16 February 2021
Up in the Air
‘Dignified’ is how one player around my table described Joseph Huber’s latest Eurogame, Blue Skies, and I’ve been struggling to think of a better word to describe what the game embodies. It’s set in the world of the North American airlines of the 1970’s, the box entices us in with a wink towards the bellbottoms and luxury of air travel – but inside the box we’re greeted with the stark reality of modern flight. We’ve got a very plain score tracker in black and white, a washed out map of the US with unadorned boxes representing gates and airports to place our passengers – the abstract resource cubes we know and love – on to, and some tokens representing a number of US airlines that cropped up during the 1979 deregulation of that market.
We’re belabouring the visual starkness here because it is despite the way this game looks, and then a little bit because of it, that we like it so much. The set up is simple, players draw from a deck of cards, and for each airport listed, they delve into the bag to place a passenger. They keep drawing until they hit a red passenger from the bag. These initial locations are the ‘local airlines’ which can be bought out for a separate cost to normally buying a gate later in the game.
Players then proceed spending six points to buy gates across the country, playing a card to draw passengers, and then drawing some more cards to play some further passengers into the mix. So far, so much like waiting at the departure gate. Yet, the game opens up when players start adding their airline gates to ones already owned by other players. The passengers that are at an airport will be redistributed between both gates when another one appears. This then causes each player to change their income for the round.
At the end of the round, the income on a player’s board is added to the main score board, which is deeply satisfying for something so plain. You’re nearly always going to be improving your income each turn, which means that you’ll be increasing your score by something that feels like an order of magnitude as the rounds tick on. The fact you can split your opponents’ passenger count, taking half of that income away, is a pleasing way to feel like you’re really cutting into someone’s market. You’ll want to do a bit of rough card counting while playing too, as there’s only so many cards for each airport, meaning there’s only so many times you can place passengers from the bag to increase your score.
With all this, there’s quite an exciting game, and one where you start to wonder whether the stark art direction and stripped down aesthetic is something entirely intentional. As many games’ theme melt away when the machine of play becomes apparent, here it’s like the game is getting dressed up in its mechanics. Like in the old days when passengers would put on a suit to travel, rather than the closest thing to pyjamas one can wear leaving the house.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? YES
An interesting tug of war between splitting markets and spreading your airborne empire wide enough to claim victory. It won us over despite its looks, and later, because of it.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Airlines Europe…
One of Alan R Moon’s pre-Ticket to Ride games, Airlines Europe, sees players taking out shares in various European airlines to achieve dominance.
Designer: Joseph Huber
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Time: 45 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Game board
- 59 Demand cards
- 100 Airline gate markers
- 5 Income markers
- 5 Score markers
- 10 Local airline gate markers
- 125 Passenger cubes
- 1 Bag
- 5 Airline boards
- 1 Score track board
- First player marker
This review originally appeared in Issue 51 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.
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