Posted: January 12, 2014
7 Grand Steps is an interesting concept: board game meets chose-your-own-adventure-meets (very light) civilization. You begin the game as a couple of poor workers and must build a dynasty, trying to climb the social ladder. Since 7 Grand steps is very much the sum of its parts, I'll describe each one, as it's quite difficult to understand the game based on existing reviews.Description
The board game. That part is an almost direct port of the board game Cartagena. You almost always control two playing pieces (husband and wife). You advance the track by paying a token that makes you advance to the next location on the track that has a symbol matching that of the token. You can also move backwards to the next space that is occupied by another playing piece (either your spouse or one of the shadow pieces that are controlled by the AI). Doing so earns you tokens. How many and of what type depends on your skill level (more on that later). Here stops the Cartagena comparison.
Whenever you land on a space occupied by your spouse, there is a chance that you'll get a child. Children must be educated, so it's best to feed them tokens as often as possible. Doing so increases their skills, which will be used when the child becomes an adult (you can chose which child to play as in the next generation, a choice you have to make when the current one reaches the end of the track). Remember that the skills increase the number of tokens received when making a move towards the back.
There are 4 different tracks on the board, one for each social strata. With few exceptions, you're confined to your own social status's track.
On some spaces, beads are found that you can collect if you are among the firsts to reach the space. Collecting enough beads will trigger an event of one of three types: discovery (which changes one of the symbols on the track to a new one, and gives you a boost in skills and tokens for it, therefore giving you an advantage over shadow playing pieces), heroic, or social advancement.
Heroic and social advancements trigger a short choose-your-own adventure. A narrative is presented to you, and you'll typically have to make 5 choices. If you make "good" choices, you earn rewards: assorted rewards for the heroic events, or climbing one step of the social ladder for social advancement ones.
When you reach the fourth and last social class, you must make civ-style ruling decisions for your city each turn. You'll typically start as a sort of secretary of agriculture, but you'll get more power later on, on financial and defence matters for example. Most of those decisions are actually sliders to set (how much grain to distribute to the people, how much to store, what level of corruption do you tolerate/encourage, etc.)Comments
Regarding time spent on each section, 7 Grand Steps is actually about 90% board game, 7% choose-your-own-adventure, and 3% civ-style ruling.
Meaning you'll spend the bulk of your time (I guess about 15 hours per game) playing the board part. Now ask yourself this: are you comfortable with a 13.5 hours-long game of Cartagena? No? Me neither! Cartagena is fun as a 45 minutes affair, but it's not meaty/varied/strategic enough to warrant 10+ hours a pop. It gets boring quite fast, actually.
The choose-your-own-adventure part is unfortunately not better. It feels completely random, gives incredibly weak feedback (to the point where the text describing the resolution will leave you scratching your head: "is that good or bad?" ). It's also repetitive and lacks drama. The board game part might be boring, but at least it's something solid. You feel like you have some control on the outcome. Not so with the adventure part.
About the civ-style part, I must admit I have not spent a lot of time with it (more on that later) and I certainly haven't seen all it has to offer. What I've seen is something pretty abstract, and relatively basic, but it made sense and gave me control, so probably the best part of the three. Too bad it's also the one you'll play the least.
So why did I spend so little time with the ruling part? Of course, partly because, as I said, it's only accessible once you reach the top of the social ladder. But also because, when certain conditions are met, a "challenge of the ages" is triggered, which is another choose-your-own-adventure that ends in an age advancement (from the copper age to the bronze age for example). It's as random as the others, but the consequences are much more dramatic. After my first "challenge of the ages", my character died and I got to play a distant sibling in the next age. The problem is, that sibling was only on the second rung of the social ladder and had of course no access to the ruling game. And that's actually the moment I quit this game: I didn't want to spend another 3 or 4 hours to reach the point where I could play the only part of the game that was at least mildly satisfying. yukConclusion
I don't recommend 7 Grand Steps. It's much too repetitive, long and random. in short, it's very boring. That's a shame, really, because the basic concept is interesting. This game is apparently the first of the 7 grand steps (full title is 7 Grand Steps, Step 1: What Ancients Begat). IF (capitalization intended) the developer manages to correct its many flaws, I think there's a possibility of making a very good and original game out of the concept. I therefore wouldn't rule out playing step 2, if it ever sees the light of day. But until then, I'd avoid the game entirely.
If you're desperate for playing a game with a similar concept, there are two alternatives I can think of:
* Zafehouse Diaries, about Zombie apocalypse survival. Not excellent, but much better than this.
* King of the Dragon Pass, which I haven't played yet, but sounds similar with a stronger emphasis on the ruling part (it also has much better reviews).