Radio Review #30 – Kings of Air & Steam

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(2013 – Tasty Minstrel Games)

 

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings…..coming down is the hardest thing….”

 

Route-planning and pickup & delivery mechanics have had a history in train themed games such as Railways of the World and Steam , which both involve building a network of railways into a successful capitalistic enterprise. Designer Scott Almes would Kickstart a game entitled Kings of Air & Steam in late 2011, that merged these mechanics of route-planning and pickup & delivery with other mechanics such as character specialized abilities, action selection, and an ever-changing market demand, all revolved around a steampunk era in which shipping moguls have taken to the skies.

In Kings of Air & Steam, players control Airships that can load and unload Goods to their individual Depots in order to ship these Goods to neighboring Cities and meet particular demands. Each Airship can be upgraded to carry more Goods at one time, as well as provide an increase in the variety of movement on a turn. Movement is preplanned by placing movement cards simultaneously, then resolving this movement and carrying out various Actions on a turn. The player that can manage this shipping industry with the best efficiency wins the game.

 

 

Components:

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– Game Board Tiles

 

 

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– Game Board Bumper Tiles

 

 

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– Player Boards

 

 

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– Marketplace Board

 

 

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– Upgrade Markers in each player color

 

 

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– Market Demand Tiles comprised of Chemicals (pink), Food (brown), Textiles (white), Machinery (gray), and Luxury Goods (gold).

 

 

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– Good tokens (Chemicals, Food, Textiles, Machinery, and Luxury Goods)

 

 

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– Airship Markers in each player color

 

 

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– Depot tokens in each player color

 

 

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– Character cards (double-sided)

 

 

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– Movement cards (various set of Movement cards

 

 

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– Track tiles for Eva Blane character

 

 

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– Specialized tokens for various characters abilities

 

 

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– Money (denominations in $100, $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1)

 

 

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– 1st Player marker (only used in basic game)

 

 

 

Setup:

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Depending on the number of players, a certain number of tiles are used to form the main game board in the central area of play. Tiles are categorized A through G, with the following used in each scenario:

 

– 2 to 3 player games will use tiles A, B, and C. This scenario involves more interaction for a 3 player game.

 

– 3 to 5 player games will either use tiles A, B, C, D, and E or use tiles A, B, C, F, and G.
This scenario involves less interaction for a 3 player game.
– 6 to 7 player games will use all tiles, A through G.
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After the game board has been set up, 1 Good is placed on each Factory space on the game board. The type of Good token to be placed matches the color of the Factory space.
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The Marketplace will determine which types of goods are in higher demand for that particular Round. 1 token of each type of Good (Chemicals, Food, Textiles, Machinery, and Luxury Goods) is placed onto the $4 space of the Marketplace board. A pile of Market Demand Tiles are placed randomly, face-down to the left of the Marketplace board. The top 5 tiles are discarded from the game and into the box. These tiles will not be used during the game, leaving 15 Market Demand tiles next to the board. There are 5 Rounds in a game of Kings of Air & Steam, and 3 Market Demand tiles are used each Round, therefore when the last 3 tiles are placed onto the Marketplace board, players will know that the last Round of the game has begun.
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Players will choose which color they would like to play as, and will collect that color’s Airship Marker, Depot tokens, Upgrade Markers, and $12.
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Players will choose a Player board and matching Character card. Character cards are double-sided, so players will have a choice of using either Character for the game. Character cards and Player boards are matched by the icon in the top-left corner of each board/card. Once selected, players will also take the stack of Movement cards that match the particular icon. Players will place an Upgrade marker matching their player color on the leftmost space of the Airship and Train sections of their Player boards. It is interesting to note that a player’s chosen color and chosen Character/Ship have nothing to do with each other. In this way, players are able to choose any color and any Character type to use together in a game.
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The main game board is made up of Cities and Railway spaces that connect these Cities together. In order for a player to ship goods between Cities, Depots must be placed on the Railway spaces between Cities. During the initial setup of the game, players are allowed to place 1 Depot on any Railway space that does not already contain another player’s Depot. The Depot can be placed on any Hex space that contains a Railway track. Players look at their bottom right-corner of Character card to determine the order in which these Depots are placed, with order going from highest to lowest initiative number. Once the Depot has been placed, that player’s Airship is also placed on the same space and will show where that particular player will start their turn.

After the game board has built, Marketplace assembled, player boards and characters chosen, and player pieces gathered, setup should look something like this:

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Character Cards:

Before taking a look at how the game plays, I wanted to show a few examples of the different types of Characters that can be chosen. There are 7 different Character cards, and each is double-sided, given players 14 possible Characters to choose from, all with specialized abilities. While I won’t go over every single Character, here are a few and what they can do:

 

 

Harvey Golding

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– Harvey gives you an extra leg up on building your Depots. Harvey is allowed to place his Depot 1st during setup, even if his initiative number was not the highest. After every other player places their initial Depot, Harvey is allowed to then place a 2nd Depot.

 

 

Sebastian King

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– Sebastian has 5 different Gamble tokens, each representing the 5 Goods in the game. When delivering Goods to a particular City, the player controlling Sebastian may bid up to $3, shuffle the Gamble tokens and flip as many token equal to the number of dollars bid. If any of these tokens match the Good being sold to the City, Sebastian earns an extra $2 per Good sold.

 

 

Victor Blane

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– Apparently Mr. Blane gets his building materials on the black market. When building a Depot, it will cost Victory Blane $1 less than normal. It normally costs a player $4 to build a Depot if that Depot is the first one built on a Railway link, or $7 if there is already another Depot present. Therefore it would only cost Victor Blane’s player $3 and $6, respectively.

 

 

Thaddeus Birch

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– Thaddeus is a bit of an intimidating character. One that other are afraid to enforce certain rules with. Where players are normally required to pay a $1 Toll Fee for using another player’s Depot when shipping goods across the game board, Thaddeus Birch’s player can waive this Fee. He is allowed to use any player’s Depot without paying a Toll Fee for it.

Note that when selecting a Character Card, the corresponding Airship Player board and Movement cards selected should match the icon represented on the top left corner of the Character card.

 

 

Gameplay:

As mentioned before, a game of Kings of Air & Steam consist of 5 Rounds. Each Round is broken up into 4 turns for each player. There are 5 Phases to each Round: the Market Phase, the Planning Phase, the Move & Action Phase, the Upkeep Phase, and the Production Phase.

 

The Market Phase – At the beginning of each Round, the Market will change and determine which Goods are of higher value for that particular Round, referenced by the Marketplace board. 3 tiles are drawn from the Demand tile stack and placed face-up on the 3 spaces of the Marketplace board. For each tile representing a particular Good, the Good token will move right 1 space.

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For instance, a Luxury tile and 2 Chemical tiles are drawn from the Demand stack and placed onto the Marketplace board. Therefore, the Chemical token is moved 2 spaces to the right and the Luxury token is moved 1 space to the right. The Food, Textile, and Machinery tokens remain on the $4 space since none of these tiles were drawn. The Marketplace now tells us that during this Round, selling a Chemical good to a demanding City is worth $6 each, selling a Luxury good to a demanding City is worth $5 each, and selling a Food, Textile, or Machinery good to a demanding City is worth $4 each.

 

When the next Round begins, the Demand tiles from the previous Round are cleared and placed face down to the right side of the Marketplace board. These tiles will be used later when a City has a new demand (which I’ll explain later).

 

 

The Planning Phase – Each City has a particular good in which they demand and will buy from players. In order to get these demands to the individual Cities, players must collect goods by uploading them into their Airship, unloading them to their Depots, and then shipping them to the neighboring Cities that will purchase them. In order to fulfill these different actions, the Airship needs to move around the game board. During the Planning Phase, players will plan out all 4 turns of their movement in a given Round.

This is where a player’s Movement cards come into play. Along the bottom portion of the player board are 4 different sections to place Movement cards. Each Movement card contains a movement number, an initiative letter, and in some cases a diamond icon. A player must choose 4 cards amongst his Movement cards to play face down below his player board. Each number along the board represents each Turn of the Round, so the 1st card placed would represent the movement used by that player for the 1st turn of the Round.

Cards with diamond icons represent more powerful types of movement, whether they include higher initiative values, higher movement spaces allowed, or even in some cases, special types of movement/abilities. A player may only play the number of diamond cards equal to the diamond level on his player board. This diamond level is noted on the Airship track space of the player board. Each time a player upgrades their Airship, they are likely to increase the number of diamonds they can use when planning their Movement.

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For instance, Player X has a level 3 Airship, meaning that he can have 1 diamond icon amongst the 4 Movement cards he places below his board.

 

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He chooses to place a 2 Movement card under the 1st slot, a 1 Movement card under the 2nd slot, a 4 Movement card with a diamond icon under the 3rd slot, and another 2 Movement card under the 4th slot. This means that during the next phase (Move & Action) that his Airship will move 2 spaces during the 1st Turn, 1 space during the 2nd Turn, 4 spaces during the 3rd Turn, and 2 spaces during the final Turn.

 

 

Move & Action Phase – Once all players have finished placing their Movement cards, the initial Turn of the Round takes place, starting with the Move & Action Phase. During this Phase, players will take turns moving their Airships around the board according to their particular Movement cards, and performing 1 Action per Movement. There are 6 different types of Actions that can be taken during this Phase, but before we get into those, let’s first go over the Movement section of the Phase.

 

Movement

Players will begin by simultaneously flipping over the 1st Movement card on their Player board. Turn Order is determined by the letter on the top of the card. If however, two players have matching letters, players will refer to their Character card initiative number to see who goes first (lowest to highest).

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Player X, Y, and Z have flipped over their Turn 1 Movement cards. Player Y will go 1st this Turn because his card shows a letter “A”, followed by Player X (with a letter “C“), and Player Z (with a letter E).

 

On a player’s Turn, he must move the allotted amount of spaces equal to the number on his current Movement card. Backtracking is not allowed when moving. Player’s are allowed to pass over Cities as well as move along the edge of the game board amongst the partial hex spaces, but can never finish their Turn on either of these spaces. Players are allowed to be in the same spaces as other Airships.

After a player has completed his Movement, and before he takes an Action, he is allowed to Load/Unload Goods to/from his Airship. A player may load goods onto their Airship when they have landed on a Factory space or on a hex that houses on of their Depots. Players have a designated cargo space on their Player boards for storing Goods, and the Airships Upgrade level will represent how many Goods can be stored in a particular Airship at any given time.

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Player Y currently has a level 4 Airship. This means that he is allowed to play a total of 2 diamonds when planning his Movement cards, and has a Cargo hold that can store up to 3 Goods at any given time.

 

When a player has landed on a Factory space or on a space that houses one of his own Depots, he may take as many Good tokens as his Airship can currently store and place them onto his Cargo space. If a player would exceed the space in their Airship by loading goods, they are allowed to Jettison previous goods in their Airship (return the good to its stockpile) to make room for the new goods. When unloading Goods, a player must be on a space that houses one of their own Depots. When on this Depot space, the player can unload as many Goods as they wish, as there is no limit of Goods that can be on any given Depot space.

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Player Y lands on a Chemical Factory space and collects 2 Chemical goods and adds them to his Cargo hold that already included 1 Luxury good.

 

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He has now made his way to one of his Depots and landed on its hex. He now unloads all 3 Goods by removing them from his Player board and placing them next to his Depot on the space. These Chemical and Luxury Goods will remain on this Depot until he decides to ship them to a City.

 

 

Actions

After a player has taken his Movement (including any load/unload actions immediately after Movement), he is now allowed to complete 1 Action amongst the 6 available Actions:

 

1.) Build a Depot – Depots are required in order to ship Goods to the Cities that need them. Players must build up an extensive network of Depots throughout the game board in order to efficiently ship Goods from City to City. Players are allowed to ship Goods through opposing player’s Depots, but must pay a $1 Toll Fee for doing so for each opposing player’s Depot they go through. A single Railway link is considered a single stretch of Railway that links between two Cities. Multiple players may have Depots on a single Railway link, but cannot have multiple Depots on a single Hex of that link.

When a player takes the Action to build a Depot, he must place his Depot on a Hex space that includes a Railway and is vacant of any other Depots on that particular Hex space. If this Depot is the 1st Depot placed on the entire Railway link between the connecting Cities, he must pay $4 for this Depot. If however, another Depot already exists on the Railway link connecting the two Cities, he must pay $7 to the bank. The advantage to having a Depot in a Railway link that already includes an opposing player’s Depot is that you will not be required to use that player’s Depot when shipping Goods across this link, thus you won’t be required to pay the Toll Fee.

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Player X has decided to build a new Depot with his Action this turn. He decides to place his Depot in a Railway hex space between New Belfort and Aldenville. This would require him to pay $4 since it is the only Depot currently linking these two Cities. If however, he decided to place a Depot on a Railway hex space between New Belfort and Brugshe Puurte, he would be required to pay $7, since Player y already has a Depot linking those two Cities.

 

 

2.) Upgrade Airship – As noted before, players can upgrade their Airship in order to use more Movement cards with diamonds, as well as store more Goods in their Cargo hold. As an Action, a player may pay the required cost to upgrade their Airship one space to the right.

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3.) Upgrade Train – In a similar regard, a player can choose to upgrade their Train. Along the bottom portion of the Player board is the Train’s rating. When shipping Goods, a player can only move Goods a maximum number of spaces as reflected form his Train’s rating. The higher the rating, the more areas Goods can be shipped by that Train during the Turn. As with the Airship’s upgrade, a player may choose to take this action and pay the required cost to Upgrade their Train one space to the right.

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4.) Ship Goods – We’ve discussed Airship movement, loading and unloading Goods, and building Depots to hold these Goods. But all is for naught if we can’t get these Goods to their required destinations in order to build more capital. Each City displays the type of Good in demand from that City as well as the amount required. As an Action, players can ship 1 type of Good from one of their own Depots to another Depot or City demanding that particular Good.

When shipping a Goods, each Railway link must contain at least 1 Depot (either your own or that of another player’s) in order to move through it. Anytime that a player ships a Good through a space where they need to use another player’s Depot (because they do not have one of their own in that Railway link) they are required to play that player a $1 Toll Fee. Player’s may ship Goods a number of spaces equal to their Train’s rating. A space is defined by a Railway link and/or a City demanding that particular Good.

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For instance, it is Player X’s turn to take an Action and he chooses to ship some Goods. He current Train Rating is at level 4, meaning that he can ship a maximum of 4 spaces when taking this Action. One of his Depots currently holds 3 Food, 2 Machinery, and 1 Textile Good. Although he could ship the single Textile good to the neighboring City of Woonsocket, he would make much more money for shipping his 3 Food goods to nearby Raposa (remember that money is made off of each individual good token sold). In order to ship these Food goods from his current Depot to Raposa, he would first need to travel through Etherton and Woonsocket.

Player X has a Depot located on the Railway link between Etherton and Woonsocket, but does not have one between Woonsocket and Raposa. However, Player Y does have a Depot of his own between Woonsocket and Raposa that Player X could use to ship through. Player X would need a Train Rating of 3 in order to ship his 3 Food Goods all the way to Raposa:

 

– from his current Depot to his Depot between Etherton and Woonsocket = 1 space

– from his Depot between Etherton and Woonsocket to Player Y’s Depot between Woonsocket and Raposa = 1 space

– from Player Y’s Depot between Woonsocket and Raposa to the City of Raposa = 1 space

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Since Player X has a Train Rating of 4, he would be allowed to ship his 3 Food Goods to Raposa. He would then place these 3 Goods on the empty goods spaces of the Raposa City space.

 

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According to the current Marketplace, Food Goods sell in this Round for $6 a piece, therefore Player X would receive $18. He would then pay $1 to Player Y for using 1 of his Depots during the shipping Action.

 

When a City space has been filled completely with Goods, a new Demand tile is randomly drawn from the right side of the Marketplace board and placed over top of the City space. These Demand tiles only require 3 of a certain type of Goods before the City no longer demands that Good. Once one of these Demand tiles has been filled, the tile is flipped over and this particular City will demand nothing else for the rest of the game.

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5.) Route Adjustment – There are times during the game when a player will need to adjust their planning, or may not have played the right type of Movement cards to get where they wanted to. As an Action, a player may make a Route Adjustment by moving their Airship 1 space in any direction. When doing so, the player is allowed to take the immediate Load/Unload action if able.

 

 

6.) Gain Funds – Sometimes a player just needs some more money. As an Action, a player may choose to gain $3 from the bank and add it to their personal funds.

After a player has taken their Movement and taken an appropriate Action, player’s will slide their current Movement card that was just played, underneath their Player board so that only the bottom portion of the card is visible.

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This will remind players which cards have been resolved already, as well as reference the number of diamonds played during the Round by a particular player. If a player ever plays more diamonds than they are allowed to by their Airship level, they will forfeit the Turn in which they played the card.

 

 

The Upkeep Phase – Players must be careful not to horde Goods in their Airship or in their Depots without being able to sell them to demanding Cities during their Turn. Remember, this is a game about economic efficiency and stocking up on Goods that aren’t being sold will cost a player, literally. During the Upkeep Phase, each player must pay $1 for every Good token that remains in one of their Depots or in the Cargo hold of their Airship. A player can choose not to pay the $1 fee for a Good token, however that Good token must be returned to the supply area.

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Player Z currently has 3 Luxury Goods and 1 Chemical Good in his Depot during the Upkeep Phase. This Depot is 1 shipment space away from a City demanding Luxury Goods, therefore he wishes to hold on to his Luxury Goods for the next Round. However, the closest City demanding a Chemical Good is 5 spaces away. He chooses to pay the $3 to keep his 3 Luxury Goods in this Depot, but forfeits his Chemical Good to the supply area, as he feels it won’t be worth it to keep around.

 

At the end of the Upkeep Phase, players collect all of their used Movement cards from under their Player boards and add them back into their hand for use in the next Round.

 

 

The Production Phase – Factories will produce new Goods at the end of each Round. During the Production Phase, 1 new Good is placed on each Factory space of the game board according to its type. The Marketplace board is then referenced, and 1 Good is additionally placed for each tile type that is currently face-up on the current Marketplace board. After doing so, these 3 tiles are placed face-down to the right of the Marketplace board and will make up the draw pile when figuring new demands for the different Cities.

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For instance, 1 Chemical good, 1 Food good, 1 Textile good, 1 Machinery good, and 1 Luxury good are placed in each of the Factory spaces that match their particular good icon.

 

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The current Marketplace board shows 2 Machinery good tiles and 1 Textile good tile.

 

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Therefore, 2 additional Machinery good tokens are placed in each Machinery Factory space and 1 additional Textile good token is placed in each Textile Factory space.

 

Once the Production Phase has been completed, a new Round will begin with the Market Phase.

 

 

Pre-Scoring:

After there are no more Demand tiles to place on the Marketplace board during the Market Phase (or in other words, after 5 Rounds of the game are complete), the game ends. Before final scoring is resolved however, players will have one final chance to ship Goods from their Depots to a demanding City to gain a little extra capital.

Players will examine their Good tokens 1 at a time. If the Good could be shipped to a City demanding that good using the player’s current Train Rating and shipment rules, then the player will receive $4 for that good. After each individual good has been examined in this way and money earned, players will move on to End-game Scoring.

 

 

End-Game Scoring:

Players earn End-Game Victory Points in the following ways:

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– 1 Victory Point for every $1 that a player ends the game with
– 10 Victory Points for every Depot built
– Upgrading an Airship to its maximum level (level 6) is worth 15 Victory Points
– Ending with a Train Rating of 4 is worth 5 Victory Points
– Ending with a Train Rating of 5 is worth 15 Victory Points
– Ending with a Train Rating of 6 is worth 30 Victory Points

 

 

The player with the most Victory Points wins the game.

 

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Thoughts:

At its heart, Kings of Air & Steam is pick up and deliver game, coupled with an action selection mechanic and specialized character abilities. It’s important to note that Scott Almes does provide a base version of the rules that are easier on beginners, but one that removes the individual character and special abilities altogether. While this may be a simpler way to learn the game for the first few plays, the 14 various characters and their specialized abilities are so integral to the variety and re-playability from game to game, that the advanced version should be a group’s main focus.

Though not necessarily a Euro-style game, Kings of Air & Steam is quite economically based in its strategy. Also, to interest of some gamers, there’s very little luck outside of the drawing of Demand Tiles. The game has a capitalistic feel in how players must build money by shipping goods, in order to make upgrades that will eventually provide an increase of wealth earned throughout the course of the game. Very engine-like in the way this is used. There are a variety of paths to victory, whether it be by making upgrades to your Airship and Train Rating, building Depots, or simply loading and selling Goods for money. Altogether, the best strategy is in maximizing your Victory Points by finding a way to weave these all together.

Many gamers should be intrigued by the amount of re-playability found here. Initial board setup, 14 different type of Characters, and special abilities, various Airships, along with the ongoing increase and decrease in the demand of Goods from turn to turn, Kings of Air & Steam provides a different experience with every play, and should appeal not only those looking for a nice pickup and deliver game, but those with a variety of gamer types in their group.

 

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