Unfair theme-park building game review – Kickstarter

Back in 1994 I played a video game inspired by Sim City (1989) called Theme Park. It was an open-ended development game where you design and manage a theme park. Using what money you had you were required to build rides, attractions, and better facilities to draw guests and increase profits. Every decision you made impacted the guests in some way and over time what you built and how you built it determined the money you received, which in turn allowed you to keep building and upgrading. Now imagine that was a card game and then crossover that card game with Steve Jacksonâ's Munchkin. That's what was in my head as I played Unfair.

Unfair is a 2-4 player tableau building card game by first time designer Joel Finch. In Unfair you race to build the biggest and the best theme park. As manager you must employ good fiscal know-how and keen developer instinct to compete for profits and prestige against other parks. It probably wouldn't hurt if you indulged in a little friendly sabotage in the process.

Unfair from Good Games now on Kickstarter theme-park building game boxUnfair theme-park building game – Awesome.

The base set comes with four themed decks, Pirates, Robots, Vampires, and Jungle. You can mix and match what ones you play with based on the number of players, and there is obviously plans to make this the expandable component of the game. These are shuffled into a draw pile and placed with the core cards that include event cards, event city cards, and blueprints. The cards themselves are a high quality with a beautiful shine that feels like to hold and play. Included is a board that provides an aesthetically appealing lay out for the cards, as well as cleverly scaffolds each turn and phase of the game.

It would be remiss of me to not take time to draw attention to the artwork in this game. The card illustrations are brought to you by the team that did Steampunk Rally. The artwork is not only visually stunning it is cleverly designed. When certain cards are placed beside each other they create a panorama. The artwork is fun and playful providing the feel of a Disney Land experience, even while aggressively closing and destroying each other's attractions. The card layout of text and titles work to provide the necessary information without distracting from the art. The flavour text is brilliant and provides a good laugh reading out loud to each other. In short the game is pretty and thoughtfully designed.

Unfair the themepark building game from Good Games Publishing and KickstarterUnfair has lovely artwork and quite the wit.

Set up and gameplay:
With a core set of cards and then a theme per player, this game suffers from a protracted set up and pack down. Not to sound like a broken record, when the game is set up the visual display is very satisfying though. The cards have easy to follow symbols to indicate their respective sets alleviating some of the pack down pressure, just another example of eth thoughtful design. Each player receives a main gate card, loan card, 5 park cards, two showcase cards, and 20 coins. The game play works in clear and easy to follow stages.

The Events step occurs first with every player drawing an event card. Next the Event City card is flipped over. This card provides influence over all players for the turn and will provide either a benefit to capitalise on or a disadvantage to mitigate. There are eight in total and the deck split into two sections with the first four providing benefits and the last four challenges. This not only adds complexity and strategy to game play, but also works as a convenient time mechanism pushing the game to an end while providing good positional heuristics.

The event phase concludes with players taking turns playing event cards from their hand one at a time. This phase continues around the circle so long as any player is willing to play another event. Once all players pass on playing a card the phase ends.

The event phase is predominantly where the take that mechanic of the game will take place. Events have duel abilities to select with the top part of the card benefiting the player, or the bottom part of the card that will disadvantage another player. You could use a card to build an upgrade for free, or shut down another players ride hindering their cash flow for that turn. Be warned, there are counter cards that might cause your effect to disappear or repay you in kind.

What happens during the event stage has a big influence over decisions for the rest of the turn. It can either strengthen a player's strategy or cause them to rethink and look for creative ways to improve their park. This stage ensures that the game will remain dynamic and unpredictable as well as providing a healthy amount of player interaction.

After finishing this Event Stage players will begin one of four possible Park Steps. I say possible because each turns provides 3 Park Stages as standards, but some events may allow a player to have one extra Stage.

For each Park Stage players may take one action. They may buy and build attractions and rides from the market, build from their hand, search the deck for much needed cards, draw extra event cards, or draw blueprints. Blue prints become a significant part of scoring in the end game.

With only three standard actions possible per round it is a tough call to decide if you will build during your turn or draw cards for later turns. While drawing cards is good, building attractions and upgrades will directly impact your cash flow and scoring at the end. These choices requiring strategy and tactics that will satisfy many gamers who are looking for depth to their gameplay.

Each round ends with guests coming to the parks and paying the player money depending on what attractions and upgrades have been built. This is followed by a clean up phase where players can reopen rides and clean out any lingering event cards.

At the end of eight rounds players tally their scores and see who wins. There is a 7 Wonders feel to scoring with your tableau scoring based on combinations of cards, number of up-grades on attractions, and money in the bank, as well as any modifiers. It is worth noting that the blueprints have no in game advantage, but provide a significant advantage during scoring. I would go so far to say that you could not win if you do not use them. The problem is that drawing them stops you from taking another action that will always seem more important at the time. To score from the blueprints you will need to build certain attractions and up-grades that will distract from a free flowing building phase. You may be left hunting for certain cards or choosing a lower scoring attraction to meet requirements, but when you see how they score it is well worth it.

Unfair will take 20-30 minutes per player. On your first couple of games this will most likely be longer causing the game to feel like it is dragging a little. But as player confidence improves so will speed and engagement.

The game carries the theme of building a theme park well. Each card worked effectively to provide the choices and satisfaction of establishing a successful attraction. For me the different park themes of Pirate, Jungle, Vampire, and Robots did not come through strong enough. Although I felt the joy and love of building my park I did not really experience the joy of building a Pirate themed park. While those cards were there, you could essentially mix and match freely with minimal benefit for matching themes or any disadvantage for mismatching themes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The benefit of this is that every card is potentially useful. There will never be a turn you cannot build something. This keeps game play moving and at all stages you are capable of doing something to improve your park. I suspect that further expansions will aid in strengthening this element of the game.

Unfair Good Games on Kickstarter Theme-parker building card gameUnfair looks great and has wonderful attention to detail.

Closing Thoughts:
For a first time designer this is a stunning debut. Unfair is a creation of love with thorough attention to detail which is as sensitive to game play as it is to the gaming experience. The take that element will always be a contentious part of game design. I am not a fan of that sort of thing personally but know some people adore it. So if you are like me and feel apprehensive I suggest at least giving it a play at some point. You may be surprised at how unlike other take that games it is. In fact, focusing on that strategy entirely will certainly guarantee that you are not doing enough to win the game. Instead it acts more as a mechanic from stopping run away victories. This just might be the right way to do the take that mechanic.

The Kickstarter was fully funded within 24hours of going live. However, with nearly a month still left to go there is time to get yourself a copy.