Airlines (Abacus Spiele)

Game by Alan Moon.

Review by Bob Rossney.

Airlines is a game of network-building and speculation.

The game board is a network of cities connected by routes. Each route has one or more circles on it, indicating the number of different airlines that may use the route before it becomes closed. Each route is drawn in one of five different styles of line, indi- cating which region the route belongs to.

There are nine airlines in the game, each identified by a color and a (meaningless) three-letter code, each having a stock of markers that are used to indicate routes that the airline controls. Each airline can fly in a specific set of regions.

Finally, there are two decks of cards. The stock cards represent shares of stock in each of the nine airlines, and the flight cards allow airlines to expand along routes--if the number on the card is high enough for the length of the route, and if the card's border matches the region that the route is in.

Each turn, a player may do one of three things:

  1. Draw a flight card and do nothing,
  2. Draw a flight card, play a flight card and a marker (expanding the network of one of the airlines), and draw a stock card, or
  3. Play one or more stock cards face up in front of him.

At any given time, an airline is owned by the person who has the largest number of corresponding stock cards in front of him.

Thus every turn provides a decision: do you make an airline that you control marginally more valuable, or do you make a bid to control one of the airlines on the board?

The decision is made more urgent by the fact that there are three SCORING cards buried in the stock deck. Whenever a SCORING card comes up, the game is scored--based on who is controlling the airlines in at the time the card comes up. (The game is scored once more when the stock cards run out.)

All manner of interesting things happen in a game of Airlines. A clever sabotage rule allows you to use up your opponents' markers, so they can't claim routes. If enough routes in one region get claimed, an airline that's been slow getting out of the gate can get shut down. It frequently happens that some players spend several turns dropping stock cards out of their hands fighting for control of the biggest airlines, while the people that control the smaller airlines quietly expand the size of their routes. And the capricious appearance of the SCORING cards can be devastating; every turn you don't drop stock you're taking a calculated risk.

If I were king, I'd change a couple of things about Airlines. The components are lavish -- too lavish. The board could easily be 30% smaller without the game suffering. The colored wooden markers are nice esthet- ically, but in less than white light it's awfully difficult to disting- uish some of the colors. The map on the board--which, while nominally of the United States, will be a relief to those that fear that ignorance of geography is a purely American phenomenon--contributes nothing to the game, and its colors are so weird that the routes get lost in them. Finally, I'm not sure what the designer had in mind by calling the airlines ELA, ITA, FIS, DDL, HIT, and the like. Logos and names would make it easier to distinguish them from one another.

Also, I'd make the optional rules non-optional. They say that you should bury the SCORING cards a certain depth into the stock deck, so that the game will have a chance to develop before the first scoring round takes place. This improves the game a great deal.

I heard that Alan Moon, the game's designer, is working at Avalon Hill. If there's any truth to this, there may be a hope for AH bringing this game out in the US. I'd hope so. It's addictive.

[Ken - Bob wrote this review some time ago. Since Airlines Alan Moon has gone on to found his own game company, White Wind, and design many other fine games. I heard two good rumors about Airlines at Essen 94. One was that there was a big stink when the selection commitee skipped over Airlines for the Spiel des Jahres. The other was that Airlines II is due out next year from Abacus, it addresses many of the problems Bob cited above, and it probably will be nominated. Stay tuned.]

Copyright 1994, Bob Rossney.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell