Game Type: Card Game for 2-5 players
Designer: James Ernest
Publisher: Cheapass Games
Medium: black and white card-stock
Steam Tunnel is a member of the Hip Pocket Game line from Cheapass Games. Designed to be inexpensive games that are easily portable, this game succeeds in that aspect. For your $4.00, you get 48 cards and a rulebook that is smaller than an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper folded in quarters. The decoration on the cards is sparse, consisting of a tunnels on one side with a gray background on the back. The tunnel side has a glossy finish and the gray side is cardstock.
The goal of Steam Tunnel is to capture as many tunnels as possible. There are 4 cards that are start points for tunnels. These are played face up. The remaining cards are played face down in a 6 by 6 grid. The start cards are placed in the 2nd row 2nd column position from each corner. You play the game by flipping a card, then placing a token to ‘capture’ a portion of a revealed tunnel. The restriction here is that you cannot capture part of a completed tunnel.
When all cards have been turned, you tally up points. Each start position has a number in it. You determine who controls a tunnel by the number of tokens a player has in the tunnel. The person with the most controls the tunnel. A tie is a tie, in which case points for the tunnel are split. You add up the number of points in the start position(s), multiply this by the number of sections in the tunnel, and that is the value of the tunnel. It is easy for one tunnel to win the game if it is extremely long with multiple start positions.
However, the game is not without problems. Due to the way turns work, in a 2 or 4 player game, the 2nd or 4th player, respectively, starts off with a disadvantage. Since you cannot place a token in a closed tunnel, but you flip a card at the start of your turn, the 2nd or 4th player ends up not getting to place a token in their final turn.
Worse than this skewing of advantage, tallying the tunnels and points at the end of the round is a headache. While not difficult, you do need to keep track of which start positions have already been accounted for. I used a token to cover any start positions that connected to each other so tunnels were not counted multiple times. All in all, this part made the game less fun that it could be. Plus, the multiplication means the game isn’t for young children.
The question of whether the game is worth $4.00 is up to you, but I would much rather spend the money to pick up one of the other Cheapass Games.
Game Mechanics: **
Originally written 3/17/2003