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Subject: First Impressions after 1.67 Plays rss

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GenCon: 1 play through Era 2 (5-players), 1 full game (4 players).

Disclaimer: I'm a Wallace fanboy
Update: now with a few pictures (thanks BGGers!) -- I'll add more when better images are available!


--- Rule Summary ---
The board shows a map of Europe, with cities connected by white (mostly) lines. There are 6 major cities, each with spaces for 3 airports (at the start of the game, in reverse turn order, players will place their home base in a different one each), and several smaller ones with spaces for 2. There are 24 spaces (4 for each of the 6 major cities) on the top edge, which are filled with random passenger tiles (1-3 people per tile, which also shows desired destination).
The lower half of the board shows cities in Asia, Africa, and links to N. and S. America (2 airport spaces each), connected to each other by purple and/or black lines. A deck of airplane cards (sorted in numerical order, divided into 3 eras) is placed to the side, with the top 12 (or so) planes placed in a row. Give the First Player Die to a randomly chosen player.

Era Begins
At the start of each Era, place 8 coins and a marker in the Subsidy Box and give each player $12/$22/$32 in Era 1/2/3. In Era 1, this may be modified by Home location. The player holding the First Player Die goes first.

On your turn, take ONE action:
- take a coin from Subsidy. If coins gone and you take the marker, the Era (or game, after Era 3) ends: score and do upkeep.
- buy a plane card: cost = price on card + number of planes skipped over. Comes with a number of airport tiles as shown on the card (1 or 2). Worth 0 or 1 VP at end of game. Also shows passenger capacity (1-6). (This represents not a single plane, but a "fleet" of planes capable of serving 1 or 2 airports, carrying x passengers)
- place airport tile(s): may place tile into free space one connection away from your Home or previously placed airport. Extended Range planes are needed for some marked routes; also, they allow you to skip one link. First white-link connection (Europe only) has no risk; 2-length connection (extended-range planes only) requires you to roll sum 10+ on 3d6 for white linke. All purple and black links have risk (need 12+ for purple, 14+ for black). Rolls are modified by +2 if there's already an airport there. You must roll for all connections used. Some routes (e.g., N and S America) require multiple successful rolls (but still count as 1 link). If you roll low, may spend money and/or advantage tiles (for non-European links) to make up the difference. Failure immediately ends your turn. The dice 1-face is actually a 0-engine failure: take an engine failure counter. If you get 4+ of these counters, your airport is removed from game; discard all your engine failure counters; turn ends immediately. May only have 1 airport/player/city. If no empty spaces, may build over opponent's airport with higher-Era airport. Some airports (Americas) give the first 2 players placing airports there an immediate VP/cash reward as shown on board.
- claim a passenger tile: must have your airports in both starting- and destination- locations, as well as a plane with available capacity: place passenger on that plane card.
- buy advantage tile(s): pay $1. Then, either choose one of the available tiles (2 available in Era 1; 2 more in Era 2; all 5 in Era 3) or roll 3d6 and take any 2 (the advantage tiles are numbered 2-6; Engine Failure rolls are wild). These provide a variety of bonuses:
... Daring Pilot: +3 on risk rolls when outside Europe (use after rolling; may use multiple/turn)
... Engine Maintenance: discard all your engine failure counters; may only use at START of your turn
... Increased Production: when you buy a plane, place an extra airport on it (may use max 1/turn)
... Night Flight: claim an extra European passenger (may use multiple/turn)
... Radio Beacons: when making risk rolls, may ust to ignore result and re-roll all 3 dice (may use multiple/turn)

After all players have had their turn, roll the First Player Die and pass the die clockwise that many players; receiving player is First for the next round.

At End of Era:
1. For every plane with empty capacity, place those little gray chits (let's call them "capacity chits") on the plane.
2. Calculate each player's profit = (sum of all passenger tile numbers) - (sum of all capacity chits on face-up planes). So, empty spots from planes in previous eras do not count against your calculation again. Award VP to the top 3 players according to the Era chart.
3. Players place all delivered passengers, as well as their full planes, into their score pile. The remaining planes (the ones with any chits still on them) are flipped over, placing the capacity chits and any unused airport tiles on the card backs. Note that the backs of the extended-range planes are so marked.
4. Majorities (# airports) in Europe, Australasia, and Africa: 1st and 2nd most get VP (escalating each Era)

Then, if it's not end of Era 3:
- remove 2 lowest-numbered planes on display from the game.
- if present, move 1 non-European passenger (closes to left lower corner of board) from each city to the Passenger Overflow area; next Era, you only need an airport in their destination city to claim these passenger tiles.
- refill passenger tiles by drawing from the bag
- the player who ended the Era rolls the die and passes it clockwise that many players; the recipient will be first in next Era

End of Game Scoring
After Era 3, all your planes and passengers score VP shown on their face (add to points on VP track). Highest sum wins; money is the tiebreaker.

--- Comments ---
This is one of Wallace's economic designs, but not nearly as heavy as games like Brass or Age of Steam. Deep thinkers and planners are going to HATE the turn order mechanism, which is simply a die roll (with some players favored over others, depending on the number of players in the game -- since it's always a d6). They're also not going to like the almost complete randomness of the passenger distribution: some tiles are not allowed in Era 1, but otherwise it's totally random and you do not use all the tiles; at MOST, you'll only see 72/96, and likely a lot fewer). So you may be pretty annoyed if you spend a lot of effort building out to North America, but never see a North American passenger! They may also dislike all the die-rolling required when placing airports on the board.

However, I had quite a lot of fun with it! Whereas the first group I played with thought the turn order die roll was annoying -- made it impossible to make certain plans -- the next group (full game) absolutely loved that mechanism! With all the randomness of the passenger tiles, I'm not sure that turn order stuff is really a big deal; you're going to have to play somewhat tactically anyway. I didn't time the games, but they seemed to move along fairly quickly. Like the rondel games, each turn is you're only taking one tiny little action. You have to have some idea about what you want to do over the next several turns; then, when it's your turn, you just do the next little part of your plan (although finding the right passenger on the board does sometimes take a little time)!

The biggest potential problem I see at the moment is a tactic I stumbled upon in game 2: profit points are based only on relative rank; there's no other impact from going negative. So if you build passenger capacity (and airport presence) in Era 2 and go WAY negative, you pay that penalty only once. Then, in Era 3, you're free to acquire passengers as you see fit, while everyone else is building up their economy again (buying planes in their first several actions). This would work especially well if you concentrate on Europe, and use the extra passenger Advantage tiles. Of course, if other people start using this tactic as well, it may not work quite as nicely as it did for me.

Finally, it MIGHT be nice to remove and reveal 24 passengers tiles from the game during game setup. Or maybe remove some number (24 + the number of passengers still on the board) at the end of Era 1? Then, you'd at least have some idea of whether or not any of the big-VP passengers would never be showing up.

Anyway, I'll definitely be looking to play this some more, if not get myself a copy (although the die-rolling will scare my wife off for sure!). Overall rating at the moment ... 7.5 and could go either way a bit, I think.
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Geeky McGeekface
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Thanks for posting this, Ravindra--I'm very interested in your opinion of the game. It was good to hear that all the dice rolling doesn't affect things too much. I guess my main question is, do you think it's necessary? Why do you think Wallace decided to go with something as strange as a random start player each round? Is the uncertainty it introduces a feature or just a minor annoyance?
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You're welcome!

Re: dice rolling. Necessary? I don't know. They're used in several ways:
1. To represent risk. I don't know the history enough to know why there would be risk in setting up an airport. Or maybe it's a simple way to represent the risk of the initial flights, that just happens to be tied to airport-placement for game play purposes? At least, the engine failure die-face might represent that type of risk. Anyway, a lot of people like rolling dice, and it seems a simple way to represent odds in a game.

2. To earn advantage tiles. This part works pretty well, I think: either pay for a specific advantage, or take your chances. Thematically, I can see that an airline company might gain competitive advantages semi-randomly, especially in the beginnings of the industry.

3. To set turn order. Probably the most controversial, especially for fans of heavy games. I'd guess there were at least a few reasons: I don't think this is intended to be the very strategic game that Brass is; heck, you get cash every Era and there isn't anything like interest/poverty/unrest to deal with! The random turn order helps reinforce that idea. He did something similar in Steam Barons, where company turn order is completely random from turn to turn (and there are only 5 turns! I did not like that mechanism there!). It's also sort of like Preu├čische Ostbahn, except that there you may not even get a turn if your cube isn't drawn (although your odds to improve the longer that happens)! Like in those games, the randomness helps prevent people from making definite plans, forcing them to play more tactically (but still with an overall strategy, since you will get your turn, just not necessarily at a specific time). It should also make the game move along faster. Unless, of course, someone only wants to do ONE thing and it's taken before they can do it, and they have to reanalyze their entire game every turn!

I think I'd approach this game expecting something closer to the weight of Tinners' Trail than Age of Steam. I loved TT, but it's definitely not for everyone!
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And just thinking off the top of my head, you could make a few simple changes to make this a heavier, more analytical game if you prefer:
1. Don't roll the First Player Die; instead, just pass it left (if you want the previous first player to go last next turn) or right (if you want the previous last player to go first next)
2. At the end of an Era, the player who takes that last pawn gets to go first (instead of rolling the die).
3. When awarding end-of-Era VP for profit, only give VP to players with positive profits.
4. Remove 24 passenger tiles at the start of the game. At the end of every era, count how many passengers are left in their home cities; also remove as many tiles from the tile bag. Of course, all tiles removed from the game are public.

I'm not sure that these are good changes, of course; I generally play rules as written, or not at all. But it's something to play with if you almost like the game.
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Joel Weeks
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I think you summed up the game well. Of course I too am a Wallace fan boy.

I suffered from bad dice rolls and I was still somewhat in the running even though I had several passenger tiles snatched away from me. I think I way undervalued the special abilities which is how I lost several passenger tiles. The building did put me back in the game somewhat due to the area control points and I did successfully transport a passenger to North America. You really have to have a strategy to build a network and stick to it.
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Yeah, I just played again yesterday: those Special Ability tiles can be really good! I especially like Night Flight (pick up an extra European passenger) and Increased Production (extra airport when buying a plane). The Daring Pilot is good too, especially if you like to take risky flights (although in my game, I rolled high every time but once; and I had cash to cover the shortfall that one time )!
 
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Larry Levy wrote:
I guess my main question is, do you think it's necessary? Why do you think Wallace decided to go with something as strange as a random start player each round?


Here's why we decided it was there:

Myself and the player to my left both had an airport in Amsterdam.

There was a passenger there who wanted to go somewhere long distance (so he was worth a point).

The player to my left had an airport in this passenger's destination, but had not yet taken the passenger as he was the only person who could fly him.

In a regular game, I have no chance of getting this passenger. If I build an airport at the destination, the player on my left immediately takes the passenger.

With the die, I built the airport on my turn in the round when he was start player. It came to him, he rolled the die, and if he rolled a 1, 2, 3, or 4 then I would go before him.

He rolled a 2, and I got the passenger



N.

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Don D.
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Moviebuffs wrote:
Larry Levy wrote:
I guess my main question is, do you think it's necessary? Why do you think Wallace decided to go with something as strange as a random start player each round?


Here's why we decided it was there:

Myself and the player to my left both had an airport in Amsterdam.

There was a passenger there who wanted to go somewhere long distance (so he was worth a point).

The player to my left had an airport in this passenger's destination, but had not yet taken the passenger as he was the only person who could fly him.

In a regular game, I have no chance of getting this passenger. If I build an airport at the destination, the player on my left immediately takes the passenger.

With the die, I built the airport on my turn in the round when he was start player. It came to him, he rolled the die, and if he rolled a 1, 2, 3, or 4 then I would go before him.

He rolled a 2, and I got the passenger



N.



This is a clever play, but what do you mean by "in a regular game I have no chance of getting the passenger"? Games with auction allow you to valuate the passenger and bid a lower amount to try and get a good deal for yourself. Some games allow you to spend less money than the others ensuring you go first next turn and do what you want. Some games allow you to take the "start player" action and make sure you get what you want the next turn.
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