The Most Gentlemanly Brutal Board Game Ever
Heavy Steam
Developer: Jeff Gracia
Publisher: Greenbrier Games
Number of Players: 2 - 4
Playing Time: 120 minutes
MSRP: $79.99
Release Date: 2015

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a small article on a Kickstarter called Heavy Steam; it was a game that I had run into on the expo floor at PAX East, and excited for the new concepts being displayed to me, I backed it.  As the months afterward moved on however, I found myself growing nervous.  The game had a mechanic I wasn't familiar with.  Had I just spent my money for nothing?

A game about 30 foot tall steam titans beating the hell out of each other.  What could possibly go wrong?

This April, the game arrived on my doorstep, and it's been worth every penny ever since.  Let me introduce you to Heavy Steam, a game where you are constantly caught between hurting yourself to put that final blow on your opponent, yet feeling quite civilized while you do it in the end.

Heavy Steam is a game that is decidedly in the Steampunk category in its aesthetic: set in a slightly varied 20th century, England and the combined Central Europe Trust are at war, and on the front lines are the brand new Steam Titans.  Behemoths of war that are stories tall, these machines require a dedicated team of technicians and soldiers to make them function effectively, leveling their power across the battlefield with massive guns, devastating explosives, and even hand to hand lightning attacks.  This is where you as the player come in.

This is a board game that brings in elements of miniatures and wargaming.  It's a great entry to the genre.

There are miniatures involved in this game to be sure, but the main focus is on the character sheet that you have for your titan.  There's a flow to the power in your mech, and it's up to you to make sure that the steam goes to the right place, at the right time.  That's key in this game, because warming up your rifles, flamethrowers, and lightning-shooters takes a certain amount of energy.  Each round, from the boiler of your titan, you have a set amount of steam to redistribute to the arms, legs, and head of your machine.

This is an intimidating sheet to first learn, but after the first game, it becomes second nature very quickly.

It sounds like this could be tedious, but it isn't, believe me. The game starts out slow, with no one titan able to fire a weapon for the first round, but it quickly escalates due to how your titans have to recycle steam.  Firing weapons and moving your massive machine of steel takes steam that you've distributed and puts it into your 'boiler pressure' gauge, which is a mixed blessing.  See, when the turn ends, some of that bleeds out back into your reserve power for your boiler, allowing you to start powering up for later rounds.  However, until that point, pressure in the boiler makes it actually easier to attack and damage your titan.

 

It's a risk/reward system that pays off handsomely.  I've played through a good dozen games now, and they always grow in intensity due to this feedback system.  Your titan has shields, which is great, but you need steam to power them, which takes away from sending power to your guns faster.  Firing all-tilt can help you break through and possibly cripple your opponent's legs, or arms, or win on a weak point hit, but then you might be built way, way up on boiler pressure.  If you are in the overload stage (which happens quick if you aren't careful later on), you are rolling every turn to see if your boiler is just too hot, starting to melt your machine from the inside.



Many of the games I've played have been against Jon, and it usually ends with us screaming at the dice praying for a lucky hit.  There was one game where I maxed out my steam power to a point where I would probably explode, but managed to make his titan topple with a missile attack to the foot.  There was another time where my efforts to damage failed, and my machine's boiler ruptured, causing me unable to channel steam effectively for the rest of the game, left a desperate wreck on the battlefield, able to be picked off while I tried to repair myself.  This game isn't boring, it's intense, and that's a good thing.

A game set up for myself vs. both Jon and Brandon.  One Heavy Titan vs. two Light Titans was a blast.

A welcome surprise was discovering that the game had been crafted with ways to enjoy with an odd number of players.  There are 6 scenarios in the rule-book, and each has variants for the amount of players.  Because of this, we were able to play a game pitting a heavy British titan versus two light C.E.T. ones, playing to whoever could knock out someone out of the game the fastest.  It was a lot of fun, again, left with us nervously picking up dice and steam cubes, deciding whether or not to risk it all on one last offensive, or try and hold out for our machines to cool off for the next round.



There's so much that could still be said for this game: from the ability to divert steam for resource management later, to how you can try and purchase battle cards for tactical advantages rather than going for the big one-shot early on.  While the character sheets for your titans have weapons already on them, you can make every game different by swapping around their payloads: the game comes with a stack of small cards to change around what weapons and back up equipment you choose to bring. Want to make mobility a priority, or be more efficient in your ability to bleed steam out of your pressure gauge?  Choose the right pilot to bring into battle.



Heavy Steam isn't just a small board game, but a game that brings enough variety to both strategies and the titans themselves to keep being entertaining for an extended period of time.  The game-play is absolutely fantastic, and the thematic art I get a kick out of.  It's hilarious to see men in high-brow uniforms drinking tea on your battle cards while you and your friends are shouting at each other over the last volley of rifle shots.  The game just hit stores this last month, and while the price point might be a little high, again, I find it to be worth every penny.  Good luck showing your enemies what-for!



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