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Jason M. Brown
Steam Tunnel is another clever little Hip Pocket game from James Ernest, with the main difference to the other pipe/tunnel/system laying games in the Hip Pocket series being that players do not construct the map themselves; rather, the grid is predetermined due to the fact that a grid of 36 cards are laid out to start (four of which are face up point cards). On each turn, players turn a card over and then either claim a piece of tunnel anywhere on the system (providing it hasn't already been closed off) or use their counter to bury a card (this involves placing a counter on a card that is still face down, and once buried a card cannot be turned over). If a card is buried, all tunnels leading into it are assumed to go straight through it.
To score the game, once all cards are turned over and all systems closed (closed systems are tunnels that lead to dead ends or a scoring end with no open tunnels), systems are scored by multiplying the number of tunnel segments by the scores they lead to. If, for instance, a tunnel of five segments leads at one end to a '3' end, and at the other is a '2', the score is 5x(2x3)=25. The player who owns the most segments of this tunnel claims the points - if ownership is tied the points are divided between owning players.
The play is extremely fast moving and surprisingly tactical - obviously luck plays a part (the tunnels are influenced by players only by the luck of the draw, as they must be laid exactly in the position that they are flipped) but it is nevertheless an involving and fun game.
Easily on a par with the best of the Hip Pocket series (Agora, Light Speed, Safari Jack Remix, The Very Clever Pipe Game), Steam Tunnel also stands out by having decidedly unique mechanics from other similar tunnel/pipe based games. Scoring can sometimes be quite complex due to the twisty-turny nature of the tunnel systems, but still remains an engaging and tense part of the playing experience.
Recommended for those players that don't mind a little luck or mathematics intruding into their tunnelling fun. Another great value Hip Pocket game.