Merging unique worlds with creative mechanics is often the recipe for great and memorable board games. There are dozens upon dozens of titles where the theme makes everything click and turns the game from great to unforgettable. Is Steamwatchers, the newest title by Mythic Games, like that? The setting is without doubt unique and the gameplay has tons of complexity. Let’s have a closer look!
Tales from The Frozen Wastes
The world as we know it was destroyed long ago. The climate started changing to the point when humanity ended up living in the “New Ice Age”. Despite the cold, deadly-dangerous conditions certain groups wander outside society’s final bastions. These people are called the Steamwatchers and they spend their days and nights scouring the land for steam pillars – phenomena of nature that keep showing up in this post-apocalyptic world.
The remaining people are able to live thanks to the wonderful properties of said steam. Sadly the resource itself might be dangerous if one gets too close to it. That’s because of “Bane” – a deadly disease that has something to do with the pillars.
Steamwatcher clans compete with each other for steam, while doing everything in their power to avoid Bane or at least make it consume them slower…
Resources and How They Power the Game
As you can see, many mysterious resources help humanity survive in the universe of Steamwatchers. Steam is the most valuable of them and people get it from steam columns of varying height (from 1 to 3 levels).
Algofuel is another resource vital for functioning in this frozen hell. Clans use it to build farms. Its other usage is less peaceful, as algofuel can also be used during combat to increase power. Algofuel is generated through player boards and some of it gets restored every turn.
There are two ways to win the game and both are related to the resources we mentioned. First: you win the game if you collect 10 geothermal resources (farms and steam pillars). The other way to win is to wait until the final turn takes place and be the person with the most geothermal resources.
The Art of War – Factions, Units and Combat
Steamwatchers is played in a group of 2 to 5 players – each picking a different faction to control. Every clan gets an unique ability and an exclusive unit.
Highglimmer Apostles, the paladin-like faction who believes in ”Light” has additional defensive abilities and can convert enemy units to their side. Catabatians are the proud owners of their flying Erinye who can move over mountains. Menrau have access to special farms, that punish whoever tries to capture them. Free Fleet can use their secret accomplices to make some parts of the game easier. Rheinfreie Stamm is a powerful, military faction that can recruit more soldiers and get bonuses in combat. Finally: Rhone Conglomerate can boobytrap some of their structures.
The bonuses feel very varied and each faction allows for different approach to most difficult situations.
Through the Phases
The number of rounds is determined by the scenario, but usually stays between 3 and 6. Each round consists of 5 different phases, that are always played in order.
The initial one, called the Conclave Phase, determines which player takes on which role in Conclave. This is determined by his or her leader token’s position on the title booking track. There are 4 different positions here and each gives its own bonuses like drawing more cards or drawing and playing game wide abilities.
In the Thaw Phase players, who’ve decided to be watchers during on the Conclave, reveal Steam Column Cards from their hand, marking the locations where said pillars appear and how tall they are. Additional cards are drawn and played for each player who didn’t choose to be a watcher during Conclave and then these also reveal more columns.
Order Planning Phase comes third and has players secretly place Order Tokens near their own troops. There are three types of orders: moving, defending and decoy. After everyone is done players reveal their tokens and the next phase begins.
Resolving Orders Phase has players perform actions from their tokes. Decoy tokens don’t do anything and are a way to bluff your opponents. If you decided to use a move token – you relocate your units to another area. It’s also possible to use a special action and place a beacon, which makes the area you’re leaving still yours. If you move to a place with other player’s units are located – you have to fight them. Strengths of both armies are summed up along bonuses from defense tokens, turrets, algofuel used etc.
In the final Whiteout Phase players build farms, the columns get shorter and algofuel is refilled.
Steamwatchers feels like a fantastic area control game with a healthy amount of depth. The setting itself breathes a lot of life into the game. The feeling of being the last remnants of humanity, constantly endangered by the biting cold, can be felt all the time. For example: many units and resources are removed from the game during certain actions so you need to plan everything much more carefully than in other similar games.
Asymmetric factions add a lot of variety to the gameplay and require different strategies. Same with scenario cards that alter each session and boost replayability through the roof.
Combat is another aspect we enjoyed, as it offers plenty of options and the usage of secretly placed tokens makes many situations hard to predict. Instead of just summing powers or making bets with algofuel – you have to use all of these and plenty of other factors (like turrets) to determine the victorious squad.
And finally: the visual side of the game is top notch – especially the clan-themed miniatures.
According to the Kickstarter campaign Steamwatchers will ship in March next year. Backers who want to expand their game can also check out the 3 add-on expansions available on campaign’s website.