The year is 1897 and to celebrate sixty years of the reign of Queen Victoria and bring much needed solace to the Country's weary workers, four seaside resorts vie with each other to be the grandest and most opulent, worthy of a Royal visit from Her Majesty herself. The latest in steam technology will be on display to attract and transport visitors to the hotels and guest houses that line the seafronts. Amusements and monuments will be created to edify and delight the visiting holiday-makers. You, as the designer of these developments must complete your resort first and claim your rightful place as Chief Architect, by Royal Appointment! Help is available from enigmatic and mysterious personages: Donkey-boy, Lord Admiral, Princess Royal and Madame Ice-cream. They may prove invaluable but are fickle and may aid your opponents, too!
Steam Donkey is a card game that is fun but has depth to its strategic play. You will make decisions about when to take cards into your hand from the resort and whether to build in the Park, Beach or Town area. You, as the Architect will have to choose which characters will be of most use to you each turn and which projects they will help you construct. All for the glory of having the most magnificent resort in the land!
An unusual mechanism in the game is that the reverse of each card is as important as its front. The reverse shows holiday-makers ("the Visitors") arriving at a railway station complete with suitcases and their mechanical dog. The suitcases are color-coded to show the area of the resort to which the Visitors are destined. This area could be either the Park, the Town or the Beach. After they arrive, these same Visitors may be collected to the player's hand — but at this juncture the fronts of the cards become the focus of play. The players build amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport within the three areas, and this information is shown on the card fronts together with a point value. In order to build, a player discards a prescribed number of cards of the same type as the card being built. Of course, there is a little more to the game than this...
Four Character cards — Madame Ice-cream, Lord Admiral, Princess Royal and Donkey-boy — are swapped between players to enhance card play, and four Kick-on cards in the advanced game — The Castle, Mechanical Dog, The Bank, and Feral Donkey — give the owning player a particular advantage and are retained throughout the game.