Monday, 5 October 2009


Date: Fri 25 Sep 2009
Venue: Carcasean boardgame cafe

Airships is a dice game by Andreas Seyfarth, designer of Puerto Rico and Thurn & Taxis, both award winning games. In the past few years there seems to have been a burst of dice games being published. In many of them, you can roll dice multiple times, and each time you freeze a certain number of dice. This seems to be the most common mechanism for dice games. Airships is different - your only roll your dice once. The game moves faster and there is less waiting time between players.

The game is about collecting tools to eventually help you build airships. You score most of your points by building airships. Some tools also give points if you manage to acquire them. At the start of the game, you can roll two white dice on your turn. On the game board there are various tools (cards) available to be acquired. Each card tells you the requirements to acquire it, and the benefit it gives. Requirements are stated in the form of using a specific number of dice in a specific colour (or some specific combination of colours), and a target number. E.g. two white dice and one red die, to achieve 10. So if you want to target that tool, you must have the ability to roll at least two white dice and one red die. It would be better if you have the ability to roll more, because then after you roll the dice, you can pick the ones with higher numbers. The dice in the three different colours, white, red and black, have different number distributions.

When you win a card, it gives a certain benefit, e.g. allowing you to roll an additional red die starting from your next turn, or allowing you to add 1 to a black die, or allowing you to roll two red dice in lieu of three white dice. There are 6 types of tools, and your player board can only accommodate one of each type, which means if you get a tool of a type which you already have, you must discard the old one. This makes things interesting. I found that I could never really build a perfect engine. There just aren't enough slots (or enough time) to build myself some invincible combination that allows me to roll 3 white, 3 red and 3 black dice. You are forced to make tough choices and to choose a path. Do you go for more red dice and fewer black ones? Do you go for a smaller number of each type of dice?

Building an airship works the same way as acquiring a tool. The requirements are laid out in the same format. The reward is victory points, instead of new abilities. There are two ways that the game can end - either all four stacks of normal airships are depleted down to one card or less, or the all four stages of the Hindenburg, the largest of all airships, are built. This creates a twist in the end game, as different players may have different interests in how they want the game to end. The victory points for building stages of the Hindenburg vary depending on whether the Hindenburg is completed, so if you have spent effort on the Hindenburg, you'd want to make sure it gets completed.

One thing that makes Airships quite different from many other dice games is you make the decision before you roll your dice. You don't roll, and then see what you get, and then decide how to use them or which ones to freeze or which ones to reroll. The key decision is which tool (or airship) to target for when your turn comes. You evaluate the risks and rewards before you roll your dice. There is also a long term strategy element in the game. You need to think of how far you want to improve your engine (dice rolling ability) before you start targeting the airships. You need to think of how to customise your engine. The game moves quickly and you don't have much time to fiddle around trying to fine-tune your engine. It's a race!

My player board. My personal tile (top right) gives me one white die (this is the default for everyone). I already had 4 tools, which give me (a) one more red die, (b) one imaginary red die showing value 4, (c) one more white die, (d) the ability to add 1 to one red die.

The central board is very long. At the top is the Hindenburg, which is built in 4 stage, followed by the four stacks of non-Hindenburg airships. The rest are the six types of tools (called expansions in game terms) available to players.

The airships. Each stage of the Hindenburg has two numbers (hollow star and yellow star). The former is the points if the Hindenburg is not completed, the latter is for when the Hindenburg is completed.

Later on in the game. My player tile (top left) had been flipped to the advanced side, giving an additional red die. I had replaced my purple expansion with a different card. I had obtained a brown expansion giving me an additional white die, plus two "+1" tokens (one-time benefit). On the bottom left, I had acquired an airship card giving 2pts.

Our 4-player game played quite quickly. Same four players who had just played 7 Ages for 7 hours, so Airships was a light closer for the day. Chong Sean was rather unlucky, and actually ended the game with 0pts! In Cantonese: 老猫烧须. Han won the game, the key being victory points from tools. We underestimated that. The rest of us only scored points from the airships themselves.

Airships was better than I expected. I didn't expect much from a dice game, but it turned out to be different. There is more thought and more longer-term strategy to it than I had expected. Being a dice game, there is definitely luck in the die rolls (just ask Chong Sean), so sometimes even the best-laid plans can backfire. There are many meaningful decisions to be made throughout the game. Turns are quick (because you only roll once). I consider this one of the better dice games that I've played.


Chong Sean said...

there are a few rules that we played wrong...
1. you can exchange 3 "+1" chips to have another go(that why i lost the game!)
2. Once started building hindenburg, only buiding hindenburg can get the +1 wooden airship.

I like this game very much!
At 1st i thought it was something like pickomino push your luck type.
But turn out to be a light strategy game.

Han said...

OK. That make sense. We had too many +1 chips laying around doing nothing. The 2nd rule also make going for Hindenburg more important.

I blame our rule explainer!! :)

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Sorry guys, this is completely my fault. I just checked my rule summary sheet, and I actually had written down both these points. But I taught the game so hurriedly that I didn't read my own ref sheet properly.

Indeed Airships turned out to be better than I expected too. Let's play again the next time I'm back. Likely around Chinese New Year next year.

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jajajajaja, funny really funny, this game looks like play Monopoly, but with Airships, my father must to travel so much for her job, he tell me about this game.