Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Scream Machine

Design by: Joe Huber
Published by: Jolly Roger Games
3 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser  

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appears in Counter Magazine #23

I had the privilege of playing this a couple of times while it was still in the development stages and thoroughly enjoyed both playings.  Many of us were encouraging the game’s designer Joe Huber to do his best to get the game published.  It was that good.  So, I was delighted when I learned that Jolly Roger Games was going to publish it, keeping the theme intact. 

The theme is a natural:  players build theme parks and attempt to attract the most customers.  This is a game that just BEGS to be shopped to major theme park companies such as Six Flags or Disney.  I’m not talking about just getting the game into the shops in their theme parks.  No, I’m envisioning the game being named “Six Flags’ Theme Park” or “Walt Disney World – The Card Game”.  Make it THEIR card game.  The game would be on the shelves of every shop in all of their theme parks.  Just imagine the number that could be sold.  I have no idea if the good folks at Jolly Roger pursued this idea, but if not, they certainly should.  It is not too late.  It’s all about marketing, folks.

OK … on to the game.  Players build rides in attractions in seven categories:  water rides, kiddie rides, family rides, thrill rides, nostalgic rides, roller coasters and food.  Each category has three different types of attractions, with values of 1, 3 or 5.  The higher the value, the more expensive to construct, but the more likely it is to attract customers.  

Each player begins with five “in-house” attractions.  From their hand of cards, each player will spend 4 points to establish their park by setting out attractions.  The cost for constructing an attraction is: 

Value 1  =  1
Value 3  =  2
Value 5  =  3 

After everyone establishes their park, the game begins.  Seven attractions are dealt face-up onto the table.  These represent the attractions that are being offered by manufacturers to the theme park operators.  Then, five customers are likewise dealt face-up to the table.  These represent the “national” customers, who will be attracted to the park that offers the most attractions of the type they seek.  Finally, two customers – one face-up and one face-down – are dealt to the table BETWEEN each set of players.  These represent the “local” customers, and they will only go to the theme parks that are closest to them.  This is a clever mechanism, as players must not only concern themselves with the national customers, who can visit any park, but also the local customers, over which they are competing with their neighbor.  

There are eight types of customers, seven of which correspond to the types of attractions available.  The eighth is the “cheapskate”.  These penny-pinchers are only looking to save money, so will visit the park whose ticket price is the cheapest. This translates into the least attractions in game parlance. 

Each turn, a player has four action points to spend amongst the following options: 

1)      A player may build as many attractions from his hand (“in-house designs”) as he desires.  The cost to build an attraction is listed above.  Built attractions are placed face-up in front of the player.  We have found that it is easiest to group these attractions by category, leaving their value showing so they can be easily totaled. 

2)      A player may purchase and construct as many attractions from those available from the manufacturers (those face-up on the table) as he desires.  Again, the cost is listed above.  New cards are dealt to replenish the available rides to seven once the player has completed his turn. 

The player may perform any of the following actions only ONCE, and each costs one action point: 

3)      Advertise.  The client brings in one customer, scoring one point and recording this on the score track. 

4)      Research Local Preferences.  The player looks at both of the face-down “local” customers on either side of him.  This lets the player know which local customers are available and he can often plan the rest of his turn accordingly, attempting to build rides to attract those customers. 

5)      Develop a new in-house design.  The player takes the top card from the attraction deck and places it into his hand. 

6)      Tear down an existing ride.  The player removes one of his previously constructed rides.  The only reason to do this is so that the player can compete for the cheapskates. 

7)      Request different choices.  The player may remove two of the manufacturers attractions and replace them with two new ones drawn from the deck.  Thus, if you don’t like the current selection of rides available, you can change the mix a bit.  Also, if there are rides there that you don’t want your opponents to grab, this is a good way to dispose of them. 

After each player has performed their actions, the customers will then visit the theme parks.  National customers go to the park that has the most attractions of the type they prefer.  So, roller coaster lovers will go to the theme park that has the greatest value in roller coasters.  If two or more players tie for the most attractions of a particular type, the customer cannot make up his mind and will not visit any park.  He will remain available for the next season.  Local customers will follow the same criteria, but will only go to one of the two neighboring parks.  Cheapskates will visit the park that has the least valuable attractions. 

Players receive one point for each customer they attracted.  Once all customers have been awarded, a new season (round) begins, with new national and local customers being dealt to the table. 

The game ends after a certain number of rounds – usually one round per player, but six rounds are played if playing with only three players.  The player who has attracted the greatest number of customers is named the “Theme Park King”. 

For me, Theme Park is filled with atmosphere.  The artwork is rendered in a “fun”, comic style and there is great variety.  Within each category of ride, there are several different rides depicted.  Sure, it might have been a bit easier to identify the category if only one type of illustration were used for each, but that would have been bland.  The only quibble some have had is that it is difficult to distinguish between a few of the category colors.  I personally haven’t found this to be a problem, but enough folks with whom I have played have commented on this, so it is worth mentioning. 

I tend to enjoy games using an action point mechanism, but insist that there be that element of angst over deciding which actions to perform.  Scream Machine has one of the critical trademarks of good games:  wanting to perform more actions than allowed.   There just never seems to be enough actions to do everything you want to do on a turn. 

There are enough actions to choose from to allow for various strategies, but choosing amongst those actions on each turn can be tough.  That is a critical element of a good game.  Fortunately, the game has the most important trademark of a good game, too:  it is fun to play.  The game is bulging with options, loaded with tough choices, dripping with theme and bursting with fun.  Looks like I’ll be making repeated visits to this theme park for more rides on the Scream Machine.



  1. Very interesting card game. I like the idea of trying to attract the local visitors and/or the national ones. Sometimes you want to concentrate on one or the other and then change your plan the next round. 7/10

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