#809 – Steam Up [Preview]

Base price: $XX.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 40 – 60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Steam Up was provided by Hot Banana 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. 

More Kickstarters? In October? That’s … not terribly surprising, I guess. My sense of time is still wonky from this entire year. Alas. I kind of used conventions as a way to keep time, but, no such luck, this year, looking like. We’ll see if PAXU happens. Anyways, what we’ve got up next is a new game called Steam Up! I’ve been excited to check this one out for a while

In Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum, players are in it to win it at a legendary dim sum place! You’ve got a lot of food, and you don’t have a lot of time to eat as much as you can! You do have to play a bit nice, so, try to turn that turntable towards you and get the food that you crave most. You’ll have to take your fortune into your own hands (literally), but you should be able to do so if you can get fate and luck on your side. Will you be able to eat to the utmost? Or will you go home hungry?

Contents

Setup

Some things here are going to differ between the retail and Kickstarter versions, just as a heads-up.

To start, you want to set up your core play area in the center. So place the board down and create the Feast Zones by finding the circle that matches your player count, then make sure that the orange arrow on the board aligns with the orange line on the Feast Zone Indicator:

Every player should seat themselves such that they’re facing a different Feast Zone; this will become more relevant laterish. Next, place the score board:

You’ll be earning Hearty Points (or HP) this game. The Fortune and Fate cards sit here, too, but if you want a friendlier game go through those decks and remove all the cards with a * in the bottom-right. Either way, shuffle up the Fortune Cards:

Place them face-down on the score board, and shuffle the Fate cards, as well:

Place 18 of them face-down, returning the rest to the box. Set out the Food Tokens next:

Place the Lucky Die nearby, and place the Steamer Counter on the space on the score board corresponding to your player count. You can choose a player to go first and give them the first player marker, if you want to, as well:

Now the players get set up! Each player should get two random Animal Boards, keeping one of their choosing:

Then, players should take the scoring markers matching their animal choices and place them on the 0 space on the score board:

Final thing to do is to set up the Steamers! Take those out from the supply:

Create three groups of six steamers. Then, fill them with dim sum tokens! Do so as follows:

  • First group: Two dim sum in each steamer
  • Second group: Three dim sum in each steamer
  • Third group: Four dim sum in each steamer

Now, shuffle the steamers (somehow) and make random stacks of three steamers. Place these six stacks on the turntable. You’re just about ready to start! Each Animal Board dictates how many Food Tokens (your choice which ones) and Fortune Cards you start with. Once you’ve collected from the supply, you’re ready to get started!

Gameplay

As mentioned, the goal of Steam Up is to collect delicious dim sum to earn Hearty Points (HP from here on out, probably). The game is otherwise played over a series of rounds, each consisting of one turn per player.

Take Two Actions

On your turn, you may take any two of five possible actions. The two actions you choose must be different!

Gain Food Token

This one’s pretty simple; you just take a Food Token from the supply. Your choice, but if the supply is out of tokens of a type, you can’t gain any more of them.

Exchange Two Fortune Cards for a Food Token

You may discard two Fortune Cards to take a Food Token of your choice from the supply. Not a whole lot to say, here, either.

Draw a Fortune Card (+ Optional Rotate)

Draw a Fortune Card from the deck. You may also rotate the central turntable 90 degrees in any one direction.

Play a Fortune Card (+ Optional Rotate)

You may play a Fortune Card face-up to the discard pile and resolve its effect. After fully resolving its effect, you may also rotate the central turntable 90 degrees in any one direction.

Purchase a Steamer

You may spend Food Tokens matching the dim sum in a steamer in your Feast Zone to purchase it. You must buy the whole steamer at once. When you do, take the steamer off the board and add it to your supply, placing the included dim sum on your player board. As you cover a number with the corresponding dim sum, gain that many HP. Then, move the Steamer Counter on the score board down by 1. If you ever hit 0, the game ends after this round starts.

Note that if you buy dim sum after the corresponding row on your board is full, that dim sum is worth 0 points.

End of Round

After every player has taken a turn, the round ends. Start a new round by revealing a Fate Card, and then the player with the first player token takes their turn. Turns proceed clockwise.

End of Game

The game ends at the end of a round where one of these two things happened:

  • The Fate Deck is empty (meaning you played the last Fate card and then played a full round)
  • The Steamer counter is 0

After the round ends, move on to Final Scoring. Players gain and lose points for extra Fortune Cards and Food Tokens, respectively:

  • +1 HP for every 2 Fortune Cards left in hand
  • -1 HP for every 2 Food Tokens still in a player’s supply

The player with the most HP wins!

Player Count Differences

In a rare move, I prefer this one on the higher end of the player count spectrum. Here, while it can be pretty annoying to lose out on a steamer to another player, there’s usually enough lead time where you can predict what they’re going to pick that you can alter your trajectory, a bit, if that’s what you’re particularly worried about. But it does make the strategy more interesting about what steamer you want to take. At two, you usually have access to at least half the steamers, so it’s often just perfectly reasonably optimal to just stay in your lane and always go after steamers on your half of the board. You usually won’t take too many hits, as a result. At higher player counts, it’s unlikely that your little slice of the board is always going to be exactly what you need. Plus, there’s more contention for certain ingredients (based on player powers), so things will be moving around a bit more quickly. I actually kind of like that? Steam Up isn’t so heavy of a game that I’m irritated about it. You can play more spitefully, if that’s your scene (and I might be a bit averse to playing this at five), but the game’s got pretty short turns, so you’re not exactly waiting too long, either. I’d say the sweet spot for me is three or four players?

Strategy

  • Play to your player power. Your player power is your one major advantage beyond having good luck with Fortune Cards or steamer placement, and you can’t rely on those, as much. Your power should give you ways to bend the rules a bit (such as being able to take the same action twice) or ways to score bonus points for certain dim sum. If you can lean into those abilities, you may be able to outpace your opponents on points, but if you spend the game ignoring them, an opponent who is more efficient with theirs may be able to beat you.
  • Note that swapping dim sum out may activate additional bonuses, based on your abilities. If you swap a dim sum that you got bonus points for for another dim sum that scores you bonus points, you’ll lose the base points but keep the bonus! This means you could effectively cycle points around if you’ve got a lot of swapping Fortune cards. That said, the Snake’s ability doesn’t allow you to re-score columns, so there are some exceptions to this. You won’t likely get a ton of points, this way, but you might get a few!
  • You should keep an eye on what food tokens players take. This is the best possible information about what dim sum steamers they’re looking out for, which, if they’re ahead of you, you may want to not go after. This hint of progression can be a great way to make sure you don’t end up screwed over or stuck with more Food Tokens than you can usefully spend.
  • There’s some strategy to rotating the steamers out of players’ Feast Zones so that they can’t take them. I wouldn’t call this super strategically sound as like, a thing you should actively try to do, but if you’re already playing or drawing a Fortune card, it might be worth just rotating the turntable once to mess up your opponents’ plans just a tiny bit. The action economy in this game is extremely tight, so even forcing your opponent to take an additional action to re-rotate the turntable might delay them a full turn on their plans to take a steamer. It’s rude, but, I mean, it’s strategy.
  • Your player count may not allow every steamer to get taken. Don’t rely on eventually getting that steamer you want; at low player counts, you’ll only really be taking 12 or so. This means that your opponents might be the one to end the game out from under you, which can always be a nasty surprise.
  • Try not to have any leftover Food Tokens when the game ends. This is just your standard “try not to do things that will actively cost you points” reminder, which I think is always worth bringing up. You should generally try to keep points, not lose them? I know, incredible insights here. Please leave your praise in the comments or something. But in all seriousness, this is a very particular reminder that hoarding Food Tokens only is a short-term benefit; you need to have a plan to spend them, as well.
  • Taking the First Player Token might be an interesting power move, especially if that allows you to chain two consecutive turns. If you end the round by taking it, you’ll start the next round, which might be the perfect four consecutive action sequence you need to really grab two Food Tokens and surprise your opponents by taking a steamer that nobody expected.
  • It’s usually a good idea to keep two Fortune Cards in hand, just in case you need to sneak ahead of an opponent. This allows you to take a Food Token in exchange for the cards, which is good. Honestly, generally I would recommend just having a few Fortune Cards at all times; it’s pretty helpful to have those bonus effects and they can potentially give you a much-needed boost at the right time beyond just being useful for a single Food Token. Plus, you can make the rotations work for you, as mentioned above.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The component quality is some of the most impressive stuff I’ve ever seen in a Kickstarter game, and this is only a prototype. The steamers are particularly impressive, which I’m pleased with, but I love the 3D-printed dim sum bits, as well. The notes included with the prototype suggest that the final product will be even nicer, which I’m particularly excited about.
  • Not that it’s particularly relevant to the game, itself, but they labeled all the bags of things in the prototype copy, which made getting it played significantly easier. I appreciate that kind of thing. This was just a very attention-to-detail kind of move, which made my reviewer life much easier. It really is a very nice prototype, as opposed to the occasional “mess of components in a large box” which happens from time to time. Especially since this box was a mix of retail components and Kickstarter edition components.
  • The art is excellent. It’s just a very good-looking game. BGG suggests the art was done by a combination of Grace TjahyadiTim Cheng, and YDX Art, and they did a great job. The board looks good, the scoreboard looks good, the Animal boards look great. I love the color scheme for the game, as well. It’s bold in the right places and it highlights the dim sum in the steamers.
  • I really like food-themed games, and I’m a big fan of dim sum, so this hits a bunch of positive things, for me. There really cannot be too many food-themed games, especially when they’re digging into foods from around the world. It’s a great theme, it’s easy to engage with, and if the food art is great, as well.
  • I like that the different zodiac animals have distinct personalities relative to the kind of restaurant customer they’d be. It could have been just “here are some animals; animals are cute, etc”, but making them into occasionally-moody customers / food bloggers is fun. I appreciated it.
  • The different player powers are, on the whole, pretty interesting, as well. I’m not as enticed by the “score bonus points for taking dim sum of specific types”, just because that’s fairly basic, but being able to cycle dim sum with the Rooster or take the same action twice with the Horse can be really interesting actions, for instance. The Rat, Goat, and Monkey allow for exciting swings but might be trouble if you’re not careful. I think that’s fun, though, so, I’m into it.
  • It’s not a particularly complicated game to learn, which I think is going to give it a lot of appeal for its target audience. I was surprised, writing up my Gameplay notes, that the rulebook was shorter on the Gameplay section than I had thought I remembered. But Steam Up is largely “take two actions” on your turn, and the actions are not too expansive in scope. It’s mostly “turn X resources into Y points”, but with some extra thematic hooks that I prefer and appreciate.
  • I appreciate that the game supports removing the take-that cards for a more relaxed experience. I always like it when games do that. The cards themselves aren’t all that mean, but there are some that are definitely a bit more on the rude side.
  • One thing I really like is that the Feast Zones are divided such that sometimes steamers will straddle two Feast Zones and sometimes they won’t, depending on the rotation. That’s very clever design. It means that there’s incentive to pay attention to how you’re rotating, rather than just rotating to rotate. If you do that correctly, you can have access to an extra steamer that you might otherwise have missed out on. That’s a clever thing to do, and I like that Steam Up’s doing it.
  • In general, I find this game to be a very thoughtful and well-produced title, including the rules and the myriad clarifications and examples therein. Steam Up does a very good job of answering most of my rules questions with concrete examples, which helped me a lot when I was learning it. It’s one of the few games that I felt like I made no mistakes with on my first play, and a lot of that is that the rulebook is very thorough and specific, which is much appreciated from my end.

Mehs

  • Given that you have to somewhat telegraph your intended steamer, it’s possible for an opponent to block you and that can be frustrating for some players. Honestly, this is a symptom of a larger problem I have with the game (see Cons), but this is mostly worth mentioning because the game otherwise seems extremely nice and pleasant and thematic. You may spend a few turns building up Food Tokens only to get swiped right before you can buy the steamer you had your eye on. That’s kind of the name of the game when it comes to market games like this, but if you’re not expecting it, it can be a nasty surprise.
  • The catch-up mechanics are largely limited to Fate and Fortune cards, which means that if you get behind, you either need to get lucky or spend actions on trying to catch up. I had a game where a player kind of started in last and finished in last and could just never quite get things together enough to catch up. While that player was me and, frankly, I wasn’t playing particularly well, it also was a bit unfortunate that we never got any of the cards that benefitted players with the lowest HP. Not much to be done, here, though; at some level, you don’t necessarily want the game to boost a player in last to first without them having some semblance of a strategy, and I straight-up did not have any useful strategy. Alas.
  • The game was slightly lighter than I expected / wanted. I think when I see 40 – 60 minutes, I’m expecting something in the medium-light to medium range. Steam Up is fairly light. It’s not a hugely complex game, there aren’t really combos to keep an eye on, and the range of actions is relatively compact. I think that’s all good! I just think that I would have been intrigued by something that was a bit more complex than this is. But that would be a different game entirely, so, not much to be done there. I do think that 60 minutes is pushing it a bit for a game that’s on the lighter side, but I also suspect that if you can get five players to play this (which is where I think it’ll push to 60), then you’ll also likely have people who are engaged enough with the theme that it won’t be a huge problem. Hence, Meh!

Cons

  • The game’s fundamental action economy can feel a bit stilted, just because you can’t get Food Tokens all that fast. While I understand the limitation of “each action can only be done once”, it feels like you can get a bit off-sync on pacing, which can make the game feel a bit slow. I generally do a “take a Food Token” + play / draw a Fortune Card until I can get the steamer I need, which is a nice back-and-forth pace, but given that, it usually can take 3 – 4 turns before I can buy a steamer, which can feel a bit long (and probably also explains why I expected the game to be more complex, given its play time estimates). I think this is probably the ideal pace of the game; I could imagine this going well if you’re just chatting with friends between turns (or, ideally, eating dim sum of your own), but if you’re sitting down to power through the game and focusing up, there’s not always a ton to do on your turn. It does make the game a bit easier to understand, though, since the actions you can take are largely simple ones.

Overall: 7.5 / 10

Overall, I was pleased with Steam Up. I think that it belongs to a certain class of Kickstarters that benefit from just being Kickstarted; similar to Chai, Steam Up seems to be taking its component quality as seriously as possible in service of its theme, and I think delivering on that will make the game visually and physically impressive, regardless of the gameplay. Thankfully, the strong service of the game’s theme shines through in the mechanics, as well, making for a game that is striking, yes, but fun also. I don’t necessarily think that your average “BGG 3.0+ or bust” player is going to necessarily love this game; it’s, weight-wise, around where Splendor is. But I do think that makes sense for the target audience, which seems to be both folks interested in engaging more with the game’s theme through fun and light gameplay, and folks who are interested in the theme and might want to try a game about it. I’d say Steam Up is probably a bit lighter than I would like, for the length of play, but it still has enough interesting stuff going for it that I would be down to play. I really like the care put into the cards, the art, and the player powers; the game is an end-to-end solid production, and I think that can help draw players in a fair amount. I also really like the interplay of the steamers and the Feast Zones; strategically rotating the game’s central area to deny your opponents the dim sum they want is a little bit of harmless aggression that doesn’t always feel like take-that. This does make the game a bit more engaging at higher player counts, however; making the game more hectic is a bit to its benefit, and while two was fun, I can see how more moving parts makes for a more engaging game. Plus, if Hot Banana Games puts as much care into the game’s final production as they put into this prototype copy, I think backers are going to be impressed. I’ve literally never had a prototype with labeled bags for everything before. It was a nice change. All in all, I enjoyed my time playing Steam Up, and if you’re a foodie, a dim sum fan, or you just really like components, I imagine you’ll enjoy this one as well!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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