From the game rules:
“Sir Winston Derbyshire has met his Maker, leaving behind his entire estate with no heir. A lifelong lover of physics, it was Sir Winston’s dying wish that his estate be allocated for an unprecedented competition. In an expansive scrapyard, participants from all walks of life are welcome to compete to be the first to create bold, new, and fantastical inventions! Participants will be randomly assigned never before seen blueprints for Inventions thought up by Sir Winston himself, and may only build them with items found in the scrapyard. The prize and prestige has attracted the attention of all types, including some unscrupulous characters that will do whatever it takes to win. Do you have the skills to claim The Scrapyard Empire?”
Scrapyard Empire is a strategic, set collection card game with a steam punk flair. Players will collect parts cards in an effort to build small machines which, when combined together, will be turned into larger inventions. In the process of doing so, players will have important decisions to make regarding whether or not stealing from their opponents or discarding cards where their opponents can easily get at them will be in their best interests. With a little skill and good deal of luck, they will be the first to complete the requisite number of inventions needed to win the game.
Now, before I get too much further into this review, I would like to take a moment to thank Dennis Consorte and the folks over at Galliant Games for being kind enough to send me the prototype copy of this game that I am basing this review upon. Their generosity, however, has had no bearing on my opinion of the game. You can rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so. If this game sounds like something you might find interesting, then I encourage you to go check out the Kickstarter page and consider showing the game your financial support. You can find the Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/galliantgames/scrapyard...
I would like to take a moment to preface this section along with all of the following sections with a reminder that I am basing this review on a prototype copy of this game and this review does not necessarily reflect the quality of the final product. Nor does this review reflect any stretch goals that may be unlocked during the course of the Kickstarter campaign for this game. That being said…
Scrapyard Empire comes to me in a nondescript deck box and if you've ever played any kind of collectible card game before, then you know exactly the type of box that I am speaking of. It’s white and hinged with a flap that tucks down inside of the box to hold it closed. I have no idea what the final product is going to look like, but it is reasonable to surmise that it is not going to be packaged inside of a box like this one. This box is merely a conveyance and it’s the game that it conveys that’s really important here.
Inside of the box is a single six-sided die and four different decks of cards. The backs of all of the cards look the same, but each of them has a different color scheme to distinguish them from each other. There are some gears and floating in space above these gears is the Scrapyard Empire logo. There is a thick green deck which is the Parts deck. There is a smaller orange deck which is the Small Machines deck. There is a blue deck which is significantly smaller and this is the Inventions deck. And lastly there is a brown deck which is the Characters deck. The cards are of good quality card stock and shuffle easily.
There isn't any art of any of the Character cards in my prototype, but there is some artwork available on the Kickstarter project page. In this illustration, we see a bearded man wearing a leather apron and a top hat with some goggles on it. Over one shoulder is slung a very large and very heavy looking wrench. Looking at the background which appears to be the face of a very large clock, one can assume this gentleman and his ministrations keep this clock moving.
This same aesthetic is applied across all of the cards. The inventions, the small machines, and the parts all look like something straight of an H.G Wells novel or Jules Verne adventure. What I particularly enjoy about the artwork is trying to find the evidence of the smaller parts inside of the larger machines. The artwork reels you in and takes you away.
Aside from these cards with their amazing artwork, the only other things included in this prototype were a printout of the game rules, the quick reference summary, and the rules for a solitaire game. The rules are well written and well-illustrated and lay out the game play very nicely. After reading through them a couple of times, I never needed to refer back to them for anything.
First, each player is dealt a random Character card and the unused cards are removed from the playing area as they will not be needed for the rest of the game. Next, the other three decks are all shuffled and then placed face down into the middle of the table with room for a discard pile next to each. Once this is done, each player is dealt a total of eight Parts cards (which they will place in front of them face up for all to see) and five Small Machines cards (which they will keep hidden in their hands). Then each player will receive one Invention card from the Invention card deck which they will keep face down in front of them.
Now that all of the players have received their cards, one card from the top of each deck will be flipped face up into that deck’s discard pile. Once this has been done, a starting player is chosen (usually by rolling the provided die) and then play will proceed in a clockwise direction from that player.
As I mentioned before, there are four different types of cards in this game – Character, Parts, Small Machines, and Inventions. Inventions are made up of several Small Machines and the Small Machines needed to construct the invention are listed right there at the bottom of the card. Each Small Machine is comprised of several Parts and, like the Invention cards, the Parts needed are listed at the bottom of the card. Parts are the building blocks of everything else in the game and, as such, they do not need anything else to construct them. Small Machines are unique in that, once constructed; they will provide the player that uses them with a once-per-game ability. Some abilities are more useful than others, but I have never seen any that haven’t been used at one point in time or another.
The other type of card – the Character card – is used for two main purposes. Firstly, the Character card adds flavor to the game. This is who you are and this is your motivation for doing what you’re doing. It helps to draw the player in. The second thing that the Character card does is that it gives you a once-per-turn special ability (or in some cases a static effect that is always on). Like the Small Machine cards’ abilities, some of these abilities are more useful than others, but all have their uses in certain situations.
At the beginning of a player’s turn, they must draw a card from the Parts deck. Once they have drawn their card, they have two actions that they can perform (and they may, if they wish, perform the same action twice). The actions that they can choose from (and any unfamiliar terms will be discussed shortly) are:
1. Draw a card from any of the three decks and then add it to your hand. If this is the first action of the turn AND you are holding five Small Machine cards in your hand, then you may draw TWO cards instead of one. This action if self-explanatory and does not bear any further discussion.
2. Make a trade. You may trade any Part or Small Machine from your supply with another player at a 1:1 ratio. This only counts as an action if the trade is successful. This action is also self-explanatory.
3. Attempt a dig. This bears further explanation and will be discussed in more detail shortly.
4. Steal from another player. This also bears further explanation and will be discussed in more detail.
5. Use a Small Machine’s special ability. In some cases, this ability will not count as one of your actions because some abilities may be used on another player’s turn.
After a player has taken their two actions for the turn, they will then have an opportunity to build. If a player has the parts needed to construct a Small Machine or an Invention, then they will discard the components into their appropriate discard piles and then place the card that was just completed face up in front of them. After a player builds (or declines to build as the case may be) then they will discard down to a total of 8 Parts cards, 5 Small Machine cards, and 1 Invention card.
If at any time during a player’s turn they go to draw a card, but the deck has been depleted, then they will shuffle that deck’s discard pile and then place it face down - thus forming a new deck - and draw from the new deck.
DIGGING and STEALING
During a player’s turn, there may be a Part or a Small Machine (or even an Invention!) that is sitting in one of the discard piles that the player really, really needs. If this is the case, then the player may choose to ‘dig’ for that Part or Small Machine. To do so, the player announces their intention to dig and then rolls the die. To successfully dig for an item, the player must roll a 4, 5, or 6. If a player fails a dig, then they may discard Parts cards to increase their die roll at a ratio of 1:1. So, if Bob decides that he wants to dig for a Crank, he would roll the die and, if it came up a two, Bob could discard two Parts cards in order to successfully dig for the card that he really needs. He would then take the card that he won and put the cards removed from the discard pile back into the discard pile from whence they came.
Stealing, like digging, allows a player to snatch up a card that they need and their success or failure depends entirely upon a die roll and, like digging, this die roll can be raised by discarding Parts cards. Here’s how it works: the player doing the stealing announces who they will be attempting to steal from. To successfully steal a Part or a Small Machine card (completed Small Machines are off limits) they must roll a 5 or a 6. If stealing a Part and the roll is successful, they will simply take the Part card from the other player and take it into their control. If stealing a Small Machines card and the die roll is successful, they will take two cards at random from their victim’s hand, choose a card to keep, and then return the other one. Invention cards may never be stolen.
WINNING the GAME
The first person to complete their second Invention is the winner of the game.
That’s it. That’s how you play Scrapyard Empire.
What first drew me to Scrapyard Empire was the art work. I must confess that even though I do not ascribe to the whole steam punk lifestyle or necessarily agree with the odd fashion choices of those who do, I do find the artwork surrounding it to be very pleasing to the eye. This game is no exception. The art in this game is very well done and it dripping theme out of every orifice.
“But, how is the actual game play?” you might be asking. Well, let’s talk about that. Even though Scrapyard Empire is touted as a strategic card game, there’s really not very much strategy here aside from deciding whether or not to discard Parts to adjust die rolls or whether to steal from your opponents or hold off from doing so. Any time that you scrap a card from your hand, you are potentially helping out your opponents. Stealing, while beneficial, paints a definite target on your back and the people that you steal from are probably not going to make it easy for you to complete anything. There’s a definite risk involved and you must decide if the risk is worth the reward.
And there’s not as much player interaction as you might think either. Yes you can steal and yes you can trade, but neither one of them gets used as much as they could. Stealing is risky and wasteful unless you can be certain that stealing will somehow hinder your opponent and, after a while, nobody is going to want to trade with you because doing so would give you something that you need to get ahead. So, the game quickly becomes a game of “wait-for-your-next-turn to do something”.
Once you accept the game for what it is though, a semi-strategic pyramid-scheme collection game, it is actually quite enjoyable. The art work drags you in and there is an underlying excitement as you draw your cards in the hopes of completing the next thing that you need in order to throw down a Small Machine or an Invention and then there is the nail-biting suspense when one of your opponents scraps a Part that you really need but your turn is still several turns away. Will the Part get taken or will it be there waiting for you when your turn comes around? There’s definitely a lot of potential here even though it still feels as if there’s just some undefinable ‘something’ missing.
Scrapyard Empire is not my favorite game ever, but it’s still a lot of fun to play and, when it comes down to it, that’s what is really important.