Building Steam Design Diary – Currencies, etc.

Heavy Barrel indeed.
Heavy Barrel indeed.

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together” – Malcolm Forbes

One of the things that differentiates Building Steam from other games in the deckbuilding genre is a higher level of complexity, which manifests in a couple of different ways. Worry not, fair reader, the added complexity does not make the game inaccessible.

The first way is that this game uses three currencies. Dominion started with a single currency (coins) and later in the Alchemy expansion added Potions a special currency needed to purchase certain cards. As I understand it, Alchemy is not exactly the most popular of the Dominion expansions and drawing a comparison to it may not be doing myself any favors. In my estimation, what Dominion did wrong here was put strict limitations on the usefulness of the second currency. Most times it’s easier to ignore the cards with a Potion cost unless they are outstanding like Alchemist. Thunderstone and Ascension both work on a two currency system (gold and attack in the former, runes and power in the latter) and make sure that you need to have both in order to play successfully. I took it to three for both flavor and mechanical reasons.

In Building Steam, the three currencies are Raw Materials (R), Power (P) and Innovation (I).

(R) is associated with every card cost in the game. After all, you can’t build things without stuff to make it out of.

(P) is associated with only a few buying costs, and a lot more costs on card abilities. Just because you built something doesn’t mean it just works on its own. Many cards have activation costs that require the expenditure of (P)

(I) is the currency of ideas, intellect and imagination. It’s only involved in a few purchasing costs, but (I) is the key to being able to build anything on the table.

The second way the game exhibits its complexity is with asymmetrical player starts.

In most deckbuilders, everyone starts with the same cards. The Penny Arcade deckbuilder was the first game that I encountered that broke this rule, doing so by means of player avatars. Most of them add some minor ability, some even play with different cards. This was actually an inspiration for me to design player avatars for Building Steam, to be discussed later.

So I’m not starting my players with different cards, but each player starts with restricted access to which cards they can add to their deck. Further, no two players can start the game with the same accessibility.

To accomplish this, I sorted the groups of cards into 10 different “fields of study.” In a game of Building Steam, 4 of these will be chosen at random. The player to the left of the starting player will be the first to choose their first field and choosing proceeds clockwise, so the player going first will not have any choice in which field s/he starts with.

Each field has a set of accompanying cards mechanically themed and a minor ability that you get for having that field mastered.

The ten fields in the base set are

Ye Olde Meth Labbe
Ye Olde Meth Labbe

Alchemistry: Deals primarily in making Tonics, high-powered cards that do not cycle through your deck at the same speed as other cards.

Electrodynamics: Focuses on the generation and manipulation of Power (P). Mastering Electrodynamics gives you access to the most productive ways of creating and using (P)

Chronometry: Shockingly, deals with the manipulation of time, because what steampunk game would be complete without some time travel elements? These manifest in ways like moving cards from turn to turn, multiplying actions and hand manipulation.

Phrenology: This deals with ridiculous things you build to wear on your head, and unique ways to use (I).

Reanimation: It’s Frahn-kun-steen! Reanimation deals with making things dead, then making them useful once dead.

Clockwork: Mastering Clockwork enhances your card-building abilities, and emphasizes on recycling/re-using, and cannibalizing other cards.

Everyone involved in steampunk anything is always prepared for eye-related hazards.
Everyone involved in steampunk anything is always prepared for eye-related hazards.

Optiks: Gives you information on other player’s hand and/or deck, allowing for more precise targeting of disruption effects.

Metallurgy: Is the least flashy of the fields, but it specialized in the generation of (R), the most frequently needed currency.

Automata: Similar to Chronometry, it just wouldn’t be a steampunk game if you weren’t able to build robots to help you in the lab.

Magnetism: How the fuck does this work? Magnetism deals primarily in attraction and repulsion, which translate to theft and repairing broken things.

Again, in any game, you will only see 4 of these, and the different combinations all play out in unique ways. But wait, there’s more! There is a special Hybrid stack for each combination of two fields. The Dread Golem requires you to have mastered both Automata and Reanimation before you can add it to your deck, but what a doozy. Hybrids are where the mad science really kicks in and the most fun cards are.

Questions about the game? Comment!


2 thoughts on “Building Steam Design Diary – Currencies, etc.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. GenCon testing went way better than I expected it to. I was afraid that there would be a million flaws exposed that would break the game, but everyone who played it had a lot of good to say about it, and I came away with a lot of feedback on what needed fixing and am excited to get back to testing with a new, sleeker, more aerodynamic design. I’ll keep updating here, so stay tuned.

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