Thursday, 9 May 2013

Solo Gaming Review - Aether Captains (Print & Play)

Bit quiet round these parts isn't it? Thought I'd liven things up with a quick look at a solitaire game I've just tried out. This one brings another aspect of the hobby into focus though, and that is print & play games. Oddly it was a print & play game that kind of led me back to boardgames by pointing me in the direction of Boardgamegeek, that game was Zombie in my Pocket, and for a free game it certainly has cost me a lot of money.

Anyway, print & play games are, if you are unable to make the logical leap, games you can print out and play. They are quite often free, though some are available to buy, and there are also many, many solo games, in part because of the solo print and play design contest that runs on boardgamegeek. Some of them are as simple as a single sheet of paper, others require days of spray glueing  and cutting out strangely shaped pieces of card. I'm not sure why it appeals to me, part of it is the craft which I find relaxing, part of it is the 'free' games, and the instant availability...though they are generally neither free or instant due to the time and components.

I could waffle on all day, but I should really get to the game in question. This one if Aether Captains, the first in a series of games designed by the prolific Todd Sanders on Boardgamegeek. Todd seems to create, or redesign a new game every few weeks, or at least it seems like that, and he has a really nice touch when it comes to artwork. Seriously check his stuff out, the Barbarian Prince redesign is outstanding, I have a mostly finished copy to try soon.

So the description reads:

"As commander of the the HMS Dauntless, you have been tasked by the Emperor to find and destroy merciless air pirates threatening the skies of the world. With your staunch crew of steam welders, engineers you fly with honor into battle"
Aether Captains is a solo, steampunk themed, dice game. You take on the role of a commander of a worthy, air-going, zeppelin, battling a wave of attacking air pirates.

Mmmmmm steampunky..... It really was the theme that got me, plus the components are cool.

The game uses 1" wooden cubes for the pieces, depicting the various craft and the damage inflicted on them, some also being rolled as dice though a D12 is required for most even resolution.

Above is the initial setup, with my airship vertical down the middle, plus the various attackers laying in to different sections. The enemy cubes are rolled to determine some random enemy craft, which are then placed randomly using the D12, so you should get a nice range of starting points.

After this the game follows a simple set of five phases which are repeated until either all the enemies are destroyed, or four of your airship sections are showing maximum damage. The damage to your ship sections is shown by rotating the cubes, which affects the target values you need to roll for attack and defense, and can also reduce the range of guns if they are available on that section.

All resolution using the D12 is simply rolling over a target value, so rolling greater than the red value on one of your airship sections is a successful attack, and rolling greater than one of the blue values is a successful defense. The same goes for the enemy attack rolls, plus some other rolls for moving the airship, or repairing sections that are damaged.

The phases are:

  1. Air Pirate attack and your defense - each enemy gets a chance to attack the section it is adjacent to, and you get to defend, any damage is recorded by rotating the cubes.
  2. Air Pirate movement - the D12 is used to randomly move the enemies, they will either move one space clockwise or anticlockwise, or remain where they are.
  3. Your movement or attack - this is where you can fight back, some of the cubes have gun emplacements, with a range displayed in black squares. Each gun can fire once at an enemy that is in range, on the same side of the airship as the gun. If you choose not to attack, you can shift the airship one space backwards or forwards, as long as you don't leave an enemy behind in doing so, this helps bring guns into range and move damaged sections away from attack.
  4. Your repairs - you can attempt to repair a section by rolling greater than the current repair number.
  5. Crew re-roll - the next picture shows the game further along, and includes the crew die which is rolled at the end of each round of phases. Depending on the crew result, you gain various bonuses or dice modifiers which can be used in the next round. 

Rinse and repeat, and you are done. It plays pretty quickly, and there aren't a huge number of decisions to be made, and Todd has stated that it's one of the first real designs he uploaded, and he considers it a bit rough around the edges. It's a pleasant enough distraction though, and I like it enough to try out some of the expansions which have been created by both the designer, and fans of the game. 

Don't bother if you want a game of deep strategy, but if the theme appeals, and you just want to chuck some dice around for ten minutes it's not a bad option. I did have the wooden cubes handy though, so it wasn't much effort on my part to build.