by Joseph Leray
Indie developer Mousechief’s newest outing is so dense and intricate, so full of hooks, that it’s probably best to just be blunt: it’s a strategy board game about guiding a family, generation by generation, through time, from the Copper Age to the modern day and beyond.
Mousechief was inspired by old coin-op amusement arcade machines like pachinko, claw cranes, or antique fortune-telling machines. He uses the token mechanics in “7 Grand Steps” to govern everything from marriage, to sibling rivalry, to neighborhood relations.
Its offerings were enough to enough to impress this year’s Independent Games Festival: “7 Grand Steps”’ dynamic, player-driven story earned an honorable mention in the Excellence in Narrative category, and it was a finalist for the Nuovo Award, which recognizes abstract design.
There’s a hefty demo out that I’ve spent most of the morning poking at, and it’s enough to convince me that ‘7 Grand Steps’ is an ambitious, delicate project. Despite its billing as a “casual” game, “7 Grand Steps” demands a lot of patience and planning – aimless clicking and spending will leave you eaten by alligators.
The game is, by my estimation, actually pretty tough – several Leray families have died out childless and crushed by poverty. My lack of strategic thinking is partly to blame, but I also get the impression that “7 Grand Steps” is tough by design: its balance features a razor-thin margin of error, and it’s various, interlocking mechanics are tough to figure out.
The metaphors in “7 Grand Steps” might be a little on the nose – it’s incredibly hard to succeed without, for example, a fat inheritance from your parents – but it has a lot more intimacy and nuance than, say, a game like “Civilization.” More than anything, it does a great job of illustrating the different kinds of economic forces that hold people back.
In any case, “7 Grand Steps” will be out on June 7, available from Steam or Mousechief’s website. Pre-purchasers will get a discount and early access to the game’s beta.