Before I begin, I was sent a review copy of base game and deluxe components, and I purchased a copy of the expansion, in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. You can check out my video review below. Get your own copy here.
When it comes to choo-choosing games it can be hard to find one that really delivers, especially when you look at the train of amazingly deluxe games coming from KS. Are you going to stick with a tried and true train game like the 18xx series or are you willing to go off the rails with something new? For me…something new. That is what I am talking about.
In general, I do not particularly care one way or the other about the 18xx games…they just do not grab me. Yet, the lighter train games that are out there I always enjoy, and if you know me at all you know that a bit of magic will make me start frothing at the mouth for just about anything. So clearly, a train game that embraces magic, and lightning fast play had the potential to be the right up my alley.
In Spells and Steam you are spreading your trains across the map connecting the various cities to your train network. As you play you will be delivering goods off the board to like colored cities fulfilling demand tiles. To do so you will be operating a rondel-like system of actions on your personal player boards.
At each stop along your action path you will slowly be adding additional actions that are available to you. While one action each turn is free, by spending your magic you are able to activate more and more actions, and, potentially, skip spots on your track. Arriving at the end of your track triggers a delivery, allowing you to deliver as many of the goods of a single color from the map as you can. In addition it will give you three potential upgrades: specialists, more mana, or more spell/action cards.
The player that has earned the most points at the end of the game, through fulfilling orders, delivering goods, and completing ever changing game objectives.
So what do I think?
The production on this game is amazing. The core box is set up to hold everything, even the expansion materials…which makes me insanely happy. Even without the deluxe edition, the rest of the components are of good quality, I particularly enjoy the trains. The board is bright and colorful, and the character art is awesome.
However, all that is fluff! The game itself is a real winner. It plays quickly, 20-30 min per player, due to its relative simplicity and ease of teaching. However, the possibilities that exist as you build your engine are top notch. There are so many different specialists, and spell cars that you can get that you will never play the same game twice. It is a real joy to create your engine each game.
However, what makes this game work the most for me is the variety of game modes. The game is a lot of fun as a solo game (expansion required), a competitive game, or as a team/coop game against multiple AI. This is one of the first games I have played that I legitimately am happy playing any of the modes of play.
Two of the modes that I listed above are only possible if you have the expansion, and that is not the easiest thing to get a hold of right now, though it is certainly possible. I think the solo mode is wonderful, as are the additional components that come in the expansion, but it might bother you that you have to get the expansion for solo play.
This is an expensive game. There is no other way to put it. While it is not Too Many Bones expensive, or Primal expensive, but it is pricey. The second caution that I have is that there is a lot of content in this game, and that might not be what you are looking for when it comes to a medium/light game. I feel like there is a ton of replay in the box, but there are certainly those that want something really meaty if they are going to get a big box.
Bringing it all together
Empyreal Spells and Steam feels like what Ticket to Ride would be if it was made for “gamers” rather than “everyone”. It is fast to teach, fast to play, but because of the clever mechanics, and the variety it constantly feels fresh. I love the way the game has mixed magic and steam together in a fun, off the wall way. I really enjoy playing competitive, coop, and solo. However, to enjoy all of those modes you have to have the expansion, which means you will be paying a pretty penny to get it all, though the production on the game is truly top notch.
Gotta catch my magic train…can’t wait!
* Awesome production, the deluxe is even better
* Crazy amount of replay value
* The game is so simple to play, but the engine building is so satisfying it will keep any gamer engaged
* The world is a blast, and it makes me want to explore some of the other games set in it
* Competitive, solo, and coop are all great game modes
* To get the full game spectrum you have to get the expansion and base game, and that is not cheap
* This game has likely landed permanently on my shelf