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Marvelous Machines: The Joy of Steampunk Gaming

Posted Friday, 10-Apr-2015

Contributed by Andrew Knighton

The recent release of Clockwork Kingdom is part of one of the biggest and most surprising trends of the past decade – the coming to prominence of steampunk.  Why is this style, full of impossible engines and adventurers in top hats, becoming so popular in board games?

Mixing Past and Future

Steampunk’s mixture of Victorian and science fiction technology, while strange, is undoubtedly part of the appeal.

Part of the pleasure it provides comes from seeing a different sort of fantasy setting. Gears and gadgets replace swords and magic, creating a different atmosphere. It can appeal even to those disinterested in knights and wizards.

But part of it too is the absurdity that those combinations bring, and the potential they show for the world to be more wonderful. Look at a game like Mission: Red Planet, in which players represent Victorian companies mining on Mars.  Even now we haven’t gotten people to the red planet, but this game lets us imagine how impressive it would be to have got there over a century ago.


Mission Red Planet
Mission: Red Planet

Steampunk lets us imagine amazing things without even considering whether they’re realistic, and that’s part of the fun.

Building with Steam

The focus on construction at the heart of many European style games fits well with steampunk.  After all, this is a genre set in the age of industry, in which inventors and industrialists are heroes. Games like City of Iron capture that spirit of an era of expansion and growth.


City of Iron
City of Iron

Again, steampunk lets us step back from reality. We know that in real life industry creates environmental problems, but that needn’t be true in a steampunk world, and it allows us to retain our technological optimism.  And building a city of steam gadgets and moving buildings is far more interesting than the mundane theme of real world building games like Power Grid.

Steam and Style

More than anything else, the appeal is surely sheer style.  The Warmachine universe, in which Warmachine: High Command is set, is one of towering robots, flamboyant leaders and spectacular displays of ingenuity. Its machines might not be practical in our reality, but they look like machines did in our childhood imaginations, full of awe, power and magnificence.


War Machine High Command
War Machine High Command

Steampunk lets us imagine a world far cooler than our own, and that alone makes it worth gaming in.



Published by BoardGamePrices.com

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