Having been a fan of the Theme Park series in the digital form and loving a day out at the rides, it came as somewhat of a surprise that I don’t actually own any theme park or funfair-themed board games. Obviously, with that well and truly in their minds, Cool Mini or Not have ‘Waltz-ed’ to the rescue with the release of Unfair, a 2-5 player hand management take on that game designed by Joel Finch. Let’s find out if Unfair is a rollercoaster ride of a lifetime or whether you should ‘dodge’em!’
I’m not going to speak about the components in too much detail for the simple reason that it’s CMON and seemingly whatever they put out at the minute contains exquisite components, whether that is miniatures, great artwork on cards and boards, well written rulebooks or tactile tokens. As far as Unfair is concerned, CMON have nailed 3 out of 4 of the above mentioned pre-requisites, and I’ll quickly explain why:
Miniature-wise is simple, there’s only one, and it comes in the form of a roller coaster carriage which denotes which ‘step’ of the current round players are in. It could have been a cardboard token but, let’s be honest, it was never going to be, and we love CMON for that. The artwork on the cards and board is gorgeous, and not only does it fit with the bright & vibrant theme of a fun fair, but it instantly reminds me of the ‘theme’ or ‘sim’ video game titles. Both are also intelligently set out, making them obvious and easy to use. All the tokens in the game are good, thick card stock and complement the rest of the game with bright colours, as well as being a variety of shapes that make them easy to differentiate.
By virtue of elimination, it’s easy to spot one of the issues that I have with Unfair, and that is its rulebook. Getting the good points out of the way first, it uses a lot of colourful diagrams to explain various rules or points of the game, end of list. For me, it’s just badly written, edited and presented with a lack of clarity regarding some rules and wholeheartedly not mentioning other points of the game. I’ve never been a fan of publishers who put out rulebooks that try to be funny with quirky comments or pictures, and Unfair has this in abundance, just tell me how to play the game and I’ll be happy. Considering that I’ve just reviewed The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire by CMON and waxed lyrical about the standard of its rulebook, it only adds to my disappointment.
The aim of Unfair is to have the most points after 8 rounds of play, which can be achieved in a variety of ways, including building attractions such as theatres or roller coasters, and upgrading them with express queues or food outlets and so on. Blueprint cards that you collect from the game board will have specific building requirements on them and will give you points at the end of the game. Employ staff members who not only have in-game special abilities but also add towards your points total, or rake in the coins from your guests which will be converted into points. That’s how you can add points to your total, but that is only half of the game, with the other half being to completely mess with your opponent’s park by dismissing staff members, demolishing or closing attractions and making them spend lots of coins to prevent such “Unfairness”.
Set-up can be extremely quick or a pain in the backside depending on how you left it after your last game. There is an element of deck building in Unfair, and deck builders generally take longer to set up. Unfair has six themed decks making up an event deck, park deck, blueprint deck and funfair deck. The number of players will determine how many decks are used, one deck per player with the six themes being Robot, Pirate, Vampire, Jungle, Ninja and Gangster. A round consists of eight steps (nine with certain event cards) which with the help of the board are mega easy to follow and play through. All steps are done in player turn order, which will change throughout the game.
Step one is to draw an event card into your hand. Event cards will have two effects on them of which players can choose one of two uses in a later step. The top effect usually gives its owner a benefit, such as a payment of coins or draw extra park or blueprint cards, or even build attractions and upgrades for free or cheaper than normal. The bottom part of the event card will be used to mess with your opponent’s park by closing attractions or dismissing staff, etc. In some instances, the bottom of the card can be used to block such attacks by opponents.
Step two will be for one player to turn over the next card in the funfair deck, which basically acts as a round counter or timer for the game. The funfair deck will at first give all players an immediate benefit of some sort, whether that is by way of extra coins or allowing them to build something, but they may instead give players rewards should they satisfy a certain criteria by the end of the round, such as having a leisure ride built, etc. The twist with this deck comes in the last four rounds when the funfair deck turns into the unfair deck and can turn a player’s tactics on their head by making them spend coins or closing attractions before the main body of the game starts.
Step three is where players will play some or all of their event cards that they have in their hand, one card at a time and in player turn order. Sometimes players could have six (hand limit of five but can have 6 at this stage) event cards in hand, and this stage may last for some time, or a player may only have one card and choose not to play it. Step four, five and six make up the park step that allows players to use three actions to collect cards, build attractions or earn coins.
An action could be to take one of the six park cards that are face up in the market space on the board, park cards are rides, upgrade and staff members, as well as a few others. Players may choose to draw from the event or blueprint card instead and place it in their hand. Another action is to build an attraction or upgrade from the market place or hand by spending coins. If this is an attraction card, then it is placed face up in front of the player (maximum of five attractions per player), and if it is an upgrade card, then it is simply placed underneath the attraction that it is upgrading so only the icon type is showing at the top of the card. Some builds will give players an immediate reward or allow players to do something later in the game.
Step seven is the guest step and will allow players to charge their customers for using the park. Players will count the number of attraction & upgrade stars in their park and collect that number of coins from the supply, and staff members and event cards can increase this. Step eight is the final step and simply cleans up the board by drawing six new park cards for the market, settles any event cards still in play and forces players to discard their hand of event and park cards down to five. After this, the next round begins. That, in a large nutshell, is Unfair. Obviously, I couldn’t mention every action or game anomaly, but this should give you a pretty good idea of how the game operates.
The events step is possibly my favourite part of the game, especially in the latter rounds when players not only have more event cards in hand, but it seems to be when players really begin to turn on one another to ensure victory for themselves or sometimes just to be annoying. Unfair is essentially a ‘take that’ game that almost forces players to hit one another, although the events step can also be used tactically to increase the user’s park size on the cheap or gain extra cards. The park step is frustrating but exciting at the same time as players will always need that extra action to complete what they really want to do, so they might have to settle for something less. I love building up my attractions and gaining those extra points from the blueprint cards, which can also be massively annoying should that one card a player needs not come out of the park deck, and when it does, they can’t afford to build it anyway. All part of the fun.
The mechanisms allow the game to flow very smoothly, as well as speed up gameplay due to most player actions in the park step not having an effect on other players. The use of a loan card by each player can help raise some extra funds to complete builds but come at the cost of points at the end of the game. Players are also given showcase cards at the start of the game that offer huge coin rewards, as well as special abilities, but they have a build cost to match. One aspect of the game that I’m not as taken by are the differences between the theme decks or lack thereof, to be honest. Apart from the artwork and a few minor changes of text, there is very little to separate the Jungle deck from the Ninja deck or the Robot deck from the Pirate deck. They are all very samey, and despite what the theme overview cards state, it doesn’t really matter which decks players use.
Another aspect of the game that will always make this a ‘once in a while’ game for me is that it is so random and at times can be completely devoid of tactics. An example of this randomness is during the event steps: A player could draw a card that allows them to immediately build an attraction for free or allow them to search the park deck and take a card, both of which are ace. On the other hand, the player’s card might only give them five coins or draw a blueprint card, which is good but nowhere near as OP as the other two I mentioned. Park cards drawn into the market add to the level of randomness also as it’s not uncommon for none of them to be useable; players can draw blind from the top of the deck, but randomness levels further increase. I feel like this could have been helped if players were allowed to draw cards ‘for free’ during the clean-up step, possibly.
The game comes with game changer cards that alter rules for that particular game, such as removing the event deck or removing the bottom option of event cards that are used against other players. Any number of these can be used at once, but I’ve found that the standard rules make for the best games, unless you are playing with a ‘table flipper’, that is. Even compared to other ‘take that’ games, Unfair can be particularly ‘friendship testing’ at times.
Designer: Joel Finch
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not