I think it’s safe to say that Alan R. Moon’s most famous game is Ticket to Ride. But five years before TTR, Moon designed another train game called Union Pacific. Despite the thematic similarity, the two games were nothing alike – TTR was all about building your own personal routes, while UP was more of a stock collection game. Union Pacific was also not originally a train game – it was based on an earlier design of Moon’s, called Airlines. That game came out in 1990.
Now, 21 years after the original Airlines came out, Moon is once again visiting the system with Airlines Europe (art by Christian Fiore). The game is being published in the United States by Rio Grande, is for 2-5 players aged 10 and up, and takes around 75 minutes to play. In the game, you’ll be using different airlines to build routes all around Europe. The heart of the game is the collection of stocks in these airlines, and trying to make your stocks worth more. Now, I have never played either Airlines or Union Pacific, but both are pretty well regarded. And I think it’s always interesting when a designer revisits a system again years later, as when Philippe Keyaerts remade Vinci into Small World. This evolution of designs makes games fairly unique among entertainment media. I mean, can you imagine the outrage if George Lucas tried to remake the original Star Wars? I mean, that would be ridic…huh? He’s threatening to do just that? Oh.
Anyway. Back to the game, which comes with a gameboard featuring a map of Europe and an airline share track; three scoring cards; 112 share cards; 112 plastic airplanes; 20 airline markers; 20 Air ABACUS share cards; 84 VP tokens in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 50 points; 70 bank notes in denominations of 1 and 5 million Euros; 4 bonus connection markers; and 5 summary cards. Players start the game with 8 million Euro, a game summary card, a hand of 8 share cards, and one more VP token than the player on their right (the start player begins with one VP). Each player will simultaneously reveal two of their share cards to begin their share holdings. The board shows a bunch of routes spreading across the continent, and each airline will have a home city (though not all airlines will be used in games with fewer than five players). The airlines are mostly names after game publishers – Air Amigos, Rio Grande Southern Europe, Lucky Hans Airways, Days of Flying Wonders, Brooms Bewitched, Jolly Roger Airships, FF Flys, It’s Funagain to Fly, Flying is Simply Fun, and White Winds. The biggest difference between these companies is the number of shares available (Air Amigos having the most, White Winds having the least). Scoring cards are shuffled randomly into three parts of the draw deck.
On a turn, each player carries out one action. You have four choices:
- Buy one or two route licenses and take a share card – The routes on the board are each marked with a number of numbered circles. The number represents the cost to place a plane there, as well as the number of spaces that airline’s marker will move on the scoring track. Planes come out of the supply, and match the different airlines. They must be placed on a route that connects directly to their home city, or on a route that can trace its way back to the home city through other routes containing planes of that color. Only one plane of a color can occupy a route connecting two cities, and if the supply is exhausted, no more planes of that color can be placed. You can buy two route licenses as one action if you want. After you’ve bought your licenses, you can take one share from the face up stock market or draw pile and add it to your hand.
- Play out shares and receive dividends – Here, you add to your share holdings. You can do this by either playing any number of shares from a single airline onto the table, or by playing only one from at least two different airlines. You also get 2 million Euros for each share you play out.
- Trade for Air ABACUS shares – You can discard one share card to receive an Air ABACUS share in your hand or share holdings, or you can discard three share cards to get two Air ABACUS shares. These shares aren’t in play on the board, but can get you extra points in the scoring rounds.
- Take money – Simply take 8 million Euros from the bank.
When a scoring card comes out of the draw deck, it’s time to score. Each player can take one share from the stock market. Then each airline is scored based on its position on the scoring track. The player with the most shares of an airline that is being scored receives the highest amount of points indicated on the board; second place receives the second number; and so on. Air ABACUS points are also awarded, and while those points are set, they increase as the game goes on. After the third scoring, the game ends and the player with the most points is the winner.
This game seems like a logical step up from Ticket to Ride. You can definitely see the similarities – one move at a time, building routes, collecting sets – but the economic element adds just a little bit more to the strategy. The fact that you can place airlines that might help your opponents means that there’s a little more thinking involved. I would say that this would probably be a really good bridge between TTR and some of the more complex train style games. Maybe not 18xx yet…I can’t say that I really know that much about the genre to know. The thematic use of planes instead of trains makes this game a little different, but mechanically, it still works like a train game.
This is a game I do want to try out, though I doubt it would be one I’d want to add to my collection. My wife doesn’t really like Ticket to Ride because she always wants to do more on her turn than she is allowed to do. I think she might appreciate being able to build two routes in a turn, but I doubt she’d take too well to the added economic pressure (she HATES math). For me, it seems solid, but not one I’d want to play a lot. So I will play if given an opportunity, but we’ll see how it goes from there. Thanks for reading!