Wot I Think: 7 Grand Steps

By John Walker on June 10th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Now out of beta and onto Steam, 7 Grand Steps is a game unlike most others. A combination of puzzle game, resource management, relationship simulator and slot machine, it’s incredibly hard to pin it down. Here’s my failing to tell you quite wot I think:

I’d been playing 7 Grand Steps all morning, and still didn’t have a clue what was going on. I fed tokens in, I made the people move around, get married, have babies, educate the babies, then plan as the babies grown up, and kept repeating this, just feeding in tokens, and never knowing why. Then I read the instructions.

The game is about following generations of a family through what feel like early Roman/Grecian eras, attempting to make progress both in their personal lives, careers, and indeed in society in general. All through what is a cross between a board game and a clockwork fruit machine. Each generation begins with a single adult, whom you pair up with another by moving them to a corresponding tile, then the two of them are controlled separately around the eternally rotating wheel.

The wheel is made of divisions, tiles, in bands reaching outward, which are moved about by either playing a corresponding token to the symbol of the tile you want to reach, or by playing an ingot that causes you to move backward to the nearest other “pawn” – peer occupants of the board – with whom you generate new tokens. On top of all this, the wheel is covered in counters that are collected to complete goals that should advance the story forward.

Only, it’s far more complex than that. Each move has various consequences, whether it’s forward or backward, collecting counters or generating tokens, or simply standing still. Educating children requires giving them tokens that would otherwise help you move the parents around the wheel, but not educating children means your next generation will be less skilled, capable of creating fewer tokens, and behave less helpfully in the random encounter situations that occur as you play. In fact, have more than one child (and as many as six), and you have to worry about treating them all equally – grudges developed can impact the nature of future generations, and even lead to rivalries that impact the game later on. But you need siblings too, since if your only child failed to reproduce in their turn, then it would be a game over. A brother or sister means there’s still a chance for your family line to continue.

There are rites of passage for children, which their training will impact, while adults will have short story situations to make choices within, determined by their nature and your selections, with unpredictable results. They may grow up horrible, which affects the results of your next generation. It’s idea upon idea upon idea, despite always feeling like a turning wheel with a slot machine.

And having now played it for more hours, I’m still completely at a loss as to why. I’m progressing, but I know not toward what. I’m making smarter choices, but I’m barely streamlining the process. In expanding my way into the outer circuits of the wheel, the experience doesn’t changed dramatically for doing so. Until the outermost ring, where the game shifts into its end-game, something a little more focused on direct goals in an attempt to achieve absolute leadership.

7 Grand Steps ends up feeling like it’s very clever, but you don’t quite get to access that. It’s like watching Only Connect, except there’s no Victoria Coren to tell you what the bewildering correct answer was.

And yet it’s inexplicably compulsive. I cannot justify my having put so much of today into it, when for the most part I was repeating near-identical routine. But there are those coin slots, those tokens, and I did seem to keep putting one inside the other.

You can buy 7 Grand Steps directly from creators Mousechief for $15 here. Or you can get it via Steam for your planet’s equivalent of £11 here.

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26 Comments »

  1. Christo4 says:

    Infinity!

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    DrScuttles says:

    For some reason, a quick glance at the screenshots reminded me of some frenzied cut level of Sanitarium that exists only in my cheese-fuelled nightmares. Almost a shame that it’s not; it strikes me as nearly weird enough.
    And judging by the Steam trailer, it seems conspicuously 4:3.

    • Sidewinder says:

      Conspicuously? Gosh, you’d think it was made by humans or something.

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        DrScuttles says:

        Humans and their judging, narrow eyes.

        • bella404 says:

          If you think Jose`s story is something…, one week ago my boy frends mom got paid $5948 putting in a ninteen hour week from home and they’re co-worker’s mom`s neighbour has done this for 6 months and earned more than $5948 in their spare time from a computer. applie the steps on this web-site… kep2.com

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    princec says:

    It’s a great game hidden behind some fairly dull looking screenshots. I heartily recommend it as it’s really quite interesting to play.

    Be aware that it is a “boardgame” and that you are meant to be able to lose at random. That’s part of the replayability.

  4. Greggh says:

    Here’s my failing to tell you quite wot I think:
    HAHAHHAAHAHAH wonderful.

    At first I really didn’t get the concept behind this game so, even though you really didn’t put out what you actually think of it, at last now I grasp the concepts behind this… sort of.

    Actually I don’t really know. Too bad there’s no demo… this feels like the kind of game that words or video simply don’t represent it so well.

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      basilisk says:

      There is a demo, and it’s quite long, too. Definitely long enough to see what the full game is like.

      I’ve been playing the full version on and off during the day, and my main criticism would also be that I don’t really see what I’m working towards (or even how far along I am). It’s an interesting little game, though, and as John said, there’s something oddly compulsive about it, even though there’s been little variation in it so far.

    • Azeltir says:

      If you click the first link, to the game’s homepage, there actually are PC and Mac demos there.

    • Greggh says:

      Oh god, I am blind – how did I miss not one but TWO “DEMO” buttons?! :\

  5. misterT0AST says:

    You wrote “The experience doesn’t changed” at some point near the bottom of the article.
    After you correct it, feel free to erase this comment, futile reminder of mistakes past.

    • Aaax says:

      That’s just next level writing. He meant to say “Experience. Experience never changes.”

  6. iucounu says:

    I feel Bruce Willis’s bemused expression in the ad banner says it all.

    • LordMidas says:

      Him and that Jai ‘Gormless’ Courtney (though he was good in Spartacus)

  7. Keith Nemitz says:

    Hello, I’m the principal developer for 7 Grand Steps. I’d be happy to answer questions here.

    John, have you tried browsing your graveyard? The story of your family is recorded there. Maybe that will offer insight about what you’ve been doing.

    The design takes a risk with some randomness to the storytelling, in an attempt to create a tale that includes tragedy as well as success. Gamers want to win! They want to outsmart tragedy before it happens. And that’s great for most games. This is a game about survival. It’s about the long term. Literally, a family will be stronger, smarter, better if the player doesn’t chase after every bead.

    The choices offered are intended to affect the story more than the game. If the story fails to engage the player, yeah, it’s a grinding squirrel cage. There are many people who have been sucked into the storytelling, and that has made the difference for them.

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      strangeloup says:

      I was quite engrossed by the demo. It reminded me more of King of Dragon Pass than anything else, and I suspect I’ll be picking up the full version when money allows.

      Slightly concerned that it seems to be listed as “Step 1″ though; are there due to be more instalments?

      • Keith Nemitz says:

        What Ancients Begat is a complete, 15-20 hour, standalone game. Future games will cover later periods of history, and they will recognize families from previous games, but the ‘steps’ are more like the Total War franchise, than a Telltale series.

    • Victuz says:

      I actually have a question. I purchased the game on steam, in the shop it’s called 7 Grand Steps but in my list it’s called “7 Grand Steps, Step 1: What Ancients Begat”. By buying the game on Steam did I buy all of the future steps as well? Or have I only purchased the very first bit of it?

      EDIT: Nevermind just read the answer above.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I really appreciate your attempt to expand the world of videogames with an entry that is both somewhat funny, super interesting, and has modest educational value.

      It really is a nice product and my wife and I wish more people would think outside the box with their games.

  8. AngoraFish says:

    I’ve played at least half a dozen hours (well into noble stages), probably more, but I’m done.

    The game is addictive in a repetitive sort of way for a while, but I’m not getting any great sense that my actions have any real practical influence on the outcomes – grab point token when chits allow it, rinse and repeat.

    The game itself is entirely dry, repetitive and thoroughly abstract, and the theme/story text, at its most interactive, is simply a “choose you own adventure” slot machine.

    Filler such as children (after the first), “inventions”, class-promotions, etc. are all largely tacked-on, adding little to the game other than to obscure how simple it is with layers of superficial complexity.

    There is certainly no sense of emergent stories arising at any level, and I’ve felt no great interest in going back to re-read earlier popup text that comprises what “history” there is of my family tree.

    I found Dangerous High School Girls charming, albeit with a quite jarring and (in my view) inappropriate change of tone at the end. Unfortunately, 7 Grand Steps in no way lives up to the promise shown in High School Girls.

    I literally own a room full of boardgames, so maybe I’m a bit spoiled for what a good one can look like, but if I’d purchased this for my collection it would have have been traded off pretty quickly.

    • mgardner says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I played to the end of the demo and ended with much the same opinion as you. I was hoping the full release might give me a compelling reason to buy it, but it sounds like more of the same.

      I thought the demo had too much slow time between story segments, and found myself constantly trying to min/max my token play to improve my position on the wheel – but never felt rewarded for it.

    • garys.cmh says:

      I have to say I’ve had largely the same reaction as you’ve described.

      I played the demo, bought the game, and I’ve played I don’t even know how many cumulative hours thus far.

      It IS oddly compelling at first, for reasons I can’t quite describe. But ultimately it proves to be something of an empty exercise.

      At first, it’s kind of cool to play through the generations and to make all of the little choices, read through all of the stories and options. There is also a surprisingly great amount of variety: due to a technical problem with my first family which crashed the game, I had to restart with a new family (HUGE frustration, but I got over it) and I was pleased to note a largely new set of specifics were being delivered to me.

      Ultimately however, I just feel really disconnected with the proceedings. It feels like no matter what I do, my fate is at the mercy of whatever dice-roll mechanics are powering this game. Kind of like life, I suppose, but I really DID want to have more impact on my own fate and destiny than I had. I wanted to be able to WIN or EXCEL, even if my family suffered setbacks at times.

      At the end of the day, I felt like just another Vegas sucker feeding coins into a slot machine without being able to impact which numbers came up at any given time.

      The game doesn’t suck by any means, but a week or two out from release (I purchased on release day), I feel like I am kind of “done.” It’s still a good time-killer I suppose, but gosh, it seemed like it could have been so much more.

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        basilisk says:

        Yeah, I’ve had pretty much the same experience. It’s compulsive at first, but once you figure out the mechanics and the optimal way to play it, it just becomes a dull grind that seems to take forever. Sad, but true.

  9. Victuz says:

    It’s a great game, but it has some problems, there are a few bugs here and there but the main issue is randomness.

    Yes you can control the way you move around the wheel, and most actions have specific reactions associated with them For example making tokens with your parent couple generally generates more tokens BUT unless you’re really old you’ll probably bake babies. And no matter how hard you try those babies will hate each other.

    What I mean by randomness is specific text elements when the game actually tells a text story. Apart from sheer luck and not picking the obviously bad picks (tell the high priest you were sent by the new god! Go ahead it’s a great idea!), there is no strategy or form to it. I’ve played through the same events a few times but the same answer can lead to multiple different outcomes that seem to only be generated through RNG. This is especially aggravating in the challenge of the ages for the ruling classes, since generally not succeeding there means you and your family will all get butchered.

    Great game, don’t like the randomness all that much.

  10. Potocobe says:

    I ran through the full game and started a second to see the differences and my second family is definitely playing out a different story so far. For all the randomness there is a level of control with how you decide to move your pawns and raise your kids that makes me feel like I am playing a game rather than witnessing one. And it is possible to raise a good generation and become rich in tokens. It is easier to keep your children at the same levels when you are rich. The timing with which you choose to grab that last bead needed to discover something can make a good difference or set you back if you had been spending tons of tokens on multiple kids only to have that discipline become obsolete through your own invention. I have had brothers and sisters that came along at the end of a generation totally bankrupt me the whole way through the next generation but this type of thing can usually be avoided by choosing the child that hates rather than the one who is hated.

    I really liked the outer track of the wheel once I got there. There is a simple resource management mini game where you are the general of a king’s military and you manage and build up the army. As you go the king gives you more responsibility and you can control the treasury and diplomacy (spying) on top of who to invade or make peace with.

    It’s an interesting way to deliver a story, easy to play and it has a depth to it. It is worthwhile to point out that this game is heavily narrative driven and takes place mostly inside your mind. If you aren’t into it in the first hour or so you probably won’t suddenly like it more later on as it is a repetitive game.

  11. Jimbo says:

    It’s very compulsive, but I’d argue the game doesn’t really start until you hit the outer ring.

    The ruling class game -which is different in each age- adds the extra layer which the rest of the game badly needs. The problem is that it’s pretty simple to get yourself dropped out of the ruling class and back into the class below. The punishment (and that’s the word for it) for this is that you’re looking at maybe an hour of the repetitive and by that point brain-dead simple game which precedes the ruling class, just to get back to where you were. It’s not difficult to get back there, it’s just a chore. Think of a checkpoint an hour before the tricky bit, it feels a lot like that.

    The game would have benefitted immeasurably from having something akin to the ruling class mini-games on the other rings, or at least on the penultimate ring. There is a hint of King of Dragon Pass in here, but there’s not enough going on to really justify the comparison until you hit that outer level.