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All the fun of the fair – Unfair Review

You’ve always wanted to run your own funfair, haven’t you?  All that colourful excitement and hyperactive joy that happens when energetic and enthusiastic children collide with sugar-laden snacks and G-force inducing rides!  Yes?  Well, you might also have wanted to be a pirate or a vampire or a ninja or robot.  You have?  Good, because Unfair allows you to indulge both those obsessions and your board gaming side to boot in a new game from publishers CMON.  So cmon in and let’s see what is in this box.

Where’s the f in Funfair?  It’s gone!

Big, bold and colourful is the theme of this game, and the box shows many happy faces on a roller coaster ride in what could be your theme park.  Joy, happiness and laughter abound.  However, it is not all pink candy floss and animal-shaped balloons.  Cast your eyes towards the top of the box.  See that?  It’s a storm a-coming, and the game is not called Funfair, it is called Unfair.  This could be interesting, maybe something with a tweak or two, maybe even something downright unusual.

Unfair Card Game

There’s a storm coming…

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Opening the box presents the new owner with an apology, literally.  There is a note in there to excuse the fact that the theme decks are not quite individually packaged.  It is the work of a minute to sort this out, and no apology was really needed, but it is an indication of the kind of care and attention to detail that becomes evident as you delve deeper into Unfair’s components and then into the game itself.  There are six theme decks in the game, and each card comes with a clear icon on the bottom right to show which deck it belongs to, so Unfair, even with its generous apology, trumps something like Legendary Encounters hands down in terms of pre-play sorting.

Unfair Card Game

No apology needed!

 

Want some themes?  Try pick and mix!

The rule book works well for something that could be complicated to get across, and there are handy “scribbled” annotations, tips, tricks and comments, that not only serve to lighten the mood of the whole thing but also make it easier for the new player to understand what is being articulated.  There are also scoring and turn order cards in each of the decks, so each player has no excuse for not being fully informed about their options during the game and where those points are coming from.

Unfair Card Game

Rules are full of annotations to keep the atmosphere light.

The six decks are themed as Pirate, Ninja, Jungle, Gangster, Robot and Vampire, and each includes various different types of cards.  Park Cards make up the core of the deck and represent staff, attractions and upgrades, and there are also Events, Blueprints, Super Attraction and City cards.  Unlike a game such as Imperial Settlers where the factions face off against each other, in Unfair the chosen themes get shuffled into a single set of cards which is then placed on a central board.  This board is yet another plus point for the game – it is double-sided, one for those who like to play side by side, one for those who like to sit opposite each other.  At the start of the game this is set up with the various decks, all clearly marked, and a miniature roller-coaster sits in the middle of the board to mark the progression of each round – nice!

Unfair Card Game

Six themes in the base box.

 

It is worth mentioning that players can also tinker with various different game setups using cards provided in the base box.  The rules recommend beginning with First Date (six rounds rather than eight, some of the more involved cards taken out), while other options include School Vacation (pure tableau building) and World Peace (minimal player interference), while a couple of others allow for a slight head-start before the game begins properly.  Ah, I mentioned player interference just there, but, see, I put it in brackets just to be gentle – this is where the ‘F’ falls off that big Funfair sign and instead leads us into the world of Unfair.

Unfair Card Game

Something missing?

Merry go round? Or a game of two halves?

The progression of each of the eight rounds is clearly marked on the central board and easy to follow.  First each player draws an Event Card, and then a City Card is drawn which will have an effect on all players.  These City Cards have been assembled from the theme decks in play, so are likely to be different in every game, but the crucial division is that in the first half of the game nice things tend to happen, while in the second half the nasty stuff takes effect.  Players then get the chance to play their Event Cards, and these are similarly divided – the top half is normally a positive effect on your own park, while the second is often something that messes with an opponent.  Nasty.

Unfair Card Game

Event cards – naughty but nice.

Once all that pushing and shoving is out of the way players get to the core of the round, which is where the various park owners take turns to select from various options such as drawing cards or earning income.  If possible, though, you will want to build or upgrade an attraction in your park or maybe hire a member of staff, all things that will bring in guests and earn income while possibly gaining extra abilities as well.  You might also want to draw some Blueprints, which serve as individual goals in much the same way as route tickets in Ticket To Ride, right down to the penalties if you fail to fulfil their requirements.

Unfair Card Game

The display board is double-sided.

My attractions are off-limits?  How did that happen?

At the end of the round players’ (F)Unfairs will earn income based on the number of guests they attract, subject to a maximum capacity unless you are able to expand, and any associated bonuses from events such as celebrity appearances or school trips.  Clean up at the end of the round, open any attractions that have been closed, rinse and repeat until the end when you tot up points from rides, attractions, staff and completed blueprints.

Unfair Card Game

The progress marker is part of the fun.

Wait a minute…open any attractions that have been closed?  Yes, read that again.  Played in its full version Unfair can become downright nasty, and it is wise not to get too emotionally attached to your park.  Attractions can be closed, a rival’s hypnotist could lure staff away from your park, food scares, bad sanitation and even zombie hordes (in the small deck of promo cards in the main box) can wreak havoc – you had best be ready.  These unhappinesses can be foisted upon you by your “colleagues” around the gaming table or even by the game itself, and, while they can seem decidedly unfair, there are ways and means of protecting yourself, such as getting in with the local lawyers or having members of staff on hand to fix broken rides.  Unfair, played properly, is as much about defence as it is attack.

Unfair Card Game

Scoring cards and player aids keep things clear.

Bright and breezy!  Quirky and quixotic!

Unfair is also a tactile and visual pleasure to play.  The cards are brightly illustrated with some genuinely funny flavour text, the money tokens, although made of card, are like casino chips, that roller coaster sits on the main board charting the progress of the game, and even the first player marker looks like the entry ticket to something or other.  The more you look the more detail you find, and some of the cards have small symbols on them that mean they can be built as a panorama, although the rules say that this is something for a future expansion.

Unfair Card Game

Some cards form panoramas.

One of Unfair’s great strengths is that the decks all feel different, even though there is some common ground between them.  The Gangsters are all about money, loans, intimidation and Offshore Accounts (hook this up with a Casino for maximum effect), while the Robots are just efficient.  In a Robot/Gangster game you will be looking to employ cyborg staff, for example, because they cannot be intimidated, while other combinations of themes also play off delightfully against each other, and that small promo deck promises even more delights to come.

Select, separate, shuffle up and deal!  It takes preparation and separation!

The box for Unfair claims that it can accommodate up to five players, but this takes a whole lot of pre-game shuffling, slows things down to a crawl, and requires a significant amount of table space.  Come down to a slightly lower player count and things clear up, and maybe three or four is the sweet spot, but Unfair also plays pretty sharply and keenly in two.  Head to head it becomes very aggressive because you only have the one opponent to attack, so defensive cards become more valuable, but it scales better than one might expect at low player counts and with minimal changes to the setup – no dummy players and no blocked spaces, just one deck shuffled into the mix per player.

Our plays of Unfair have also often been out and out fun, and that is not always the case when slogging through review games.  Yes, there has been some swearing as well, but many smiles of delight at little details that only reveal themselves in the replaying – a dab of flavour text here, a deft thematic touch there.  Be in no doubt, Unfair is a quality product that has been put together with care and attention to detail.  Again, that is not always the case.

Unfair Card Game

It is always worth keeping an eye out for the flavour text.

Wasps in the jam!  It’s not all happy days!

There are a couple of wasps in Unfair’s picnic area, though, so it is not all sunshine and flowers.  The Blueprint cards, if completed, have often been the key to victory in our plays, and maybe it is because of this that the game pretty much shuts down the ability to draw these after the fourth round.  Be warned also that some of them require a player to fish a single card out of the deck and hope that their opponent does not get there first, so they can be a risky path to success, but tend to have a significant payout.

Unfair Card Game

Blueprints can be powerful, but some are difficult to fulfil.

The Game Changer cards, while enabling players to tailor Unfair to their own tastes, also raise questions that are not always covered in the rules.  World Peace does not allow players to use Event or Park cards that would have an effect on others, but does that include passive effects, such as the Event that allows opponents to build for half price by paying directly to you?  In the same vein, is the Super Attraction a Park Card?  It has a different back, but gets built in a player’s park and can intrude upon somebody else’s plans.  In the end we house ruled these edge cases as best we could, accepting that we were taking the game away slightly from its original design, and it is a small issue, but one worth mentioning.

Unfair Card Game

A funfair begins to take shape/

Fun or Un?  It’s a rollercoaster ride!

Despite those small concerns we all enjoyed Unfair a lot, and I mean a lot.  Like “played five times over two evenings” a lot, and part of that desire to dig in was the promise of more to uncover, more synergies to discern, more ways to deal with the unfairness of it all, and the game lived up to that, getting better with each play.  It comes across as a genuinely solid design that creates an imaginative and vibrant individual world each time its decks interweave, but without quite being essential or groundbreaking.  Unfair will be a slightly familiar experience for people who have played something like Imperial Settlers, with the cards riffing off each other and triggering at different phases in the round, but it does something slightly different as well, forcing its players to do their best from a common deck rather than making it faction versus faction.

Unfair Card Game

The tokens are satisfyingly chunky.

For me Unfair rates a rock solid 8 out of 10, so definitely a keeper, and that is even with the fully expanded Imperial Settlers in my relatively lean collection.  Put together with genuine care and with an emphasis on humour, I am already looking forward to seeing what will fill those four empty deck slots in the box.

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5 (100%) 2 votes
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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.

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