Category Archives: General Gaming

Let’s Play Bionic Commando (PC) – Episode 4

In this episode, we get the Hiker shotgun and face some Biomechs.

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Let’s Play Bionic Commando PC Part 3 – Minesweeper

In this episode of Let’s Play Bionic Commando, Mister Spencer gets acquainted with floating electrocuting mines. Yowch! Swinger soup!

Also, I’m going to be on vacation this week, so all the updates you’ll be seeing are written ahead of time. Joy! I’ll be visiting our national parks and appreciating the natural splendor of our environment.

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Let’s Play Bionic Commando (PC) – Part 2

It’s time for another episode of Let’s Play Bionic Commando, where we get to explore Ascension City for the first time and explore some of the game’s core mechanics.

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Bored Games, Part 3

This is a continuation of the Bored Games series of posts. Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already.

Now that we’ve discussed the basic mechanics and the tools given to you in the game, let’s talk about how one would go about winning. In the beginning of the game you start out with four orders for short haul aircraft and a hub card. You can either choose a hub card or have one randomly assigned to you. This was a tough choice to make and we’re still testing it. Having random hub assignment takes some of the benefit away of being the “first to choose,” and if two guys want to play from Atlanta it settles it fairly peacefully. However, hub choice does affect how you play the game in terms of aircraft and routes available. If you like making a strategy based on domestic routes, always choosing a central hub would be to your benefit. This still needs some more testing to determine the “best” method.

Once all the players have their hub cards and aircraft, the next step is to determine who goes first. Going first can have a big impact on the game given a few choices to how it will proceed. Do you draw route cards from a stack of cards, or do you simply open up the routes that you choose at any time? This was a question we wrangled with for a long time. For a basic one hub no connections game, allowing the choice of a destination at any time makes a fair amount of sense, because there’s no wasted turns picking route cards that you can’t fill. However, with games that allow connecting cities (secondary hubs) and competition routes, it gets hairy very quickly. Deciding how competition works has always been one of the sticking points – do you simply halve the passenger bonus? Does someone with a bigger plane class get more than half?

Once you get route cards and planes, you can open a route during your turn. You do this by placing your colored gem on a destination circle and your route card on to the hub card. Once you’ve stacked the cards, you then place the plane token  on the route card. Ta da, you’ve got a route. You’ll get income based on your plane’s efficiency and the route’s money multiplier. You’ll also gain passenger points based on the size of your plane and the size of the two destinations. To keep the game moving, these calculations will be done at the end of the turn, much like Carcassone. You’ll keep moving along until you reach the maximum number of turns for your game.

This is the basic gameplay in a nutshell. As you can see, we’ve got some permutations to work out. They’re mostly based on pacing efforts for the game – whatever keeps it fair and not bogged down. In the end, the basic strategies for winning should be similar between any variant.

For instance, you can take the Southwest Strategy – open up as many routes as possible from as many locations using a single fleet. This is especially viable in games where you can have connections or secondary hubs. Because you still have some large population centers to serve, you can beat your enemies over the head with frequency and number of routes. I haven’t tested this particular strategy to see if it consistently wins but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

The opposite of this strategy is ultra long haul. You would build up a basic domestic network to start, but eventually branch off into only international service (a la Singapore Airlines) using your US hub as a scissor to connect multiple international destinations. If you see that you get a good income lead early on in the game, this might be a way to go. The only problem is you are at the mercy of waiting extra turns to get long haul aircraft. You’ll also lose a fleet commonality bonus in most cases.

Another good strategy is to try and get Atlanta. There’s a reason Delta has a fortress hub there. It’s also the busiest airport in the world. It’s no surprise because it can reach most domestic destinations in the game and doesn’t require the Jumbos to hit all of the long haul destinations (much like New York). Unlike New York it can hit Los Angeles without needing a widebody.

Other strategies include buying all  your planes from one manufacturer. You’ll get a discount after ten planes purchased. If you go with all Airbus you will also get a fleet commonality bonus between the A330 and A340. These bonuses are minor but if you want to go the ultra long haul route you need all the income you can get.

Lastly, you can always do point-to-point from population centers in a multi-hub or connections game. This is the jetBlue strategy and requires a bit more management than the simplistic Southwest scheme, but you’ll gain the benefits of international population center bonuses with connecting traffic.

One of these days we’ll record some videos of playing the game so you can get a better idea of how it works. The average game would probably take two, perhaps three hours to play depending on how many people you have and the number of turns. There’s still some more ironing out to do, though, so I’ll make occasional posts here and there about changes to the game.

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Bored Games, Part Deux

A continuation of Bored Games, part one.

A big part of an airline game is, of course, the planes. For Airways, Jeff and I decided to keep the plane system fairly simple. Unlike Aerobiz which has all of the major world manufacturers during its respective four time windows, we decided to limit our game to the modern day, including modern aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. We left out Bombardier and Embraer not because they make bad aircraft (I love the E-Jets), but because we wanted to keep the complexity down. It’s much easier to balance against two manufacturers instead of three, especially when the third one would not directly compete in three of the market segments.

Before we settled on any particular aircraft, we needed to make our segmentations and then put the aircraft into them. Reality in this game would not be very fun, as today’s modern 737-800 and A320s can make transcon operations very easily when it used to be the domain of jets like the 757 and 767, which do not make an appearance in this game. We also had to tweak some of the widebodies to differentiate them a little more and appeal to various strategies.

The first segment is the Short-Haul. Short haul is for most of the US continental routes in the game. Each hub city has several short haul routes within its reach and some that are not (except for the central hubs). In the beginning players will have a certain allotment of short-haul jet orders from either manufacturer (it’s the player’s choice to start with Boeing or Airbus) so they will not have to wait extra turns at the start for planes. This lets you jump right in and start a couple of routes. Like most all of the planes in the game, the short haul planes are efficient at their longer stage lengths, but they do not take a big penalty when used at short stage lengths.

The next level up is the mirdange widebody. These jets are the first ones you’ll buy to start operating international and transcontinental routes. They hold more (but not double) the passengers of the short haul jets and have decent efficiency to most international destinations, especially on the coasts. Since these cost quite a bit less than the big widebody jets, your international backbone will most likely be composed mostly of these flexible jets. Some US transcontinental routes (such as Seattle to Miami) will need these planes to operate.

Third is the long haul widebody. The long haul widebody jets can operate almost all (with a few exceptions) international routes from every hub. They’re large and useful for moving passengers without losing money or waiting turns for more small planes to arrive from the manufacturer. These are not very efficient for US continental routes, although from population centers you can rack up some point bonuses for doing so.

Lastly is the Jumbo. The Jumbo jets can operate any route in the game, are the most expensive to buy and operate, and hold the most passengers. At their longest stage lengths they are more efficient than the long haul widebodies, but their efficiency envelope is smaller. Your choice of hub will determine whether these jets will be necessary for your strategy or not. You also get the largest passenger bonuses for using these jets.

In each category there’s two planes from each manufacturer. In short haul, you will find the Boeing 737-800 and the Airbus A320. Both of these planes had to be limited a bit from their real life versions in terms of range. The 737 has two extra vertices of range (14) compared to the A320’s 12, while the A320’s general efficiency in short hops is its advantage. If you were on a coastal hub, a fleet of 737s will make sense, while a central hub may prefer A320s. 737s have lower acquisition cost and hold more passengers compared to the A320. There’s enough choice between the two for them to perform comparably depending on your strategy.

The next step up is the Boeing 787-8 and the Airbus A330-300. These are longer haul widebody jets designed to do transcontinental routes. Like the short haul category, these planes’ ranges have been limited compared to their real life counterparts for differentiation purposes. The 787, due to its newer design, has 46 vertices of range, compared to the A330-200’s 40. This lets it hit most international destinations from the coasts and a couple from the central hubs. The 787 is also more efficient on longer haul routes than the A330. The A330 wins on lower acquisition costs, since it is an older model. It also holds 30% more passengers than the 787, since it is a stretch model. While you’ll certainly do well with either model in your fleet, you will have to make a choice between actually getting to your destinations versus serving more passengers at your existing ones.

Note that if you buy a certain amount of jets from only one manufacturer, you will receive a loyalty discount on your orders. Keep this in mind when placing orders, because you may be able to get newer planes sooner from other manufacturers, but you may lose your discount.

The long haul widebody category is filled by the Boeing 777-300ER and the Airbus A340-600. Both of these planes are pretty close to their real life counterparts in terms of range and passenger counts. They’re also fairly close in acquisition costs. The 777 will win on fuel burn and efficiency, since it only has two engines. The A340 wins on range and passenger count.  While normally these planes are about equal in terms of actual range in real life, the A340 gets a bonus for being a four engined plane that does not have to obey ETOPS rules and therefore we gave it some extra range as a bonus.

Lastly, the Jumbos are the iconic Boeing 747-8 and the newcomer, the Airbus A380. Both are four engined jumbo jets and can serve the longest routes in the game, though there are about two or three that only the A380 can serve, such as Los Angeles to Dubai. Their ranges mimic their real world counterparts. The A380 gets a big passenger bonus due to its double decker design and it is more efficient in terms of fuel burn than the 747, though not by much, and it is the longest ranged plane in the game. The 747, on the other hand, has significantly lower acquisition costs than the A380, and will be easier to get due to having more manufacturing slots. Most people may not need to buy these planes depending on their route strategy, but they are available if you want to go all out in passenger count or range.

Each plane, which is a paper token, is then placed on the route card for the route you want to serve from your hub. When ordering planes, the larger planes take longer to deliver. Short haul jets arrive in the turn after ordering, while the widebodies take two turns, and the jumbos take three. You’ll need some foresight and planning to determine when to buy and what.

In the next post we’ll talk about cities and their various ranges to different hubs. We’ll also get into general game strategy and how the planes we talk about in here fit into those general strategies.

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Bored Games, Part 1

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.

Airways game board map.

Airways game board map.

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.

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