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Subject: Snap Judgment: Airlines Europe rss

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CW Lumm
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I was lucky enough to play a copy of Airlines Europe this past week. Take everything I am about to play with a bucket of salt, for the following reasons: (1) I have only played one game. (2) I played a two-player game, which is not the default. If it bothers you that I'm reviewing the game with those two facts as givens, then please, spare me the complaining and read no further.

So now that I've gotten my disclaimers out of the way, the game.

Airlines Europe is a very little bit like Alan Moon's previous monster franchise Ticket to Ride, and a little like the Chicago Express-Lite game Samarkand, but with depth that neither of the other games has.

POSSIBLY SUPERFLUOUS RULES SUMMARY

Here's how it works. The game is both a stock game and a route-building game: you invest in different airlines and build routes for those airlines. Every route you build increases the value of the company. The game scores three times, and the scoring cards are semi-randomly seeded in a deck of stocks. Companies that have more valuable routes (and are therefore farther up the VP track) score more; whomever has the most stocks gets the most points, with a steep dropoff at second, but you can still get points if you're in third or fourth in a stock that's far enough up the track. Players start with a pretty healthy amount of cash and seven stocks, of which they can play two in front of them.

Each turn, players have four possible actions:

meeple Build one or two routes and take a stock card.
As in TTR, there are five stocks arrayed atop the board; taking the stock puts it in your hand, not in front of you. Paying for routes is tricky, as well - there's always a spot for at least one airline route, and you pay the amount of money listed for the cheapest spot on any given route (there are room for 1-4 [?] airlines to occupy the same route; the prices go up, and you always take the cheapest one available).

meeple Play stock cards from your hand.
You can either play one stock card each from two different companies to the table, or as many as you want of one company. Either way, you gain $2m per stock. So the game rewards set collection, and unlike most games, you don't pay to play stocks, you get paid to do so. These are what determines who gets the most VPs when you score.

meeple Take $8m.
Besides playing stock cards, this is the only way to make money.

meeple Buy Abacus stocks.
You can pay any single stock card from your hand for one Abacus stock, or three stock cards from your hand for two. Abacus stocks get played in front of you automatically; the company doesn't have any routes or anything, but you get a set number of points depending on place. These are kind of a pressure valve - if you have nothing else meaningful to do or are stuck with too many stock cards, or if no one else has bothered, these can be a great source of VPs.

SNAP JUDGMENT

I played 18xx a couple of times and found it to be pretty tedious. I kept thinking to myself, nice, but couldn't this be streamlined a little bit...? Can't someone come up with a decent stock-oriented route-building game that plays quickly and looks attractive?

A few years later, I played Samarkand and thought the niche had been filled - I enjoyed it a lot, although it doesn't scale all that well with fewer players and the choices aren't always that difficult. But the person I played Airlines Europe with and I both agreed that not only does this make Samarkand pretty well unpurchasable, it may knock the august TTR down from the heights of route-building glory. There are a few reasons why.

(1) This is a game of pacing.
You think you're going to want to build up your airlines quickly so you can grab these bonus tiles, but there are huge drawbacks to grabbing turn and building two routes per route-building play. The really scarce value in the game is stocks, and when you're playing with few players, even having one stock of a company in your portfolio can make for a massive point swing. But you don't want to have to waste actions taking money all the time so that you can build routes and take stocks, so there are definite benefits to slow growth. The drawback is that growing slowly will mean that your opponents will get to routes first, making your route building more expensive.

(2) It's really easy to learn.
Unusually for any stock game, it took us about ten minutes to figure out the rules, but we spent much, much longer going over the mistakes we made and the crazy reversals of majority ownership that we should've planned for. It's really smooth and un-fiddly.

(3) The choices are excruciating.
Sure, you can let your opponent get away with taking Abacus stocks. But in a two-player game, if he/she has one single stock - one action's worth - and you have zero, in the third scoring, that's a gigantic VP return. At the same time, there are tons of other things you want to do, most often pulling stocks from the array - but you can't even do that if you can't pay for a route, making this an interestingly cyclical game.

SUMMARY

While this does fill a slightly different niche from TTR, if I ever had to choose between TTR or Airlines Europe, I'd play this without hesitation. It's less random - strategy depends more strongly on what other players do, and there's rarely any such thing as a useless stock card (unless your opponent has a majority sewn up, which is difficult). It'll be good for introducing non-gamers to the dynamics of stock games, too.

I suspect that this will play best with 3 or 4, but it plays well with two - you just set up a dummy stockholder in the third round, and the dummy gets any cards that you discard to play Abacus stocks. Those cards count for place in the final scoring, introducing another element of strategy, since if you're careful, you can get the dummy stockholder to edge out your opponent, costing them VPs in the endgame.

There really isn't anything to complain about in the look-and-feel department, and although I kind of prefer the faux worn look over this game's smoothly functional surfaces, the company logos and detail are all attractive, and reminiscent of Donald Draper-style ad work from the '60s.

The game is not cheap, but let's face it, its most obvious competitors aren't cheap either.

Overall, I'm giving this an 8, though that might change. I need to play it with more players to see how replayability goes, but that's really my only concern. I'm guessing this is going to hit the table at my club pretty regularly.
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John Bandettini
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Conrad

It seems to be more like Union Pacific than TTR. Have you played Union Pacific? If not, why not as I have it.
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CW Lumm
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JohnBandettini wrote:
Conrad

It seems to be more like Union Pacific than TTR. Have you played Union Pacific? If not, why not as I have it.


I have, though not in a long time; I'd be happy to play again any time, John!

The only reason I used TTR as a comparison point is they're the same designer, they both seem to be pretty ambitious route-building games with high production values, and I couldn't remember UP well enough. So you caught me!
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Richard Dewsbery
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How like Union Pacfic is it? Or the original Airlines? I have them both, but in these days of tighter budgets (and tighter shelves), I'd need some persuading to buy the *third* iteration of a game that rarely gets played.
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CW Lumm
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I think John's right - it's a lot like Union Pacific, though as I said, my memory is dim - I only played UP once, and that was a while back. The main difference between the two is the variable costs of the routes, which I think adds a layer of complexity.

Edited to add: I'm not sure I'd want to own both, but I'd much rather own Airlines Europe, which I think does a slightly better job of mitigating randomness, IIRC.
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Gabriele Pezzato
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I'm a huge fan of Ticket to Ride: Europe. I know Airlines Europe is a totally different game, although it is by the same author. Will I like it? I've read the rules and it seems much more complex in terms of initial setup, strategies and rules in general (usually I'm in charge of explaining the rules of games to my inexperienced group of players). Tomorrow I'm attending to a game fair in Italy where the game will be previewed. I'm so tempted to buy it...
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CW Lumm
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I have no idea whether you'll like it more than Ticket to Ride: Europe, though I certainly do. I played TTR at least a hundred times online, and found myself utterly burnt out on the rummy-like luck factor.

I can tell you that Airline Europe's rules are unusually easy to pick up, and perfectly intuitive once you've played through four or five rounds.
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Paul Lister
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RDewsbery wrote:
How like Union Pacfic is it? Or the original Airlines? I have them both, but in these days of tighter budgets (and tighter shelves), I'd need some persuading to buy the *third* iteration of a game that rarely gets played.


Theres a comparison of the systems here

If you want to make the comparison your self then the rules can be found here www.abacusspiele.de/?m=spiele&catid=4&id=137

I think this game is the best Euro of 2011 so far, and it would make my top five list of 2010. Highly recommended.



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CW Lumm
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Sorp222 wrote:
Theres a comparison of the systems here


Thanks for posting that, Paul.

I'd also forgotten that victory is based on money in UP, which makes it a very different game indeed.
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Rich P
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kamchatka wrote:
Sorp222 wrote:
Theres a comparison of the systems here


Thanks for posting that, Paul.

I'd also forgotten that victory is based on money in UP, which makes it a very different game indeed.


But money is used for nothing else in Union Pacific, so it might as well be called VPs. I don't feel the need to own both versions of the game: they sound almost identical and the train theme appeals more than the airline one. I like that the odd train gauge cards have been replaced with a more streamlined way of route building. They always felt the most clunky part of UP.

Thanks for the review.
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Nic Chilton
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woodnoggin wrote:
kamchatka wrote:
Sorp222 wrote:
Theres a comparison of the systems here


Thanks for posting that, Paul.

I'd also forgotten that victory is based on money in UP, which makes it a very different game indeed.


But money is used for nothing else in Union Pacific, so it might as well be called VPs. I don't feel the need to own both versions of the game: they sound almost identical and the train theme appeals more than the airline one. I like that the odd train gauge cards have been replaced with a more streamlined way of route building. They always felt the most clunky part of UP.

Thanks for the review.


Especially as you only acquire money, I know some people use a points score track instead of money. Ah few times someones played the wrong gauge card in games I've played.

As to owning both, well it depends, on how different they play. Don't forget some people own multiple versions of TTR just because they add stations/passengers, so this may be no different. I'd like to play first before I decided whether to buy
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Gabriele Pezzato
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I had the pleasure of trying the game today at a fair in Italy and I'm very pleased. As I said I'm a big fan of TtR Europe, but AE is decidedly more complex. After a bit of confusion at the beginning (due in part to the fact that the mechanics are totally new to me and my friends), we thoroughly enjoyed our session. I won a bit by surprise, because I had a lot of shares in many companies but few were the majority. I find that the game is rich in tension, because you constantly need to look at what your opponents are doing and the appearance of the scoring cards is always a source of panic!

Warmly recommended!
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andrea melegari
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I played the game at a convention last week, too.But sadly neither of us really enjoyed the game...Here are some of the point i didn't like:
-too much confusion with too many company amd color to look at
-in the advance mid game it seems like we were just playing to finish the game without really making any move that could change the final result
-the 5 cards face up where quite ignored all the time because they obviously were of the company whit lower value on the table
-i didn't feel any sort of satisfaction with my victory just as i was only lucky of drawing more diffrent shares than the other players.this seem the only viable option for a win in our game.

I'm sorry of saying this because i'm HUGE fan of alan moon's game and TTR in particular (even if i agree they are all different kind of game).And i'm not saying this is a bad game, mechanic are nice and the components fantastic but this is not by no mean a great game.I'd say it's just acceptable.

Sure one i'll give another try though!
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Matthias Wagner
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buzzlightyear wrote:
-the 5 cards face up where quite ignored all the time because they obviously were of the company whit lower value on the table


Did you clear the stock market (5 cards in the middle) before each scoring? This should show up other shares that are more interesting if the stock market has only one color available for example.
Airlines that are of lower value on the score track may bring you easy victory points. Depending on your situation it can be clever to invest in such a company.

buzzlightyear wrote:
Sure one i'll give another try though!

Great, maybe you like it better next time
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andrea melegari
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ABACUSSPIELE wrote:
Did you clear the stock market (5 cards in the middle) before each scoring?


No we didn't!I'm afraid we also had a mistake when placing the second valutation card since it appeared almost in the same turn as the last..have to re read the rules carefully and see if i get a different feeling this time!
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Mik Svellov
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RDewsbery wrote:
How like Union Pacfic is it? Or the original Airlines? I have them both, but in these days of tighter budgets (and tighter shelves), I'd need some persuading to buy the *third* iteration of a game that rarely gets played.

Richard, I have been eagerly awaiting this new updated version as it is so much better than Union Pacific (and the original Airlines).

It is easier to overlook than UP, but with stronger way of scoring and better options to choose between.

Sell the two games you have and buy the new one!
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Gabriele Pezzato
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Just a couple of corrections to the review:

kamchatka wrote:
Players start with a pretty healthy amount of cash and seven stocks, of which they can play two in front of them.


It's actually 8 stocks, not 7 (6 in your hand and 2 face-up on the table as your stock holdings)

Quote:

Abacus stocks get played in front of you automatically

That's incorrect: you have to add Abacus stocks to your stock holdings if you want to gain VPs from them, as with every other type of stocks!

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CW Lumm
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GabrielGeek wrote:
Just a couple of corrections to the review:

kamchatka wrote:
Players start with a pretty healthy amount of cash and seven stocks, of which they can play two in front of them.


It's actually 8 stocks, not 7 (6 in your hand and 2 face-up on the table as your stock holdings)

Quote:

Abacus stocks get played in front of you automatically

That's incorrect: you have to add Abacus stocks to your stock holdings if you want to gain VPs from them, as with every other type of stocks!



Yeah, I played correctly after the first play. Didn't want to correct the review, but thanks for pointing that out.
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John Bandettini
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Conrad

A bit off topic, but how can you like Joy Division and Abba? shake
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JohnBandettini wrote:
Conrad

A bit off topic, but how can you like Joy Division and Abba? shake


Easy! Compare the drum beats to "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" and "Ceremony." They're exactly the same.

Also, Abba wrote some of the most depressing lyrics of all time; Ian Curtis was practically Barney the Dinosaur in comparison with "The Winner Takes It All." "Dancing Queen" is pretty sad, too. In all seriousness, I find ABBA's reputation for bouncy, vapid music pretty contrary to reality if you listen carefully - there's always an undercurrent of melancholy.
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John Bandettini
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kamchatka wrote:
JohnBandettini wrote:
Conrad

A bit off topic, but how can you like Joy Division and Abba? shake


Easy! Compare the drum beats to "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" and "Ceremony." They're exactly the same.

Also, Abba wrote some of the most depressing lyrics of all time; Ian Curtis was practically Barney the Dinosaur in comparison with "The Winner Takes It All." "Dancing Queen" is pretty sad, too. In all seriousness, I find ABBA's reputation for bouncy, vapid music pretty contrary to reality if you listen carefully - there's always an undercurrent of melancholy.


I must admit I do get depressed every time I hear an Abba song.
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Aw, c'mon, John - snort some coke and quit complaining!
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kamchatka wrote:
JohnBandettini wrote:
Conrad

A bit off topic, but how can you like Joy Division and Abba? shake


Easy! Compare the drum beats to "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" and "Ceremony." They're exactly the same.

Also, Abba wrote some of the most depressing lyrics of all time; Ian Curtis was practically Barney the Dinosaur in comparison with "The Winner Takes It All." "Dancing Queen" is pretty sad, too. In all seriousness, I find ABBA's reputation for bouncy, vapid music pretty contrary to reality if you listen carefully - there's always an undercurrent of melancholy.


I'm told you can't really understand and appreciate abba unless you're driving northward in Sweden during an endless dusk.
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