By Mark Rivera
Designer – Alan Moon
Art – Das Format, Christian Fiore
note – Thanks to ABACUSSPIELE for providing a review copy of this game
I think that it would be fair to say that Alan Moon is probably best known for his very successful game Ticket to Ride which certainly was a key game in broadening my personal gaming horizons beyond war gaming. In fact, as I tend to cycle games in and out of my collection to maintain a reasonable size and keep to limited storage space, Ticket To Ride has been a keeper since I picked up my own copy (in a charity shop no less).
Airlines Europe is essentially a re-boot of Alan Moon’s first design, Airlines, which was also published in 1990 by ABACUSSPIELE. Moon began working on this newer version in 2007 and although he wanted to retain the feel of the original game, he also wanted to give players even tougher choices. Now I haven’t played his original game, nor have I played his Union Pacific which is also a version of Airlines. So I am not in a position to compare. Having said that, I have read that AE is a cleaner, more streamlined version of the original.
In Airlines Europe, the players compete are in the world of the first airline companies, competing over the few licenses available for European airspace. The game play is very simple on the one hand, yet the balance of choices, as you seek to build airline routes and invest in the right airlines are tense. The game is for 2-5 players, aged 10+ and should take roughly 75 minutes.
The game itself is beautiful. The map of Europe, with its air routes is nicely laid out. You also get lovely airplane models in different colours representing different competing airlines. Cards represent shares in the different airlines, which, in a very nice tip of the hat to the gaming industry, are named after different game publishers. Victory point chits, and paper money and plastic markers for home airports and tracking victory points complete the components. The artwork is all very nice and evocative of the period of the early airlines. The storage insert must be mentioned. ABACUSSPIELE have done a great job here in producing an excellent storage box insert where all the components can be sorted very nicely.
A word of caution, you will need a reasonable amount of table space to lay everything out.
My brain is wired in such a way that I tend to struggle with games that have too many choices and things to think about. Being the simple guy that I am, I prefer a few deeper (but not too deep…) things to think about and Airlines Europe works at this level for me.
Simply put, you can take 1 of 4 available actions during your turn.
A) Buy one or two route licenses and take one share card into your hand
Here is where you can invest and build airline routes, thereby building the value of the airline you have invested in. You also take a share card into your hand to build towards a majority of share holdings through set collection of share cards which can set you up for more victory points if you hold more shares in a given airline than other players. Airline value increases with each route license purchased to you will be looking to build routes in airlines whose share cards you own.
B) Play out shares and receive dividends
C) You can trade normal airline shares for Air Abacus share cards
Air Abacus shares are wild cards in a sense that there is no Air Abacus Airline. These can be chosen and played instead of normal shares as these can reap victory points.
D) Take Money
Money is tight and quickly invested so you will need to replenish regularly.
All seems very simple really… or does it?
Well, you will find yourself constantly walking a tightrope between your actions. Timing is important throughout as there are three victory point scoring stages which somewhat randomly come up so this is always in the back of your mind as you hope to make the right investments in routes, play of your share cards, and pick up of Air Abacus shares for extra victory points. There is lots of tension and lots of opportunity for interaction and the banter that goes along with this as you will be faced with decisions that will benefit yourself but also possibly help or harm other players.
The gameplay moves quickly and smoothly (even with 5 players) and there is virtually no down time as even when it isn’t your turn, you will find yourself looking at the level of investment of the other players and scanning the map for your next opportunity to but licenses to best advantage. Similar to Ticket to Ride, there are also 4 long distance bonus routes which when completed, will add extra value to the 4 smallest airlines. Not a lot of decisions, but all must be balanced and and all have implications.
Did it work for me?
Without reservation, I highly recommend Airlines Europe. I find it to be a nice step up from Ticket to Ride and a trickier challenge. Although not as accessible a gateway game as TTR, the balance of choices are just enough for me. The speed of the gameplay is great and the minimal downtime even with 5 players is a real benefit. It is a lovely game to look at and very colourful once more and more of those lovely planes get onto the map. Its not a cutthroat game but there is just enough opportunity to mess with other players’ plans to keep things interesting. When you get behind, there will be opportunities to improve your position and its hard to tell for sure how things will end up so it all keeps you on your toes. Most of all, Airlines Europe is just plain fun. Its not a thematic experience but the level of theme is fine for the type of game it is. I recommend that you introduce your non-gamer friends to Ticket to Ride first and if they enjoy that, they should be able to transition into Airlines Europe and really enjoy it. Definitely one of the better games I’ve played.
Boardgames in Blighty Rating – 8 out of 10
Definitely a nice, but more advanced family level game. 10 year old’s will need a bit of help.
For more information go to – http://www.abacusspiele.de/
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So what do you think?