AIRLINES - Reviewed by Mike
Intriging business game from Alan Moon which has the players fighting to be the majority shareholders in one or more of the 9 ever-expanding airlines operating in North America. As an airline expands its network it becomes more valuable. Each airline operates over different flight routes but these contend with other airlines trying to fly the same routes and competion is fierce to continue with expansion of the network. Scoring occurs randomly 3 times throughout the game and at the end but is only relevant to those players who have declared stock holdings in an airline, leading to some difficult decision-making by each player as to which option to play on their turn.
The game is produced to a high standard by Abacus Spiele, consisting of a large mapboard of North America with the routes marked upon it, a pack of cards denoting stock holdings, a pack of flight cards used for expanding the networks, wooden markers to denote the 9 airlines that can operate on each route and scoring pads. The game can handle 2-6 players and typically takes about 2 hours to complete.
After the initial set up(described below) play is fairly straightforward but the decison-making is not. This is best explained by describing the flight routes on the board and the flight expansion cards. The flight routes can be in any one of 5 different 'types' between each major city and there is a number printed in a circle for the number of operators that can fly that route. For small hops this will be 1 only; for the longer hauls up to 3 different operators can vie for business. The Flight expansion deck consists of cards in each of the 5 types with different numbers upon them. To expand the network a player must play a card of the correct type and be of equal or higher value than the number printed on the circle they wish to cover with their wooden marker. As some airlines can fly over multiple types of flight networks the choice of route taken can decide the outcome of the game.
As if that wasn't enough the designer has also posed a dilemma when considering the scoring rules. Only stock cards laid face up on the table will count as shareholdings when scoring occurs. But if you lay stock cards as part of your turn you cannot expand the network at the same time so there is always this balance to decide which to do.
SET UP Players receive 5 stock cards and 3 flight cards, which will determine their starting strategy. Then 5 stock cards are placed face up on the side of the board and the 3 Wertung cards(scoring cards) are shuffled into the remaining stock cards and placed face down to the side of the board. The remaining flight cards are shuffled and placed face down by the board. Play is now ready to begin.
THE TURN Players can do just ONE of the following in their turn :
1. Found an airline
2. Expand an existing airline's flight network
3. Declare stock cards (and possibly sabotage another airlines flight network)
Obviously the start of the game will concentrate on option 1 as players study their cards and found the airlines. Each airline has a Headquarters from which it must start and the player requires a flight expansion card which matches the routes from this HQ and equals or exceeds the number in the lowest circle available on that route. 2 markers are placed on the board, one in the HQ and one on the flight route(making it worth 2 points for scoring purposes). For performing this option the player receives a stock card and a flight card. The flight card is taken from the face down pack but the stock card can be taken from either one of the 5 face up cards shown or a blind one from the pack. If choosing one from the face up cards another card is turned over to replenish that choice back to 5 cards.
If option 2 is chosen the player firstly takes another flight expansion card into their hand. If they then successfully expand any network they receive a stock card as reward (same rules as for founding an airline above). However they do not have to expand it and may build up their hand of flight cards but they do not receive a new stock card in this case.
With option 3 there are 2 choices. Players can either lay down as many stock cards in one airline only as they like, or they can lay just one card only and choose sabotage.(see below). Either way they receive no replacement card for choosing this option
SABOTAGE This involves placing a wooden marker of an airline with the sticker facing upwards on a valid route. Each airline only has a limited number of markers available for expansion purposes so this uses up some of them and can scupper the expansion plans of an opponent.
Each airline has a different number of stock cards according to its size. The small ones only have 7 cards whilst the large ones have 11 cards. Players must take account of this when deciding into which airline they are going to try and gain control. They only need 4 of the smaller airlines to be sure of having a majority but these will only count if laid on the table. If players see a stock card they want in the face up pile they will take it but that gives information to the other players. Because of the randomness of the appearance of the scoring cards players have to decide if its better to lay the stock cards to ensure some points against that of expanding the network. As the worth of an airline is denoted by the length of its routes they will often try for 'one more expansion' only to find that the scoring card turns up shortly after and they haven't got the stock declared !
Situations can occur where there is a battle for the majority shareholding. Suppose you have 2 stock cards in an airline declared. Another player has been collecting stock cards of this airline and declares 3 of them in their turn...they now have control ! You will still score some points as secondary shareholder but do you continue to expand it any more as the other player just gets richer ? Or do you play 1 stock card of your own to equalise the shareholding (the scoring caters for this).? This is just one example of the decisions to be made in the game.
Scoring occurs 3 times throughout the game and at the end when all the stock cards have been used. The player with the most points is the winner.
This game has stood the test of time and is enjoyable every time you play it. Replay value is high as the networks expand into different areas each time, depending upon the card distribution. Players are constantly being posed questions, such as "Do I lay my stock cards now or expand the network ? Which network will I expand ? Which route should I take ? Can I stuff my opponents ? "
My copy was published in 1990 so I'm not sure of the availability these days. Mr Moon's game of "Union Pacific" has built upon this theme and to some extents improved it, but if you can obtain a copy of Airlines I don't think you will be disappointed.