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Review: 7 Grand StepsMousechief Steam Windows PC strategy
Platform: PC (Steam, Web)
Release Date: June 7, 2013
ESRB: N/A (T suggested)
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Humans are innately obsessed with their own existence. When it comes right down to it, we all wonder why we exist, and why we take the form we do. What has led up to this very moment? What were your ancestors like and what was their place in the world? These questions and many more swarm within our heads and unfortunately there is only so much information we can gleam. Although it cannot give a true depiction of our own histories, 7 Grand Steps is an incredible exercise in charting human existence as a whole.
Developer Mousechief has made something very special. Despite the video game format, 7 Grand Steps takes on much more of a board game feel. Somehow, it manages to overcome its status and feel quite grand in scale. Players who enter into the game may be expecting a casual, or even dull, experience but those preconceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The basic gameplay is comprised traveling around a circular board which has four layers. At the start, you can only access the lowest rung of the circle. As more levels open up, you can shift between them at will. Movement is controlled by tokens which are generated in multiple ways. Each space on the board has an icon and in order to land there you must have a token with the same icon on it. Coins also scatter the board which you collect in order to pursue goals such as invention, social climbing, or heroic deeds.
Players control an adult woman or man and, if married, both. Beginning on the lowest ring for the game board is purposeful. It represents social class - your story begins at the very bottom. One of the other goals of the game is to climb the social ladder to noble or leader. Of course, even these dreams belie the truth. It may seem entirely beneficial to become a king or political figurehead, but once there, harsh reality sinks in. You’ll never be able to make it if you can’t keep the family name going, through.
You begin the game as a human in the distant past. The main goal of the game is simply to survive throughout the ages and maybe even flourish generations down the road. As was true of our ancestors, one of the most important aspects of existence was to have as many children as possible. As you progress through the Bronze Age to others, players are imbued with the responsibility to keep the family line growing. This is not the only goal, of course, but is requisite to continue along the generational journey.
Children are not simply created and then perfectly ready to inherit their parents roles. No, they must study and learn a variety of tasks if they want to be successful in the future. In early stages, my children were trained to excel in pottery. While this seemed a lovely profession, it was rejected by the majority of eligible bachelorettes that wanted stability in their lives. 7 Grand Steps feels very close to reality, even when this supposed reality was many years ago. Each child can have their skills improved once per turn and in whatever ways you feel best. Teach them about farming, government, or hard work and they’ll grow in that image. As adults, you must then again seek out a mate, and hopefully have at least one child.
If you can manage to fulfill the goals of living, marrying, and procreating, then you’ll eventually get a shot at the ruling class. Once here, a sort of meta game opens up. You must not only manage the game board well, but also keep control of your reign. Each turn you are given the option to alter your ruling style. Players can edit whether or not they wish to turn a blind eye to corruption, increase farm production or road construction, and a handful of other tasks. Treat your duties well and the people will accept you as a ruler. If you are cruel and unwilling to listen to the people then they may take you down. It’s a delicate balancing act which is all too easy to lose.
Accompanying you always are small story interludes that help to furnish the goings on in your family tree. Although they are not a constant presence, they give you enough to fill in the blanks of this newly generated family history. It’s with this that the 7 Grand Steps reveals its greatest strength. It provides a compelling reason to play - keeping your history alive. This causes the gameplay, which is easy to understand once you’ve experienced it, to become quite addictive.
From the tidbits of story, players are welcome to imagine a much richer story. Without any prompting from the game, I became incredibly invested in the family line that I was working through. Interesting, and sometimes sad, events occurred. For example, one son grew and found himself interested in no women at all. Although the game never specified, I took this to mean he was gay. As his story ended because he was not able to produce children, his presence was felt from his sister’s future as he provided tokens to the family. Although it was not really “my” family, I became incredibly invested in seeing them succeed and took failures personally.
Video games tend to be fun. After all, this is the main reason why they were created. 7 Grand Steps is certainly a fun diversion, but it also manages to be much more than that. It provides an interesting historical adventure where you control the fate of a family line. This is an incredibly powerful and intimate role because you see everything. This is why the game has affected me so much and why I believe it will for other players willing to give it a chance. If you’ve been intrigued by any of what you’ve read, then definitely try 7 Grand Steps.
+ Offers hours of play for one family history
+ High replay value with new family lines and decisions
+ Excellent writing that captures a player’s imagination
+ Easy to understand but still offers difficulty
- Visuals will not inspire gamers obsessed with such things
- Despite in-game help menu, there are still elements left unexplained
Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10)
7 Grand Steps is an incredibly affecting, yet simple, strategy game that stands as undoubtedly special and worth playing.
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