18 November 2019
While its looks might not catch your eye, it’s worth seeking this game out.
Despite being designed by Jon Perry, half of the design duo behind the impressive Time Barons, it might be easy to pass Air, Land & Sea by.
Generic in appearance and small in size, this war-themed two-player game easily disappears among Flashier releases. While the compact box is not an issue – in fact, it’s an advantage if you're after a smaller game to take travelling – its looks could definitely let it down.
It’s a shame because the gameplay underneath is simple yet very clever.
Players assign cards from their hand to the three titular theatres of war, drawing their hand from single, shared deck of cards with values one to six in three respective suits. The highest combined total value of cards wins the theatre they are assigned to – however, having lower-numbered cards doesn’t immediately imply a loss. The lower = the value, the stronger the ability accompanying the card, a system that wonderfully balances each option. The game is centred on how well you can perform with the hand you’re dealt while making educated assumptions about the cards your opponent has.
Luck plays little to no part. If a player looks at their hand and estimates that winning two theatres of war is not possible, they can forfeit immediately.
That way their opponent is awarded fewer points than if the game was played in full and lost. Having the option to end a round at any point, without letting it hopelessly drag on, is as much of a strategic decision as playing the cards themselves.
Air, Land & Sea is exactly what you would expect from one of the creators of Time Barons: its understated gameplay values its own intelligence and that of its players. While its looks might not catch your eye, it’s worth seeking this game out.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Jon Perry
Artist: Buonfantino, Gibson
This review originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.