Am I a man or am I a muppet? If I'm a muppet then I'm a very manly muppet!
- Designers: Justin De Witt
- Publishers: Fireside Games
- Players: 2-5
- Time: 60 minutes
- Ages: 8+
- Times Played: 6 (with review copy provided by Fireside Games)
OK, let’s get this out of the way: the name of this game always makes me think Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, Muttley… and if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about, you’re substantially younger than I am. (You can Google “Wacky Races” if you’re curious… or you can check out their board game on BGG: Dastardly & Muttley in their Flying Machines. No, I’m not making this up…)
But this isn’t a racing game as much as it is a steampunk-themed set-collecting game that makes me smile every time I play it. It’s light… but not helium-filled. Dastardly Dirigibles is a filler with meaningful decisions… and I’m enjoying it a great deal.
Up, Up And Away…
After drawing up their hand to five cards, each erstwhile aerostat (seriously, that’s what they’re called) builder has three actions each turn:
- Play a card to your dirigible OR play a special (action) card
- Discard a card
- Trade a card with the Emporium (a Ticket to Ride-like lineup that contains as many cards as there are players)
- Clear the Emporium (and deal out new cards to replace them)
Each action may be taken multiple times.
The interesting twist? When Jonathan plays a Gondola Front card on his dirigible, every other player MUST play a Gondola Front from their hand if they have one. This could fill in an empty space (yeah!) or replace an already played card (boo!).
Obviously, the objective is to finish your steampunk mode of transport quickly and efficiently, as the scoring is a little arcane (as befits a steampunk-themed game). The player who ends the round by completing their dirigible receives a 2 point bonus - and other players who finish that round receive a single point.
However, each player scores for the quality of their work:
- You score 2 points for each card in the largest set of matching suit symbols you have in your creation… and 1 point for each wild card.
- If you have no wild cards and no matches, you score one point for each card in your dirigible.
- If you manage to complete your dirigible with no wild cards and no matches, you score a “Muddle” and receive 20 points. (We have yet to see this happen… and our scores for the typical 3 hand game would indicate that doing so pretty much gives you the game.)
The best score at the end of three rounds wins the game. Interestingly, there is no tie-breaker… and that’s a specific design choice from the designer. (I think it’s a good decision - the game is too light for a tie-breaker to be meaningful… and it’s another family-friendly element.)
...In My Beautiful Balloon
The artwork on the cards is quite nice- and the iconography (denoting the various “suits”) is clear and easy to read across the table. I like that the “suits” each have their own style of balloon - and that the wild cards are patchworked together out of whatever someone could find.
Moreover, the game components include 5 player mats which not only provide a nice backdrop for the steampunk dirigible you’re building, but also give the action options in a handy-dandy little chart on the side that makes the game very easy to teach.
Strategy & Tactics
OK, let’s be realistic - in game like this, there’s very little long-term strategy. But there are tactics - so let’s talk about them.
As those of you who have followed my writing about board games over the years well know, I’m a huge fan of Tom Lehmann’s Race for the Galaxy. (Free advice if you haven’t played RftG: ignore the griping about the iconography and give it a try - it’s brilliant!) As you advance in your Race for the Galaxy tactical skills, one of the key concepts you learn is “leeching” - taking advantage of the action choices of other players to advance your own cause.
That same tactical skill is just as key in Dastardly Dirigibles - setting yourself up to play cards (or not to be forced to play cards) can spell the difference between celebrating the thrill of victory or experiencing the agony of defeat. (My sly Wide World of Sports reference also shows my age… that’s becoming a theme in this review.)
Action cards are often a particular sore point for me in game designs - they can be “totally OP” (to quote my oldest son - OP stands for overpowered) or a complete waste of hand space. The action cards in Dastardly Dirigibles, however, seem to be well-designed… they can change the game without overwhelming the basic system. Because rounds in the game can be short, the question is often whether to play an action card (instead of building on your dirigible) or possibly discarding the action card in order to free up space in your hand for new cards.
Another tactical decision is when to cut your losses and stop trying to “win” the round - instead, working to have the best possible score when the round inevitably ends as one of your opponents races to the finish.
Dastardly Dirigibles does exactly what it sets out to do… provide a quick moving 30 minute filler game with interesting tactical decisions that has been well-received by kids as young as 8 as well as hardened gamers. It has well-thought-out graphic design and easy-to-teach gameplay… which makes it the perfect addition to my “games to play with non-gamer family” as well as nice opening game for game nights.
Well done, Justin & Fireside Games!
This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.