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AIRSHIPS

reviewed by Joe Huber

Queen Games/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.95

   Andreas Seyfarth has designed some of the best regarded games around, with Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT) having topped the BoardGameGeek ranking for years and Thurn & Taxis (Fall 2006 GA REPORT) having won the Spiel des Jahres. This sets high expectations for his new designs. A lighter, die-rolling, push-your-luck game might win praise from another game author seems to have a harder time when it’s being compared to award winners. But Airships, which was released in Germany under the title Giganten der Lüfte at Essen last October and in the United States in Spring 2008, is quite an interesting design.

   Airships is themed around building an airship company.   Players acquire various elements – financiers, hangars, captains, engineers, engines, and materials – so as to improve their ability to win contracts. Contracts provide victory points and once enough contracts have been secured by the various players, four major contracts become available to work on the Hindenburg.

   In the game, each player represents one of four airship-building nations: the United States, Germany, Italy, and France. On a turn, a player either attempts to add an expansion or win a contract; either is accomplished by rolling dice, and meeting certain requirements.   Each expansion offers different characteristics: hangars and financiers offer additional dice, captains offer bonus chips which can be used to push a close roll over the required amount, engineers offer dice with fixed values, engines offer bonuses to certain dice, and materials allow a player to change the mix of dice she’s rolling. Some expansions offer weaker abilities but also offer a number of victory points.   Only one expansion of each type may be held at any point in time; the expansions with victory points effectively lock a player out of that particular expansion for the rest of the game.

   Most victory points, though, are earned through airship contracts. Small, easy contracts earn only 1 or 2 points, the more difficult ones are worth 6 points and the most difficult section of the Hindenburg can be worth as much as 8 points. But while it’s possible to secure contracts from the first turn of the game, doing so can leave a player behind in acquiring necessary expansions. The game continues until the Hindenburg is completed or until nearly all of the non-Hindenburg contracts are completed.  

   Airships has been noted as “just a dice game”. There’s truth to that, but it’s still one that’s well carried off and enjoyable. While the theme isn’t deeply ingrained in the mechanisms, the expansions actually fit well; the two “captains” pictured, for example, are Ferdinand von Zeppelin and William Moffett. And the contract airships are all accurate representations of historical airships. My father, who has spent most of his career in the airship industry, was able to pick out sufficient detail to identify the U.S.S. Akron.

   That said, it’s still a dice game. I doubt it will convince anyone who doesn’t enjoy push-your-luck games to take them up. It’s a well constructed dice game. Turns are quick and the game moves along well.   It’s not up to the level of a Can’t Stop (featured in the Winter 1997 GA REPORT) but it is fun and different, and well worth playing.

   The components of Airships are simple but done with the typical Queen quality.   Everything is functional though I’ve noticed that players with color issues have a hard time determining where the various expansions are meant to go; there aren’t enough clues other than the colors to make it clear. The English rules also aren’t particularly clear. I’ve run into lots of different interpretations and one paragraph is particularly unclear.   It implies that the wooden airship, which gives an advantage to the player holding it, is only awarded to a player who already has at least one contract and wins another. The rule (as best we’ve been able to determine from the German and French rules) is simply that a player who completes a contract takes the wooden airship.           

   I have played Airships nine times, with family, friends, and gamers, and I’ve enjoyed it every time.   The random arrival of the expansions adds enough variability as to provide different experiences and my greatest concern with regard to balance – that the Hindenburg sections were too strong – was alleviated in a recent game lost by a player who built three of the four Hindenburg sections. The game works well with two, three, or four players, though I’m most fond of the game with three. It’s not a deep game, however, and it’s likely that the long term interest in the game will be primarily for fans of dice games and for those who enjoy the theme.   For others, it’s far more likely to be an enjoyable short term diversion – a game that will be played a lot when first acquired, but then just take up space on the shelf after a couple of years.

   For fans of dice games like Can’t Stop, Airships is well worth taking a chance on. For those enticed by the theme, it’s a fun little game, the best game with an airship theme I’ve come across. For others, I’d definitely recommend seeking out an opportunity to try the game while holding off on buying it.- – – – – – Joe Huber


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