Review: 7 Grand Steps: What Ancients Begat

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The very beginning of the game.

7 Grand Steps from Mousechief “combines the historical sweep of Civilization and the family nurturing of The Sims into an emergent narrative of epic scale. With each turn, you optimize the use of resources to achieve powerful legends, using a tactical board-game mechanic that empowers overarching family strategies across the generations. Along the way, children are conceived and romances forged, discoveries are made and tragedies suffered. Will your lineage survive through the ages, or be crushed under the weight of progress?” Mousechief says that the game’s mechanics were inspired by the coin-operated amusements of San Francisco’s Musee Mecanique [don’t click that link if you don’t like ventriloquist dummies!]. The game was an Independent Games Festival finalist in the Nuovo category, and won an honorable mention in narrative.

Check out the trailer:

Plot

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Stay away from the crocodiles!

Via brief text vignettes that add up to the length of two novels, see how the trials our western ancestors endured influence our lives today. Playing as dozens of generations across four social classes that change with the ages, players assume a formative role in the evolution of human history, discovering more than seventy inventions that changed the world, braving a score of heroic adventures, and facing the challenges of three mini-ruling games.

That sums it up pretty well. At the beginning, you start with a woman and a man and follow their lineage/family tree across thousands of years. Your particular family will have a vastly different story than another player’s family because of the choices you make and the way you raise your children. Also, you will probably get eaten by crocodiles.

Graphics and Sound

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Get used to that screen, because the vast majority of the game takes place on this wheel. The in-game artwork and graphics are there mainly to service the gameplay (they come across as quite utilitarian), but they are pleasant enough to look at. There isn’t a lot of color, however, and some of the character models look strange. For instance, one of the women’s arms is perpetually pointing out, and she looks very uncomfortable. Additionally, when your couple tries to have children, they change into a very different-looking couple. I found this a little distracting. There were no graphical glitches, and everything ran very smoothly. Additionally, I appreciated that what you see on screen is all you need to play – there are no menus. Everything you will ever need is right there.

There is not a lot of audio. When you put the tokens in, they make a satisfying clunk sound. The music is pleasant and non-intrusive (you can get the soundtrack here), and there is no voice acting.

Gameplay

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7 Grand Steps is deceptively simple. There is a very thorough help section available to you, which I found helpful (play a few rounds of the game first, however, otherwise it might not make a lot of sense). At the beginning of your turn, you are encouraged to instruct your couple to work by giving them a gold ingot. Then, they create tokens, which you can use to either advance along the wheel (collecting beads along the way, which advance your social standing and current objective) or to teach your children with.

Children are a huge pain. If you could control how many you have, it would be much better, but either all my couples were ridiculously fertile or the game is just skewed toward baby-making. Every time your couple works together to make tokens on the same square, they will attempt to conceive. Every time they pass each other on the board, they will attempt to conceive. It was comical at first, but having that many children makes it difficult to play the game. The more children you have, the thinner your tokens are stretched, and if you don’t treat all of your children the same, they will start to form rivalries with each other. I think I would have liked 7 Grand Steps a lot more if I could decide when the parents tried for a kid instead of them automatically going for it nearly every time I took a turn. Eventually, one generation will come to a close, and you have to pick one of your children to go through a rite of passage. The parents will die, the child will move on to the next generation, and they will have to find a husband or wife to continue the family line. Sometimes along the line, you get a brief story like the one above, some of which have choices. These will have consequences that stretch across generations.

Moving around the wheel is difficult at times, because if a couple doesn’t have the means or knowledge to create a certain token, the odds of them making one randomly are very low. Additionally, it is difficult to predict how many tokens will be made per turn. Husbands and wives assist each other in moving around the wheel by simply being present, as do allies. Enemies impede progress. Neighbors (portrayed as shadowy figures) are also present on the wheel, and they will help you by working with you to create tokens, but they will also steal the beads that you need to advance. If you fall behind on the wheel, you succumb to the jaws of the crocodiles and your children are left to fend for themselves.

Final Verdict

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While 7 Grand Steps gets a lot of points for thinking outside the box, I think the game is mostly unsuccessful in blending a casual play mechanic with gaming that requires careful planning. I was often frustrated, and didn’t find myself wanting to come back for more. There is obviously a lot of depth to this game, but I wasn’t intrigued enough to keep digging. I will be checking out Mousechief’s other games, just because this is such a different concept, and I’m intrigued to see what else they have to offer.

Score: C

You can get 7 Grand Steps for $14.99 on Steam (on sale this week for 10% off, $13.49) or direct from Mousechief on their official site (which also offers a demo of 7 Grand Steps and Mousechief’s other games). Like Mousechief on Facebook, follow Keith Nemitz on Twitter, and subscribe to them on YouTube.

[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]

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