Scream Machine
A game by Joseph Huber
Published by Jolly Roger Games
Players: 3 to 6
Ages: 7+
Time: 30-45 minutes
Reviewed by Ed Rozmiarek
Scream Machine!

Scream Machine is the first published game for designer Joseph Huber. I have met Joe a couple of times at gaming gatherings and have had a chance to play several of his prototypes. However, I have never played any of the early versions of Scream Machine. So, given the "Hey! I know this guy!" factor and the prior experiences with Joe, I had to pick up a copy Scream Machine when we saw it at our local game shop to try it out.

Scream Machine comes with two decks of cards that make up the game. There is a deck of 32 Customers cards and a deck of 84 Attraction cards. The Customers deck consists of four customers for each of the seven different types of attractions as well as four of the special "Cheapskate" customers. Cards in the Attraction deck are grouped into the seven different types of attractions (Roller Coasters, Water Rides, Food, Kiddie Rides, etc). Within each group there are three levels of attractions, a 1 point attraction, a 3 point and a 5 point. There are four of each attraction and level combination. The card quality is nice, but not top of the line.

The artwork for the game was done by cartoonist Aaron Williams, author/artist of the Nodwick and PS238 comic books. Since these are a couple of my favorite comics, I was predisposed to liking the art, however, just about everyone I have played Scream Machine with has also commented positively on the art. There are 21 different rides and the art for rides not only captures the intensity level for each ride but many are very funny. Along with the ride graphics, there are unique graphics for each of the 32 different customers. I'm sure that some companies may have scrimped here and had only one graphic for each customer type, but having each one different is a nice touch.

Finally, the game comes with a small cardboard scoreboard, 6 small wooden cubes for score markers, a start player card and three action summary cards.

Scream Machine box
Game play:
The goal in Scream Machine is to score the most Customer (victory) Points by attracting customers to your park. You attract the customers by having the "best" rides (i.e. the most total points) of the seven different ride types. The game is played over several rounds, with the number of rounds determined by the number of players (6 rounds with 3 or 6 players, 4 with 4 players and 5 with 5 players). At the end of each round the currently available customers go the best parks based on their ride preferences (i.e. a victory point payout). The person with the most customer points at the end of the game is the winner.

Each player starts the game with five attraction cards. These cards are called your "in-house" designs. From these cards, the players open their parks by selecting up to four building points worth of attractions to build. The selections are made in secret and revealed simultaneously. A one point attraction costs one building point, a three point ride costs 2 building points and a five point attraction 3 building points. If a player only uses three of his building points, he may take the fourth point as a customer point. The players keep the attraction cards that they did not build but do not add get any more at this time. After the players' initial attractions revealed, the first round begins.

Each round begins with dealing out the customers that will be available that round. All of the available customer cards are shuffled and seven are dealt out in the middle of the table, these are the "national" customers. Then, two cards are dealt out between each pair of players, one face up, one face down. These are the "local" customers. During the round, players will be completing for all of the national customers and the two sets of local customers next to them. Also, at the start of the first round, seven attractions are placed face up in the middle of the table, these represent the selection of rides available from the manufacturers. The manufacturer attractions, plus the players' "in-house" designs, are available for the players to build during their turns. The manufacturer's attractions are refreshed to seven at the start of a player's turn if the previous player built any of the these attractions.

After the customers are dealt, each player gets a turn using four action points to better their park. The player has several options, most of which can only be done once per turn.

  • Develop a new in-house design: Draw an attraction card and add it to you hand. 1 action point. May be done once.
  • Research local preferences: Look at the two face down customer cards next to the player. 1 action point. May be done once.
  • Tear down an existing attraction: Remove one attraction from your park thus reducing the cost of your park. Usually used to go after the Cheapskate customers. 1 action point. May be done once.
  • Request different choices from the manufacturers: Discard and replace two of the face up public attractions. 1 action point. May be done once.
  • Advertise: Add one customer point to your score. 1 action point. May be done once.
  • Build attractions: Build as many attractions as you want using the same costs as the start of the game. 1 action point for a 1 point attraction, 2 action points for a 3 and 3 action points for a 5 point attraction.

Troff und Slopp
After each player has taken their turn, the round is over and the customers are awarded. The national customers will go to the park with the best collection of rides that they favor. For example, the roller coaster fans will go to the park with the most total points of roller coasters. The Cheapskate customers only care about cost and will go to the park with the overall lowest cost (i.e., the park with the lowest total number of attraction points). The local customers are handled the same way but they only look at the two closest parks. In any case, if there is a tie, the customer cannot decide and waits until the next round.

Once the customers points have been awarded, all of the customer cards that were awarded are shuffled with the leftover customer cards and a new set is dealt to start the next round. Note that customers that were not awarded stay on the table and are not shuffled into the deck. Since a complete set of customers is dealt each round, there can be more that seven national customers due to ties (and the same with the local customers). The start player is moved to the left and the next round starts.

Scream Machine
Mark, Doug, Bobby Warren and Ed building their parks.
Scream Machine is certainly a fun ride (pun intended) that I prefer with 3 or 4 players. At its heart, Scream Machine is a majorities game where there is a variable payout each round. This makes the game different than most of the other majority games where the victory point payout is fixed or known ahead of time. The theme of the game is one that most people can relate to and appeals to family gamers. The combination of the national vs local customers gives the players two ways to compete and fits the theme well. The competition for the Cheapskate customers adds a nice mechanism to the game allowing players to try different strategies for building or allowing those players not getting the card draws they want or need a chance to bring in some customers.

The game does favor the player going last in the round as he can react to whatever the other players have done. Going first is tough in that you must speculate more and commit yourself to certain ride types hoping that the other players cannot beat what you have built. This issue is mitigated by the fact the each player will get to go last once (twice in the 3 player game). Just hope you can take advantage of the fact when it is your turn to go last.

As I said above, I prefer the game with 3 or 4 players. With 5 or 6 players, the downtime increases as the players must spend more time examining the table and what rides the other players have built. Also, the more players there are the more one must gamble on the luck of the cards. In a six player game, you will most likely be able to get a majority at the national level for one ride, two if you are lucky. If the customers for that ride do not come up at the national level, you won't be getting many victory points. So keeping an eye on your neighbors and fighting for the local customers is important as well.

Scream Machine is a very nice family game with good mechanics that fits the theme well. It is one step up from a "filler" game due to its length, but it makes a nice warm up game for a gaming session and a nice lunchtime game for work. The game has gotten good comments from just about all of the people I have played it with and I'm glad I picked it up.

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Copyright © 2003, Ed Rozmiarek