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Kyle Woods
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I recently acquired a delightful little game called Kings of Air and Steam. Though not heavy in the theme department, if does provide an interesting goods delivery experience. It also includes variable player powers, and asymmetry is always a plus in my book.

Ultimately, the game looks great and is fun to play. It provides a great intro or a refreshing revitalization to the field of goods delivery with less randomness than some other games (e.g. Merchant of Venus) and less boredom than others (e.g. any of the many generic Euros with no theme and lots of cubes). In total, I am willing to overlook the game’s relative lack of theme and award it 7 out of 10, as follows.

Theme

Gameplay

Components

Storage

Rulebook

Artwork

Challenge

Solo Suitability


OVERVIEW:

Goods delivery games are a dime a dozen, and for some reason they feel it necessary to have effectively no theme to their gameplay. They all follow pretty much the same formula – you move some vehicle to one location, pick up a good, then move to another location to turn the good in for some sort of reward. Common themes that appear in these games are fluxuating demand and some sort of uncontrollable movement. The genre is best defined by two classic games: the German classic “Auf Achse” and the American “Merchant of Venus.” Both are good games for anyone interested in the history of this type of game.

The problem with goods delivery games is that they tend to feel the same. This is likely because the ultimate goal of the game is really pretty plain – move cubes from one location to another. In this light, it doesn’t really matter if you are pretending the good is machine parts, nuclear waste, or space dust. The games tend to focus you on the game mechanisms and do not allow much room for theme.

Kings of Air and Steam is, in this light, no exception. It is very focused on the aim, which is moving cubes from one place to another in order to get money. Therefore, the game has to try hard to distinguish itself in order to earn its place in a collection.

THEME:
The game claims a “Steampunk” theme, which is something of an enigma to me. Perhaps I’m just too old, but to me Steampunk just means the game features metal glasses, Zeppelins, and green monocles. I’m not sure how that counts as a theme, actually. It’s more an art design style. Be that as it may, the chosen “theme” is very present in the game’s components and artwork.

GAMEPLAY:

The game involves managing several moving parts. The main mechanisms see players pre-programing their movement for 4 turns by selecting four movement cards and placing them in the desired order. Each turn, players reveal their selected card, move their Zeppelin that many spaces, and then perform an action. After four turns, there is some upkeep, and another round begins. After 5 rounds, players tally their scores and the winner is determined.

That is just a surface level of the game. In fact, there is much more going on.

For example, action card selection requires careful planning. Players have identical sets of movement cards, plus one unique card. Each card features 0-2 diamonds on the bottom and a letter from A-E at the top, in addition to a large number to determine movement. The letter at the top will determine player order that round. More importantly, the diamonds will determine whether the card is ‘legal’ to be played. Each player’s Zeppelin will have a diamond level, and this determines how many diamonds the player can play each turn. If the player mistakenly played a card that would bring his cumulative diamonds for the turn above his diamond level, the player’s entire turn is skipped, which can be devastating.

Movement is simple. The cards range from 0-5 in the basic hand, with some of the unique cards going higher. When played, the player must move his Zeppelin exactly as many spaces as shown on the card. The only real restriction on movement is that the Zeppelins generally cannot make a sharp turn and cannot finish the movement on a city space. After moving, the player has the opportunity to pick up or drop off cubes if applicable.

Since the cubes are the goal in the game, let us examine how they are delivered. Unlike most delivery games, Kings of Air and Steam features a two-tiered delivery mechanism. First, the player must pick up goods with his Zeppelin and deliver them to a train depot. The player then delivers the goods along the rail lines to their ultimate destination.

Each turn, the player performs one action, and as expected, the actions are designed to facilitate more efficient delivery of goods. For example, players can upgrade their Zeppelins to allow more cargo storage, or upgrade their trains to allow for longer-distance delivery. Players can also place more depots or use their existing rail networks to make deliveries. As needed, players can also use their action to make a one-space course correction or take money from the bank.

Play continues for 5 rounds, at which time scores are tallied. Final scores consist of the cash players have on hand, plus 10 for each depot players have built, and bonuses for reaching certain upgrade levels.

The game contains two versions – one that gives each player unique player powers and one which doesn’t. However, the only real way to play the game is with the special powers – they add a layer of strategy and asymmetry without adding significant additional complications.

THEME AND GAMEPLAY:

The “theme” is not strong of its own, and therefore has trouble carrying over onto gameplay. At its heart, this game is about network building, action planning, and resource management. The mechanisms are geared toward that end, and the game feels more about maximizing the 20 turns each player is given than anything else.

Don’t misread this into thinking the game is not fun to play, just that the theme (weak to begin with) is not heavily present. However, the art style is consistent and feels right for the gameplay.


COMPONENTS:

Overall, despite the fact that it is not super-thematic, I have to admit that the game looks great!

1. Zeppelins: The game comes with 7 large plastic Zeppelins. These look great and help enhance the feel of the game. They are a nice quality plastic, large, and detailed. The only problem with them is that they may be a bit too big for the board – if more then one occupies a space, this creates some logistical problems.

2. Board Tiles: The game comes with several large single-sided map tiles, divided into several hexagonal spaces. They are thick and well-illustrated. Actually, I love the way they look: they have clouds that add a nice 3D aspect that adds to the theme without getting in the way.

3. Cubes: Well, these are – basically just cubes.

4. Player tokens: These are standard wooden houses and markers

5. Money: Somehow, Tasty Minstrel Games missed the discussion in recent years regarding paper money. As a game component, it just gets in the way of gameplay, it sticks together, it’s fragile, bends and tears easily, is hard to store, and just generally is a poor way to keep track of money in games where this is important. In Kings of Air and Steam, unfortunately the money is paper. While it is well-illustrated and consistent with the art style, it displays all the annoying characteristics of paper money that frequent gamers have grown to hate. Break out your poker chips, guys!

6. Player boards: These are thick, heavy, high-quality, well-illustrated, and easy to use. They contain all the relevant information, including a useful turn-phase summary. They greatly facilitate teaching and playing the game, and they look great too.

7. Individual character boards: These are also high-quality, thick, and good looking. They have nice pictures and clearly describe the special abilities involved.


RULEBOOK:
The rulebook is very complete and explains the game well. It also is well-illustrated and conveys the art style as well as the gameplay. The rulebook contains many examples and is easy to read and reference. After only one time through, I was ready to play. The game components (especially the playersheets) make the rulebook relatively obsolete once players know the game. Overall, the rulebook is exemplary.

ARTWORK:
I love the artwork, and it all works together well. The pieces and components contain many small touches and the game comes off as elegant from start to finish. When all set-up, the game looks beautiful, presenting a landscape of lakes, clouds, and traintracks that all works well -- with airships sailing high above.

Also, for my limited knowledge of the steampunk world, all my expectations are met – the game has plenty of Zeppelins and green monocles, so I was satisfied.

STORAGE:
The game designer was obviously not concerned with storage. Some of the components are so big they barely fit in the box, and there is no box insert worth speaking of.

REPLAYABILITY:
The different types of special powers and the large player count aid the game’s replayability. I don’t know if this would last forever, but I can certainly play it 10 more times and still find a great deal of enjoyment.

DIFFICULTY AND COMPLEXITY:
This is a very easy game to teach and learn. Though the strategy may require some working through, I find the game is easy enough to learn very quickly. However, the diamond system may be unforgiving for new players. The game offers a wide variety of paths to victory, and I have found that games are generally quite close.

TIME TO FUN RATIO:
The game actually hits its ratio quite nicely. Generally, an hour-and-a-half to two hours is about perfect for the game. With fewer people, obviously the game will be a little faster. However, the movement planning stage can be daunting for some players and can lead to heavy over-analysis which can vastly increase playtime as well. I suggest a sand-timer or similar timing system if you play with people who tend to drag their feet. I have not yet played the game with 7 players, though, but I think this is one of the few medium-weight games that I think could actually work with that many players.

SOLO SUITABILITY:
The game does not come with solo rules, nor would it be much fun by yourself. I suppose you could play two or three different players against yourself, but the secret action selection might be difficult to accomplish on your own.

COST AND VALUE:
Kings of Air and Steam retails for $59.95, but can be had at Coolstuffinc for $39.99. Full-price might be a bit much for this game, but for the discounted price, it’s perfect. The game feels like a high-quality production from start to finish, so $40 won’t feel like too much.

GENERAL COMMENTS AND FINAL THOUGHTS

The game is a hard one to describe accurately. However, it’s a good introduction to delivery games, it’s easy to teach, and it’s fun to play. Just as a note, though, you should never play with the “basic rules” – always use the full version with the asymmetric player powers.
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Jeffrey Goetz
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You suggest it's probably good at the higher player count numbers, but what about lower player counts? Most of my games are with 2, sometimes three. Does it scale down as well as up?

Great review - I like this format a lot!
 
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Michael Mindes
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StckFigure wrote:
You suggest it's probably good at the higher player count numbers, but what about lower player counts? Most of my games are with 2, sometimes three. Does it scale down as well as up?

Great review - I like this format a lot!


2 is very good. 3 players is the weakest (the board is big and free of much competition) for Kings of Air and Steam.
 
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Scott Almes
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DrMayhem wrote:
StckFigure wrote:
You suggest it's probably good at the higher player count numbers, but what about lower player counts? Most of my games are with 2, sometimes three. Does it scale down as well as up?

Great review - I like this format a lot!


2 is very good. 3 players is the weakest (the board is big and free of much competition) for Kings of Air and Steam.


For 3 players, I suggest the cutthroat variant, included in the rulebook, where you play on the 2 player board. It's very tight, and somebody is going to be left without goods in their hold, so you have to plan just right
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Mathue Faulkner
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DrMayhem wrote:
StckFigure wrote:
You suggest it's probably good at the higher player count numbers, but what about lower player counts? Most of my games are with 2, sometimes three. Does it scale down as well as up?

Great review - I like this format a lot!


2 is very good. 3 players is the weakest (the board is big and free of much competition) for Kings of Air and Steam.

I agree with this.

Even with the cutthroat variant, it is unsatisfying due to the lower # of factories. Goods never build up and there ends up being a lot of wasted turns. There are a couple ideas on variants for 3p, but I haven't read any feedback on how they play.

2p is a little looser in terms of gameplay, but it's still great fun. Almost all of my plays have been 2p.
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Matt Smith
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I've played the game with some players who don't like paper money, and they were all surprised at the quality of the money in this game. It's thicker than normal paper "game" money, and actually feels like real money. We didn't experience any problems with it sticking together, tearing, etc. Of course, it's still pretty new.

Nice review, BTW. I agree with all of your other observations, especially the unforgiving diamond system.
 
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Lane Taylor
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The only thing I disagree with is the theme. Maybe it's just because the whole airship thing already screams 'steampunk' to me, but I find this is one of the stronger themed games.

Now, to make it bastard hybrid with Age of Steam..... ninja

What can I say, I like games that take 4+ hours.... whistle
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Patrick Reynolds
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KRWoods1 wrote:
Just as a note, though, you should never play with the “basic rules” – always use the full version with the asymmetric player powers.


I play the basic version with my six-year-old, and it's perfect. I'm glad they included it.

With gamer friends, I think your advice is spot on, though.
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