- Designers: Pauline Kong, Marie Wong, Haymen Lee
- Publisher: Hot Banana Games
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 14+
- Time: 40-60 minutes
- Played with prototype copy provided by publisher
Steam Up places gamers in the midst of a dim sum restaurant – sitting around a common table, competing with each other to get the best selection of the tasty bite size treats as they come out! The board shows a turntable with spaces of 6 stacks of bamboo steamers. These are seeded with 2, 3 or 4 pieces of Dim Sum. The outside rim of the turntable has marks which designate an area for each player. Any steamers which are wholly or partly in a player’s area can be taken by that player.
There are five different varieties in the game, the white BBQ bun (Siopao), pink shrimp dumpling (Hargow), Yellow pork dumpling (Siumai), Red chicken foot (Fung-zao), andthe green rice in lotus leaf (Lo-Maigai). In my version of the game, they are represented by nice molded plastic pieces though there are also flat cardboard chits if you prefer.
Each player is given a character card – which comes with a unique special ability. There is also a scoring chart for the five different types of delicacies. When you are more experienced, you will get 2 characters to choose from.
The Fortune deck is shuffled and placed near the board. The Fate deck is constructed; 18 cards are selected at random and placed in a deck near the board as well. The main board has a large scoreboard as well as a Steamer Track, which is a game timer. Each player gets some starting food tokens and fortune cards as shown on their player board, and the game starts. The game will be played in a number of rounds until either the Steamer Track hits zero or the Fate deck is empty.
On your turn, you must take two different actions from a menu of 5. The options are;
1] Gain a token – choose any food token from the supply
2] Draw a Fortune card and possibly rotate the steamer table – if you choose to rotate the table, move it 90 degrees in any direction.
3] Play a Fortune card and possibly rotate the steamer table – Play a card from your hand to the table, resolve the effect on it, then after the card is resolved, you may turn the table
4] Exchange 2 Fortune cards for a Food Token
5] Purchase a Steamer – discard Food tokens to match the contents of any visible steamer basket (i.e. one on top of a stack) that is in your area on the turntable. Move the Steamer marker down on the main board. Then take the basket, place it next to your board, and then place the individual dim sum pieces onto your board. Score points equal to the number written in the circle filled by the dim sum.
Once all players have taken a turn, the round is over. To start the next round, reveal the top Fate card from the deck – the effect may be an immediate one or it may be ongoing for the whole next round. If the first player had moved during the previous round (usually due to a Fortune card), play starts in the next round from there.
The game ends at the end of a round when either the Steamer counter is at zero OR the Fate deck is empty. At that point, there is a bit of final scoring. Each player scores 1VP for each 2 Fortune cards in their hand. There is also a penalty of 1 VP for every 2 Food tokens left over at the end.
My thoughts on the game
Steam Up is a solid family/light strategy game. If you haven’t heard of it before, that’s because we have an advance copy, and it’s coming to Kickstarter later this month. Thematically, it’s a big hit for me – I’m of Chinese heritage, and I’ll admit that I love eating Dim Sum. Many a Sunday afternoon in my childhood was spent eating tasty treats from bamboo steamers. The rules bring a lot of theme as well – as there are plenty of descriptive passages that explain the history and traditions of Dim Sum.
The game is a nice resource management game with a bit of timing and tactics. Players definitely need to collect the necessary food tokens to claim a basket. However, there is a second layer of complexity in that you also need to have access to the steamer basket with those Dim Sum within. You might need to turn the turntable to get the right steamer in your quadrant, or maybe you have a special ability to let you buy otherwise unreachable steamers. Also, don’t forget that you can use the turntable in a defensive sense, by moving baskets away from players who could otherwise buy that steamer.
The Fortune cards add a bit of unpredictability to the game as the actions on the cards can be quite variable – but it probably will even out over the course of the game. As you have to take two different actions each turn, and since the main way to rotate the board is to do something with a Fortune card, you’ll likely be drawing and playing a number of these cards during the game. Being able to discard a pair of cards for a Food token is a great way to get two food tokens in a single turn – this can be useful to give yourself some added flexibility when you are unable to purchase a steamer on your current turn.
I like the way that the different player boards each have unique abilities, they can definitely cause you to pursue a different strategy in each game in order to take advantage of the power. We have also seen that some of the powers feel more powerful than others. Admittedly, I don’t think we have enough experience to know how to play some of them well enough yet, but I feel it is fair to mention that some of our games have felt unbalanced due to the player board powers – but it’s unknown if that is just due to happenstance of if it is really due to unbalanced powers.
The art and components are great. Again remember that I’m playing on a pre-production prototype, but the quality of bits in this version are fantastic. The little bamboo steamers and the molded dim sum pieces are quite nice. The table and lazy susan mechanism are also nice, and they really do feel like being at the restaurant. The complexity of the game is at the lower end of the spectrum, and it has been well received by casual gamers around here. It was enjoyed by my regular gaming group as well, but more as a super-filler.
As I said earlier, this one is coming to Kickstarter in the very near future, and you can learn more about this game that transports you into the flavorful world of a dim sum meal.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor