensive Splashdown? Put a robot on it!
- It might be worth holding on to Event cards. Some Event cards let you block the effects of other Event cards, so maybe holding on to them for a while might help you even more than playing it. Just don’t forget that it counts towards your hand limit. Generally, if you’ve got a valuable Staff Member, for instance, holding on to a Giant Wad of Cash card can help prevent them from being discarded by another player.
- Don’t forget about your Showcase ride. You can only build one in your park (or discard both for 10 coins), but they’re very good rides, so make sure you remember to build them!
- Try to prepare for Unfair cards as best you can. I mean this in the sense of having a plan of what you’ll do on your turn, but also backup plans in place in case, say, all of your rides are shut down for some unknowable reason. If you can’t make any money, you’ll fall behind, so make sure you’ve got some backup plans in place.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I find the rulebook’s “written-in” flavor text / commentary very endearing. It just adds something to the game for me and it seems to fit with the overall theme of “play nice when it benefits you, but if you need to, crush someone” which is the theme of this game, a bit. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic. Also, the doodles in the book are nice, too.
- I love the theme, a lot. I think it’s a great theme and I love the idea of theme decks that you can mix together to get weird rides, like a Robot Jungle Vampire Roller Coaster. Even the “Take That” elements that I don’t normally like seem to fit in with the theme pretty well, and the whole game feels very cohesive. I think a lot of my friends grew up on Rollercoaster Tycoon as well, so they also really like the theme. I think that the art (which is very good, mind you) also does a good job of expressing the theme and really making the game pop.
- Seems pretty accessible to new players. I think there’s a lot going on, sure, but it doesn’t seem like it’s overwhelming. It’s just a slightly-longer, slightly-on-the-heavier-side tableau builder. It doesn’t feel much heavier than the other 90m games in my collection, for instance.
- Nice component quality. Usually not something I’d say about a Kickstarter preview, so … props to you all. The pieces are thick, the cards have a nice weight to them, and the board seems well-made. Also it’s a nice, solid box.
- Has a satisfying amount of content to it. It comes in a fairly large box, so you kind of expect a lot to it, but it’s got the right amount. It has a certain similarity to Suburbia, in that sense.
- Game doesn’t feel long. I’d say it also has this in common with Suburbia and some of the other 90m games I enjoy in that you feel like you have a lot of agency during your turns and that there’s a lot going on, so you never really feel like the game is dragging on. Plus, the Unfair cards can throw a huge wrench in your gears when you’re not expecting it, so that could be a late-game gamechanger.
- Seems highly expandable. I could see this having a Dominion-like idea where you essentially just buy additional theme packs for the game as it progresses. I’d be interested to see what kinds of themes come up next. Maybe an Ocean theme? A Space theme? A Western theme? Sky’s the limit. I like games that keep their options open like that, especially if the core game works, which I think it does.
- Generally, the idea of mutually-assured destruction helps keep player conflict at a minimum. That + the Unfair city cards generally give you a common enemy, so at least in the games I’ve played players are too busy fighting those to want to fight each other. Plus, the good effects you get from the Events often outweigh the negative effects other players would experience from your events. I also appreciate that since the cards are an either-or proposition, you really do have to balance if you want to help yourself or hurt others. Generally, I find it’s better to help yourself when possible.
- Without an insert, putting the game away can take a while. You generally have to break the cards up into sets (which requires looking at every card) and then put the sets together if you’re as meticulous as I am, which adds a bit of time to set up / tear down the game. I do not think there’s a better way to do this, currently, though word on the street is that there will be an insert that significantly helps with this.
- It’s a bit hard to see what other players have going on in their tableaus. I think the cards are a bit information-dense, so it can be difficult to tell if Player A has X or Y Upgrade or Staff Member, so it can occasionally slow the game down if you need to ask “oh, what Staff Member did you draw?” or try to keep all that information in your head. This seems like a game that would benefit from having big player mats, like Millennium Blades. Maybe that’s a stretch goal?
- Feels like it has the potential to get VERY aggressive, if you allow player conflict. A lot of the cards have aggressive effects (close all rides of a particular type in another player’s park, for instance), so if you’re not looking for conflict you might want to consider playing with the World Peace card.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I like this game a lot! If I’m being honest, I think a lot of it is the theme, but I also think the core gameplay is pretty fun, as I’m a sucker for tableau building games in general. I also think it’s got a decent amount of weight to it, but is accessible enough that it could be among the first few games someone plays to get into modern board gaming. I’d highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the theme, and I, for one, am super interested to see where this goes after the Kickstarter. I’d love a Western theme or a promotional Board Game Convention theme or a Steampunk theme or …
I could keep going.