Sunday, 4 December 2011

Airlines Europe

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Airlines Europe is a game about investing in airlines, growing them, and making money from your investments. It is played on a map of Europe, with many cities depicted and many routes betweens, each having some spots that airlines can claim. There are many airline companies, and at the start of the game, each of them only has one starting airport, and their share values are low. During the game, players spend money to expand the airlines' networks by claiming routes, growing outwards from their starting airport. As these airline networks grow, the share value of the airlines also increase, and the payouts will increase too. Players also collect airline shares, and during the three payout rounds, they earn victory points (VP's) based on shareholding majority. Collecting and owning shares is a two-step process. There is an action for taking a share from a common pool (Ticket to Ride style) into your hand, and another action to play shares into your playing area. The shares need to be in play before they are considered being own by you. As the game progresses, you compete in shareholding in the various companies, and yet also cooperate in growing companies which you and some opponents have invested in together.

Shares in hand are not shares owned. You need to play them onto your playing area first. The number on the share card indicates the numbers of shares of that airline.

Front: my share holdings. Middle: The share market always has 5 cards for players to pick from. If you don't want any of them, you can blind draw from the draw deck.

One weird company works differently from others - Abacus. It doesn't have an airport and doesn't claim routes. You have to use an action to trade shares in your hand for Abacus shares. During the three payout rounds, Abacus pays out pre-determined VP's. So this is yet another company which the players compete in, albeit in a slightly different manner.

The game ends after the third payout round.

The Play

BGG says Airlines Europe is best with four, and we had four players - Allen, John, Chee Seng and I. All were new to the game. The game starts with some every player having some shares, which makes the starting positions slightly different. All of us were quite diversified in our investments. Only Chee Seng and John bothered with Abacus. Allen and I only put in token effort to gain 3rd place VP's. Money was very tight, and we often had to take the Take Money action, or Play Card action which also gave money. The Expand Airline action is tricky. For one action you can do one or two expansions. During the game I realised that it is not always better to do two expansions. Whether you do one or two expansions, you only get to take one share. Each expansion costs money, so if you do two expansions, you will soon run out of money and need to take some money-earning action. If you do single expansions, you don't get to expand airlines as quickly, but you will be able to collect more shares because of using fewer money-earning actions. This is an interesting balance.

The game board. Some cities have coloured markers, which are the airline headquarters. When expanding (claiming routes), airlines must start from their headquarters. Allen was the majority shareholder for the blue airline from the start, and he spent much effort growing it. The track around the board is for recording the share value. At this moment green and white were leading.

The orange tile is a bonus tile, which only four companies have. If the orange airline expands its routes to reach London, its share value gets a boost of 6.

This being an investment game, we had to constantly watch the share-holdings of other players, and also the shares available in the common pool. This common pool restricted our options somewhat, and prevented the game from becoming very open. You can't claim any share you want. I think this is good. The game is less absolute and less calculable. There was fighting for majority shareholding within each airline. There was also the mentality of "why don't you do the hard work since you also own shares in the company". Smaller shareholders tried to leech off the efforts of the bigger shareholders. Vested interests were very intertwined so it was very hard to not indirectly help others. The game is about how to help yourself most, how to piggy-back on others' efforts, and how to invest wisely. The payout rounds are semi-random, so you won't know exactly when they will happen. Sometimes you need to gamble a bit and hope they happen at a good time, e.g. right after you wrest majority in some airlines.

VP's were hidden so during the game I didn't have much idea who was leading and who was trailing. By game end, our scores were not far apart. Allen won, I was second, Chee Seng and John had the same score, but John won by tiebreaker - Abacus shares. Before game end I was thinking whether Chee Seng and John would win because they were the only ones taking Abacus seriously, while Allen and I didn't spend much effort. Abacus did pay out well, but I think investing in it was costly for both Chee Seng and John, because they had to fight hard for it, sacrificing shares they could have owned in other airlines. So Abacus is a clever mechanism that spices things up a little.

The Thoughts

Airlines Europe is an investment game, and investment games are generally not my cup of tea. So it didn't do much for me. I think it is well-designed and well-balanced. That is not surprising since this is a refined version of Alan Moon's previous games, e.g. Union Pacific. Airlines Europe, being an investment game, has this aspect of multiple entities (airlines) that multiple players have vested interests in. There is jostling for position in the shareholding. While the airlines compete with each other, the players have to manipulate this competition such that they as the players are the ones benefiting, and not any particular airline(s). After the game, I realised that the payouts are good for 1st and 2nd place shareholders, but drop significantly for 3rd place onwards, so there is incentive to fight for the first two spots within an airline, as opposed to simply diversifying everywhere. The way that we played may not have been the best way.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).


Aik Yong said...

how does this compare to union pacific?

and how does it compare to acquire and 18xx in terms of the share holding aspect that you like/don't like?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I haven't played Union Pacific before, so I can't comment on that.

Compared to Acquire, Airlines Europe's competition is more incremental, as in there aren't really that many big moves or sudden changes that can be made. I prefer the more drastic changes that's possible in Acquire, and of course in 18XX games too. I much prefer the share-holding aspect in 18XX games compared to Airlines Europe or Acquire. I find it more interesting and more volatile.

Lord of Midnight said...

I dun think there's any other games with a share market components that's as good as 18xx :)

OTK has Union Pacific if you wish to try that out.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Union Pacific is quite similar to Airlines Europe right? Since I'm pretty lukewarm on Airlines Europe, I probably won't be seeking out Union Pacific.