Airship City — Unique movement mechanics are not enough to propel this game to greatness

Airship City

Airship City sees up to four players competing to provide the most for the betterment of a great metropolis in the sky. Harvest resources, contribute towards communal social projects and fulfil supply requests but plan carefully because, in the city in the sky, nothing stays in the same place for long…

Hailing from Japanese publisher Lunchbox Games, via CMON, Airship City is, in many ways, a fairly standard worker placement game with one big twist. The city itself consists of sixteen tiles, arranged randomly in a square, that represent different locations such as mines, markets, docks and lighthouses. Each player has access to a number of worker airships which can travel up to squares from where they started the turn, taking the action of wherever they land. This in itself is a bit of a departure from most worker placement games that allow the player to place their workers wherever they want (usually with the exception of a space where another player’s worker is). Airship City goes a step further even than this though.

Every location in the city is, itself, lofted in the sky on airships and that means that tiles can and do move. Players can pay resources to move rows or columns of tiles, with displaced areas appearing across the grid on the opposite side, much in the fashion of classic Ravensburger game Labyrinth. This adds a lovely element of interactivity between players to Airship City that can be lacking from worker placement games. Often these games are very head-down, with players focusing on their own resources and objectives, relatively unaffected by the actions of others.

The city tile layout
When you think about it, a city built on a bunch of airships is wildly impractical.

This is not the case in Airship City. The restriction on how far your worker ships can move, combined with every sucker and his dog moving the board all over the place means that your best-laid plans can be quickly de-railed. Airship City is a game as much about adaptation and making the best of a duff situation as grand planning and strategy. The movement of the board lends the whole game an air of a giant puzzle too; It is not uncommon for a player to sit there on their turn, scratching their head and trying to work out how they can move the board to get what they want.

As it might sound, this is something of a double-edged sword. This extra dimension to the gameplay gives Airship City a real spritz of something different but can lead to slow turns; particularly later in the game when everyone is really trying to optimise their actions. Be prepared for it to take a while to come back round to your go.

Airship City: The final score in the game
Airship City does tend to create close games.

The rest of the gameplay of Airship City will be fairly familiar to those who have played other traditional worker placement-type games such as Lords of Waterdeep and Reavers of Midgard. Each round there are a bunch of orders to be fulfilled, requiring players to trade in certain amounts of different resources for victory points. There are also communal projects that can be worked on; starting with different types of public airships that can be built.

Once one of these public airships has been built, players have the choice whether to hand it over for the good of the city (gaining victory points and public favour) or to sell it privately, gaining money but no victory points or goodwill. Whoever has built the most of a particular type of airship gains a benefit and, if enough have been built and given to the city, they can start to build more advanced airships of the same type. Eventually, players can start to build public amenities that offer end-game amounts of victory points and benefits.

A selection of tokens from the game
The pastel aesthetic of the game is very pleasing.

The last aspect to the game allows players to invest in the city tiles on the board. Upgrading these tiles increases the players ability to gather resources (many advanced projects require more resources than can be collected without this) and grant victory points. They also allow players to upgrade tiles in the city, flipping them to another side that will give that player rewards when other players use the tile.

That is pretty much all there is to Airship City, but don’t be fooled. In the spirit of many Eurogames (despite being made in Japan, this is very much a Euro-style game) the complexity comes, not from the minutiae of the rules, but the different array of choices players can make on their turn. Sussing out where your ships can get and what that will allow you to do then building that into whatever grand plan you’ve come up with for yourself is challenging and can lead to the aforementioned long thinking time.

Luckily, Airship City is a charming game to look at. Artist Saori Shibata has given the game a delightful, pastel-infused look and a simple, iconographic style that provides clarity and pleasure in equal measure. All the components are card and whilst there are times that the game looks a bit flat as a result, the uniformity adds to the overall aesthetic. There is no doubt that it is still a very functional look (essential for a Eurogame) but it is delightful nonetheless.

I would say that, unless the art style or that unique movement mechanic really grabs you though, you can give Airship City a miss. Much of Masaki Suga’s design is worker-placement-by-the-numbers and, in a fairly crowded game field, Airship City does not offer as much as personal favourites of mine such as Crisis, Viticulture or Champions of Midgard. The downtime between turns can really drag and often the mechanics of the game leave players feeling like they can’t build the engine they want, but rather have to make do with what they can realistically achieve. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is a skill nonetheless to make the most of such situations, but for me the joy of these games is building engines and Airship City lacks satisfaction and payoff in that regard.

You can find Airship City on CMON.

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