Unfair Review – Building Theme Parks and Breaking Hearts
When I was younger, I loved playing Rollercoaster Tycoon. I remember that as one of my happiest memories, the Christmas when I first got Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 and the time travel expansion for it. It was a beautiful game, and I have a lot of fond memories. I still remember when I found the game on Steam a couple of years ago – it was happiness incarnate.
So, you can guess my excitement when I discovered Unfair. We’ve been looking for a theme park building game recently (there are surprisingly few around) and two stood out – Unfair and Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park. Through the sheer fact that my girlfriend doesn’t like Rick and Morty, Unfair edged it out and onto the list.
What is more, Unfair is published by CMON (Cool Mini or Not) who not only generally make amazing games, but also have a name synonymous with amazing miniatures. My interest was piqued even further due to the fact that this is a card game.
So, in a recent splurge, Unfair was one of three games that Amazon delivered to my door around a week ago (Unfair, Magic Maze, and Charterstone) and, I have to say, it is awesome. Let’s take a closer look at why this is such an enjoyable game.
We will be objective during this, so although I can tell you the TL;DR version of this review is that it is an awesome game, this will not be an…Unfair review.
Eh? Unfair – get it? Because the game is called Unfair? Because this is really an Unfair review, but it isn’t an Unfair review? Like, we will be fair…oh sod it, let’s just get on with the game.
Unfair Review: The Premise of the Game
Unfair is a 2-5 player card game designed by Joel Finch. In it, you play as a theme park developer looking to create a park that is better than your opponents’. To do so, you need to build parks and blueprints, whilst also surviving the wrath of both your opponents and the dreaded inspectors.
The game is played over eight rounds, each comprising of eight (sometimes nine) phases. There are six different themed decks, and you play with as many as there are players. These are Pirate and Robot (considered the basic decks), Jungle and Vampire, and Ninja and Gangster (considered the most difficult). The six decks can be combined in any combination.
Each deck is split into seven different parts. These are:
- Admin Cards – These include your Park Entrance, Loan Card, and Reference Sheet.
- Park Cards – These are the attractions, upgrades, sideshows, rides, staff, and other such things you can build in your park. Six of these are revealed at any one time, forming the market.
- Blueprints – These are additional victory conditions. The easiest way to think of them is like the tickets from Ticket to Ride. They are worth negative points at the end of the game if you don’t complete them, so you need to choose wisely.
- Events – These are cards that you can play to give yourself a benefit, or an opponent a disadvantage during the round.
- City Cards – These are conditions that affect everyone in a round. They also act as the round counter. There are four positive city cards and four negative cards in each game.
- Showcase Cards – Each player gets dealt two at the start of the game. These do not count towards the hand limit (five) and tend to earn more points, as well as gain additional benefits once you play them.
- Game Changers – These are not in the deck but rather in the general supply. You can choose to put them in play to change the general rules of the game. These tend to be positive, like to shorten the game to six rounds or make the game non-aggressive.
Each turn is split into eight phases. These can be summarised however in four steps. Where you are in each round is kept with a little plastic rollercoaster car, which is an adorable little touch.
- Draw Events – Every player draws an event card.
- City Event – The City event for that round is revealed.
- Play Events – Each player then gets the option to play an event card.
Events essentially determine how aggressive you want the game to be. You can play cards on yourself (which is usually worth doing), or you can peeve your opponents by playing on them.
There are essentially three park steps; however, special conditions such as events or certain members of staff may allow for a fourth step to be used. In these you can do one of five things:
- Take a card from the market and put it into your hand.
- Play a card from your hand, paying the cost and putting it into your park. Note: there are two conditions. The first is that you need the guest capacity within your park (default 15 guests, or 15,000 guests if you read the FAQ and don’t take it literally). Each ride and upgrade has a star value, and that represents the number of guests you can have – so if you have 10 stars and you play a 1 star then that is okay. If you have 14 stars and you want to play a 2 star then that is not. You can increase capacity in a few ways throughout the game.Secondly, you can only have 5 attractions at any one time. This is presumably to stop one player building 15x one-star attractions and removing them all from the game.
The Park cards are divided into four different types of cards – Attractions, Upgrades, Staff, and Resource. Attractions and Upgrades are the most common as they are the bread and butter of your theme park. Staff offer real in-game bonuses, and Resources increase your park capacity.
- Demolish. You can get rid of an attraction.
- Take two cards from the top of the Rides, Events, or Blueprints decks. Discard one and keep the other.
- Collect loose change. This is collecting the change that has fallen out of your guests’ pockets. It’s one coin per attraction you have open.
Loans can be taken out, to give you much needed coins throughout the game – however, they come at a cost. The more money you borrow, the more points are subtracted from you at the end of the game.
Now you have built your park, you gain one coin per star you have. Again, there are cards and conditions that can change that.
Get rid of any lingering effects, and refresh the marketplace. At this point you also discard cards out of your hand until you are down to five.
Unfair Review: Winning The Game
So, how is the game won? Well, the game is a “highest scorer” type of game, with points being awarded in several different ways.
Firstly, there is the number of icons in your park on ribbons associated with rides. These are the little symbols on each card, and they denote the ride type, plus any upgrade types that may be associated with it. If, for instance, we take the image above then we can see there are 12 icons (“Larger Capacity” doesn’t count as it isn’t on a ribbon). This will be worth a certain number of points (76). The more icons you have the more they are worth. The maximum you can get is 25, which is worth 310 points. In the average (non-aggressive) two player game you will typically get between 10 and 15 icons, which is 55 to 115 points.
Next is the number of blueprints you fulfil. These are not mandatory in the game, but picking a few up early is worthwhile. You cannot pick them up once the city cards start becoming negative (turn 5 onwards). You also get negative points for any you don’t fulfil.
Next up, you get 1pt for every 2 coins you have at the end of the game.
After that, you count up any additional points you get from staff members.
Finally, you remove any negative points for any loans you may have. Although the rulebook says that loans are your friends, we are yet to need them during a game.
The winner is the person with the most points.
So What Is It Like Playing Unfair?
Unfair is a fun and fast-paced game that takes around 25 minutes per player. The rounds go really quickly, and the limited actions make this a highly strategic game. You can easily waste a round just picking up cards, and money becomes something that really needs managing (in a way it is somewhat of an economic simulator). In fact, I would say that Unfair is deceptively strategic. It seems light and fluffy and like Rollercoaster Tycoon on the surface, but realistically you are looking at a game with a strategy level akin to 7 Wonders or Splendor.
The variety of cards makes Unfair a colourful game, that allows you to build a park you can genuinely imagine, and the six decks add variety. Doing a bit of research, there is an expansion expected for Q2 of 2018 that will bring Aliens, B-Movies, Western, and Dinosaur parks into the game. At the moment, I am expecting that expansion will probably be kick-started.
The way that Unfair is scored is one of the major perks of the game. Since there are so many ways of scoring, there are numerous different strategies you can partake in to score points at the end. Yes, it is unlikely that you will win using any one strategy alone, but it is possible. Ironically enough, Unfair is incredibly fair and diverse, and it shares the same scoring mentality as some of the bigger Eurogames on the market.
Reading around, one of the primary issues people have found with Unfair is the fact it can be played in an aggressive way. There are options to make your opponents’ lives hell, and where that can be done, it doesn’t necessarily mean it always should be. We have played a couple of completely pacifist games now, and they are just as rewarding, if not more so, than playing aggressively. Either way, Unfair can be a fun game. It doesn’t have to have a “take that” component (the mechanic, not the band), but the option is there if you want to give yourself a bit of an advantage.
I get the feeling that aggression works in Unfair so long as everyone is aggressive. If it is only one person then they will just seem like a bit of a tool and the whole thing will break down.
There is one game that Unfair really reminds me of, and that is Smash Up. In both, players use different factions or themes together to create fun combinations to play. Both use highly thematic and creative set pieces to bring the game to life, and each has the same kind of feel. It’s hard to explain, but that light-hearted feel that both Smash Up and King of Tokyo share – as does Unfair.
If I were to pick some flaw with Unfair, it isn’t in the gameplay. Instead, the flaw comes with the set up and take down of the game. First, each theme deck needs dividing into its seven components. Those seven components then need shuffling into their own separate decks. Once the game has been played, everything needs dividing out again. It can be laborious and does detract from the game a little bit.
Also, Unfair is much better at lower player counts. We have played with 2 players all the way up to 5 players, and 5 players becomes far more difficult and a far longer game. It was a far better game with two than it was with five.
The Final Take – What Is Unfair Like?
Unfair is a game that has several things going for it, including the pace at which it plays and the design of the cards themselves. It is fast and can be furious, with a large amount of scope.
Ultimately, Unfair is one of those rare games that gets you excited for what is coming next. We want to see the creativity that goes into the expansion, as well as experience the new strategies that expansion allows for. Just be careful of the player count – two is better than five.
All in all, in a run of so-so game reviews recently, Unfair is something that really stands out on the shelf. As is Magic Maze, but that is a story for another time.
So, what do you think of Unfair? Is this the kind of game that gets you excited, or is it something you would rather leave well alone? Let me know in the comments below.