Unfair is a card-driven board game all about building a theme park. Which sounds like it should be a wonderful happy experience, but this is Unfair, not Funfair, and it can get nasty.
This game features a number of optional take-that elements as well as having really terrible events that come into play during the second half of the game that can wreak havoc on your long term plans.
Disclosure: Good Games Publishing was cool enough to provide us with a review copy of Unfair. No other compensation was provided. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Unfair all about?
Unfair was designed by Joel Finch who also did the graphic design. It features development by Kim Brebach and Kate Finch and artwork from Nicole Castles, Lina Cossette, David Forest, and Philippe Poirier. This game was originally funded on Kickstarter and published in 2017 by Good Games Publishing and CMON. Unfair has an MSRP of $49.99.
A game of Unfair can be played with two to five players, with Board Game Geek users recommending four as the best player count. A full game takes an hour or two to play depending on the player count, the amount of AP (Analysis Paralysis), and which Game Changer cards you choose to use.
In Unfair players take on the role of competing theme park owners each trying to build the most successful theme park. You will combine decks featuring cool park themes like Pirate, Robot, Gangster and Vampire, to make each game unique. Players will add attractions to their parks and improve them with upgrades while trying to get their parks to conform to the specifics of high scoring blueprints. Remember though that this is Unfair, and it’s not all fun and games. You will have to deal with Unfair City events, like wear and tear which can remove an upgrade from one of your rides or a health scare that closes down all food outlets. You will also have to cope with your competitors being nasty and doing things like paying off a safety inspector to shut down parts of your park or hiring hooligans to vandalize your best rides.
Note: If you are looking into this game for the first time, I strongly suggest you pause and instead check out Funfair, also from Good Games Publishing. Despite being published after Unfair, Funfair is a great gateway to this card driven park building system. It’s a shorter, easier to learn, more family friendly version of the game, which removes all of the take that and nastiness. You can read more about it in my Funfair Review.
Now that you’ve had a chance to check that out, let’s get back to Unfair.
For a look at what you get in the box for this somewhat nasty theme park building game check out our Unfair Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Inside the Unfair box, you will find a very clear and detailed rulebook with fifteen pages of rules as well as an FAQ, notes on updated cards, a glossary and more. Overall, this is one of the better rulebooks I’ve read.
Along with this, there are some fantastic player aids. Not only are there oversized cards that show off all the icons used in the game with a scoring summary on the back, but there are also smaller playing card sized cards with a gameplay summary on one side and a scoring summary on the other. More games should come with reference tools like this. Big thumbs up to Good Games Publishing!
Another nice surprise was the fact that the board is two-sided and designed so that one side is used if all of the players are sitting on the same side of a table while the other to for when players are sitting opposite each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before in a game.
The box also includes a plastic box insert that’s designed to hold multiple decks of cards. The base game comes with six different theme decks (Pirate, Robot, Vampire, Jungle, Ninja and Gangster) and there’s a separate slot for each of them, with room for four more decks. These slots are large enough to hold sleeved cards as well, which I know some people will appreciate.
There are a number of tokens included, which came pre-punched. The highlight of these are the money tokens which look like various sized and shaped poker chips. This is some of the nicest cardboard money I’ve seen in a game.
The game also includes a score pad, a pencil for scoring, a pair of six-sided dice, and a very cool plastic roller coaster card miniature that acts as a round marker.
The quality on all of this is top notch and actually exceeded my expectations. My only complaint is that there’s no real place to put all the tokens that come with the game. There are baggies but there isn’t really a slot for those to go in the insert. There’s a trough in the middle of the inset but it won’t hold everything. For now, they fit great spread out over the four empty card slots, but I know the first expansion for this game has four more theme decks in it, and I can’t see how you will fit those cards in this box along with all the tokens.
My copy of the game also included a small pack of replacement cards. This is something I appreciate Good Games Publishing doing. With each new printing of Unfair they have updated this pack of cards fixing some minor issues with the original cards in the game. To use these new cards you just open the pack, find the old cards and toss them out and replace those with these new ones.
While we’re not reviewing it here today, I did notice that the expansion also includes this same pack of replacement cards, so if you have an earlier printing of Unfair, you can get these updated cards with the expansion.
How do you play Unfair, the theme park building board game?
The first step in playing a game of Unfair is to decide which theme decks you will use. Each game requires the use of one deck per player. These can be picked by the players or you can use the included randomizer chips. There are six themes included with the base game: Gangster, Ninja, Vampire, Robot, Jungle and Pirate.
The rulebook includes some suggestions on which decks to use for your first few games, which I fully support. Some of these decks are easier to learn and use than others.
To help you pick, each of these theme decks includes a reference card indicating any rules changes required when using that deck and a list of ratings going from one to five covering the four main gameplay elements, Attraction Size, Blueprints, Coins and Unfairness.
Before I go on it’s important to note that players aren’t picking a deck for themselves. It’s not like one player will play the Robot deck and another will play the Pirate deck. What you are deciding here is which decks all of the players will be using for this game. Similar to Smash Up, you will be combining these decks together to create the play decks for your game.
You combine everything by sorting all of the cards by their card backs and then shuffling everything with the same backs together. You then randomly draw four Unfair City cards and place them on the board, place the Blueprints Closing card on top and then randomly draw four Funfair City cards and place them on top of that. Players are also each dealt two random showcase cards and five random park cards. If any player was not dealt an attraction card they can discard their hand of park cards and draw five more. All of the other decks of cards are placed on the board face down and the market is filled with cards from the park deck.
The next thing you need to do when sitting down to play a game of Unfair is to decide if you want to use any Game Changer cards. Using a Game Changer can significantly change the way your upcoming game of Unfair plays and the rulebook and I both suggest you start with using the First Date Game Changer for your first game. This card has you remove two Unfair City Cards from the bottom of the city deck, remove the Showcase cards and remove all Blueprint cards labelled as Difficult or Insane from the game.
Other Game Changer cards include the World Peace Game Changer where you cannot use Event or Park card abilities that affect other players (great for groups who dig the game but don’t like the take-that aspects) or the School Vacation Game Changer that makes Unfair a great game for kids by removing everything but the park cards and changing the game to a race to build five rides worth at least fifteen stars.
For the rest of this overview of play, I’m going to assume you aren’t using any game changers.
To finish setting up the game each player takes twenty coins from the bank and starts their theme park tableau by placing their Main Gate card in front of them.
A game of Unfair is played over eight rounds each of which is broken into a number of phases.
Each round starts with all players drawing an Event Card and adding it to their hand. Then a city card is drawn and read out loud. The text on this card will affect all players. For the first half of the game these will be Funfair City cards that feature beneficial effects. During the second half of the game these will swap over to Unfair City cards which can have devastating effects on the players’ parks. In the round where you swap from Funfair to Unfair City Cards, the Blueprint market will also close (there’s a card that is inserted in the City deck to remind you of this).
After resolving the city card, players get a chance to play Event Cards. Each Event Card is split into two options, in general, the top option is something that will benefit you whereas the bottom option will be something you can do against your opponents. Each of these adversarial cards has an “attack type” and some events include ways to block each of these “attack types.” These defensive cards can also be used to block some Unfair City Events.
There are a ton of events in Unfair, with different varieties and themes of events in each of the different theme decks. There’s no way I can cover all of their effects here. Just be aware that they include effects like earning you extra guests and/or money, let you upgrade cheaply, recover cards from the discard pile, close your opponents’ attractions or destroy their upgrades, let you take extra turns, and more.
Players continue to play events until everyone passes, with the ability to jump back in if you had passed in an earlier turn.
Next, we move onto the Park Phase where players will be building their parks. The park phase is broken into four park steps with each player taking one action in each step. Every player will get to take part in three park steps every round, the fourth park step is only available after playing specific events earlier in the turn. (Note: This is different from Funfair where you unlock your fourth action by building your Showcase ride).
Each Park Step players have a few options:
Take: Draw two cards from the Event, Park or Blueprint Deck and keep one of them. Or discard a park card to draw five park cards and keep one of them.
Event cards we’ve already covered. These go into your hand and do count for the hand limit at the end of the turn.
Park Cards are what you use to build your park and feature Attractions, Upgrades and Resources. Each card lists its cost, any victory points it’s worth at the end of the game and its Star Value if any. This Star Value determines how many guests will visit your park each turn which will, in turn, generate your income. Attractions and Upgrades also feature a number of icons indicating what type of attraction or upgrade the card represents. You will earn points for the total number of icons each of your attractions features at the end of the game.
Blueprint cards are all about end game scoring. Each card lists a basic park requirement on it. These include things like having specific types of attractions, having attractions with specific upgrades, having attractions of a specific size, etc. In addition, some blueprints also have a bonus section. This can only be scored if you complete the basic requirement. At the end of the game, you will gain posts for all completed basic blueprints and bonuses that match your park, but you will lose ten points per card where you were not able to complete the base requirements.
Each blueprint also lists a difficulty rating based on how hard the requirements are to complete and it’s strongly suggested that you not take a blueprint, not even an easy one, if you don’t at least have the attraction types needed already in your park or your hand.
Note halfway through the game the blueprint deck closes. Once this happens players can no longer draw new blueprints through the Take action (though you can still earn blueprints through events and park cards once the deck is closed).
Build: Pay the cost shown on a card and place it into your tableau.
This card can come from your hand or from the market. If a card is purchased from the market it is immediately replaced. Attractions go to the right of your Main Gate and you can have a maximum of five of them in your park. Staff and Resources go to the left of your gate, and there is no limit to how many you can have.
Upgrades are placed onto your attractions with the upgrades being tucked under the attraction. Some cards have effects that happen when you build them including things like being able to draft cards from the market or build an additional card, sometimes at a discounted price. In general, no attraction can have more than one copy of a specific upgrade on it.
In addition to this once per game, players have the option to build one of their two Showcase Cards. These are expensive attraction cards that feature very powerful abilities and a high star count. You can’t actually build one of these until you have at least five stars in your park already. At any time you can decide you aren’t going to build a showcase at all and discard both of your showcase cards to immediately gain ten coins.
If at any time you don’t have enough money, you can always take out a loan. This doesn’t cost you an action. You can take out a maximum of four loans. Each loan you take out instantly gives you five coins but costs you ten victory points at the end of the game.
Demolish: Remove a card from your park. You may want to do this in order to fulfil a specific blueprint or because you want to replace a low scoring attraction with a higher scoring one. If you remove an attraction all upgrades on that attraction are lost as well.
Loose Change: Scrounge around your park looking for change that’s fallen out of people’s pockets. Collect one coin per open attraction you have in your park.
Play continues with each player completing one park step action in turn until all park steps are complete. Then you enter the Guests Phase.
Here players add up the star value of all of the cards in their park, skipping over stars on closed attractions. Each park has a basic guest capacity of fifteen which can be improved by certain park cards. Players collect income based on their total star value capped by their capacity. So even if you have twenty stars worth of attractions and upgrades you would still only earn fifteen income. Players also receive money for any park cards featuring tickets. There are a number of these in each deck including costumed characters, photographers, a face painting booth etc. This ticket income gets added on top of what you earn for your stars.
The final phase is the Cleanup Phase.
In the cleanup phase, the market is cleared and refilled from the park deck. Any pinned events are decarded and players flip over any closed rides. Players then check their hand of Park and Event cards and must discard down to five cards if they have more than that in hand. Finally, the start player marker is moved to the next player in turn order (clockwise).
The game continues until the City Deck runs out. At that point, there is an end game scoring phase. While the game includes a scorepad for this phase, I strongly recommend grabbing the Unfair Scoring App. This was created by the publisher and not only does it do all the math for you and help to make sure you don’t miss anything, but it also tracks which factions you played and how that affected the game. It’s this data that Good Games Publishing uses to update and modify cards in order to keep the game as balanced as possible.
During scoring, you are awarded points for a few different things. First up is Attraction Size. For each of your attractions count up the number of icons on the attraction and all of its upgrades. This total is compared to a chart to see how many points that attraction is worth. The more icons the more points, with the difference in points escalating as you go up the scale.
Next, you score all of your Blueprint cards. Gaining the points shown on the card for the basic requirement if your park matches what is listed on the card. If you complete the basic portion you can also score the bottom bonus section, if you also have all of the requirements listed for the bonus. For every Blueprint card where you didn’t meet the requirements listed in the basic section, you lose ten points.
You also get one point for every two coins you have at the end of the game (note final scoring does happen after the last Guest step).
Next, you get points for any cards in your tableau that award points. Most of these are staff cards but there are also some park cards that feature end game scoring opportunities.
Finally, you lose points for any loans you took out during the game.
The winner is the player with the most points. Ties are broken by having the most blueprints, then the most coins, then it goes down to who is wearing the most Unfair merch, with the final tiebreaker being a game or rock, paper, scissors.
Unfair is a very fun, though at times frustrating board game.
As you can read in my Funfair review, we really enjoyed that game. It’s light, easy to learn, quick and a lot of fun. Despite being a card game it’s quite thematic and you really do feel like you are building a very cool theme park. Funfair was the perfect introduction to the mechanics that are also used in Unfair.
Unfair is very similar to Funfair. It features all of the same gameplay elements that we loved in Funfair but offers quite a bit more. Besides the obvious addition of the punitive city Cards and take that event and park cards that give Unfair its name, there’s just more going on in a game of Unfair.
The entire event system is unique to Unfair. There’s nothing like it in Funfair, and this system adds a lot of depth to the game.
Event cards are another resource players have to manage and something else they will need to worry about. Do you use your cards to benefit you or to hurt your opponent? Or do you save your event cards to use for defence in case your opponents use their cards to attack you?
In Funfair, it always feels like you don’t have enough cards to work with. Making you have to choose between drawing Park, Blueprint or Event cards when you do a Take action emphasizes this feeling even more in Unfair.
Other areas of increased depth come from the ability to take loans at a significant end of game point penalty, the fact that you start with two random showcase cards and have the option to build neither if you wish, the increased variety in themes and decks, the variability of the city cards, the complexity of the blueprints, the fact that the game is now eight rounds instead of six. All of this leads to a longer, more complex game.
Everything I loved about Funfair is still present in Unfair, and to me that’s awesome. As someone who prefers heavier games, I also love all the added complexity and decision points. There’s a lot more to think about and a lot more options every turn, and that’s great for me and the people I usually game with.
I like the longer game length. I love the whole event system. I love the hard decision of deciding whether or not I want to take out a loan and even more so I love tempting my opponents to take as many loans as they can. I dig how each of the six different theme decks brings a different feel to the game and how each has its own focus. I enjoy how the various theme decks interact, with some becoming much more powerful when combined with certain others.
Another aspect I love about both of these fun park games is the fact that in every game I’ve played the players end up telling a story about their park. Physically, I may have just slid the Ninja Theme card under my Tiger Experience Leisure Ride. However, the story I am telling the other players is that due to being a Gangster owned theme park, the trick is that there aren’t actually any tigers. We just charge people to go on the ride and tell them these are rare ninja tigers that are almost impossible to spot, and every time we run the ride some chump gets off claiming they saw a tiger or two.
One of the things I love finding in a board game is the feeling of building something. Games that manage to convey this leave me feeling satisfied with my accomplishment at the end of the game regardless of if I came in first place or last. I find that playing Tapestry has that “I have built a cool thing” effect (check out my Tapestry review here), I also get that from playing Terraforming Mars, and now with Unfair (and to a lesser extent Funfair).
This leaves us with the Elephant Pen in the Theme Park: the take that nature of this game. This is the most controversial aspect of Unfair and something that people disliked enough that Good Games Publishing decided to make a more friendly version of the game in Funfair.
For me, I don’t usually mind some take that stuff in my games and I really don’t mind negative effects that impact all of the players equally as the Unfair City cards do in this game. That said, some of the things you can do to each other in this game are just nasty. Many of the event cards feature devastating effects that if not defended against can ruin a long term strategy you’ve been working on over many turns. Compounding this is the fact that most people hold on to those effects until near the end of the game, trying to make it so that blueprints that you’ve been working on since the start of the game can no longer be fulfilled once you get to scoring.
I will honestly say, our first two-player game of Unfair was like this. Deanna saved up two events for the last round of the game and played both of them on me. These two cards undid all of the work I had done during the entire game to complete two difficult blueprints. Those two card plays cost me over sixty points when we got to end game scoring. At that point, I had determined that I didn’t like Unfair at all. I felt like it took all of the great stuff from Funfair and ruined it with nasty take that event cards.
Thankfully I was willing to give the game another chance. While I still feel this isn’t a good date night game, due to potential hard feelings, I have learned that there are many ways the nastiness can be mitigated and a lot of that has to do with developing system mastery and learning the card decks. Knowing that the two cards Deanna used to destroy me are in the deck when those two themes we used are in play, completely changes the way I play the game. I now know to hang on to some defence cards and to build my attractions with redundancies and contingencies. I also know that I need to diversify my blueprints and make sure to grab a couple of sure things instead of going for the longshots.
Knowing what nastiness is out there can help you prepare for it if not outright prevent it and that’s a big part of learning to enjoy Unfair. Due to this I actually suggest, before playing a game, after picking what theme decks you will be using, each player looks through each of the decks just so that they have some heads up on what’s coming. This will also give everyone an indication of what park cards will be in play and possibly more importently how many of each card.
Besides just learning the cards, there’s another perhaps even easier way to reduce or remove the nastiness of Unfair and that’s through the Game Changer cards. These aren’t house rules that someone made up but rather actual official rule variants that the designer felt were important to include with the game so that it would appeal to a broad range of gamers.
Do not be afraid to use the Game Changer Cards. They could be the key thing that changes Unfair from a good game to a great game for your personal game group. These can also work great for making the game accessible to less experienced gamers and kids, or for ramping up the difficulty for experienced gamers. If you’ve got a group that likes long term strategy use the Advance Planning Game Changer where every player gets a hand of five Blueprints at the start of the game and picks one to keep. If you want a game with lots of money coming in and asymmetric abilities right from the start use the Grand Opening Game Changer where the player to your left picks one of your Showcase cards for you to build, for free at the start of the game.
The other thing that may not be obvious is that you can also mix and match these. I love games like Unfair which feature built-in dials that you can adjust to affect the difficulty and complexity (check out my Trapwords review for an example of another game that does this well).
Overall, while I still dig Funfair, and will continue to use it to introduce new players to this card driven theme park building system, I have grown to enjoy Unfair even more.
Despite having a negative experience on my first play, I’ve learned that most of the nastiness in this game can be mitigated through proper play, or even removed through the use of the Game Changer cards. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get at the end of every game of Unfair and I enjoy the stories that get told while building our parks. I also greatly appreciate the fact that I can adjust the game to make it more appealing when playing with different game groups ranging from quick games with my kids to cutthroat games with heavy gamers. I really do dig this game. There’s a lot of FUN to be had even at the Unfair.
If you are an experienced gamer who digs engine building board games, especially card driven ones, I strongly suggest checking out Unfair. If you’ve played Funfair and enjoy it but wish there was more going on, just rush out and buy Unfair right now. Even if you don’t like some aspects of it, you can easily dial those back and keep the game more like Funfair with more options.
For everyone else, I actually suggest you not pick up this game but instead seek out and try Funfair first. It really is a better gateway to this card driven park building system and is a ton of fun on its own. I own both games and fully expect both to hit the table for years to come, with Funfair coming out at public play events and casual game nights, and Unfair being my choice for playing with my regular game groups.
If you do want to try out either Funfair or Unfair, you can play both of these games online through a heavily scripted Tabletop Simulator Mod. While it won’t work for teaching you the game, it’s a great digital implementation of both board games.
Good Games Publishing also offers Print & Play versions of both Funfair and Unfair, if you want to give them a test drive before you run out and buy a copy (and if you’re looking for more games to keep you and your printer busy, check out our big list of 300+ Free Print & Play Games).
Unfair is the third game I’ve reviewed from Good Games Publishing and I’ve got to say that I am very impressed by the quality and gameplay in each of their games that I’ve tried.
If you like lighter games or play with kids check out my Fairy Season Review for another great game from Good Games Publishing. And, as already mentioned a couple of times, you can also read my review of Funfair, the lighter version of the game I reviewed here today.
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