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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Plenty of interaction
  • Surprisingly quick and light
  • Area control with a twist

Might Not Like

  • Gameboard looks like Excel
  • Components are quite basic
  • No solo mode

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Blue Skies Review

Blue Skies Review

It was George Eliot who said, “Don't judge a book by its cover”. So has this little saying has proved true with Blue Skies by Rio Grande games. It harks back to a time when mass travel by plane was yet to err... “take off”. The skies were opening for business and the American public could look forward to flying to fly almost anywhere in any old tin can with a pair of wings.

Blue Skies is set in the USA in the late 70s. Players are operating executives of fledgling airlines, looking to maximise profits and dominate the skies and overhaul the rival national carriers. It is a game that involves economic investment, some hand management and area control. It typically takes about 20 minutes per player. Blue Skies has components for two to five players, but its optimal count is for three or four.

The board is a graphic representation of the United States. Thirty national airports are laid out, with names, airport codes and space for airline gates underneath. These are grouped and colour coded into seven regions. This becomes important in determining dominance of areas during end game scoring. Passenger demand is represented by coloured cubes that are placed within each airport at the gate. Each player can purchase airport gates in order to claim passenger numbers, gain income and become the dominant carrier.

Selecting Your Flight

The initial setup has a handful of airports with a few passengers served by existing local carriers. Depending on player count extra passengers are placed in other city airports. Passengers [cubes] are drawn from a bag until a red cube is drawn. The majority [80%] of these cubes are red so initially most airports will have one or at the very most two passengers to deal with. Players will buy a couple of airport gates placing their token over the gate marker. For the remainder of the game that airline has “ownership” of passengers at that gate. The gates all have a different value depending on the airport’s busyness, location and position. Generally the first gates to be claimed are a little cheaper to purchase. Buying later gates will cost more.

The game consists of a series of rounds, each with a number of events and actions. The first player position moves with each turn to avoid any preferential bias.

Checking In

In turn, starting with the first player, gamers can purchase any number of checking slots and boarding gates to a total value of six. These give “ownership” of any passengers in the airport. Subsequent players can also compete and buy space in that airport. This enables all of the passengers at that city to be re-distributed equally among any carriers.

For each passenger “checked in”, this will increase an airline’s income by one. Players could choose to convert any unused gate purchases into victory points on the scoreboard. Similarly, the local carrier could be bought out [at a cost] and their space and passengers claimed by the new airline.

Boarding

Players each have a small hand of three demand cards. In turn, gamers play a card that represents one of the regional airports and passenger cubes are drawn from the bag and placed on the board. Thus, a player can influence demand and passenger numbers with later income. Any new passengers arriving at the gate [through the playing of demand cards] will increase income, and score for that airline. In a similar way for each player, an extra demand card is drawn from the deck and more passengers added to the board. At the game progresses the board becomes busier and with more passengers, so the airline’s income stream increases.

Players can choose to forgo the playing of a demand card. This gives them the option to change any number of their cards in the hand and to play passenger cubes at any airport of their choosing. This option may be used just once and at the loss of three bonus points during end game scoring.

The number of passengers at each airline gate is indicated on a player’s income track. As more passengers are added [or redistributed] the income track is amended. At the end of each turn this indicated income is added to the overall victory point scoreboard.

Cleared For Take Off

Once the front-runner player has reached 30 victory points Blue Skies has a mechanism to assist players who are still “stuck on the runway”. Depending how far behind other players are from the leader the later players can add passengers to airports of their choice. This will assist income generation. At this point all the demand cards [including discarded cards] are reshuffled and players draw three more cards.

Once a player has reached 100 points [usually after eight or nine turns] or has played their last airline token in a gate, the end game is triggered. Each airport sits within one of seven regions. The total value of gates for each airline is added and bonus points for each region are given depending on the majority stakeholder. Third and fourth placed airlines receive no bonus. The player with the highest total of points is declared the winner.

Considering Mid-Flight Purchases

George Eliot was correct……. of sorts.

I was hoping to have a more exploration and visual feast of a game. The cover promised a simple, pared down, light-hearted, holiday experience. However, I opened the six-fold board that occupied most of the table and was met with a series of white grids, airport codes, letters and numbers. This game board has little aesthetics, but might appeal to an accountant or lover of spreadsheets. The rule book of 12 pages is easy to understand and well written, giving examples of scoring opportunities. Many in flight magazines have considerably more “eye candy” than this rule book which is a little dry, but it works.

The components are nothing special. Like travelling by budget airline, where you are lucky to get a seat, there are no thrills here. The airline tokens are just that- cardboard tokens. The scoreboards are simple white printed squares. Passengers have been denigrated to cubes, in the same way as most airlines consider fare paying passengers as numbers on a ledger in the profit or loss column.

Turbulence

My biggest criticism must be for the board itself. As well as lacking any visual appeal, the determination to have enough space for airports means a bizarre juxtaposition of the cities. There is no map. The outline of the USA is completely obscured. For example, Newark in New Jersey geographically is actually 200 miles north of Washington, yet Rio Grande has placed it adjacent to Orlando in the Southeast!

The process of playing demand cards, drawing demand cards and placing passenger cubes has a slight push your luck feel. With just 25 green cubes and 100 red cubes it is uncommon to be permitted to place more than one passenger at an airport on any turn. This is frustrating, especially when those extra income points end up on an opponent’s airport. This slight variability with small chance of gaining any extra passenger income almost seems to have no value with the random luck element being more irritating thn beneficial.

It’s A DC-10, Not A Gulf Stream

It’s at this point in our flight that my wife nudges me in the ribs, as I am moaning about the price of the in-flight refreshments, lack of leg room and uncomfortable seat. She says that many people do not have the chance to enjoy a few holidays each year and that the journey is only a couple of hours. We have the rest of the holiday ahead of us to enjoy! So, with my thoughts reset I look out of the window and marvel at the cloud formations below and the blue sky on the horizon. Time to think again about Blue Skies.

I need to look beyond the bland boxes and grids. We have an economic puzzle here. There is a small element of chance as the deck of demand card will influence passenger numbers. However Rio Grande have given some clues as to the probability and values of airports. Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles have considerably more duplicate cards. With these better odds they do mean they are more expensive to buy a gate at these cities, but passenger numbers are higher. My number-crunching brain is starting to play the odds and get a little more attuned with what is on offer.

Blue Skies appears to be an economic balance of choosing short term gain and rewards of passenger numbers against the strategy of hoping to claim majorities in a number of regions during end game scoring. This is almost like an area control game. Certainly it appears to be a wise move to get consistent passengers from the very first turn. These will secure points with every round, but neglect a physical presence at airports, and even in empty airports, at your peril.

I enjoy games with variable turn order. Here the benefits of playing first and snatching some airports with extra passengers seemed to be of benefit. However, in doing so this will leave the less busy, and less popular cities unclaimed. These are cheaper and with careful planning, the second or third player could claim many gates [all be it with no passengers]. This brings the majority control mechanic to the game. There is some gamble here. With an element of push your luck, players will bet that these cheaper gates may be drawn later in the game.

Coming In To land

At first Blue Skies looked about exciting as completing an HMRC tax return. However, players need to look beyond the monochrome. Within two turns of our first play through, my wife and I were battling for control of the Pacific area. Rounds were quick and we had selected and purchased our gates, the placement of demand cards is almost instant. Everyone can draw passenger cubes and tot up income values. There seemed to be very little downtime.

Within a few turns, about eight or nine, one player has reached 100 and then the battle for area control in the end-game scoring begins. We found that with two players almost as many points may be awarded as income gained during the actual game

Baggage Reclaim

Blue Skies is not perfect. The components are distinctly average. The symbols for each airline are a hotchpotch-  Sunshine Alliance Airlines looks more like a circular saw! I personally would prefer passengers depicted as meeples, not as cubes, but cubes work! However, like a journey with a budget carrier I can choose to overlook these elements and prefer to think about the reason for the journey. There is interaction with jostling for positions at the gate, just like a group of over tired passengers trying get their luggage off the baggage reclaim belt first.

There are checks and balances to keep the game enjoyable for all. The ability to exchange a hand of poorer cards and place extra passengers, for the loss of only three points seems worthwhile. The additional passenger placement when the front runner reaches 30 is another useful rule.

Better Travelling Together

There is no solo mode, and with two players Blue Skies loses some of the pressure of space and interaction. It is as though there are plenty of gates and terminals- almost too many. Increasing player count makes Blue Skies much more akin to its theme- competition for the skies above our head. Three players seems optimal with more than enough passengers and little down time between turns.

My initial concerns about its dry appearance have settled. It is not at all daunting to play and it’s surprisingly light, with an element of luck. The mechanics of the game could be applied to so many scenarios with variable demand and prediction of future demand. Like many games Blue Skies will fill the time. It gets you from A to B safely and without too much fuss and with some fun and banter en route. I would encourage people to try to look beyond its bland aesthetics and enjoy the game for what it is - a relatively light economic and area control game.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Plenty of interaction
  • Surprisingly quick and light
  • Area control with a twist

Might not like

  • Gameboard looks like Excel
  • Components are quite basic
  • No solo mode

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