Unfair Review - You Must Be This Mean To Ride!

Awww theme parks! Even though I've gotten bored with them now, I have so many nostalgic memories not only of attending theme parks including the wonders of DisneyWorld in Orlando several times as a child, but also iconic games such as Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon. I wouldn't have the time or patience for them these days, but back then in the good old days where time wasn't at an extortionate premium they were just a joy. Building the rides, managing the sideshows and food stalls, deliberating sending trains of passengers to their fiery death on the rocket launch coaster, dropping complaining guests in the lake to keep them quiet...........wow I had issues then.

But we don't see this theme in a board game very often. Why not? Surely this is a theme that's just begging for a quality game. I've got my share of building villages and caves and I've had it with these really dry, dull historical settings lately, can we have a thematic Euro game about building a theme park? Get Vital Lacerda on the design, Days of Wonder or Stonemaier to publish it, Michael Menzel to do the card art and the board and make it worker placement and it could be the most amazing game ever! Keep to less than 3 hours though please and if Wallace or Feld tries to put their fingers on it, release the hounds!

Unfair is probably my first exposure to this theme in a board game and I'm unfamiliar with the works of Good Games USA (yes it has CMON on it but GG USA kickstarted it so I'm giving them the initial credit for publishing this). But it's had some controversy over the "unfair" part, where apparently there's a lot of potenial meanness in this game in screwing other players over. A little meanness is good, too much is a bad thing for me. Are the fears warranted or a false alarm?




Designer: Joel Finch
Publisher: Good Games USA / CMON
Age: 14+
Players: 2-5
Time: 60-120 Minutes
RRP: £39.99


From Board Game Geek

Build the city’s greatest theme park, whatever it takes!
Mix your favourite themes, from Pirate, Robot, Vampire, Jungle, Ninja, and Gangster. Build attractions and upgrade them to match blueprints, stack up towering rides, or simply make the most cash.
But watch out - your competitors may pay off the safety inspectors to close your rides or hire hooligans to vandalise your park! How will you get revenge?
Whatever happens, it’s bound to be Unfair.
Over the course of 8 rounds, you play Event cards to help yourself and hinder your opponents, build Attractions and Upgrades using Park cards, and match your park to Blueprints.
Your goal is to build the highest-scoring park at game end, using three main ways to score:
  • building your park to match Blueprints
  • building impressively tall Attractions with lots of Upgrades
  • buying your way to victory with good old fashioned cash
You might hire staff to help you, or build a Super Attraction with a unique ability. Bribing officials and blackmailing politicians is also possible, but entirely optional.


WHEN CAN I VISIT?


I wish all theme parks looked this colourful on a sunny day. All the artwork in Unfair is vibrant and leaps from the cards to make its presence known on the table. If you've had any exposure to theme park creation games in the past, this will instantly bring back those memories. I don't know why some games lately are struggling to make the colour stand out, it's like watching DC movies compared to Marvel sometimes. It's even colour blind friendly as all the different decks and card types have text/symbols to distinguish them from each other. The cards themselves are fairly decent quality as well, but given the amount of the shuffling and sorting, sleeves might be recommended if this game is a keeper for you.

The insert is ok and clearly designed with expansions in mind, but usually we like to complain where there is not enough room for sleeved cards, here it's like the cards are riding in first class. There's so much room for the cards to move around that it makes you wonder whether the box could have been smaller as it's thicker than your standard size as I found out when putting on my shelf. The middle row is not perfect though for storing the tokens, which are nice and thick cardboard, you have to really squish them in when bagged up so for the time being, they're stored with the cards.

The rulebook looks daunting at first, but a lot of it is talking about what the elements of each card mean and the iconography, which you're going to need to get used to. Once you've absorbed that, you can teach it in a much faster way to new players. The actual turn sequence and phase order actually doesn't take up much in the book and at this point I realised that Unfair isn't particularly complex to play. . . with the exception that some of the cards are a little ambiguous in how they operate so expect to go looking up an FAQ from time to time.

But let's give credit where it's due. The board is double sided, but not because of multiple game styles. It's the same game, but the deck spaces and phase track are laid out differently depending on whether you're all sitting directly opposite each other with the board in the middle or you're on a round table with the board to the side. All just to make life more comfortable for the players. I applaud the publisher for this level of care as they could easily have just ignored the reverse side and think others should take note.


TAKE IT EASY


Unfair is one of those games you need to approach with a "light" mind. With the interactive event cards you don't want to get too attached to anything in your tableau and you have to accept a bit of randomness from card draw. In that mindset however, Unfair does offer a fun experience and one with quite a few laughs if anyone has those nostalgic connections like I mentioned above. In my first game I built a cinema in my park, then my opposite opponent built a luxury cinema and mocked mine. I then throughout the game proceeded to load up my cinema with every comfort upgrade on the planet from air conditioning to toilets to locker rooms to upgraded seating, just to prove that my cinema was better and we had this constant rivalry going. Conveniently my objectives linked in to this crazy play, but it was such a laugh and the way that everyone's park develops can generate similar laughs as you mock/praise their rides or play bad events on them.

Unfair also flows quite smoothly from turn to turn. You handle the Events first, then the Park phase, then collect your income and clean up for the next round. Each player takes an action in turn keeping the downtime to a steady level (though avoid slow players or 5 player games) and everyone picks up the mechanics quickly. You have plenty of choices for your actions and what route to take for points, whether it involves completing multiple blueprints or building the ultimate mega ride. And each theme deck will influence the game based on its stats. You want a ton of money, toss in the Gangster theme for coins all over the place for example.

But one thing that does drive me nuts with these "mix together and play" style games is the amount of setup and takedown that's required. In Unfair it's a big burden to have to separate all the different types of cards from each theme deck, distribute the player aids/loans/gates, shuffle all the different individual deck types together (bare in mind they'll need a proper shuffle and there's a lot of cards), it takes ages. And that's just setting up. When you finish, you now need to sort them by theme deck and by type, then plug them all together. Such a pain. And if like me you commonly come across the "Evacuators" who run away the second the game ends, it's a long tiresome job by yourself. Note, if you listened to my Top 10 Annoying Gamers list, kick No 10 off and slide this in the Top 3, it's a real bugbear and I forgot to include it!


WHY SO SERIOUS?


The elephant in the room is the amount of "unfairness" that applies in the game from these bad events I mentioned. Some reviewers think it's too mean, others don't mind. I'm kind of in the middle. It's actually not as bad as all that. Yes there's plenty of negative cards, but most players get sucked enough into the theme and that "light" mindset I mentioned that they don't mind it or at least expect it from how well their park is doing. It pays dividends to give everyone at the table a warning that negative cards exist as well especially if you're combining some of the "evil" decks together. And if you really hate it, you can always use the World Peace card to nullify all interactive effects for the game. . . . but then it just becomes multiplayer solitaire at that point so why would you?

Also frequently I found that even though you can hurt other players, those positive effects are way too tempting to use instead. So much so though that frequently players are drawing extra Event cards hoping to grab something sweet. . . .and that's more of an issue that I have. The balancing in Unfair is.........well unfair! The Park cards aren't too bad, though I'd argue that some of the costs seem high for some upgrades over others. But the Events are clearly not balanced and luck of the draw is a huge factor. For example you draw an Event that lets you play a free upgrade. Now if you're holding a 15+ cost upgrade, fantastic, but what you only have cheap stuff to hand? Another really insane one is a card that gives you income equal to your capacity that round, which is 15! While others are barely making 5-8 through effort, you're grabbing 15, which in an early round is huge. Now compare those to say "+ 1 action this round" or "gain 5 coins". In a short game I wouldn't mind so much, but this is typically 90 minutes minimum.


SPENDING ALL DAY AT THE PARK


Scaling is a bit of a problem from plays of Unfair so far. Whenever any game says 2-5 players I always assume (and usually rightly so) that the only reason the number "5" is included is simply to attract more people to buy the game. I'm serious, many Euro's are guilty of this and the consensus is usually the same. Never play with max players unless you want a long game. When was the last time someone played a long game of Le Havre with 5 players - I feel your pain!

With Unfair it's the same deal. You include a different theme deck per player, which is cool, lots of variety with more players. But then that also drastically increases the game length especially when it's their first game. Even a 4 player can feel a bit drawn out sometimes as even though the turns aren't that long, it takes a while to finish a round and there's 8 of them. Certainly where the book says "recommend you use the First Date card to reduce it to 6 rounds" you should heed that advice. It's also harder to take on multiple parks with the negative cards.

2-3 players is the perfect length, but then the downside of that is that you don't use as many themes in that game. Not that you'll get to use all 3 in your park anyway so it's not a big deal, I tend to focus on one theme anyway just because I like to specialise in these kinds of games. But with 2-3 you can finish the game quicker and thus chop and change the themes more often. It also feels less mean in 2 players because it's head to head at the end of the day, what goes around comes around.



FORE-SHADOWING STRANGE RIDES AHEAD


As I said before, this box has clearly been designed with expansions in mind. We're obviously going to get a ton of decks in the future, which is great and you'll get some decent replayability from the 6 in the box already. The rules hint at a use for panoramic picture cards to score more points, which will be cool, if somewhat suited more to advanced play than new players.

My big worry is the scoring in the future though. You score a ride for each symbol on it. If you're got a ride with 7-8 symbols surviving at the end you've done really well. So why does the score track go up to 25 symbols? Such a feat is currently physically impossible with the cards in the box so what is going to get released that allows you to more than triple the symbols on a single ride? Is this going to be a giant power creep issue, who knows? But maybe we didn't need to know this extended scoring right now?



VERDICT ON UNFAIR



The setting for Unfair is one I want to see more and the theme is handled very well here. It doesn't take long to get immersed in building your cool theme park with the rides and upgrades you want and the jokes from experience and nostalgia will flow. You'll need a game to get used to the rules, but after that you find it's not as difficult as first assumed by the rulebook. All the art is colourful and vibrant and the box will cater for expansions to come. The combinations of themes and game changer cards create unique experiences and strategies and future additions will only improve on this.

However there are issues. The setup and takedown is such a giant burden that it puts me off wanting to go through it again every game on top of teaching all the rules. The event/loan cards have major imbalances and the negative effects you can inflict on other players may ruin their experience, though the frequency of use depends on the decks you use. The game can also run a bit long with any more than 3 players unless you reduce the number of rounds and you won't see me EVER play this with 5 again.

Unfair genuinely provides a good amount of fun and laughs and with the right setting can be a great game despite the balance issues. Future expansions might improve it further as right now it feels like a nice starting platform that just needs a few tweaks here and there and is best reserved for small groups. Not the greatness I was hoping for yet, but still good fun. Let's do more with this theme now!




BROKEN RATING - 7 COMFORT UPGRADES IN MY AMAZING CINEMA





YOU WILL LIKE UNFAIR IF:


You just want to indulge in a theme that's underused, yet appreciated from nostalgic gaming.


You like having a variety of setups that change the way the game plays.


You want the brightest, most colourful game to hit the table in a long while.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE UNFAIR IF:


You feel the balance of the events are too swingy to make it enjoyable.


You don't want a game to drag too long and will commonly play with 4-5 players.


You find the setup and takedown a massive pain to do every game.





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