by Demian Katz
One False Step for Mankind
Published by Cheapass Games
Designed by James Ernest
Cover art by Phil Foglio
Interior art by James Ernest
As a long-time follower and fan of Cheapass Games, I was caught a little off guard by One False Step for Mankind. While it sports the standard white Cheapass box and bizarre premise (in this case, becoming governor of California in 1849 by impressing people with moon launches), it has a larger scope and is likely to appeal to a somewhat different audience than the usual Cheapass fare.
Some Unexpected Features…
Before discussing how the gameplay surprised me, the obvious cosmetic comment: this game is in color! The box contains eight game board segments, a deck of 33 city cards, 18 rocket system status cards, 3 know-how cards, and 6 turn reference cards, and everything is in full color. Unfortunately, the colors are all rather dull-looking, which may be due to cheap printing or may be a thematic decision (this is about the Old West, after all); in any case, while there’s not much visual thrill here, the inclusion of color shows that Cheapass is gaining access to greater resources, and it also makes it easier to tell various things apart while playing.
The next most obvious surprise about this game is the amount of equipment that the players must acquire in order to play. Indeed, tracking down the right components at the right price took me several weeks and delayed the writing of this review. In addition to the usual dice and tokens, you’ll have to get forty counters for each of the three to six players and 400 poker chips (100 in each of four different colors: Red, Yellow, Green and Grey). It’s these odd-colored poker chips that are the major problem. Buying them in full size from Cheapass would cost $100 (though the company does offer mini chips at a much more reasonable rate). Being cheap and possessed of excessive amounts of patience, I chose the laborious route – I bought four cheap boxes of chips in the usual color assortment (red, white and blue, with twice as much white as the other two colors), then colored in the extra 100 white chips using a green Sharpie marker. The colors didn’t match up exactly, but it worked out. Of course, if I had read the rules more closely before doing this, I could have avoided the coloring phase, since one of the four colors is just used to mean “ten of any other color” and can be ignored if you have enough chips to go around.
Components aren’t the only investment you’ll need to play this game – it also takes a lot of time. The box estimates that gameplay takes about three hours, and my test with six players supported that claim. While many Cheapass offerings make good filler at the start or end of a gaming session, this is very much a main course sort of game. If you buy it as filler, you will probably never play it, but if you have the time available, you should get a good return for your investment.
One False Step for Mankind is a complex and strategic resource management game that actually has much more in common with Settlers of Catan than Kill Doctor Lucky or Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition. The game is played on a board composed from any five of the eight board segments provided, leading to many different possible webs of towns, gold mines and farms. At the start of the game, an auction is run to ensure that each player controls a single county seat. This auction also determines who starts the game holding “the button,” a token used to determine who goes first at certain things.
After the initial auction, things fall into seven-round turns based around the days of the week. On Sunday, players place tokens on any town cards they control (these cards correspond with spaces on the board). On Monday, tokens can be moved from town cards onto the board, where they can take control of gold-producing mines or food-producing farms. Alternatively, they can be moved to another town via train, used to reinforce towns (which are used to settle legal disputes over mine or farm ownership), or loaded into a rocket. On Tuesday, resources are generated by mines and farms, while on Wednesday, upkeep expenses are spent. On Thursday, players can upgrade any of their three rockets systems (guidance, fuel and life support) using gold. Upgraded systems are more likely to work in a launch, and players who are first to achieve new levels of innovation earn awards both in points and in royalties from other players. Thursday is also the time when players can attempt to launch their rockets, which costs food due to the big party that inevitably accompanies the launch. Successful rocket launches earn influence points, which both determine victory (it takes thirty points to win) and are used to win control of additional cities during every week’s Saturday auction. There’s an interesting twist to the auctions, though. Half of the chips used in the winning bid for a given city are placed on that city card after the auction, and the city doesn’t become active until all of the chips are removed, which takes several weeks – every Friday, one chip moves from all inactive cities to the bank.
There are a few more details to the game than a one-paragraph summary can convey, but it’s all pretty straightforward and logical. Indeed, players heavily into lengthy German games or rail simulations might find this a little shallow and limited. For the Cheapass player looking for something a bit more substantial or the more casual strategy gamer, though, this is a good deal. For a fraction of the usual price (provided you avoid spending $100 on poker chips), you get a full-color simulation-style game with numerous starting configurations, simple but fun rules, a fast pace and, as an added bonus, a sense of humor. Because of the time investment, you probably won’t play this all the time, but when you do play, everyone should have a good time, if not for the fun of clicking poker chips around or claiming new territories on the board, then for the absurdity of auctioning off towns with names like “Frozen Clown” and “Lazy Butte.” Cheapass deserves congratulations for successfully pulling off something a bit different, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to dive into any future large-scale offerings they might produce.