[This was originally published in issue #237 of Hyper Magazine, July 2013.]
7 Grand Steps is a beautifully tactile thing. You’ll likely find yourself chain-feeding representations of tokens into its interface like a casino-goer, each familiar kachink of the coin dropping feeling like a strange comfort. But, unlike the rarely-lucky gambler, 7GS’ payout is huge. Starting humbly with two peasant lovers whose bloodline you must oversee through seven ages of history, an epic tale forms through unexpectedly complex drag-and-drop gameplay.
STRIKING IT LUCKY >>
The playing area resembles a cross between a board game and a coin-operated arcade machine. Almost the entire game is played upon a slowly turning ornate wheel that takes up much of the screen; you must manoeuvre your characters clockwise across the board, interacting with other families and collecting beads that count towards various accomplishments, such as inventions or advancements in social class.
Family members are controlled by insertion of ingots or skill tokens into their slots. Ingots are used to interact with other families on the board, thereby generating skill tokens; meanwhile, inserting a token in the Irrigation skill, say, will advance a chosen adult to the next Irrigation tile, or educate a child in that field. Sound complicated? It’s a little overwhelming at first, but what soon emerges is a highly intricate game of tactics – you’ll need to balance social interaction without frittering away all your tokens, while making sure your kids are as educated to ensure the best possible life path for them. Fall behind too much, and as the wheel turns, you’re likely to get chewed on by one of the crocodiles waiting at the board’s edge.
The resulting story is one of strife and privilege. There are four social classes to climb: the lowest deals in trades like masonry and soap-making, while the rich not only invent hobbies of fancy such as libraries, but can also access a city-ruling side-game.
Family Hyper’s beginnings in the peasant class were grim. The youngest child of the second generation died to starvation; later, her mother was consumed by a crocodile named Poverty. Still, the remaining family progressed slowly but steadily as they saw in the invention of things like cranes and pulleys. There was a real sense of triumph several generations later, when, in a fortuitous plot twist, the head of the family managed to pull himself into the working class, securing a future for his children unmarred by hunger or slavery.
Don’t put all your eggs into one basket (or heap education upon just one child). His siblings may grow jealous, and you never know when a drought or a bitter winter may kill him off.
AGE OF MIRACLES >>
No other game’s mechanics echoes life’s hardships as fittingly as 7GS, with the only inelegant downside being the occasional, game-crashing bug.
A poor, unskilled family will have a harder time moving forward or educating its children, just like in real life. The upper class have more space to move, both figuratively and literally, allowing them to focus their efforts on forming armies instead. A loving couple can boost each other further than a husband and wife who merely tolerate each other. And all the while, the wheel of life turns, each revolution symbolising one more step in one family’s great journey.
9 out of 10.
With surprisingly intricate tactical gameplay hidden behind a charming interface and nonchalant storytelling, 7 Grand Steps is one of gaming’s greatest metaphors for life.