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.