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Subject: I really wanted to like Citadel's younger brother, but... rss

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Brian McCormick
United States
Lansing
Michigan
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My wife and I were eager to pick this one up late last year for a couple of reasons. First of all, the artwork was very reminiscent of Arcana and City of Thieves of the Cadwallon universe. Y'know, I usually don't like to think of myself as a boardgamer who would buy a game based on the art alone, but c'mon, we all have our weaknesses and cool-looking art is mine. The second thing that caught our attention was the premise: you're a ragtag gang of traitors hoping to sully the grand voyage of the Emperor's zeppelin, The Nostria by tossing crates of gold, diamonds, and rare equipment straight out the window. The winner is the one who tossed the most stuff. Sounds crazy! Lastly, the gameplay mechanics borrow heavily from Citadels, one of our favorite games.

So, away we sailed to our FLGS and nabbed it off the shelf. Here is our journey with Mad Zeppelin...


courtesy AEGTodd

How to play Mad Zeppelin

Though I will point you to the rulebook for a full explanation of the rules, I'll explain the gameplay briefly. The goal of Mad Zeppelin is to throw the most (or most valuable) stuff off the decks of The Nostria. Players each have a hand full of cards of varying values and during their turn they "toss" them by placing the cards in front of themselves. The type of card you can "toss" depends on which traitor role you've selected. Of course, things are never quite so simple.

For starters, each of the 14 roles has a unique power, but not every role will have a chance of being used in every turn. Before anyone is dealt a role, a certain number of traitor roles are "airsick" and are removed from the round. Then, each player is dealt a random role. After each person has their random role, everyone also gets to secretly pick a second role. Barring any effects from special abilities, players will be able to use both roles in a turn. In addition, a trio of dice are rolled at the beginning of each turn, which will determine who can and cannot toss cargo overboard. If this sounds convoluted, it isn't.

The difficult part is wrapping your mind around all of the different roles. Most roles are very different from one another, and since a few roles are removed from each round, it can be especially difficult to learn how the roles might compliment one another. Memorizing the function of the roles in Citadels can be a bit of a stretch to newcomers, and Mad Zeppelin takes things too far. This problem is compounded when the game introduces elements that require you to guess which role your opponent picked.

The dice also make things quite random. Not only are you randomly assigned a role, but you also might not be able to toss cargo off the ship. Sure, there are a few roles that allow you to rearrange the face of the dice, but if a player keeps getting their colors rolled, they are going to have an advantage over the person who has to rely on a special role to get their colors rolled.

Just like in Citadels, you pay a fee of gold to "toss" your cards and add them to your score. There's an added bonus for some roles that allow you to "toss" that treasure for no cost, but you still are dependent on the roll of the dice to activate that character.


courtesy Germflinger
The dang dice.

Is it any fun?

If I was there on the day that Mad Zeppelin's concept was conceived to listen to the designer, I imagine it went something like this:

Hot diggety! I love this Faidutti game, Citadels. It's just so...awesome! Y'know, let's take this concept and run with it. Citadels has 8 roles? Let's have 14! Citadels lets you build a city? Let's throw treasure off a blimp, but let's leave it up to random die rolls to determine who does and does not get to throw treasure off the ship. Man oh man, this sounds like fun.

And indeed, to a Citadels player such as myself, this does sound fun, but the randomness and increased number of roles to memorize can make this game a chore when you're first starting to learn it. I don't think the randomness was intentional, because the roles are surprisingly well-balanced against one another. But alas, the randomness is here, and it is rampant.

The roles are another letdown. In Citadels, each role has a very specific application, and often times you can significantly hinder your opponent if you blindside them with an unexpected role choice. However, in Mad Zeppelin, a lot of the roles are tame and uninteresting. Throw a treasure overboard for 1 less gold coin? Take 1 extra gold coin from the safe? C'mon. Admittedly, these cards are balanced out by some very wild and powerful ones, but I feel that the additional number of roles has watered down the core gameplay that made Citadels so memorable.

Let me backpedal a bit. I do enjoy Mad Zeppelin, and it's one of those games where you think to yourself There's something really great here.

There are a few ways to make things better. For starters, after you've been dealt your first role randomly but before everyone picks their second role, roll the color dice. This helps tremendously in forming a strategy and it also gives you a bit more information to guess the role of your opponents. I daresay it fixes the game.

Still, getting to know all of the roles will take a bit of time, and not everyone is going to want to devote that sort of effort. Yes, I am someone who actually does have a small group who has played this game often enough to learn the roles, and I can happily report that you do begin to see the same sort of trickery and guesswork that made Citadels so much fun, but this was after several plays. You aren't going to see much trickery, nor are you going to be able to accurately guess your opponents' roles, within your first few games, and that's a shame.


courtesy Germflinger

The Verdict

Mad Zeppelin is almost an awesome game. It needed just another month or so in the oven. Learning all of the various roles is - unfortunately - going to be a bit too much for most groups, and I really wish the designers took that into account. If you really have your heart set on this one and you're willing to invest the time, you'll be pleased to know that the game does blossom once the entire group is comfortable with the roles. Then the backstabbing and trickery can begin. The dice-rolling phase should be before picking your role, not after, but other than that Mad Zeppelin is pretty good.

Thanks for reading!
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Andy Pelton
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Hucknall
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One thing that was missed and is a big help is the Traitor Reference Cards have no indication of which colour each traitor is.

The cards do go from North clockwise with 3 traitors in each colour, but when playing this is not that obvious, I put small coloured dots next to the relevant traitor to make identification easier so every one knew which colour a certain traitor is.
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Brian McCormick
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peltazoid wrote:
One thing that was missed and is a big help is the Traitor Reference Cards have no indication of which colour each traitor is.

The cards do go from North clockwise with 3 traitors in each colour, but when playing this is not that obvious, I put small coloured dots next to the relevant traitor to make identification easier so every one knew which colour a certain traitor is.

That's a great idea! I didn't think of that. I was too distraught by the fact that there aren't enough reference cards in the first place.
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