Airlines Europe is one of the latest games by designer Alan Moon of Ticket To Ride fame (I also have his earlier game Clippers). Alan seems very taken with the concepts of route building as a core concept in all these games, however Airlines Europe goes into a financial look at investment building at the same time.
For those of you that have played the classic game Acquire there are familiar elements or concepts, yet Airlines goes in a very different direction, then comes back to a similar end. The game is set in 1930’s Europe, where fledgling airlines are developing the international air routes of the modern era. Players take the role not of company CEO’s, rather they are investors who invest in various companies while influencing the route development of the individual airlines. In some ways this has a feel of insider trading, yet the result is a very interesting game with plenty of tension and good replayability.
Aim of the Game
The aim of Airlines Europe is simple, accrue the highest points over 3 scoring stages by developing the airlines routes and investing in stock. In simpler and longer terms, you use money you have to finance the route development of various airlines while discretely investing in various airlines stock to try and become the majority or significant shareholder in various airlines. There are 3 scoring stages so that points can accumulate over the game as the relative position of each stock holding is revealed.
Setting up Airlines Europe does take a few minutes. If you have everything organised in the tray inside the box this is very straight forward. The storage tray in the box is brilliant, you can have everything stowed away in such a manner that everything can be found quickly.
I have used other peoples copies where they don’t bother using the tray to organize things and it just takes longer to setup, and it makes play easier as you can keep track of the main airplane tokens easier, a useful thing later in the game.
The setup varies slightly depending on the number of players, which basically means that for fewer players there are less airlines used, so fewer plane tokens and their associated cards in the Stock card deck. The scoring rounds are placed in such a way as to create 3 slightly varying rounds, you may not end up using all the cards in the Stock deck by games end giving a variable length.
Each player in their turn gets to make a choice of four possible actions, developing airline routes, playing cards from their hand into their Investment Tableau, collecting money or buying into another airline not on the table called Air Abacus by surrendering some precious stock investment cards. As a quick aside, one of the first things that strikes you about this game is the theming, which overall is very good.
The main tokens are period JU52 planes, the map like board has a period feel. With a hint of humour, Alan Moon has named each airline after games companies and businesses that he has had great dealings with, see if you can pick them.
Players have plenty of choices each turn, and this can be guided by strategies of how you might get the investment in companies that are growing at various rates, and how to grow those slower ones you have a bigger investment in.
Then there is when to reveal your investments and takeover the investment in the airlines, what routes to develop to maximize expansions and returns, or maybe how to make bad investments with another airline someone else has to reduce its effective growth. Suddenly you seem swamped with choices as the game progresses and the full potential reveals itself.
What you have to do though is keep in mind that you are scoring 3 times through the game. These tend to creep up on you, everyone is looking at the deck trying to estimate when it will be, when they should reveal their investment or make some rapid expansions of airline routes.
When scoring time occurs, each airline is scored separately. The revealed stock investment level in the airline for each player is compared, the value in points is then allocated. The number of points each player gets depends on the size of the airline, the highest invested player scoring X points, the next roughly 1/2 X points, etc.
It is very easy and clever, and players quickly grasp that a diverse portfolio with some serious investment in 1 or 2 airlines is an ideal strategy. And that is really the trick, trying to get other people to help make your investment valuable without them realizing it.
On the one hand this is an investment game, on another level its poker, or even a great con. Its thinking, and yet speculating. Its interactive and competitive. And those planes on that map like board are just cool. Play is not as intense as , well, say Agricola. The theme is very good and visual, makes more sense than say Acquire. And there is the feel of a great gamble or con. You just get drawn in, and the deeper you go the higher the stakes start rising as the rewards get bigger for getting it right.
I really like this game because of all this, you play Airlines Europe once, think you have a winning plan for the next game and come out of the next game with a new idea for the next game.
It is hard to measure the luck factor of this game, their is one in how the card deck is created and the order the cards come out. Yet for all that, you need a degree of skill to make it work, some ability to read other players helps to to figure out what they are holding in their hands.
And that just takes us back to that poker con feel with a great investment / resource management game. The bonus is that this a well produced game, quality feel and look. Looking at a game in progress you can see that they did not skimp on production. Airlines Europe is well worth the money.
Game type: Euro abstract financial strategy
Mechanism / Skill: Route building, Set Collection, Stock Holding
Number of Players: 2-5 (3 or 4 is best)
Playing Time: 75-90 minutes
Ease of Play: 5 / 5
Ease of Setup: 4 / 5
Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Fun Factor: 4 / 5
Replay-ability: 5 / 5
Strategy Rating: 4 / 5