Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 20 October 2021

The Game Shelf Previews:- Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum

Game: Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum

Publisher: Hot Banana Games

Designer: Pauline Kong, Haymen Lee, Marie Wong

Year: 2022

Theming in board games is really a distraction for me. I’ll play anything, no matter the theme, but food or cute animals are pretty universally appealing and I’m not immune. Steam Up, in particular, is built upon a brilliant theme, giving rise to a game that, frankly, looks delicious. The arrival of the prototype of Steam Up caused me to;

1. Invite over my friends for a weekend stay
2. Take said friends on a trip to the Chinese supermarket
3. Buy a heck of a lot of dim sum
4. Even buy a steamer so that we could correctly cook the dim sum
5. Be taught to cook dim sum
6. Eat a whole ton of dim sum and take some nice photos of this wonderful looking game

But, like I said, theme doesn’t a matter to me…

If you’d like to host your own dim sum get together, then perhaps a game of Steam Up is the perfect appetiser. 

At the start of a game of Steam Up the eighteen steamers are filled with different dim sum morsels from the bag. An equal amount of steamers get two, three, and four items in them. Then the steamers are stacked randomly into stacks of three on the game board. Each player will be assigned a customer with its own special power and a feast zone where they can take dim sum. 

Each round starts with a fate (event) card being drawn before play begins, these can change the rules a little for the round, or provide a bonus to a certain player. During your turn you'll get two actions from a choice of four. You can either gain a food token, gain a fortune card and rotate the steamer board, play a fortune card for its power and rotate the steamer board, discard two fortune cards for a food token or spend food tokens to buy a steamer. Rotating the steamers is important to ensure that the food you want to buy is in your feast zone. 

To buy a steamer you'll need to discard food tokens matching the food inside one of the steamers in your feast zone. After doing so you'll gain points as you add the morsels to your player board. Each character has different powers, with some gaining more points for focusing on a single food type, or for splitting their dietary needs. Every time a steamer is selected the steamer tracker moves down one space. Once the tracker reaches 0 it becomes the final round, with any players yet to play this round taking a final turn.

Amy's Final Thoughts

From the second we opened the box the wow factor of this game struck home. There's games with table presence, and then there's games with stacking bamboo steamers filled with fantastic dim sum shapes on a rotating table board. It's worth noting what we had was a prototype of the deluxe version with 3D printed components. In the final version the dim sum should be made of the same slightly jelly-like material as the berries from Everdell
Once you get past the initial awe you are left with a very competent family game. The actions are simple, you'll typically be taking a food token ready to grab what you want, with your spare action either grabbing or using cards, or buying those delicious dim sum treats. The rotation aspect can be very important, in a two player game you only have a quarter of the board that you can take steamers from. Even if you do a turn as one of your actions then you'll get the choice of up to four of the six steamers. Moreover if you are drawing/using cards to turn the table then that's one of your two actions used, meaning you can only take a token or buy a steamer, not both. A lot of actions can be lost to the table being where you don't want it to be, which adds a layer of depth to the game since the tokens your opponents are collecting is public knowledge. Sometimes filling your own stomach doesn't win you the game, so much as starving your friends does! 

If I had to draw a criticism then it's that the character's powers don't always feel equal. In particular one character lets you discard a dim sum from a steamer you just bought in order to draw one from the bag, while another lets you discard a dim sum from a steamer you just bought and swap it with one from any steamer of your choice. These are functionally identically except that the second character both gets more choice, and more chance to mess with their opponents. But of course this is still a preview of a game yet to be on Kickstarter, there is time to make little tweaks to balance out characters, and in a larger player count game the different power levels will be less notable anyway. 
Steam Up is an fantastic family weight game with a theme that has been embraced wholeheartedly. The incredible production quality makes you want to sit down and play, while the fast, light-weight, gameplay really hits home.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Steam Up has all of the ingredients (including sticky rice, shrimp dumplings and more!) of a family classic. It looks great, has an appealing theme and simple mechanisms that our easy to teach. However, that’s not to say that the game is easy to play – it is full of very difficult decisions. You only have two actions per turn and you’ll be forever wanting more. If you need to take a new ingredient token, and then rotate the plate of steamers so that the one that you can complete is facing you. The problem is that you don’t have an action spare to then claim the steamer and the next player is bound to rotate the table again! In a two player game, the player who gets lucky and reveals a steamer that they can complete without having to rotate the plate will feel very smug.

A game of Steam Up is all about efficiency; making sure you take dim sum of the highest scoring types; making sure that you don’t end up so full of shrimp dumplings that you can’t take any more, but they keep coming your way (and scoring you no points) and making the most of the fortune cards and your personal player ability to ensure that you are not wasting a single action and you’re always progressing and scoring the maximum points possible with each move. It’s not easy to execute a really efficiently played game, but the person who does will come out on top.

If you take Steam Up too seriously, you might get a little frustrated with a few of the luck factors, but if you are looking for a light family game with a bit of meat and a lot of beauty, then Steam Up will certainly be a winner.

You Might Like...
  • For component quality and table presence, this is one of the best games you'll ever find.
  • The game is light, which pairs well with its accessible theme to make Steam Up a wonderful introduction to modern board gaming.
  • The action limit per turn makes for some really tough decisions.
You Might Not Like...
  • The fate cards add an element of luck that can be a big swing in this otherwise tight game.
  • A combination of the power of the fate cards and the power of your personal player ability can also seem to be a big factor in who wins.
The Verdict
Steam Up is a great family game. It's got a theme that not only has a huge and accessible feel, but it's a theme that has leant itself to a wonderful production that has great tactile elements and a wonderful table presence. Why not gather your friends and a selection of dim sim and have a feast around your table?

Steam Up was a preview copy kindly provided by Hot Banana Games. All photos were provided by the publisher. It launches on Kickstarter on October 19th 2021.

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