This game is totally unfair! I’ve been playing it a lot—expansion included, after the first couple of games—and it’s really unfair how addicting it is. It’s all about building your own “funfair,” or theme park. But events happen that can be good or bad, the other players can ruin your plans (i.e. demolish your attraction), and you can even install super attractions that give you an unfair advantage (but if everyone has an unfair advantage, is it really that unfair?).
There are a lot of different cards. Lots of stuff when you open the box. But don’t worry! Not all of those cards are used every game. Yes, it can look intimidating, what with the various icons and whatnot, but Unfair is actually fairly easy to learn, understand, and enjoy.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed playing Unfair after my first time playing. And, honestly, it got better and better as time went on. As for first impressions, it was a bit intimidating, but that was quickly swallowed up in the joy of the rule book and the pleasure of playing the game.
The game itself reminds me of Smash Up…and then goes on to really have nothing to do with Smash Up other than choosing the game’s themes. Each player picks a theme—and, thereby, the associated deck—and then all the chosen theme decks are shuffled together (don’t forget to separate the cards out by type!). That’s the Smash Up likeness, and that’s where it ends.
All players draw from these combined decks that are made up of the various themes (i.e. pirates, dinosaurs—my favorite—ninjas, etc.). So, the market pool for cards you can buy will be a smattering of themes, all from the decks you chose. Same with the events, blueprints, and the like. So your theme park can be one theme or a glob of multiple themes. I won’t judge either way.
Setup involves separating all of the cards from their themed decks by type and shuffling each deck (by type) together with the other cards from other themes. There’s some work to do, but it’s worth it. (And, really, setup doesn’t take that long when everyone helps shuffle).
The game is played over eight rounds (six if you play with the “First Date” Game Changer card, which is recommended for your first time playing). Each round spurs city events (good and bad things that affect all players) and regular events (played by players to their benefit or to hurt another player), the Park phase (in which each player gets 3-4 actions—usually 3—to collect cards, play cards, and overall build up their park), the Guest step (in which you get dolla dolla billz!), and then clean up and prep for the next round.
It might look like there’s a lot going on…and you wouldn’t be wrong. But don’t worry! It’s not bad. With the various phases laid out as they are, gameplay is pretty dang smooth. You’ll get familiar with the iconography as you play (give it a game, maybe two), and your strategies will start coming naturally as you get to know how everything interacts together.
You’re trying to build the best park ever. That’s your job. You have a maximum of 15 (thousand) guests at a time, and this is where your money dollars generally come from. To actually get guests to visit your park, you’ll need to build attractions. Rides, shops, food stands, and the like all bring people in, and people have money. Sometimes you can take more money from them than usual (milk 'em if you got 'em!). It’s all about maximizing your income with the limited number of guests allowed inside (because COVID, I’m guessing).
At the end of the game, you’ll score points for the size of your attractions (the bigger, the better), completed blueprints (incomplete blueprints cause you to lose 10 points), coins, and other cards that have scoring abilities. Sometimes during the game you may need to take out a loan. Sure! Go ahead. Just remember that each loan makes you lose a fairly hefty sum of points at the end of the game, so getting multiple loans can be painful. But it can be useful, too, so choose wisely.
Essentially, Unfair is an economic game with mechanisms of set collection, take-that, card drafting, and tableau building. And it’s a ton of fun. While there are a lot of potentially hurtful interactions between players, they can be mitigated through savvy card use, but the option to hurt another player comes at the expense of playing a card that could also help you. Each card has a good thing for you on it, and a bad thing for someone else. You can only use one, so you gotta choose. In one game, I was totally vindictive to another player, constantly spoiling plans and ruining lives, while she only did one hurtful thing to me. Guess what? She won. They say cheaters never prosper, and, well, they might be on to something there. Whoever “they” are.
The base game of Unfair is wildly fun. The expansion adds other factions which provide new themes with new ways to score and even more ways to be unfair at your funfair.
Unfair: ABDW Expansion
What kind of name is ABDW, anyway? The kind that uses one letter for each theme, that’s what! ABDW adds Aliens, B-movies (think MST3K), Dinosaurs, and good ol’ wild Westerns. I have a fondness for dinosaurs, so naturally they became my favorite theme even before I knew what their schtick was. Once I discovered what they brought to the park, I loved them even more. Essentially, dinosaurs threaten to shut down attractions, eat other dinosaurs, and otherwise wreak havoc on your investment. Fortunately, they also bring in quite the crowd. They are technically upgrades—not attractions in their own right—but really add to the stress of building and managing a theme park.
Westerns are all about the wide-open spaces, and they’ve got panoramas that go on forever. Oh yeah, panoramas are a new scoring condition as made possible by the B-Movies theme. All factions have panorama attractions, but you only get points for them by playing them side by side, in picture order. I find the panorama scoring condition to be a fun addition, as it gives yet another way to score points for doing something you’re already doing, which is building attractions.
And then the Aliens come, along with their own currency. Their “special sauce” is what they refer to as “alien influence,” and work out to 2 points a pop at the end of the game, and are also used to purchase special Alien attractions and upgrades. But, just like all aliens, they like to abduct humans for, uh, testing and whatnot, so if your staff get any alien influence, consider them “disappeared without a trace” at the end of the round. But hey! At least they didn’t take you, fellow human.
The ABDW Expansion adds four new factions, new mechanics (i.e. panorama scoring), and an extra dose of unfair. This expansion is simply that: an expansion. It expands the core game (which is already full of gameplay) by giving you more themes to choose from. It doesn’t change the game in any ways other than what the new theme decks add. The expansion is solid, the new themes are great, and there is a lot to love.
As I said, Dinosaurs are my new all-time favorite faction, mostly because they involve rolling dice and pushing my luck to see if any escape, as well as the new park gates they add into the mix. But the Aliens are also a hoot with their shenanigans (like Space Elvis and abducting staff members), and have quickly become another favorite of mine. The Western theme gives space—extra lot! Woot woot!—and B-Movies activate panorama scoring. Of course, they offer more than that, but you’ll want to play with them yourself to see how everything can interact with each other.
I think the themes in the core box are wonderful, and these expansion themes just add to the fun.
Theme parks, Dinosaurs, and Ninjas? Oh my! Theme parks are always a lot of fun, but building and managing your own is just as intoxicating. Using (see also: stealing) money you acquired from strictly legal ways (*cough*) to build attractions and upgrade in order to fulfill blueprints and attract the most guests is, in summary, fun. The theme of the game looked good when I first saw the game, but after playing it, I’m hooked. It’s the various theme decks that really make the game. Because each theme deck comes with unique cards and rules, there are so many possibilities.
Also, the flavor text—in the rule book and on the cards—is witty, fun, and everything you’d expect in a game such as this. I tip my proverbial hat to whoever wrote that.
The art is fun. It’s thematically on point, sometimes comical, and always fun to look at. The addition of panoramas also makes for some interesting choices which will affect the overall aesthetic of your park.
These are the things that make the game so awesome (for me, anyway):
- Flavor text. (Please read the flavor text! It’s beautifully crafted for maximum laughter.)
- General gameplay. (It flows, it’s engaging, and it encourages strategic thinking.)
- Dinosaurs! (Rawr!)
- A plethora of possibilities. (With all of the theme decks available, Unfair is going to stay fresh for quite some time.)
- The rule book is full of sarcastic and hilarious remarks. (Perhaps my favorite, under “Redundant” in the glossary: “Redundant – This glossary entry.”)
Things to Consider
The “unfair” aspect of the game—namely, playing cards to do evil things to your opponents—isn’t for everyone. In fact, it can feel quite vindictive at times. But for those who enjoy that type of gameplay, it’s a blast. But even if you don’t particularly appreciate the “take-that” style of games, there are ways to do away with such devilry, such as the Game Changer card that simply doesn’t let other players do harm to each other.
The game box suggests 25 minutes per player, but in my experience, that’s a little on the short side. Of course, it depends who you’re playing with, too. And once you and your group have played a game or two, your turns will practically zip by. And despite games taking longer than 25 minutes per player, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. And it’s not just me that feels that way, either. Others have said the same thing.
The initial shuffling of decks and the post-game organizing can be cumbersome, but I find a little help can go a long way. Don’t let anyone leave until they’ve separated their cards by theme deck!
Welp, Unfair has become a favorite. It’s hard to let new games into my heart (I’ve been burned before), but Unfair has been completely fair to me. I really do love it. The rule book charmed me as I read it to learn how to play, and the gameplay had me going steady. The expansion sealed the deal. Whether you’re into “take-that” type mechanics or not, Unfair is a solid, wonderful game that gamers of all types can enjoy. And, with ten theme decks so far, there is a lot to love.
What’s the most interesting theme/amusement park you’ve been to? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author
Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego’s Copyediting Extension program. He’s a freelance writer and editor, covering everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher. You can also read his board game inspired fiction (among other things) at BoardGameImmersion.com.