Full disclosure: A preview copy of Streets of Steel was provided by Other Stuff Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
As promised, there’s always more Kickstarters in the banana stand. To that end, I respectfully submit for consideration an additional two Kickstarter previews, this week. Y’all have been really great, so allow me to throw on another review of an already-published game, too. Please enjoy.
Let’s talk about Streets of Steel, an 80’s-themed retro beat-’em-up sidescroller wowee that’s a lot of words. Anyways, you used to live in a great town, but now it’s become … not-so-good. There’s punks and people with flamethrowers and mutant kangaroos and also PTA attendance isn’t so great. You’ve decided to fix up the town the only way you can: punching and kicking anything that so much as looks at you the wrong way, and occasionally wading into toxic sludge to find some food and eat it. All decent life choices. Will you be able to clean up this town? Or is your luck (and your supply of quarters) about to run out?
Setup isn’t too difficult. First, choose your character(s):
- 1 player: Choose any three characters you want.
- 2 players: Each player chooses two characters.
- 3 players: Each player chooses one character.
- 4 players: Each player chooses one character.
Each will have minis, yes, but also, pixellated standees! Really help you get into the “I’m playing an 80s-themed arcade game mindset”, which is important. Each will also have a variety of tokens:
The grey disks are Quarters, and you’ll want to use a certain amount depending on what difficulty you want:
- Easy: 5 Quarters
- Normal: 3 Quarters
- Hard: 2 Quarters
More on those later. The red tokens are Health and the Blue tokens are Wild Power, used for special moves. Give each player tokens equal to their Health and Wild Power values on their card. The brown tokens are Item / Obstacle Tokens. They’re gonna be cardboard in the actual Kickstarter; I’m just working with a demo copy, here, so we’re gonna use our imagination for a few things.
You’ll also want to pick out the Baddies:
Choose 1 Level 1 Baddie, 1 Level 2 Baddie, 1 Level 3 Baddie, and 1 Boss. Currently, the preview copy I got only comes with one of each, but I’m hoping that with stretch goals and expansion content and such that there will be plenty of content for you to mix-and-match. Like the characters, the Baddies will have both miniatures and the pixellated standees for you to use, so you can choose whichever you like best.
Shuffle the Item cards:
Set them nearby, but aside, for now.
You’ll want to shuffle the Baddies’ Behavior Cards together (Levels 1 – 3):
Those will determine which Baddies activate on their turns and what they do. Also, shuffle the Boss Behavior Cards, but set them aside until a later turn:
Those affect the Boss’s movement and attacks. Now, set out the dice:
The yellow dice are Punch (P), the blue dice are Kick (K), and the red dice are Danger Dice (DD). Now, set up the streets themselves:
You’ll want to take one red tile and put it on the bottom of the stack. Take four yellow tiles and put them on top of that, and then three green tiles and put them on top of that. That’s all I’ve got, currently (you can tell by the color of the sign on the front / back), but there may be more with the Kickstarter.
Flip the top three Street Tiles and lay them left-to-right. Now, add Baddies on all the spaces with sirens and a number on them; those are spawn points for those Baddies. Once you’ve done that, each player may add their Character to one of the left-most spaces. You should be all ready to start!
A game of Streets of Steel is played over several rounds. Each round has a Characters Phase and a Street Phase; I’ll go over each in turn. One thing worth knowing is that there are many names for spots on a street:
- Lane refers to the thinly-divided spots on a Space. Baddies generally occupy the right lane of a Space, whereas Characters usually occupy the left lane. They’re still considered the same Space.
- Space is the block composed of two lanes. There are six Spaces on a Street Tile card — two each in three Rows.
- Tile is the card that composes part of the Street. Each has six Spaces, three Rows, and two Columns.
- Row is a continuous line of Spaces along the top, middle, or bottom of the three Street Tiles that compose the Street.
- Column is a continuous line of Spaces from the top to the bottom of a Street Tile. There are two columns per Tile.
- Some cards refer to Adjacent. For any space, an adjacent space is the space immediately above or below your space, or the space to the left or right of your space. Diagonals only count as adjacent in Santorini, I’ve been finding more and more recently.
The Character Phase is made up of several turns where each Character gets a chance to activate. When activated, the Character can perform up to 3 Actions (and may repeat Actions, if so desired):
- Move: A Character may move spaces (the two-lane blocks) up to their Movement Speed (the number by the green arrow on the Character card). Most Characters have 2 Movement, in the core game. There are some rules and limits around movement, but all of the negative ones are ignored on your first Action (since you’re still invincible), including your first action if you need to respawn for … some reason. Anyways, here are the rules:
- If you move into a Hazard space (with the toxic-looking barrels) or end your turn there, immediately roll the Danger Dice. If the result is not blank, you take damage equal to the number on the back of the Behavior Deck’s top card. Rough! Try not to … walk through sludge.
- If you exit a space with a Baddie, they will try to Backstab you. The dastards. Roll the die next to the Backstab icon (the little dagger) on the Baddie’s card. You take damage equal to that roll’s value.
- If you enter a space with an Item token, congratulations! You got an Item! Draw the top card of the Item deck. Some have immediate values, others do not. If you already have an Item, you may only keep one.
- You may not enter a Space with more than three figures. This includes Characters, so be careful about bunching up your allies in one … inconvenient place.
- If you enter a spot with an Obstacle (either the big concrete block or an Obstacle Token), your movement ends immediately. You’ll have to use another Move action to get out of there.
- Attack: A Character may roll their respective attack dice to attack an enemy on the same space as them. Their attack dice are the numbers next to the fist and the foot on their character card. If they successfully roll a number of symbols higher than the defense (the number next to the shield) of the Baddie they’re attacking, the Baddie is defeated and they collect Wild Power as a bounty (the number next to the stack of coins).
- Taunt: You may collect one Wild Power. Honestly, it’s a lot more fun if you also make up a catchphrase for your character and yell one out. I have plenty, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Wild Power can be used for many things, like rerolling dice when you attack, you are attacked, or you enter or end your turn on a Hazard. They can also be used for …
- Special Attack: Spend Wild Power equal to the cost of one of your Special Moves on your Character card to do something rad. Check your card for more details.
Perform your three actions, and then the baddies get to go. Baddies take a turn after every Character turn. It’s sort of like drawing Infection cards in Pandemic. Anyways, flip the top card of the Baddie Deck and perform the action indicated. There may be a Redraw symbol on the card:
If that appears, that means that there must be at least one of the Baddies of the named type on the board for this effect to take place. If not, it’s ignored and discarded, and you must immediately draw another card. Rough. Most of the cards have Tiebreaker options (the row of symbols), showing you which character they target if they ever have a tie on which character they’re attempting to pursue. Also, if the path is equal either way, Baddies will always move vertically before moving horizontally. They additionally are not affected by Obstacles or Hazards. Darn Baddies.
Once all players have activated, the Character Phase ends and the Street Phase begins!
Alright, the Street Phase is up next! During this phase, the screen advances and new enemies appear!
Do the following, in order:
- Discard the left-most street tile. Everything on that tile is removed. Baddies; items; and, well, if the character is standing there, you. If you’re still on the leftmost tile when it’s removed, well, your character loses all of their health. So, bit of strategy advice, don’t do that.
- Add the top tile of the tile deck to the right side. I usually slide the two remaining tiles to the left and then add the new tile in the now-open space. Not too bad.
- Set-up the rightmost tile. Add item tokens to the various item spaces and Baddies to the relevant spawn points. If you revealed the Boss Tile (the one with the red sign), follow the instructions that were on the back of the tile now.
Play continues until you have to fight the Boss!
Once you’ve gotten the Boss in play, the game changes a smidge. Remove the Baddie Behavior deck from the game and replace it with the more modestly-sized Boss Behavior deck. That dictates how the Boss moves and performs actions after each player’s turn, which is usually bad for you.
When you fight the Boss, you don’t just win if you roll higher than their defense. Instead, you deal 1 damage to them and you gain one Wild Power. When you’ve reduced their health to 0, then you win!
What Happens If You Die
When you die (run out of health), flip your Character sheet over, and also remove your Character from the board, for now. If you have quarters left to spend, you can put another quarter in the machine (removing it from the game) to come back on your turn. Essentially, you start the game from scratch — you are at full health, you have 1 Wild Power, and you place yourself anywhere in the leftmost column of the board. You also have that helpful First Action Invulnerability that you remember from earlier in my review. Fantastic!
If you’re out of quarters, well … you don’t come back. If everyone’s dead and you’re out of quarters … game over, man.
Play continues until the Boss is defeated or all players are defeated!
Player Count Differences
Hm. It seems a smidge … easier? at two and four since you have four characters on the board, which gives you a bit more players to spread the damage around to. At odd numbers, you only have three characters, which does track a bit better if you’re playing with only three quarters, but I feel like generally I’d rather have the extra character.
At even numbers, your main problem is going to be clogged pathways, since you can still only have three Figures on any given space.
Solo is still pretty difficult since you’re also going to be managing a lot of cognitive load. It’s a similar problem with most cooperative games with perfect information — you can play it solo, but, like Spirit Island, it may be too much for your poor hamster brain to process all at once. I’ve had this problem with Burgle Bros. where I’ve basically never lost on the two-floor variant as long as I’m playing with another player who will watch my back. As soon as I fly solo, I’m Icarus heading straight towards the sun. It’s still fun, but it’s tough.
Either way, I don’t really have a strong player count preference — I think it’s fun at any of them.
- Know your strengths. Mayor Van Dammage has 4 punch dice, meaning he’s reliable, but can’t take on any 4 Defense Baddies (since the max he can hit is 4) without some help. To that end, as far as the base game goes, he should stay away from Killgaroos. Kiki is stronger, but “less” reliable (though, probability-wise, her expected damage per roll is 3.16, a bit better than the Mayor’s 2.67, I think). If you put them in the right circumstances, they can really make the situation work to their advantage.
- Use Special Moves Sparingly. A lot of them do a lot of damage, but don’t let you collect any Wild Power as a result. It’s often not a bad idea to save Wild Power so that you can re-roll to save your life. That will happen a fair amount of the time, since you get attacked a bunch.
- Going for broke is both thematically appropriate and generally a good idea. If the Boss can be killed with three hits, take the shot. Maybe you die if you miss, sure, but honestly a blaze of glory isn’t a bad way to go. Plus, again, thematically, it’s very on-brand.
- Items are generally pretty good. Some of them will occasionally cost you a bit of health or Movement in exchange for a useful effect, so, be careful with what you pick up.
- Keep an eye on the Behavior deck. When there’s a 0 on top, it’s time to go through the Hazards (since they’ll do 0 damage anyways). You can use that to zip around the board (or potentially collect an item). Those are all great things to do, especially if you want to avoid the scroll.
- Do not finish your turn on the leftmost tile. You will die unless someone moves you, and it’s very difficult to move people. So don’t be there. Your last action, if necessary, should always be moving to the right.
- Getting backstabbed isn’t the worst thing. Generally, people aren’t very accurate on the Backstab rolls (since they’re only rolling 1 die). I wouldn’t recommend running through four or five Baddies, but if it’s between that and a guaranteed death, I would most definitely take those odds.
- Don’t bother with rerolling Punch dice if you’re being attacked with one. You’ve got a 2/3s chance of getting hit. That’s not great. At least with the Kick / Danger Dice your odds are better than 50-50.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. It’s definitely a love story written to both the side-scrolling beat-em’-up genre of video games and also the 80s, and I’m a fan of both things, so naturally I was here for this. My friends also really like the theme, so everyone got into it. Again, I really recommend that players come up with character catchphrases whenever they taunt. It’s really fun.
- Executes on the theme really well. I love the actual side-scrolling part. Is it kind of a pain to do, mechanically? Sure. Do I have to do it enough that I really notice? Not really. It happens max 5 or 6 times. But the game does well and is better for having that kinda gimmicky bit, because it shows that they want to build the theme into the game, and I respect that.
- Diverse character representation. It’s not just all white dudes fighting crime in the streets, and I appreciate that. It’s still a bit tropey, but I’m kind of gonna chalk that up to being an 80s theme more than anything else. I appreciate that they seem to have been proactive about making a diverse audience represented in the characters, and I hope they continue that decision as they add additional characters and build on the game.
- Seems super expandable in a lot of ways. I mean, you can imagine more characters, more Baddies, more Street Tiles, more Street Tile types, more dice, more Hazards, thematic packs or episodes, heck, even a Campaign Mode seems like it would be super fun. Imagine a Legacy / RPG version of this where you’d upgrade your character between games? There’s a lot of opportunity here with this system, and I hope that enough people see the potential that it can be properly realized. Seems fun.
- Plays reasonably quickly. I think my longest game took an hour? That’s not too bad, at all.
- A fair number of confusing wording / gaps in the rules. I shouldn’t super knock previews for that, since they’re still getting it cleaned up (hence why it’s a Meh), but there are still things that are unclear. Can Baddies attack you if they’re not in your space? (No, they cannot.) What’s the difference between Move To and Move Towards? (You move straight to the person’s space, whereas Move Towards you take a step in their direction). Things like that. It happens. I also got pretty confused with the words Space, Lane, and Tile, but reading the rules a few times helped clear that up, a bit. It can just take a while to get used to the game. That’s the way it goes, sometimes.
- It’s a bit sparse, content-wise. Again, another thing I hope they’ll beef up with the Kickstarter, but it would be nice to be able to try some more varied scenarios. Given that the core is solid, though, it seems like that opportunity will be available to more than just me, soon enough.
- Playing solo can be a lot of cognitive overhead. These kinds of games are already tough to manage because there’s a lot going on. It’s not nearly as intense as Spirit Island (which, honestly, is good), but there’s still a lot of movement and stuff to plan for. It helps to play with more players, as a result, so you have other people watching your back (and checking your math, which is often pretty important when planning turns).
- As with almost all multiplayer perfect information cooperative games, it has some opportunity for one player taking over. It’s a weak Con because it’s generically applicable to almost every game I’ve played of this type, but I usually mention it because it’s worth discussing.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
I’ve had a lot of fun playing Streets of Steel! I’ve tried out several of the characters and they all play well in their own wacky ways. The natural draw for me is the theme (and its implementation in the actual side-scrolling nature of the board), sure, but I also appreciate that it’s cooperative and lets us strategize on how to beat up bad guys most efficiently. My friends and I would cheer for great dice rolls, lament bad ones, and everything in between, and we had a wonderful time with it. If you’re like me and moving from video games to board games or if you’re looking for something to remind you of the arcade games you used to play, Streets of Steel is a fun blend of nostalgia and some good parts of modern board game design for a fresh take that still feels familiar. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, and would recommend taking it for a whirl!