Airship Challenge 1899 is a race game for 2-6 players, ages 8+ and takes 20-30 minutes to play.
So I don't bury the lead - here are the initial issues, then I'll explain how the game plays and then go into a little more depth.
1.) The 2 player game is lackluster.
2.) I've got to pair down the number of tiles each player gets for 2-3 player games.
3.) The actual racing mechanic is neat, but to...fiddly.
4.) Expectations about what this game really is and what it looks like already vary wildly.
The Year – 1899. The challenge – Your tandem team of dirigibles, racing through canyons, valleys and the open air, must field at least one airship that is the first across the finish line. It’s the first ever Airship Challenge!
Players are owners of Dirigible Manufacturers in this grand age of steam from an 1899 that never was! To highlight the latest in steam technology and lighter than air travel you have organized the first annual Airship Challenge.
How Airship Challenge 1899 Works
Got to run my first live game of Airship Challenge 1899! Of course I immediately changed some of the rules and we restarted. It was a 2 player game, me against my 9 year old (who won in the end). I also only had to scratch out 50% of the text on 1 of the tokens, which may be a new record for me in the first live playing of any game I’ve designed.
Each Owner has ships represented by colored pawns. Each player has 2 ships in their fleet. One player should take all of the ships in their hand, shake up the pawns and grabbing them randomly one by one place them in a line on the table. The first pawn on the table represents the pole position to start off the race.
Each player then places one Minor Tail Wind token in front of them. This creates the beginning of the race conditions in your game.
Place the rest of the 48 hexagon tokens into the bag, and shake it vigorously. Then the first player draws two tokens for every player, plus one extra token. (Tokens could also be hexed shaped cards)
These tokens are placed on the table where they are easily reached by everyone. The player to the left of the first player begins the draft by picking 1 token and placing it face down in front of them. The draft goes around the table until every player has 2 tokens. The last remaining token is put back in the bag.
These initial tokens form your hand of 2 tokens. At the start of the game, savvy players will know what each other player has in their hands. Your hands however will change rapidly during the game and it’s up to each player to decide which of the three race conditions in their hands they’ll encounter.
The first player then begins the game by drawing 1 new token from the bag. After looking at this token, they then choose one of the tokens in their hand and play it. Tokens must always be played touching at least one other token. When that token’s action is revealed, it triggers every other token it is also touching. Tokens triggered in this way do NOT trigger other tokens they are touching.
In this way, each player can trigger between two and five tokens on their turn. They may trigger these in any order they choose but they must carry out the actions on every token triggered.
If, through the play of tokens any player is allowed to take a token from the table and place it into their hands, they must only take tokens that will not leave any other tokens unconnected. All tokens must be touching at least one other token throughout the game.
This allows for some fairly strategic play, where you end up with race conditions like mine (above) where I chose to trigger only two conditions many times, or like those of my daughter (below) who chose to trigger multiple conditions, multiple times.
When the last token is played, the race is over. Score the race in the following way:
A ship in 1st place = 5 points
A ship in 2nd place = 4 points
A ship in 3rd place = 3 points.
All other ships = 1 point.
Here are the immediate issues I’ve found and I’m always open to suggestions as to how to handle them or what a change I could implement to make the game better.
Tokens. First, in a two player game there were way to many tokens. My first initial change before we even started the game was as follows:
2 Player games use 24 (of the 48) tokens chosen randomly.
3 Player games use 36 tokens.
4+ players use all tokens.
I would love to have an additional set of tokens say 2 of each, 3 different types for six total new tokens so that even 6 player games would have some variability over what was in the game or so that a six player game could use all of them and extend out for an additional turn.
Pawns. I really like the mechanic of the actual race – the pawns really don’t go anywhere, they don’t travel around a track or move around the table. It’s only their position that changes. This works really well in every aspect except that its, for lack of a better word, fiddly. They do tend to migrate slowly up and down the table, depending on which pawn is moving ahead of another. Were I a publisher spending money on this game I may consider some kind of sliding cardboard thingy which would facilitate this. When you’re acting on these pawns up to five times a turn, while that bit is quick, its still… fiddly. I’m thinking on this aspect now but would love to hear any thoughts or ideas on it.
Adjustment to player expectations. Lots of people see the nice, chunky race condition tiles and think “Ooh! We’re going to make the game board as we go along!” This isn’t the case in this game, you’re simply constructing a series of conditions through which your airships (and other players airships) may travel through. My 9 year old is very adaptable and ran with it and I was expecting it but I can tell from initial reactions and responses to the pictures I posted on line that most folks don’t immediately go to that. I think this can be managed simply by being very up front with how the tiles are used.
The Two Player Problem. The game, with two players, is enjoyable and interesting but there’s just as many pawns out there as I’d like to make it really engaging and to make it feel like each player is making a real, tactical decision every turn. Two solutions I’ve though of is either adding in 2 extra pawns of any color, or giving each player 3 airships to race with. Either way the total pawn count climbs to six – in the first solution there are two extra ships you’re just trying not to let get in front of you. You’d prefer they be in front of the other player however. In the three pawns each situation, each player is managing three ships and have to take into account the scoring (that a 2nd/3rd place combo will beat a 1st/4th place combo). I feel like the second solution is the better but I’m going to have to play it out to find out.