Review: 7 Grand Steps
Title: 7 Grand Steps
Platform: PC / Mac (reviewed on Mac)
Release date: 7th June 2013
TL;DR: Deep, interesting and unique historical strategy.
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7 Grand Steps is an interesting strategy/family sim/board game from Mousechief. Take equal parts Civilization, The Sims and The Game of Life, all combined into the graphical interface of a San Francisco Musee Mechanique arcade machine, and you’ve got something approximating 7 Grand Steps. A finalist in the Nuovo category of this year’s Independent Game Festival, it also received an honourable mention in narrative. Focussing very much on a personal perspective of ancient cultures, the game allows players to control the destiny of an entire family line, starting quite literally in the dirt and rising up to achieve power.
The game interface is deceptively simple. Players drop tokens into the slots of their two principal characters – the mother and father of the next generation of the family line – and lower down the screen, the tokens representing mum and dad move to the next square displaying the same symbol on the token. Each turn the wheel spins, bringing the characters closer to the bottom of the screen and four crocodiles waiting to feast on hapless victims who’ve ran out of tokens. To generate more, players drop the gold ingot into their character slots, but this takes them move back to the next player down to do so, meaning if you’re the last character and you’ve ran out of tokens, you’re probably lunch for the crocs.
Other NPCs, silhouettes, move alongside your characters and compete with you to pick up beads that randomly appear on the board. These give Legend Points to the first and second characters to land on them, which stack up to provide an achievement – Heroic; less beads for a random prize, Invention; replacing a token symbol and giving you ten of the new token type, and Social Advancement; moving up to the next wheel.
The four wheels are reminiscent of the class system in the United Kingdom, with each representing the type of work associated with lower and higher tracks; for example, higher up you can expect to see medicine and surgery, and lower down to see farming and pottery. Cleverly, each wheel subtly represents the wealth and therefore lifespan associated with those professions, with higher wheels generally providing more spaces and therefore more time between the end of one generation and the start of the next. It also means there is more of a safety net the higher up you are, as there’s more space between you and the waiting, hungry crocs once you climb up, representing the security of wealth.
So, using a simple coin-into-slot gameplay mechanic, 7 Grand Steps somehow packs an entire sociological study of ancient cultures – and indeed, a reflection of our own. Children born into a rich family are more likely to succeed, judging success by social power and wealth, than ones born into poverty. People can’t, generally speaking, rise up from being a labourer to running a city in one lifetime.
7 Grand Steps focuses entirely on the progression of the genetic line in its gameplay, which could be considered something of a weakness except for its setting of ancient cultures. Modern issues like same-sex marriage and foster caring get completely side-stepped, as the Ancient Egyptians weren’t, in fairness, known for their legislature on social welfare. But the concept of adoption seems to be notably absent, and if a character can’t immediately settle down with one of the three suitable partners available at the start of each lifetime, then their part of the family line is considered done with unless they want to hold out and try and find a partner later in life. It’s understandable why this is the way it is from a gameplay perspective, given the social context and focus on lineage, but it leaves you with the overriding feeling that the ultimate goal in life is to reproduce with a member of the opposite sex, and if you don’t, then forget about it altogether.
There’s an interesting family dynamic in 7 Grand Steps in how children are raised – spend tokens on them, and their education in that area increases. When they come to inherit the family line, they get an inheritance based on how educated they are in each area, letting them start their own life journey with a head start. But focus all your attention on one child and the others start to resent him or her, leading to them helping or hindering your chosen heir during their life. Nice siblings send tokens to help you, while rivals take them away. And jumping up a wheel can be difficult, as the expertise of the family is focussed on the trades of the wheel below, ensuring the need for strategic and frugal thinking while you secure more tokens for your new track.
The ultimate goal is to rise to the top wheel, when a whole new gameplay dynamic is revealed. Your family achieves control of one of their city’s areas, for example having them in charge of Agriculture. Take token bribes increasing your own wealth but also corruption and waste, or suppress them increasing efficiency but annoying your peers? Do you risk spending the city’s reserve supply of food to buy more farmland and secure the expansion of your people, or play it safe and keep it in the granary? It adds a completely new depth to an already thought provoking game by adding the responsibility of an entire city to that of your family. And once you rise above the fourth wheel, then the whole game begins again in a new Age, advancing time to allow new tokens, professions and random events for a distant ancestor.
7 Grand Steps hides a deeply strategic experience behind its deceptively simple and charming graphical appearance, and players who can see beyond it will get to enjoy a 15-20 hour immersive and engaging gaming experience. 7 Grand Steps is released today on Steam for PC and Mac for $15.
Testament of the Ages
- Deep strategy
- Varied, evolving gameplay
- Historical context
Fed to the Crocs
- Basic graphics
- Abrupt and sporadic soundtrack
- Perhaps overwhelming
There’s nothing that would overtly make this game unsuitable for children. Characters pass away and have children, but it’s all done in a representative and tasteful way with no graphic depictions of either. Some of the concepts are a bit weighty and kids might find the content a bit dry, but it might be a fun way to get them to engage with something with a bit of historical context.