We all have our comfort food. That cheeseburger, or tub of ice-cream after a tiring day of work where nothing went right. The same idea applies to board game designers. People who develop games so in tune with your very being that they feel intimate. Like putting on a comfy robe or sliding into a warm bath. For me, my warm bath designer is Tim Fowers.
Name: Now Boarding
Publisher: Fowers Games
Designer: Tim Fowers
Artists: Ryan Goldsberry
When was the last time you flew somewhere? How fast did you fly? How many passengers were aboard? If you answered 4 and 1, then I may havebeen your pilot. A scary thought. However, that’s how Now Boarding begins. Withyou and your friends being pilots, and a crazy 24 hours of flying ahead.
Are you ready?
You and your plane start the game at an American airport.Where there’s only a single soul brave enough to board. Before this round, and every round, you’ll draw several other passenger cards face down. Each has their starting city on their card back. So, you’ll know where their trip begins, but not where it ends.
It’s a real-time game, so we will be flipping a sand timer. But not yet. Let’s understand what we need to do, and then how we do it.
The what is simple. To deliver as many passengers as possible. And to avoid receiving 3 complaints.
The how is where you’ll be spending most of your time. You and your team will plan and decide together what you’ll be doing when the sand timer is flipped. At an airport, you can pick up and drop off passengers. The number of which depends on how many seats your plane has. To move from airport to airport you must spend fuel, and how much of that you can carry is determined by your speed.
After a round, you get money for passengers delivered which you then spend on upgrading your plane. Upgrades include increasing your capacity for fuel, or seats. You can also buy faster routes. This growth allows you to feel some mid-game success and opens the game for some long-term decision making. What will you become? An A380, or a Concorde?
It sounds great in theory, but the tech tree isn’t open enough for you to feel meaningful differences in how you play the game. And you’ll often find yourself returning to your favourite pathways after multiple playthroughs.
Now we can flip the sand timer.
You have 15 or 30 seconds to execute your plan. First turning over the face down passengers. Then decide. Stick to your plan or improvise.It’s at this time that spontaneity and last-minute changes are meant to create chaotic fun. But in playing, we found the 15 seconds too short for us to make any worthwhile decisions. Given half the time was spent flipping, picking up,and dropping off passenger cards. And then 30 seconds was too long, leaving us unworried about the time constraint.
Once the last grain of sand falls. Any passengers stranded,and not on a plane, gain a red cube. If they get four of these, they get angry.And you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry. No. They don’t turn green. But they do file a complaint.
This cycle of add passengers, plot, execute, upgrade, and add frustration continues until you run out of passengers to ferry. Your team then gets one last round before you add 1 complaint for every 2 undelivered passengers and find out if you won.
This is a real kick in the nuts.
Most co-operative games allow you to, despite everything,hang on for dear life and clinch a win. Now Boarding allows you to hang on, but cheaply denies you of victory with its end game scoring. Creating a defeat so sour you’d rather be drinking off milk.
And while the gameplay is solid. With its efficiency puzzle to be solved, and the creative solutions you and your co-pilots with come up with. It feels and plays like Now Boarding never left the spreadsheet.
This isn’t too shocking in retrospect. You see a lot of maths in Tim Fower’s previous designs. From the counting of steps in Fugitive,to the algorithmic movement of the guards in Burgle Bros. However, these games rise above their foundations. They manage to combine the calculating gameplay with fitting theme, and then are brought to life by Ryan Goldsberry’s art.
You don’t get that with Now Boarding. Instead, you feel like you’re a computer being force fed data. Not allowed to think anything but creating the most efficient outputs. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s soulless, but it’s definitely missing the charm that is present in his other designs.
Rewinding a bit to talk about the art. Can someone at Cartoon Network please write a blank cheque for Ryan Goldsberry? The artwork he produces is so delightfully playful. And, as always, it fits the tone and theme of the rest of the graphics, creating a complete visual package.
For me, Tim Fowers and Ryan Goldsberry are still a powerhouse duet in the board gaming world. And while I didn’t enjoy Now Boarding as much as their other titles. It won’t stop me from instantly backing their next Kickstarter campaign. But it will give me pause. Their spotless record now has an airplane sized hole.
And before you say surely, I can’t be serious.
I am. And don’t call me Shirley.
Phew it’s published! It’s quarter past nine and I finally got off work. This week has been crazy busy, yet instead of being tired… I’m excited?! We’ve been doing a lot of really interesting things in the software development world, and made some good positive changes. And I was the main driver. It made me immensely proud. I just hope my team feels the same.
How has your week been?