Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Airships

Design by:  Andreas Seyfarth
Published by:  Rio Grande Games / Queen Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

 My first exposure to Airships was at the Essen show several years ago.  I had the pleasure of learning the game while it was still in development from designer Andreas Seyfarth.  I was surprised when the game was not released the following year, as it seemed to be complete and ready to publish.  The game had faded from memory by the following year, so I was equally surprised to hear it was being released by Queen Games.

The published version remains virtually unchanged from the prototype I played.  To my recollection, even the cartoon-like artwork is the same.  That’s just fine with me, as I enjoyed the prototype and thought it was a fully developed game.

In Airships, players vie to assemble the necessary components and manpower in order to construct the most impressive fleet of zeppelins.  From mechanical and physical components to engineers and captains — all are needed to help build and acquire the outstanding airships.

Lest folks misunderstand, let me clear:  Airships is a dice game.  This is not a deep game of economics or business management.  Players will roll various dice in their attempts to acquire the desired expansions and airships.  Dice come in three colors, with different value ranges on each type.  Each expansion requires a certain value be met on specific dice in order to be acquired.  The challenge is to assemble various combinations of components to give you the dice needed to secure the parts and ships you desire.

On his turn, a player will target a specific component from a handful of options for his ship.   Each card depicts the type (engineer, commander, financier, material, hangar or engine), the specific type and number of dice to be rolled, the numerical total required to acquire the card, and the advantage obtained for securing the card.  Players can roll extra dice if they have them, but can only use the indicated number to determine their success or failure.  For example, an engine card might require the player to roll two white dice and obtain a total of “5” on the dice.  The player can roll more than two white dice if he possesses the ability to do so, but can only use the values on two of those dice to determine if he is successful.  If he is successful, the player acquires the engine, which also grants a bonus of “+1” to subsequent rolls of a white die.

Failing to successfully meet the requirements on a particular roll is not a disaster, as the player is rewarded with a consolation bonus chip.  One of these chips can be used to add “1” to the value of a roll, or three chips can be surrendered to take another turn.

There are a large variety of cards available, and the benefits derived vary considerably.  The challenge is to assemble a collection of cards that will give you the ability to roll multiples of the three different colored dice, and modify these rolls to your advantage.

Players may only possess one of each type of component, so if they acquire another component of the same type, they must jettison the former one.  This can sometimes be a tough decision, as the benefits granted by that component will then be lost.

In addition to airship components, players can choose to obtain completed airships.  These ships award the player with victory points, but some are more difficult to obtain.  Usually, a player will spend numerous turns acquiring components in order to obtain the ability to roll the dice needed to pursue the acquisition of an airship.  Alternatively, players can also attempt to construct portions of the granddaddy of all zeppelins — the Hindenburg.  Each step is progressively more difficult to complete, but the payoff is more and more victory points.  Ultimately, victory points are what win the game, but in order to obtain them, players must first spend time acquiring expansions and the bonuses they award.

An additional incentive to construct airships is that the successful player is awarded the zeppelin token, which gives that player an automatic “+1” to all future dice rolls.  The next player to construct an airship confiscates the token.  Once a player constructs a segment of the Hindenburg, however, that player can only lose the token if an opponent also constructs another segment of the massive airship.

The game ends when all steps of the Hindenburg are completed, or each of the four stacks of airship cards have one or fewer remaining cards.  Players determine the victory by tallying the victory points listed on their airships, expansions and Hindenburg levels.  In all, the game takes about 30 – 45 minutes to play to completion.

The game does have much in common with Tom Lehmann’s To Court the King.  The objective is to acquire cards that give you greater flexibility and increase your chances of acquiring even better cards.  In a sense, it is an engine building game, but on a vastly lighter scale.  While I didn’t care much for To Court the King — primarily because I felt there were just too many options and modifiers — Airships appeals to me.  The options and modifiers are much more manageable, and the game seems to flow much smoother.  Turns are quick, yet there are some interesting choices to be made, particularly in regards to which expansions to acquire and which to jettison.

My biggest complaint is a surprising one:  it is too easy to acquire desired cards.  There are numerous modifiers one can apply to a dice roll, including those granted by bonus chips, the airship token, and previously acquired expansions.  The ability to choose the highest values amongst numerous dice also makes the task easier.  I have gone through several games with just one or two failed dice rolls; that just seems too easy.  One possible suggestion is to reduce the starting number of bonus chips to one or perhaps zero, which should cause the game to begin a bit slower.  However, I’m not sure a slower game is a good thing.

While I am enjoying Airships right now, and feel it should remain popular with family or folks who are casual gamers, I’m not sure it will maintain its appeal with me for much longer.  The novelty may wear-off, but that is true for many games.  For now, I am reasonably happy with the game, as are most folks to whom I have taught it.  I don’t think the game will rise to the lofty heights reached by the actual zeppelins, but it still have enough lift to bring it to the table often enough to keep it around for a bit longer.

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Responses

  1. Airships is an excellent middleweight that uses dice strategically. Dice are thrown and converted into other dice, which are thrown and converted into other dice, which are thrown and converted into points. There’s a bit more to Airships, but it’s easy to get lost without some intermediary physical materials. It helps to place your available dice on the player mat. (8/10)

  2. Nice quick dice rolling game. The dice with different numbers add a little to the dice rolling. There is not much depth to the game but I like it. Even if you fail, you get a +1 token which you can use to add to the dice for the next turn or 3 of the +1 tokens can be turned in for a extra turn. Both nice touches. (6/10)


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