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Subject: 10 THINGS to know about AIR BARON rss

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C. B. Green
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STANDARD DISCLAIMER APPLIES: There are other reviewers who look at this game in depth, break down its mechanics, explain the rules, all that useful stuff. I don't. My goal is simply to try to add a little color to the picture, and indicate some of the notable points of interest for the discerning geek. With that in mind, here are

10 THINGS to know about AIR BARON


1) Psyche! There's a picture of a plane on the box. The word "Baron" is in the title. It's from Avalon Hill. So I admit I was expecting something involving Sopwith Camels and dogfights and perhaps the occasional zeppelin. Not so! Air Baron is a business sim, which pits you against rival airline entrepreneurs attempting to control domestic (and some international) passenger routes.

2) DownHill This was the first Avalon Hill game I'd played in a while. And I admit, it was hard to go back to AH, now that I've been playing Euros. The production values just aren't the same. The board is functional enough, but that's the best you can say about it. The counters have a little bit of personality... my airline was the pleasantly garish green & pink "Aero Flamingo." But those counters, they're small, so the character doesn't really come through. The most substantial bit--your half-dozen plastic-molded "jumbo jets"--just don't come into play that often. Some games seem to promise fun simply by virtue of their components. Air Baron... not so much.

3) A Good Baron Is A Lucky Baron
If you're averse to randomness in games, consider steering clear of Air Baron. There's a hefty dose of chance in two of the primary actions of the game -- airport takeovers, and drawing resources (in this case, paper money, rendered in the reliably no-frills AH house style). Yes, there are strategic decisions that surround and underlie each result, but the ultimate determinations come from dice rolls and drawing tokens from a cup.

4) All's Fare
The first and biggest decision you'll make in the course of a turn is whether or not to go into "Fare Wars" mode. When you're in Fare Wars, you get bonuses to attack and (to a lesser degree) defend, but you don't draw any money from your airports. When you're not in Fare Wars, your aggressiveness is more limited, but you can draw income. Typically, the process is to stay out of Fare Wars until you've accrued a sufficient war chest, then go on the offensive, hopefully enough to secure control of an entire hub (a grouping of 4-6 airports, or "spokes"), which will give you bonuses for future attacks and defense. When the money runs out, drop out of Fare Wars, and hope no one's gunning for you while you try to raise more capital.

5) Can I Get A Bailout? Combat is resolved through dice rolls, and it's pretty straightforward; thanks to a simple system of modifiers, you can pretty easily figure out how to maximize your chances. Not so when it comes to money. Money is typically handed out when a player draws one of your airports or hubs from the cup. This makes your first few airport purchases crucial. It's tempting to go for cheapies, since each spoke is of equal value in determining control of the hub. But those expensive airports bring in more money, and can be prohibitively pricey for others to take over. Of course, as more airports get purchased, the odds of any of your big moneymakers coming up get progressively longer.

6) Super-Size Me
Those little plastic molded jumbo jets are fun, but they don't do much... They're pretty much a weapon that can be deployed offensively or defensively. And they're a little pricey at 10 -- million? thousand? I forget what the basic currency unit is. I found that I rarely had enough cash to make buying them feasible... only on those rare occasions when my big money cities came up. I guess there might be a game where someone bought all six, but it's hard to see it happening.

7) Rich Get Richer
Lose some key spokes early and you could be looking at a pretty bleak game. Because control of hubs confers both strategic advantage and money, it's possible (even likely) that someone will find themselves in a hole that's tough to dig out of. Generally, I'm told, the game follows a gang-up-on-the-leader pattern. That didn't happen in the game I played, in part because I was a little too dumb to recognize who the leader was. (Sorry, everyone.) But even if the leader is successfully ganged upon, the consolations for the trailing players are pretty meager. It would have been nice to see some kind of asymmetric power mechanic that might keep stragglers more invested in the game.

8) It Sounds Like You Lost This Game, Loopster
Yeah, it's sounding that way, huh?

9) Pretty Badly, I'm Thinking
Hey, ease up. I did okay, held on to a couple of decent hubs. For much of the game, the good people of Omaha, Nebraska showed a touching loyalty to Aero Flamingo, resisting several well-planned takeover attempts. That made me happy.

10) Endgame
Full disclosure--I've played all of one damn game of Air Baron, so take these points with however many grains of salt you require. I didn't realize before playing it quite how obscure Air Baron was. There's a reason for this. As a business/empire builder sim with wargame elements, it runs the risk of not pleasing either camp. I'm not sure why a transportation/empire builder gamer would play Air Baron instead of Age of Steam or Railroad Tycoon, and I'm not sure why a wargamer would play Air Baron instead of, y'know, a wargame. Don't get me wrong, it was fun. But I feel like the theme is such a good one, the game could really benefit from a radical overhaul and re-release. There's all sorts of fun directions a designer could go with the leisure/luxury elements of the early days of commercial aviation; the subject practically calls out for a more deluxe treatment.
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Max Jamelli
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loopster70 wrote:

7) Rich Get Richer Lose some key spokes early and you could be looking at a pretty bleak game. Because control of hubs confers both strategic advantage and money, it's possible (even likely) that someone will find themselves in a hole that's tough to dig out of. Generally, I'm told, the game follows a gang-up-on-the-leader pattern. That didn't happen in the game I played, in part because I was a little too dumb to recognize who the leader was. (Sorry, everyone.) But even if the leader is successfully ganged upon, the consolations for the trailing players are pretty meager. It would have been nice to see some kind of asymmetric power mechanic that might keep stragglers more invested in the game.


I have to assume in your one game you didn't take a loan out - if you don't have spokes or money, odds are that someone has enough market share that you can take a few bucks out in loans. Take a loan, go into fare wars, and get your spokes and hubs back. The only thing you can't worry about with fare wars are the dice rolls - if you roll lousy dice there isn't much strategy to counter that.

It's also usually not too hard to see who the leader is - their color is usually all over the board and they have the highest market share.
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Mike Pranno
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Did you guys play with or without the advanced rules (chips, actually)?
 
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david landes
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With regard to the luck element.. I needed a three or better to win the game and uttered the now imfamous words: "Anything but snake eyes."

Has to be more or less the equivalent of a baseball announcer saying "This guy's last home run was four years ago and he has never hit one off a right handed pitcher..."
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Max Jamelli
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dklx3 wrote:
With regard to the luck element.. I needed a three or better to win the game and uttered the now imfamous words: "Anything but snake eyes."

Has to be more or less the equivalent of a baseball announcer saying "This guy's last home run was four years ago and he has never hit one off a right handed pitcher..."


Did you eventually win?

I needed to take ATL. I was two die rolls away from a tournament win - I had a +4 drm. I rolled snake eyes 4 of 6 rolls and lost all 6. I eventually won the game though.
 
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david landes
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Yes, I did win.. but as we tell/retell the story.. I leave that out as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a more popular way to brag.
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