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Subject: Unfair is Apropos rss

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Nick South
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*This is my review of the game I wrote for GamingTrend and not in my usual blog format.

I probably shouldn’t admit the countless hours I spent playing Rollercoaster Tycoon. I’d tweak my coasters for maximum thrill, and when that didn’t work I’d drop the occasional ungrateful patron off in the lake. In short, I was the tyrannical Walt Disney. So, when I got news about Unfair, I was ecstatic. Finally, a game based on building the greatest amusement park geared to keep the masses coming through the turnstiles.

Publisher Good Games is banking on that same “one more play” appeal of its computer cousin. The core of Unfair is about building attractions, upgrading them to attract more guests, and scoring victory points for the largest designs at game’s end. Players also earn victory points for completing blueprints, which require you to fulfill specific builds in your park. Coins also earn a victory point for every two left in your stockpile in the final scoring phase. It’s a straightforward scoring system, though you’ll need to do some math as the scoring for attractions can escalate quickly.

The game has four different themes: Pirates, Vampires, Jungle, and Robots, and you pick a number of themes based on the number of players. All cards from the selected decks are shuffled together and each player will have access to all themes. Decks are then divided into different areas. Park cards contain attractions, their upgrades, and staff members. Event cards have dual abilities. One is a beneficial event for you, while the other has a detrimental effect on your opponent. A few showcase cards build super attractions that cost more but can draw in more customers. Finally, the blueprint cards and city events round out the card types available.

Players begin by drawing events and city event cards which affect everyone. Early in the game, they provide a bonus such as extra money. In the later rounds, city events hurt all players by reducing income or increasing costs. Effective planning in the first half of the game can offset the negative events in the second half. Regular player events are also played before turns begin and can have immediate or delayed results. The multiple actions on each event are reminiscent of card driven games.

The heart of Unfair lies in the park cards. You use money to purchase and place attractions in your park. Each attraction, whether it’s a ride, restaurant, or sideshow has a star value on it. The higher the star value, the more the attraction is worth in ticket sales at the end of each turn, and upgrades to that attraction can add further value. Specialty staff members can also add stars to your park and many provide additional bonus points at the end of the game. Parks are limited to fifteen stars that you can cash in for ticket sales each turn, but there’s no limit on the amount of stars your park can accumulate. Upgrades and resources allow for extra ticket sales, allowing you to earn more than the fifteen star threshold. Each thematic park deck comes with more cards than you’ll typically use in a game, so the replay value is extremely high.

Your park’s amusements score victory points after the eighth and last turn. Instead of using the stars to tabulate this, attractions score points based on the number of ribbons they have on them, which each attraction and upgrade has. Victory points increase as the number of ribbons increase. A ride with two attractions added score you twelve points, but an amusement with three upgrades score you sixteen. This makes for some rather odd results. Realistically, a park would garner more fame by having a thrill ride with a splashdown upgrade, but in game terms it would score fewer victory points than a restaurant with air conditioning and comfy seats. It doesn’t fit thematically. This could be solved by multiplying the number of upgrade ribbons by the base star value of the attraction.

Your personal game style will determine if you play a friendly game or get down and dirty, but both have some drawbacks. If you choose to play dirty, the game may bog down. Entire rides can be demolished or closed, and staff members can be stolen. These can be blocked by using other event cards, but the event cards end up feeling like they’re being held hostage. No one uses them to advance their parks because their holding on to them to block those inevitable gotcha cards. It doesn’t help that the city event cards that hinder players in the later rounds almost encourage subterfuge. I have nothing against a game that has mechanics where attacking your opponents is in play, but understand that this game can be unforgiving at times.

Contrarily, a friendly game could ruin diversification. Since a level ten attraction is worth more than four level threes, the emphasis in a passive game becomes building one great attraction while ignoring all others. Sure, I can upgrade the heck out of my Ferris wheel, but who goes to an amusement park for the Ferris wheel? Again, it’s a thematically problematic.

Either way you choose to play the game, there’s no avoiding how overpowered coins are in victory scoring. Granted, a profitable amusement park should be rewarded, but it shouldn’t be an overwhelming factor in winning. In one game, a third player was clearly trailing the other two. Their park had less than the maximum five attractions allowed. None of their attractions had over four ribbons. Yet, they managed to play a couple of events on the last turn that doubled their income and gave them another eight coins in the bank. The result was enough coins to earn nearly 40 victory points! Not only did they win the game, they won it handily as the other two players had worked hard to build impressive parks with little coin left over. The win felt cheap. Some of the negative city event cards push this style of play. When the spiraling costs card doubles the price of attractions and upgrades, the wise move is to simply collect loose change based on the number of rides you have. There’s no attraction or upgrade worth more than simply passing and taking a handful of coins for the entire turn.

I’ve mentioned all these annoyances, and that’s really all they are. I admit I came in with ludicrously high expectations, and that may have been the reason I came away from my first play a bit bewildered. Then, I played it again. And again. The more you play, the more you get an appreciation for how good the game is. The artwork captures the feel of an amusement park. The bright colors have a carnival appeal to them. The game’s mechanics work very well. Even the humor and festive nature of the game reflect a real amusement park experience. It’s certainly satisfying to expand and upgrade your park and watch the coin pile grow. There are quirks, undoubtedly, but If you loved Rollercoaster Tycoon or simply love theme park based games, then you could overlook the game’s flaws or even create your own house rules. Unfair may not be the perfect game, but it’s a really enjoyable one.

Score: 8
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A. B. West
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Agreed. This game is so thematically fun it overrides any other concerns. I am also concerned about the 'unfair' feelings it delivers and it is certainly a mean game at times. But the sheer fun built around it makes up for these. I've backed it and am anxious to get it.
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Kim Brebach
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Thanks for the good review Nick. Glad you enjoyed playing repeatedly and discovering the depth and replayability on offer in Unfair.

Sounds like someone had a good money game to end with 80 coins / 40 points? Anyone setting up big money combos tends to attract a little more event play from others trying limit their combo.

Our design and extensive testing found that most of your points are likely to come from attractions (scored by the number of icons across the ribbon, not the ribbons themselves), then from Blueprints, and finally from coins left over. Have you found this to be generally true after multiple plays? Of course some theme packs, like the upcoming Gangster theme, allow you to earn more money still

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Tim Royal
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Good write-up.

As a fellow Rollercoaster Tycoon fan, have you looked at Planet Coaster (PC game) coming out this November?
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Matt Taylor
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Great write up Nick.

Can I say I've played the game about four times and whilst it has always been 'unfair' I've never seen it unbalanced. I think there has been only one occasion where the winner was a run away coins winner and even on that occasion they had a great park too.

Given coins are worth 1 point for every two coins in the end game, 40 points from coins would have meant 80 coins. Even if they scored an extra eight each of the last two turns, they would have been sitting on a decent pile of cash earlier and perhaps the other player just didn't notice the big target they had painted on their back.

I have found it is a game that rewards replay.

A player who knows the mechanics knows all the paths to winning and knows what the cards do will definitely have an advantage over a new player. In the games I've played (and watched) event cards like dumpster diving tend to get used more by experienced players (I suspect there is a reason for that). Blue prints get used more (I suspect new players are scared of them), Loans get taken out earlier and bigger loans get taken out earlier. It takes a while to work out the synergies between, events and rides and rides and upgrades.

The other advantage that a more experienced player has is that they can look around. They won't spend so long looking at their own cards and reading the text to find out what it does. Keeping an eye on your opponents and knowing what they are doing and can do is critical to making their life more difficult.

In my first game, one of my opponents had 'blackbeard's revenge' as their super attraction, and spent the game burying treasure underneath it. When we came to score it turned out that impressive looking 5 level ride, was actually Level 10 and scored accordingly. Had I known, I might have put more effort into shutting it down on a few turns. So the more you play the better you get.

But, that's card game, that games, that's 'unfair'.
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Kim Brebach
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That is all very accurate Matt. We built Unfair with high replay value, to create strategic space and depth, with many paths to victory and counter strategies to them. Making space for mastery here was a key design goal for Joel, so I'm glad people are picking up on that.

Apart from the fun of the first play we gave Unfair, this was what blew our minds after a few replays and why we signed it.

Nick how have you found the pathways to victory stack up after many plays?
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Nick South
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The big money run came on a friendly play game, so there was little we could do about it. He hit some good combos, and I simply hadn't built up enough to combat that.

Interestingly enough, my last play of this (after I had submitted the review to my editors) saw something different. Again, he got his 5 attractions down and holed up the last two turns grabbing money. He ended the game with about 60 coins, another 30 points. But both my daughter and I had planned ahead, focusing exclusively on expanding our parks unless it was prudent to do otherwise (like the spiraling costs event which I think makes building anything for a round cost prohibitive). It was close, but he did end up 3rd that time. It hurt that he had most of rides at low levels while the two of us had huge rides. That was a nasty game, but only once did anyone get nasty (me) and that was to shut down one of his more profitable rides for a turn (which also helped the end result). My daughter finished second, who managed to complete a blueprint for nice points. I won thanks to several high attractions and a couple of good scoring staff.

Yes, coins are incredibly powerful but you can find ways to combat them. I think this is a nice reflection of the depth of the game's strategy.
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Kim Brebach
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Thats more like it Nick, if someone is cashing in too big, there are often ways you make them cash in a little smaller arrrh

And because of this, attraction height is a more solid way of scoring points and generally the best and easiest source of points. Specially with free builds and Robot themes etc making it easier.

Thats not to say that chasing big money isn't worth it. But you do have to be ready to defend your money earning combos if you play with sharp eyed theme park moguls.
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Paul Long
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In my experience, the base decks don't lend themselves to a coin-led strategy. (Perhaps there should be a future deck that deals with that!). Having money should be part of your points, but the highest scores will come from blueprints and rides.

1) In the base decks, getting a lot of coins is dependent on staff or Super Attractions. Staff are easily lost and the Super Attractions can be closed.

2) Even in a World Peace game, I can take the staff you need before you get there. E.g the Photographer, the Snack Seller or Souvenir seller. I can keep the Pirate themes if you have Skullcliff. I can bury these cards if I have Blackbeard's. But in a World Peace game it is easier to build very tall rides that meet multiple blueprints, as you don't have to defend what is built. With the base decks - 60 points in blueprints, yep doable. 60 points in rides, easy. 60 points in coins (120 coins!).... very unlikely.
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