Airlines Europe - from prototype to final product
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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I started working for ABACUSSPIELE as an internship last year in July. Although it was not my first experience in publishing games Airlines Europe was the first big project I was closely involved.

This geeklist is for all those who want to know more about Airlines Europe and how a game evolves from the prototype to the final product. I would also like to share some experiences I made about the creativity and the restrictions you have as a publisher. Being new to the business it helped me understanding the gaming industry better and I'm sure learning has only just begun .



The first three entries are just an introduction. I will upload some pictures of the prototype soon. So stay tuned
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1. Board Game: Airlines [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:4334]
Board Game: Airlines
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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Let's start with a bit of history: the original Airlines was released in 1990 and was one of the first board games of the author Alan R. Moon and also of the publisher ABACUSSPIELE.

I have to admit that I have never played Airlines before and probably wouldn't even have seen a copy as it is long out of print now. In 1990 I was 9 years old and although my father bought a Hoity Toity for my sister and me I was far from loving boardgames at that time whistle

I think the components were quite good for that time. There still seem to be a lot of people who like the game but unfortunately it is not that well known. Although being a fine game with english rules already included it was really hard for small publisher games to be noticed by the market.
When gamers asked about what projects we were working on and I told them about a successor to Airlines in most cases I saw a big '?' on their faces. This leads us to its first successor Union Pacific. Mentioning this game mostly changed the '?' to a '!'
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2. Board Game: Union Pacific [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:621]
Board Game: Union Pacific
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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Union Pacific was the first successor to the original Airlines. Being published in 1999 it featured a new train theme as well as great bits and some changes in gameplay, essentially the 'Union Pacific'. It was also nominated for 'Spiel des Jahres' this time which lead to a much wider spreading.

When I started playing games again at the age of 25 this game was already out of print. I remember reading through hundreds of reviews and making a list of all the games that could be interesting for me. Union Pacific was one of those games and I think I bought my copy at a well-known internet auction house.
I only managed to play one 3-player game (too many games, not enough time) but I was really impressed. We all liked the decisions a player has to make and the fear of not having played enough stock or trains before the next scoring. We played like 2 hours or more and this was perhaps the reason why it didn't hit the gametable more often - but I would never and probably will never sell it. It is a really fine game.
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3. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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Well, here we are, it is 2011. Airlines Europe, the successor to Airlines and Union Pacific will be in stores soon, 12 years after the last edition.
The N├╝rnberg Toy Fair is starting in 1 week and I look back at the last months which have been full of work. I have to admit that I'm feeling a little proud about it, though being only a small part of the whole project. I can only say thank you to Alan R. Moon for the great game, to my boss Joe Nikisch who gave me the chance to work in my dream job and to all the people involved in the project.
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4. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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On this picture you see the prototype gameboard we had when I played Airlines Europe for the first time. That was in July 2010. Alan began working on a new Airlines in 2007 and told me he tested many prototypes. So this is one of the later ones .
The share track is not included on this board, because this was the part of the game which went through a lot of stages in the last months for fine-tuning.

As you can see, the board is quite ehh black and white. No artwork yet but I liked my first game. I think this is very important: a good game must be fun to play even with just basic graphics.
You might notice the points and numbers for every route licence. The money and the share track system were separated at this time. The points were the money you had to pay for acquiring the route licences and the numbers were the steps to go on the share track with the company marker for it (increasing the value of that airline). I will tell you more about the share track later.

In my opinion the next step we took was a very important one. We wanted to streamline the game, so why not using just one information? Money you pay = steps to go on the share track. We simply gave every player more money and tried using the numbers in the circles. The firsts tests were fine, so we decided to print another prototype board for the fine-tuning. Adjusting the money was the key element here and we played a lot of games in the following weeks to balance that.
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5. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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On this picture you see the "final" prototype gameboard. More colorful this time and with share track included .

Everytime we had a new share track we sticked it on the existing one, but the map nearly didn't change. With the share track you no longer had to count the airplanes/trains on the board during scoring. Instead everytime you buy a licence you move up the company marker on the score track immediately - in case you miss that, the information is also recoverable. Mainly the share track was necessary because the value increase for each licence purchased was diffrent (the number in the circle). To me it is also a general improvement because I didn't like the counting of the airplanes/trains during scoring - it feels like more gameplay and less scoring time now .

There are now 4 distant connections (the ones that go off the board) on this prototype board instead of 2 (see last board). They were initially planned to be exclusive for the airlines with the fewest airplanes/shares. They are very expensive but that airline will also make a big jump on the share track. In the final version these distant connections are no longer exclusive for the small airlines, but they should try to purchase these high valued licences. In Airlines Europe every airline should have nearly the same chance to develop up to the same level (depending on some factors which change every game of course, e.g. which shares are available when, etc.). So buying high valued licences is important for the airlines with fewer airplanes. Please note that you always have to buy the least expensive licence available...

Now let's take a closer look at the share track. The airline's company markers start at spaces with a point in their color. Smaller airlines with less airplanes have a little advantage by starting further on the track. The share track is divided in diffrent scoring regions (gray and white). To get to the next scoring region the airlines have to advance on the scoring track. At the beginning the airlines will move up fast but they soon need more steps to get to the next level. 6 steps is the highest number - after that it will get easier to advance. Each scoring region has an corresponding victory point distribution. During scoring the player with the most shares of an airline receives the first number in victory points, the second player receives the second number in victory points etc. In case of a tie the points for the players are added and divided equally - round up if necessary.
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6. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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Now let's look into the prototype box. As you can see we already had airplane miniatures taken from the AH game Air Baron. Alan must have painted some airplanes because not all colors were available in Air Baron. These airplanes are still available as they are standard pieces, so it would have been no problem to use them for the final product. The money was taken from an AH game, too - probably also Air Baron .

The share card images were sticked on a standard card set (well to be honest I don't know exactly what is beneath the stickers). Although we test a lot of other prototypes with card sleeves, to easily print out and swap the "cards" if necessary I prefer the stickers. It's a pain in the a** to shuffle sleeved cards especially for games in which a well shuffled card deck is important.

As you can see we used coins like the ones in Valdora or California as victory points. They have a good handling and it was even planned to include them in the final game in the colors copper/silver/gold. But there is one problem: they cannot be kept secret. In our test games we always played with money and victory points kept "face up". We noted the victory points for each player in each scoring to analyze the flow of the game. But for the final product we wanted the victory points to be hidden. This has a lot to do with kingmaking and to keep the tension up to the final scoring.

At first we even wanted the money to be kept secret but we came to the conclusion that it is a nice game element to keep it face up. We often used that information tactically.
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7. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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So you see we are beginning to talk about the components and how the game should look like now.

We met with Christian Fiore to talk about graphics. We had already worked out a concept. Basically we wanted the game to have a classic and not a modern setting. Although I'm very impressed by the new A380, we thought that there is something missing in a modern setting: imagination, adventure, etc.
So we talked about other settings, not necessarily realistic ones (we also talked about steam punk ). I had this picture from the movie "Catch me if you can" in my head with Leonardo di Caprio as flight captain and all the stewardesses in their classic blue dresses around. The airplanes were already quite modern but had this shiny metall look. So I made a first sketch - no not the one on this picture and no I won't upload it .
We also thought about going back further in time as Joe liked the idea of airplanes with air screws. Those leave more space for imagination than jet planes because most people are not used to it today. At the time of "Catch me if you can" there were also turboprop planes but the first airplane with airscrews that comes to your mind is ...? Well at least for us it was the Ju 52 also called "Tante Ju" ("Aunt Ju") here in Germany. We know that air travelling at that time was just developing but as I mentioned before it was not our aim to have a highly realistic setting - imagination and adventure were the key words and we wanted the players to "discover another world".
Christian made a first sketch and as you can see the cover pretty much looks like this in the final version. I was very impressed by this sketch and a lot of people even told us they want a white box with just the sketch .

Now we could start thinking more about the components. I would call it the "wouldn't it be nice phase" because you start thinking about what to include in the game without thinking about the costs at first. Because of the "oldschool" setting our first wish was to use diffrent airplane tokens. So we checked the standard pieces available but there were only modern type models available. Conclusion: we need our own model. Questions: what does that cost? And do we have enough time, as producing 112 airplane minis per game is only possible in China at reasonable costs. I can tell you that producing your own models even for an edition of like 20,000 games is veeery expensive. You could say well, that's a lot of planes but believe me it is not - this is just a small production for Chinese standards and that is one of the main problems of being a small publisher. These airplane minis are the main cost factor in the game. The time problem has to do with Chinese New Year - nobody would work during that time. That was a new thing to me and from now on Chinese New Year will be an important event in my life .

Keeping the victory points secret still was a problem. It could be solved by using a player screen, but that would add more costs as we tried to avoid adding a cardboard sheet until that point. We had some ideas about building player screens that look like hangars - this would have meant to include cardboard and plastic coins. You could also print numbers on plastic coins but that is expensive and doesn't look good in my opinion. We were so focused on plastic coins, that we overlooked the obvious solution: using cardboard for the victory points. If we could manage to save enough space on the cardboard sheet we could even print thick game summary cards and the tickets for the bonus routes (more on that later) on it. So using circles was not possible (because of the space required) and squares too boring that's why the victory points are hexagons now .
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8. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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After doing the sketch for the cover Christian focused on the share cards. Alan already gave us the company names which were based on game related companies that Alan worked with. Here are some of the names:

Days of Flying Wonders
Rio Grande Southern Europe
Lucky Hans Airways
Air Amigos
White Winds
Air ABACUS

We thought it was a nice detail especially gamers would notice and all the companies involved agreed about using "their names". Christian first designed the logos. We wanted to give the shares a vintage and "used" look and still keep the usability as high as possible. So in the developing process you always have to look at the components from 2 different viewpoints: Does it look good? How is the usability? A very good graphic designer like Christian who has experience in working for boardgame publishers will likely keep that aspect in mind and already balance design and function. But of course we test everything by showing it to people that are not part of the development process. These first reactions often show problems you would never have thought of as someone who is closely involved in the development.
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9. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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On this picture you see the bonus connection markers I already mentioned. I also talked about the plan to potentially give every airline the same chance to improve their value. These bonus connections that are exclusive for the 4 airlines with the fewest airplanes allow them to make one big extra jump on the share track when connecting the two cities on the markers. Depending on the situation in a game those airlines could be kind of blocked or at least forced to take a "painful detour". So the players thinking to be in control of these airlines shouldn't wait too long to connect the cities.
Before the decision to include a cardboard sheet we thought about somehow covering a space near the goal city of a bonus connection with a plastic marker similar to the ones used on the share track. But we liked the idea of including cardboard tiles that should look a bit like flight tickets (a little bit ). At the beginning of the game they are placed near the goal cities to have the information directly on the board. If an airline establishes its bonus connection it immediately gets the extra steps on the share track and the bonus connection marker is removed from the board.
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10. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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On this picture you see the game summary cards we included on the cardboard sheet (front and back). We always had game summaries, even in the prototype to make it easier for new players to get started. But they had german text on it and we wanted the game to be language independant. So we had to think about symbols and how to explain the actions a player can choose as simple and clear as possible. When working with symbols you cannot expect them to be as unambiguous as text. A player who has never heard the rules probably won't understand them - so the main function is that of a reminder.

Let's test it ninja. With all the pictures I uploaded in the game entry and perhaps the knowledge you have from Airlines / Union Pacific, can you tell me by looking at the game summary what are the possible actions A, B, C, and D a player can choose from?
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11. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:390]
Board Game: Airlines Europe
Matthias Wagner
Germany
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On this picture you see the box insert. As you can see on an earlier prototype picture there was the plan to include a transparent insert. The players could take it out during the game and the number of airplanes left could be better seen by the players taking part. But if you use a transparent insert you cannot leave the box bottom blank - that would not look like a professional product. So there were two additional cost factors which really make an important difference: We would have needed a box bottom with another inlay or s.th. printed on it. And a transparent insert is more expensive than a black one (don't ask me why, I would have thought it doesn't matter). We finally decided to include a black insert to keep the price for the final product in a normal range and focused on constructing the box insert as functional as possible. I had no experience with such inserts so I was quite eased when we got the first insert produced (the one on the picture) and tested that everything fitted well .



Edit: Oh, I just gave me a thumbs up - not on purpose of course. Didn't know that this is possible...
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