News – And now for something completely different… The Ragnar Bros. get funky with Steam Donkey



News – And now for something completely different… The Ragnar Bros. get Steampunk funky with Steam Donkey 

Yeah ok, I tried a some humour with the title of this piece. Oh well, look like the boys are developing a very “Britishly eccentric” (in a good way) card game for your delectation…

Following upon the heals of their Promised Land Kickstarter project, the awesome Ragnar Bros. are at it again with something new. Here are the first set of designer notes for you to enjoy.


Steam Donkey – some design notes from Steve Kendall

The nostalgia trip that is an English seaside holiday has been a feature of my life, ever since two glorious summers were spent in Scarborough as a young lad. The family holiday for 2012 took the Kendalls to the Isle of Man which, apart from its amazing motor-cycle heritage, also boasts some quintessential Victorian and Edwardian heritage. There is an electric tram service from Douglas to Ramsey, which has a mountain ‘branch-line’ up Snafell. There is a magnificent theatre in Douglas and a camera obscura, a steam train at Groudle Glen (where there was once a zoo complete with polar bear), pleasure gardens at Onchan and a pier at Ramsey. As the holiday progressed, so did the germ of an idea for a new Ragnar Brothers’ game.

Now those of you who supported the Kickstarter campaign for Promised Land 1250-587 BC will perhaps remember that the end of that holiday marked the beginning of the final re-design of PL. The seaside game sat on the back-burner throughout the winter of 2012-13. At Easter some initial ideas were worked together and a promising board-game emerged. Elements of Automobile and Zooloretto were evident, but no worries – being as these are such strong games. Solo trials, led to several test runs with the Ragnars which showed the game was interesting but ‘not there yet’.

Now one concern that crept in was that if the theme of the game was of interest to the seaside visitor, would they want to buy a Euro board-game? I just couldn’t see it sitting there amidst the plastic windmills, post-cards and tins of toffee. This led to a break-though in the concept, removing the ‘money’ element by making the Holiday-maker the ‘capital’ in the game – using the reverse of the cards opened up the gates to development as a card game.

The summer holiday of 2013 saw Kendall S  roasting in the heat of Rhodes; but with glasses of beer in the hotel ‘oasis’ garden, things could have been worse. What’s more, a first mock up of the game had been hastily assembled and squirreled away in hand luggage. Time to trial – and son Tim, a willing accomplice. The first game demonstrated the game’s peculiar, dynamic, clock-work mechanics – with players barely having chance to consider their turn before it’s upon them. Tim liked it, but Kendall knew it was skewed. Two days passed. Mid-night of day three and the puzzling ended as Kendall realised the payment to lay cards needed to be distinguished by the type of card (e.g. transport) and not by the area colour. Thereafter the game was played several times per day, with developments happening at regular intervals.  


The essential mechanisms of the game are as follows:

  • Each player builds their own resort.
  • Each resort comprises three areas; park, town and beach
  • In each area are Amusements, Lodgings, Monuments and Transport
  • Thus a resort has twelve spaces and once one player fills all twelve spaces the game ends
  • Cards are built in resorts by paying cards of the same type
  • Each card scores points and each card also attracts new cards to the players’ resort
  • This movement of cards is where the reverse of the card is used

Back in Blighty and rules were typed up, a more substantial deck of cards mocked-up and a trial at Dicken’s house quickly arranged. Carol (Dicken’s wife) Lorna (Dicken’s daughter) and Frankie (Lorna’s beau) agreed to make up numbers, leaving Dicken to watch. After some initial mis-understandings (which always help in formulating how rules might be better presented) the game rattled through once, and then twice. The consensus was that here was the makings of something good.

Dicken remained concerned. Would it really sell? Could it be made into a zombie game? ‘Or  Steampunk?’ quipped Lorna.

Fast-forward to the golf course. Kendall is concerned; the theme always drives Ragnar games and this seaside theme ‘works’. Can it be adapted with any credibility? Dicken presses for Steampunk – Kendall doesn’t really get it. Dicken explains. So… why not make it a Steampunk game about a seaside holiday resort?

Looking back it seems hard to believe that this wasn’t seen as the natural marriage it so clearly is. Everything about the Victorian resort screams out for celebration, because in its day it must have been so amazingly exciting (on a par with Dubai today?). What Steampunk brings is that Victorian vitality re-invented and re-invigorated. Hurrah!

Having tied the match together, the Steampunk energy and eccentricity led to re-consideration of the game overall. The rat-a-tat game-play of the basic game had energy, but eccentricity seemed to have been polished out. Four cards from the total of 112 (i.e two identical standard 56 card decks) remained un-decided. The limitation of them having to be an identical pair of cards presented an inviting conundrum. After several attempts at a simple benefit when a card was drawn, the more radical Character cards (e.g. Madame Ice-cream) were introduced, together with their ‘characterful’ names. I hope they bring as much chaos as is reasonably possible!

Several weeks later, the decks of cards got an overhaul. Simple maths had been at fault and what we had thought was a good spread of cards proved impossible to divide into two! Adversity is the source of much creativity and we took the opportunity to add in ‘special’ resort cards (e.g. Grand Hotel) that were more valuable, but more expensive to build. Moreover these cards would be able to be collected in any part of the resort. The spread now allowed four new cards (e.g. Mechanical Dog) to be designed and we hope to be able to afford to include these as they present further variables for players in the Advanced rules.

A final word on the game title. When trialling any game it is always interesting to observe the vocabulary that starts to be used. In this game, over and over again, it was ‘donkey’. Having settled on the title ‘Steam Donkey’ (with all the quirky opportunity for graphics this throws up), imagine the surprise of learning that a steam donkey was a type of crane used on Victorian ships (what do you know?!?).

Steve Kendall


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