Friday, October 07, 2005

One False Step For Mankind Review: Overlooked Classic

Cheapass Games are a small company that produce incredibly cheap games, often in envelopes, simple white boxes or resealable 'ziplock' bags. The main idea behind Cheapass Games is that they provide rules, boards and cards - and the players provide all of the more generic components such as dice, pawns and counters. This means that full games cost less than a fiver, and offer comparable play value to games that cost two, three or even four times that amount! Pretty much all Cheapass products have a silly theme, with humour woven into the rules, making them easy to learn and digest.

Unusually for a Cheapass Game, One False Step for Mankind comes with full colour boards and cards. Also, its depth and playing time far exceeds that of any other game in the range and its strategic options are many and varied, with the average length of a game being around 3 hours.

One False Step for Mankind is an intricate game of resource management and territory building from the warped mind of the Cheapass Games head honcho, James Ernest. Players compete to buy cities on a map of the Old West, and slowly spread their territories from their owned cities in order to build up reserves of food and gold. Food and gold is used when launching and upgrading rockets, which is the only method of gaining the political influence that is needed to win the game. Players compete to be the first to reach a total of 30 influence chips, which enables them to become Governor of California (a position currently being held by a certain ex-Terminator, which does make the game seem slightly less fantastical - if Schwarzenegger can do it, surely anyone can!).

Given its complexity and the options available to each player during each turn, play progresses surprisingly quickly with minimal downtime. Player interaction is always high, as each round has an auction in which players bid on cities to be added to their little empire, as well as the fact that during the expanding of territories, players often have to fight over farms (the source of food) and gold mines (fairly obviously, the source of gold). This is handled simply and quickly, with players who have taken the time to fortify their cities rather than just expand with no regard for defence being rewarded in the latter stages of the game when resources are viciously sought after.

The game is hugely enjoyable, with many different and equally effective ways of playing, and as is usual with Cheapass Games the rules are clear, concise and very easy to digest. The game turns are split into seven phases, each one a day of the week (with the same turn order every week), and this helps to make One False Step very easy to learn. The Cheapass sense of humour is somewhat lacking from the game - the only silly thing is the overall theme, concerning rockets being shot to the moon in the mid-1800s (and some of the bizarre but admittedly amusing city names), but this doesn't really rear its head in the same way that the humour is imprinted into the very core of many other Cheapass Games. Perhaps this decision was taken so that players do not find the game tiresome during its reasonably long (for a Cheapass game anyway) duration. If so, it has worked admirably.

As the board is modular (and can be arranged in any pattern that the players choose, with thousands of possible combinations), as well as the fact that only 5 out of 8 supplied boards are needed to play a game, it would be very hard to set up two games in exactly the same way - which will help to keep it feeling fresh even after several games. Every time my group has played this game, it has reached its conclusion within one turn of the final city being drawn, which is fantastic - it seems to have been perfectly designed to reach its natural conclusion at near enough the same point every time you play, with the game never outstaying its welcome.

The only complaint that I can make with this game is that it can be quite difficult to track down all of the required components - which can end up costing more than the game itself. Yellow poker chips, green poker chips and red poker chips (around 100 of each) are needed, as well as dice, paperclips and around 40 small counters (gaming stones are perfect) for each player. This does seem ever so slightly at odds with the Cheapass ethos, but at least they only have to be bought once - and it is perfectly possible that future Cheapass releases will need the same components, therefore spreading the cost somewhat. That said though, even if the components have to be bought along with the game, it will still work out cheaper than a lot of games that are far more expensive due to their custom components and huge boxes.

This has to be not only the deepest and most involving Cheapass Game so far, but also the most satisfying. It's great to have a Cheapass Game that not only has great depth and superb replayability, but also one that has excellent production values far in excess of anything that they have released before. Any naysayers that write James Ernest off as a games designer would do well to check out One False Step; Cheapass fans need not be told twice that this is an essential purchase. Those new to the Cheapass concept altogether, with a penchant for fast, involving strategy and near-limitless replayability (all at a ridiculously cheap price) should check One False Step for Mankind out immediately!

Summary

Presentation:
As usual with Cheapass Games, players are expected to provide most of their own components. The cards that you get with this game are full colour though, which is unusual for a Cheapass product. 7.0/10

Clarity of Rules:
The rules are not as witty as the average Cheapass release, but as this game is a step-up complexity wise from other Cheapass Games, there is less room for wit! Very simple to learn. 8.5/10

Game Length:
Usually around three hours, with an incredibly small amount of downtime considering the depth of the game. 9.0/10

Value:
Very good value for money - but bear in mind that you will need quite a few components to play the game. 7.6/10

Overall:
Many strategic options and a near infinite number of ways to create the board mean that this game has a longevity that few full price titles can match. A stunning achievement. 9.6/10 (not an average)

Review by Jason M. Brown