This is a curious title and one that caught my eye a few weeks ago. This review is of a pre-production copy, provided by Silver Birch Games. The plan is to release it via Kickstarter in July 2021. The game itself is complete and has been playtested rigorously to ensure there are no gaping holes beneath the waterline. I have been informed that a couple of components are being refined in preparation for the production version.
The question is whether it is wise to go “full steam ahead” or to grab one of the lifeboats and bail out before it is too late. This review will explain the game mechanics, player actions and summarise my thoughts during and after a game.
Despite the name, Deckchairs on the Titanic is a colourful, abstract game built on a theme. Gameplay is centred on a 7x7 grid that sits in the middle of a composite board. This depicts a plan of the ship. At the aft is a scoring rondelle. The fore-deck contains the upcoming cards that hint at the way the boat will list. On the prow stands Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio re-enacting the scene from Titanic.
The game is set somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, after the Titanic has struck the iceberg. It occurs during the relative calm when it is “business as usual”, and the band continues to play. This is a game for two to four, played out over three or four rounds. The aim is to position your deck chairs into key places on the grid to maximise scoring possibilities at the end of each round. These premium spots are marked. For different player counts, there are unique player boards. Whether for two, three or four players the deck chairs all start at specific positions. Players may take one of three actions, in turn:
- The simplest action is to slide one deck chair by one square vertically or horizontally [never diagonally]
- Use and place the deck chair attendant. Each player is provided with one attendant whose role is to stop the deck chairs from slipping around the tilting deck. They may be used once each round and placed on an unoccupied square, or a square containing one of their specific chairs.
- Slide the block of ice. Having hit the iceberg a large chunk of ice has landed on the deck. As it moves, so it will shift any unattended deck chairs to new positions. A player can use this to their advantage, pushing any opponents chairs away from the prime spot, or moving their own deck chairs into specific spaces. The deck chair attendance brings some order, limiting some of the movement, which can be any in any direction.
Depending on player count there are just three or four turns per round to optimise deck chair position. At this point the boat starts to list and tilt, moving any unattended chairs one space. The direction of movement is indicated by the first card in the deck. During round one, all is calm and the ship does not move at all. In later rounds, there will be movement in any of eight directions. Players can see and anticipate these movements as the tilting direction cards for the next two rounds is placed face up at the start of the game.
The prime position is in the middle of the deck. Any player fortunate to have a chance at the centre games four points. Or chairs occupying positions corresponding two that players colour will gain two points. Deck chairs ending up on an opponent spot will be awarded a single point. At the start, players can set how many rounds they wish to play [ until the band has stopped playing]. For a short game of about 15 minutes there will need to be three or four rounds. Longer games, using all of the tilting direction cards, would take about 30 minutes.
I can imagine passengers and crew taking in the sight of Titanic berthed in Southampton before its maiden voyage. It must have been an impressive sight. It was a huge ship complete with four funnels- one of which was fake and added only to improve the aesthetics. The clean lines and promenade decks looked so clear and uncluttered by unsightly lifeboats.
Just picking up the box captures the essence of the golden years of transatlantic cruising, before air travel. The colours of the polished wood deck, the wooden deck chairs and even the art deco font used in the title, all set this game into a time of the early 20th century. A lot of thought has gone into the presentation, and like the White Star Line Titanic, from the outset, this looks impressive.
As passengers walked up the gangplank and got on board they were met with luxury and opulence. We are travelling upper class here, not steerage. So it is with Deckchairs on the Titanic. The card stock used for the boards is thick and oozes quality. The printing is crisp and colourful. As you place the three pieces of the board together, they create a lovely panorama of the boat. For each two, three or four player game there are two possible game set up positions with double-sided printing. Look closely at the board and you see the band continuing to play and the captain is still at the helm. There are many nice touches.
Full Steam Ahead
The game starts with all the pieces evenly placed, with no obvious advantage. Initially, I thought that in the first round, playing first could be seen as a slight disadvantage as other players could move pieces and hinder your plans on their final turn. However, being one of the first players will allow you to place a deck chair attendant quickly and “lock” the position of your chairs before they can be moved. Similarly, playing first could give the opportunity to move the ice block out of the centre start position. Whilst this might allow another player to take this high score position, it does enable you to be proactive and move the ice to a position where your chairs are unaffected.
The gameplay is very simple to understand with just a handful of rules governing movement. Gameplay and tactics take moments to explain and understand. With so few turns each round, a player’s action needs to bear in mind the tilt of the ship, and movement of the chairs, not just for the present round but the next rounds to come.
All Engines Stop
Our first few games of Deckchairs On The Titanic with two players did leave me rather underwhelmed. The short game was finished within four rounds, with three turns in each- just 12 movements of the deck chairs. Due to having so few movements available it became almost impossible to counter the slope and tilt of the ship with pieces becoming stuck at the edge of the board. I do enjoy abstract games and challenges, but with two players this felt like walking into the dining room and expecting a three-course meal but being offered a salad – albeit brightly coloured and a well-presented salad- but not enough to make me satisfied.
With three or four players, Deckchairs on the Titanic serves up a much more satisfying meal. Space on the grid is tighter. The competition for prime spaces is more fierce. Sliding the ice block will affect a number of opponents, not just one player. With a four-player short game of four rounds, we were disembarking at our final destination in just 20 minutes, but the beauty of this cruise was that we wanted more. Rather than restart, we could just weigh the anchor, raise the gangplank and play the next four ship movement cards and set out for another 20 minutes.
Some abstract games are solely two-player affairs [Shobu, Go]. There are others that offer two or more player options but have a sweet spot with higher player counts. Blokus and Ingenious would be in this category. Deckchairs on the Titanic would also join those games.
The theme is interesting. It gives some understanding of movement mechanics and use of the deck chair attendant to fix the chair position is a nice touch. This game could be visualised purely with a few stones on a board. In this situation, the rules of gameplay would be dry. The colour, theme, and set-up would be akin to adding a little grated truffle over your dish to elevate the meal. It is not essential but it does give some flavour.
Head To The Lifeboats
Like the real Titanic, there are some aspects of this game that are entirely superfluous. The gameplay resides around the centre board. The four and after sections will help the aesthetics, but like the 4th funnel on the real ship, they do not seem to be essential.
The ability to see the direction of the ships tilt in subsequent moves is a good touch. However, the orientation of those cards which indicate which way the ship will move needs to be fixed. The placement of a compass, perhaps on one of the boards to show the direction of North would be helpful.
Not every game that is produced is suitable for everyone. This game will appeal to newer gamers you are wanting to engage with abstract games. The rules are simple, colours bright and gameplay is quick. There is a depth to this puzzle. It is wise to use the movement of the ice to slide your chairs around, rather than rely solely on player directed movement. This only works people because players will see in advance the “tilting of the ship” for any subsequent turns. It becomes important to position your deck chairs in anticipation of that movement. This would be like bracing yourself when you see a heavy swell or big wave coming.
Deckchairs On The Titanic Mayday
With just three or four turns per round there never seemed to be enough moves or options to move the chairs. Depending on future tilt directions it is possible for a player to have their chairs stuck against an edge with no chance to move them to scoring positions. Perhaps I was just a bad loser. Other players did not seem to get irritated by this.
Deckchairs on the Titanic definitely improves with player count. As a four-player abstract game, it is very balanced and quick. Component quality is extremely good. In playing this with new gamers, they appreciate the simple rules and little downtime between turns. Some people enjoy cruising, for me the idea of 10 days stuck on a boat would be considered a nightmare. So it is with deckchairs on the Titanic. Whilst it is not my “cup of tea” others may enjoy this well-produced short abstract game.