Fairway’s Scorecard: Unfair

He’s paid for his tickets and parked in lot ZYY a county over. Now, Unfairway gets to relive his Great Flags-attending, Roller Coaster Tycoon-playing youth in this preview of the theme-park-building game Unfair, currently on Kickstarter. Everyone keep your arms and legs inside the compartment at all times and… Enjoy the ride!

Unfair is a two- to four-player hand-management, set-collection, tableau-building, and (most importantly) theme-park-building card game by designer Joel Finch. Players compete to build the best theme park by adding attractions and improvements while trying to keep their guests and overcoming the challenges of the city planning commission.

Initial Impressions

  1. There are an amazing number of unique pieces of art. Each is incredibly detailed and thoughtful. This factor alone separates Unfair from most other games out there.
  2. The rule book is similarly detailed and (gasp) almost a pleasure to read. It is well-organized and well-illustrated.
  3. The designers did a great job turning the many unique art assets into rewarding build opportunities.
  4. The game play is intuitive and facilitates the idea that the game should be fun, not work. It does a good job focusing on why I’m playing the game: to build a theme park.
  5. The “Take That” aspects didn’t feel necessary, but the game has official rules variants that remove much of the Take That.

Game play

The Unfair box has beautiful art and is gigantic for a card game!

In Unfair, players are tasked with constructing the best theme park in order to score the most victory points.  Over the course of eight rounds, players take turns building attractions, adding amenities, and hiring on staff in order to attract more guests and earn more money.

The Cards and the Setup

There are lots of cards! The version of the game I previewed had four theme park themes: jungle, pirates, vampires and robots. (The Kickstarter-version has added more themes by way of stretch goals!) Each deck consists of more than fifty cards and includes a full set of its own attractions, upgrades, events, and city cards.

To get started, each player picks one of the themes to use. So, for a two player game, you use only two of them.  The various types of cards from each theme are then shuffled together: e.g., all the events together, all the park cards together, blue print cards and all the city cards together.

Each theme pack includes its own set of “Funfair” and “Unfair” City Cards which vary the playing conditions of any given round.

Then, eight of the City planning cards are picked. The City planning cards serve two purposes. First, it is essentially the round tracker. Once all eight cards have been used, the game ends. Second, each of the city cards includes a global event for that round that alter the basic game mechanics for that particular round. The game scales the impacts of the city planning cards so that events towards the end of the game get more interesting.

Event cards are shuffled together and placed in a draw pile. Most of the event cards have two options.  At the start of each round (and as a possible action), players will draw an event card and have an opportunity to use one of those powers on any cards they wish to use.

All of the Park cards are shuffled together. Players are dealt an initial hand of five Park cards and six additional ones are turned face-up in the Unfair market. The Park cards represent how your theme park is built and come in in several different flavors: actual attractions (e.g., rides and venues), upgrades (e.g., plush seats, air conditioning), and staff. Over the course of the game, players will use their money to build up to five different attractions and upgrade them.

Similarly, Blueprint cards are shuffled together. These cards are essentially point-scoring objectives.  If you can build an attraction to match the requirements you score a good number of points.

Finally, each player gets a handful of other less numerous cards like the showcase attractions (high value attractions), main gates, loan cards, etc.

There are quite a few moving pieces, but it really just sounds more complicated than it is.

Actually Playing the Game

Each theme comes with a set of event cards. They contain two possible effects. These are played at the beginning of the rounds and can have power effects on you and your build or on your opponents.

There are a lot of things that vary game play slightly, but once you’re set up, the game is essentially eight rounds of:

  1. Resolving the City Planning Card effects
  2. Drawing and playing Event cards
  3. Building Attractions (or drawing various cards)
  4. Making money and clean up

I won’t go through every step because there is so many great things in this game and the fantastic rule book does a better job at explaining the entirety of the game than I could. Rather, I’ll take a look at the heart of the game: steps three and four in which you build your theme park and make your money.  Each player is running their own amusement park. But to get people to actually come and pay you money, you have to have attractions. The nicer the attractions, the more money you make from guests that visit.

Each player’s park can have up to five different “attractions.” There are essentially two ways to build attractions: play a park card from your hand or play one of the six face-up cards from the Unfair market. In either case, you pay the cost of the attraction to the bank and add it to your park. Once added to your park, the attraction will draw more guests which in turn will earn you more money to spend on more attractions.

My dealt hand of Park Cards.

Players can use other Park cards to upgrade their attractions with things like park themes, comfortable seating, and interesting features. In general, these upgrades all increase the draw of your individual attraction and over the course of the game, your main attractions can have lots of them.

There is one crucial, and sometimes vexing, rule to how your park gets built. Every player has a default limit of no more than “15” guests (this is actually counted in the thousands).  This means that without some other perk, a park with five attractions only needs a few upgrades. Finding a way to uncap this limit is important to your long term success.

Your build is not only driven by the most star values and money. Among other things, the game includes Blueprint cards which, when completed add to your score. These objectives often dictate very specific build patterns and earn you a significant amount of points. You can draw additional Blueprint cards early in the game as one of your park actions. These don’t contribute to your hand limit, so they’re great to pick up when you’re out of money.

I drew this Blueprint card and bee-lined for the extra 18 points on a relatively cheap thrill ride. I never turned up a guest services card.

In addition, each player gets two “Super Attraction” cards. These are the showcase pieces for any park. Most come with a theme and score you a special bonus power when built.  These are available to build once your park has five stars. They’re pricey, but fun to build.

After the Park round, players count up their stars and add any special bonus.  The number of stars in your park tells you how much money you can receive limited only by your park capacity.

Money truly begets money in Unfair. Interestingly, Unfair is one of the few games in which I availed myself of the Loan option.  In exchange for a few points at the end, you can collect good amounts of money early on.  Use those those to complete your high value attractions or a Blueprint and it’s well worthwhile.

On the Green

One could definitely use a lot of superlatives to describe the great many things Unfair gets right.

Super Attractions add that something special to your park. Each player gets two to pick from and you can build one when your park gets five stars.

The Art. The art is a clear draw to this game. Mr. Cuddington did a fantastic job on each of the cards. The number of unique and intricately detailed pieces is amazing.  There’s no shortage of detail in the smallest parts of the cards, including things like the people riding rides.

The graphic design. I don’t often mention the graphic design because, in general, I just expect that it makes sense. In the case of Unfair, not only does it make sense, but it takes it to another level. The way the cards stack to form improved rides and the use of the ribbons to facilitate it, is both ingenious and intuitive. There is a real danger that the  game would get bogged down in the clean up and sum up phases, but the card design helps so much. The smart graphic design also aided players in their ability to scan their opponents parks to get an idea of ho

The theme.  Unlike a few other recent attempts, Unfair really captures the magic of the theme park building theme. Reminiscent of the same rewarding game play of Roller Coaster Tycoon, there is real pleasure when you realize that your theater patrons finally get comfortable seats and air conditioning or when you add your second loop to your roller coaster.

A note about themes. We mixed and matched themes a few times: pirates v. vampires, vampires v. robots v. jungle, etc.  The themes play nicely together and aren’t in conflict with one another. This type of non-interference is a thoughtful approach to adding things because if you don’t like a theme or an art pack, just don’t play with it.

Building theme parks is fun. Unlike some games, you can start building right away and continue to expand your park over the course of all eight rounds.

The game play.  The game play is not complicated, but it’s fun and immersive. Once the game is set up, explaining the actual game is pretty easy. Players tended to pick up on how to do it relatively quickly. This ease is not just luck, it’s apparent real thought was put into making the game play pattern predictable and understandable. The other benefit is that there was very little downtime once people figured out that pattern.

Likewise, most players got the object pretty quickly: build a big park and score lots of points.  Despite that, players still picked a bunch of different paths to pursue: invest early in upgrades, snatch a bunch of blue prints, bee line the super attractions, etc. Unfair presents a number of opportunities for strategic game play.

I also appreciated that Unfair decided to forego certain gaming tropes like upkeep and maintenance which are often more frustrating than immersive. The use of stars and “park capacity” made the cleanup phases easier and achieves most of the same goals.

A good sense of humor.  Like just about everything else in this game, the game has a nice sense of humor, but it’s not thrust upon you. There’s a good sense of comedic timing on the cards. This element permeates everything from small details on cards to the flavor text make the game feel fun and light-hearted. Bonus quiz:Take a look at the cover image, can you spot the joke?

Game length.  With limited down time and a round-limited game, you can easily get a game done in about an hour for two to three players and less than an hour and a half for four. In some ways seeing the end game fast approaching is a little sad since your theme park is finally fleshed out by that point. That said, the game also includes an official rule variant to shorten the length (six rounds instead) which is nice for time-crunched players.

Where it comes up short

Unfair comes with a large board that acts as a round tracker, a place to sort the various cards, and a place to store the Unfair Market’s Park cards. These park cards can be purchased by any player during their Park actions.

The game isn’t perfect.

Take That. I really think that the amount of Take That in the game diminishes the game. It’s true there’s a rules variant (World Peace) that removes the Take That aspects, but in doing so removes some of the player interaction. And in a way it becomes a multiplayer solitaire game: each building their own little theme park independently. The harshest aspects of the Take That tend toward disheartening which is in keeping with the “Unfair” theme, but shift away from the “fun” the game otherwise engenders.

Solo player rules? Since World Peace makes the game solitaire-like, I find it unusual that there wasn’t a solo rule package.  Eight rounds to build a theme park and score the most points seems pretty easy to accomplish.

In the hole

It’s not hard to heap enough praise on a game that integrates its art, theme and game play together so well. Unfair is really in the sweet spot of the board game market. It has art and a theme that is family-friendly yet will appeal to everyone. And because it’s relatively easy to teach, Unfair would be a great introductory game for new gamers that seasoned players will also enjoy.  It’s definitely a great addition to a game library.

Also, I don’t think it’s unfair to compare Unfair to video games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and it will definitely appeal to fans of that game. On nostalgia alone, Unfair will definitely be a hit.

Unfair is in the hole for a birdie.

Fairway was sent a copy of Unfair, but was not otherwise compensated to write this preview.

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