is the newest economic and logistical game by designer Martin Wallace.
Playing Time: 2 hours
Summary of the Components
Aeroplanes comes with: a gameboard; lots of cardboard tiles for airports, passengers, money, and advantages; a cloth bag; a set of unique "aeroplane" cards; some wooden tokens; and dice.
Quality: The board and cardboard bits are all sturdy and linen-textured. The cards are instead printed on glossy cardstock, but still seem suitably sturdy. All of the other bits are good quality too, with the dice being standouts because even the skull on the "risk dice" is debossed so that it won't fade away with use. 5 out of 5.
Beauty: The 46 individually illustrated "airplanes" are all very attractively illustrated. Unfortunately the rest of the artwork for the game is pretty so-so. Much of it looks it's either drawn from clip art or computer generated, and the board looks both computer generated and overly busy. 3 out of 5.
Usability: The main goal of getting passengers to cities in certain regions has been made somewhat simpler by color-coding the regions … which is a start. You still have to know where specific cities are, but there fortunately aren't that many on the map (and for the origination cities, icons help you connect things up).
Beyond that, there are a number of small missteps. The biggest problem is that the board layout makes it hard to see which passengers are originating in which cities. A more minor concern is that there isn't anywhere to put the advantage tiles, even though there are spaces on the board that are almost big enough. One final small usability complaint is the fact that the cloth bag is just barely big enough for the passenger tiles, which makes shuffling them annoying.
Overall, a bit of work has been put into the usability, but it's probably offset by the small problems 3 out of 5.
Theming: When you play a Martin Wallace game, you generally have to assume that it's abstracting a larger economic model via what appear to be specifics. So here, for example, you have passengers trying to get from one airport to another — but for it to really make sense you have to assume that you're creating general travel routes for populations, not for people. With that understanding, Aeroplanes shows off the idea of an evolving airplane industry, particularly as it changes in the later years. 4 out of 5.
On whole, Aeroplanes is well produced and has some fun theming, but the beauty and usability are more ordinary. I've averaged that out to a Style rating of "4" out of "5".
Summary of the Gameplay
The object of Aeroplanes is to earn victory points mainly by controlling the most airports in various regions and maximizing profitability in each of three eras.
Setup: The game starts with each player getting a small fund of cash and a starting airport in one of six major cities (Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, and Zurich). Passengers with specific destinations are then placed in each major city.
Taking a Turn: As is typical for Martin Wallace games, on your turn you take one of several actions. Things thus move forward pretty quickly. The actions are:
Buy an Aeroplane. Aeroplanes are priced out in a Dutch auction — the newer a plane is, the more it costs, until the intermediary ones are bought. When you buy an airplane, you get two things: 1 or 2 airports that you'll be able to place and some amount of passenger capacity.
Place Airport Tiles. On your turn, you can place as many airports as you want, making taking this action a major question of efficiency. You can always place airports adjacent to places that you already have airports, but to place them further away (or to place them in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, or South America), you must make "risk" die rolls.
Risk die rolls can result in really bad things if you're unlucky: you can totally lose an airport you're trying to place. Beyond that, if you succeed, great, while if you fail, you can either pay to make up the difference, or else decide you're done placing airports.
In later rounds, you can actually build over airports built by your opponents, provided that your new ones are better (and provided that you don't have any other ways to build an airport in the city in question).
Claim a Passenger Tile. If you have an airport in a passenger's origination city and an airport in his destination city, you can take that passenger — provided that you have enough remaining carrying capacity for him.
Buy Advantage Tiles. You can spend a buck to gain 1 or 2 advantage tiles, which can help with risk rolls, aircraft damage, passenger loading, and airport acquisition.
Take a Subsidy. If all else fails, you can take a buck. Players will inevitably have to do this as they run out of money to buy new planes (which is what gives you the airports which is what lets you take passengers).
Ending a Round: There are only a set number of subsidies. When they're gone, the round ends. At this point, players earn majority-control points for who has the most airports in each of Europe, Africa, and the East.
In addition, players earn majority-control points based upon the profitability levels of their airlines. This is calculated by adding the value of passengers transported and then subtracting the amount of empty airplane space left.
A new round begins with each player having even more money to spend than in the previous round.
Ending the Game: After the third round, the game ends. Players will have earned most of their points from those majority-control scorings. Some passengers may also be worth points — and this can be very notable if you created routes to more distant places like Australia, North America, and South America. Finally, some airplanes may be worth points (but those are pretty minor). In the end, the player with the most points wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Thematically, Aeroplanes reminds me most of Martin Wallace's Automobile, mainly because they're both logistical games about taking advantage of evolving transport technology. The gameplay is actually quite different, as Automobile was about selling the cars produced, while Aeroplanes is about moving passengers with the airplanes.
More generally, Martin Wallace does a lot of serious logistical & economic games, and this one feels like it fits right into the category.
The Game Design
Aeroplanes is generally a thoughtful logistical game, where there's lots of opportunity to plan ahead as you figure out how you're going to stretch your tight dollars to connect up airplanes purchases, airport supplies, carrying capacity, passenger sources, and passenger destinations. There's enough thinking that you can get paralyzed (APed) if you're not careful … but that means there's lots to think about overall.
To keep things lively, Aeroplane also has plenty of brinksmanship and a bit of luck.
The brinksmanship shows up in almost every aspect. You have to worry about players grabbing airplanes before you or scant airport locations or even passengers. A peculiar first-player system (where the first player changes somewhat randomly from turn to turn) raises the stakes even higher. (I'm not sure if it I liked the first-player system, mind you; it was a little fiddly.)
The randomness comes primarily through those risk rolls. You have to decide whether to take for-sure airport placement (because they're adjacent) or riskier runs down "purple" and "black" routes, that could destroy your airport or ruin you financially. It's a nice balance (and also gives you something to try out if you start to find yourself behind).
And then you have the pure aggression of building over other players' airports. It builds into the game's brinkmanship (as building lower-value airports has a possible downside that you have to think about) and also gives players some opportunity to work against their opponents. (On the downside, it may provide some kingmaking possibilities too, depending on how in-tune your players are with the results of over-building activities).
Overall, Aeroplanesis an enjoyable heavy euro. I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Aeroplanes is a serious logistical euro with just enough randomness and just enough player interaction to keep everyone on their toes. It'll be of interest to players who like more serious, logistical games.