Publisher: Fowers Games
Designer: Tim Fowers
Duration: 30-60 mins.
Running an airline difficult business. Every day you’re trying to manage new customers coming in and working very hard to get the to them to their destination. But what happens when issues come up? Can you deal with them on the fly in limited time, or will customers just get fed up and enough complaints that will drive your airline out of business?
Now Boarding is a co-operative game from the same studio that brought you Burgle Bros., but there is a twist. Part of the game is played in real time, meaning you will have to complete your actions in a limited time to work together to get the job done. Can you all work as a team and make sure all the passengers get to their destinations, or will they get angry and complain enough to cause you to fail?
What’s in the box?
Inside the box there is a double sided game board, 1 preflight/upgrade chart, 5 wooden planes (1 per player colour), 30 anger cubes, 6 weather tokens, 72 passenger cards and 9 vip cards, 5 cockpit/tail/wings (1 per player colour), 18 seat tiles, 15 double-sided speed tiles, 10 double sided route tiles, 2 temporary upgrade tokens and 2 sand times.
The components are great quality as expected from Fowers Games. While the box doesn’t have the same look as Burgle Bros, it’s bigger and fits everything better. And the art… Ryan Goldsberry did an amazing job capturing the same art style as Burgle Bros. and has that feel of the 50’s/60’s golden age of flight. The board looks great but the creases are very noticeable compared to most games, but it doesn’t distract from the gameplay at all.
So how do you play?
To set up the game, place the board in the middle of the table and pick the side matching the player count (2-3 or 4-5). Then choose the right times (15 seconds for 2-3 and 30 seconds for 4-5). Then each player chooses a plane and their starting destination, and then chooses a free upgrade of either 1 seat or engine. Then you prepare the passenger decks based on the preflight chart and the player count, and then each player searches the passenger deck for a card matching their starting city and set them face-up next to the board. The draw the appropriate number of cards and place them in their corresoing space on the board face down, and set up the weather. Set up all the components and now you’re ready to begin the in the morning.
The game is played in 3 phases: Morning, Afternoon and Evening. Each phase will be played over multiple rounds until the card deck of that card is depleted. And there are 2 parts to a round: Flight and Maintenance.
During a Flight, you will plan out your actions and then flip the timer upside down, and all the face down cards on the board will be flipped up. Then you will move between cities and pick up and drop off passengers, but all these actions will be done in real time and with no turn order: players will do this all simultaneously. There are a lot of factors to consider:
- The speed on your engines is how many spaces you can move on that turn, but you can stop anywhere on the board, even in mid-air
- White spots on the board are free for anyone to use, but you must have the airline symbol to fly over those spots marked with that symbol, whether its from your starting plane or through a route upgrade.
- You can pick up any passenger in a city you are in (provided you have space) and can drop them off in any city, even if its the not the one on their destination. However, if you drop them off in the city of their destination, you keep the card and it becomes the money value indicated on that card.
When the time is up everyone ends their actions we move on to the Maintenance phase. Every face up passenger in an airport will receive an anger cube on their card, and then the next set of passenger cards will be drawn face down in their respective airports. At this point, you can look at the upgrade chart and spend money to upgrade your plane. After that, resume back to the Flight phase unless the deck has run out, then we move on to the next part of the day, reset the weather and keep playing until its the end of the evening phase. Then you will take one more round, and the game will end.
If you ever get 4 anger cubes on a passenger they immediately move to the “complaint pile”. 3 complaints and the game is over and everyone loses. However, when a passenger gets picked up all their anger cubes dissapear (they’re just happy to be finally picked up). After the last evening phase, every set of 2 passangers in an airport or in a place count as a complaint. So if you only had one left, it would count as no complaints or 3 left would count as 1 and so on. If you can end without the 3 complaints you win the game!
Now it’s important to know that you can drop off passengers at any airport and have another player pick them up, and you’ll have to do that a lot because theres a lot of routes on the board that only certain airlines can fly on (unless you get the route upgrades), or until you upgrade your plane. And sometimes it’s worth just picking up a passenger with 3 cubes even if you can’t deliver him to his destination just to avoid a complaint. There’s a lot of strategies that you’ll have to work hard to get through and that’s all part of the fun
The game also include a set of VIP cards that add a variant and make the game even harder, so if you want a challenge its there for you!
Is it any good?
I’ll start off that I’m not usually the biggest fan of real time games. They can get really stressful and every moment you spend planning is usually a dent in the clock which only adds to more stress. BUT… that’s where Now Boarding really shines. Because you only play in real time during the action phase, you have as much time to plan with what you know before you flip the new cards over for the round. It allows you to co-ordinate fairly well with the information you have and then you have a limited time to do what you need and adjust on the fly.
The mechanics are really great in Now Boarding, and very simple. Weather works really great and makes you plan your routes accordingly, and the upgrade system is really great. I love how you have a personal plane instead of just some player board, and when you add a route, seat or engine upgrade you actually get to see your plane get better. It makes some really hard decision on what to upgrade: do I want to be able to travel farther or carry more passengers? Or do I want to be able to travel across other airlines routes and get those upgrades? All very tough and thats some of the fun, working with everyone else being like “You should be the west coast express and move fast, while I stay around the middle and move a lot of people between cities and you take the extra route so we can move faster between these 2 cities”. And this might be one of the best co-ops at solving the issue of “quarterbacking” where one player can dictate the flow of the game, as everyone has to work very well together and no one can dictate it well.
The other thing that’s great is just how the game actually works in the real time… you have to be fast and dropping off passengers quickly so someone else can pick them up and then moving to another city so you can get those passengers all within the time frame is tricky and really fun! That’s one thing about this game… it actually feels like a lot of fun. It’s great planning what you’re going to do and then flipping over a card and it’s like “oh no I can take that one instead and do better” but you need to stick to your plan… or do you? Think there’s enough time to make that kind of change on the fly? Those are the kind of fun choices that Now Boarding offers.
Now there is only one thing about this game that I really didn’t like… and that is the timers. No, there is nothing actually wrong with them per se. But its the fact that you have to keep track of them while you are making all those choices and there’s been a few times where you lost track of it and you go over. Not that we were trying to cheat or anything but it’s east to make those kind of mistakes. Something with an audible cue works a lot better (like a timer on your phone), but I feel that there is a better solution. Other games that require timers like this (Meeple Circus is a fine example) provide a free app to download, and include thematic music that really add to the gameplay, and that would really suit a game like Now Boarding. And while we are on the topic of timers, 15 seconds feels almost a little 2 short for 3 players while 30 seconds gives you a lot of time for 4 players. Now I’m not saying the game doesn’t work: it’s great and works with the provided timers, but in my opinion it should be 15 seconds of 2 players and then 5 seconds added per extra player (15s for 2, 20s for 3, 25s for 4 and 30s for 5). While it doesn’t make sense to add 4 timers to the box, the app would make it easy to even add it as a variant to the game.
That being said… it’s a very minor flaw in an otherwise amazing game. Everything about Now Boarding comes together so well as a complete package. It’s a really great co-op game with the best real-time elements I’ve played in any game so far. So if you’re hesitant on real-time games or haven’t been a fan, or like them, give Now Boarding a try and you won’t be disappointed.
- The best real-time elements I’ve encountered yet
- Really fun gameplay
- Stunning art and components
- Planning it all out and then seeing it all change before your eyes
- The timer is hard to keep track of and easy to forget about, needs audible end to time limit.
*Thank you to Fowers Games for supplying a copy of Now Boarding for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here*