A few months ago I started some work on a board game. A group of my friends were having semi-regular game nights, where we met up to play various board games, ranging from the simple to the complex. The group was pretty fond of management/accumulation style games (Agricola, for instance), and I thought it would be pretty cool if we could try an airline management game, so I decided to search around the net for airline board games.
The first thing that came to my mind was an accumulation type of game, similar to Aerobiz or Ticket to Ride (except, you know, for airplanes). I looked around on the net to see if there were any airline type board games around, but I found them lacking in one way or the other. Namely, they were way too complex and could drag on for eternity. There were a lot of factors to micromanage, and unless you were really interested in the ins and outs of the airline biz, a lot of it is just a ton of weight on your shoulders.
So, I thought to myself, “If I can’t find a good one, I’ll make one.” It would be pretty cool if we made a board game of our own that we could all play together, wouldn’t it? I had a ready group of play testers who are willing to try different things, so the first thing I had to do was sit down and work out the core concept of the game. What did it need to be fun? While I enjoy airplanes and aviation, there’s a lot of dreck in the aviation industry. The game has to have a clear goal to victory and not get weighed down by people fiddling with minor points of their airline.
I wound up giving the game the tentative title of Airways. The goal of Airways is simple – earn the most victory points and you win. How do you get victory points? You’ll accumulate them during the game by opening up routes from your hub to various cities. Any cash you have left over will also convert to a certain number of points. How you go about accumulating the points is up to you.
The goal would be a game that’s simple to start up and play, but has a lot of depth in strategy. There should be no one “right” way to win the game. If someone wants to play an all-short haul map (think Southwest Airlines), it should be a viable strategy. If someone wants to go all international (once they accumulate the funds to do so), power to them.
The board of the game was a map I made of the United States (with several small sub-maps showing international locations). Here’s a small version of it. Click on it to see a bigger copy.
The map is similar to train based games in that there’s cities and vertices (each vertex corresponds to about 125 miles). The green cities are hub cities, red cities are normal destinations, and yellow cities are international. When you open a route from one city to another, you will count the number of vertices. For example, if your hub is Atlanta, and you want to serve Phoenix, that’s twelve “hops” across the map. The number of vertices counted affects your strategy. All planes have a maximum number of vertices they can travel, and they are the most efficient in certain ranges of vertices – just like real airplanes.
You’ll notice that there’s no vertices to the international cities. This is because the map would be too unwieldy to actually plot them out. International travel is from hub cities only, and a chart for each hub city is supplied that shows the distance in miles (and vertices) to each international destination and Honolulu. This is necessary for choosing the right aircraft for the route length.
In each round, the player has the opportunity to do the following: order new aircraft (which will be delivered after a waiting period of one or two rounds), open up a route by drawing a route card, close a route, rearrange their aircraft, or sell their aircraft. You can trade route cards or aircraft to other players. Once the round is over, you will accumulate income from operating your routes (so you can buy more aircraft) and you will gain victory points for the number of passengers you have carried (we assume full loads).
As you can see, balancing a game like this is pretty difficult. There’s a lot of factors involved for each layer of gameplay. In the next post, we’ll talk about the available airplanes in the game and how we balanced them to make sure each manufacturer (Boeing and Airbus) had their pros and cons. My friend Jeff and I worked on a lot of the particulars, and you’ll get some insight into our thought process on it.