Alan R. Moon


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Just a few years ago Harry Wu has made a great appearance with his train-game Wabash Cannonball which was later released as Chicago Express by QUEEN GAMES. The game was praised for its interesting shareholding and rail-building mechanism which allowed the players to invest into different companies and extend their railroad network. However, this combination of shareholding and transportation was not a totally new invention, but the much older dated game Airlines by Alan R. Moon already had worked on such a setting over 20 years ago. However, after all those years the game has gathered some dust, and so ABACUSSSPIELE now has released Airlines Europe, an updated version of the old classic.

The basic setting of all Airline-games is similar. Each player takes the role of an investor who wants to get involved in transportation business, and spread over the gameboard (a map of Europe in this game) several airlines have their home airports at different cities, waiting to expand their service networks with the money invested by the players. Regardless of share ownership, a player is allowed to use his turn to purchase one or two route licenses for any airline(s) of his choice, and the price of each route license is determined by the cost printed at the specific route on the gameboard. Apart from money, the purchase of a route license is subject to several restrictions, and so a new license may only be bought for an airline if that airline still has license markers left (smaller airlines have less license markers), if the route license is still available (the number of licenses for each route is limited) and if the desired route is neighbouring either the airline's home airport or an already used route (all new licenses must enlarge the airline's existing service network).


The money which is spent on a route license goes back to the bank, and so the question arises how the players actually will get fresh money. Here the shares come into the game, and each player starts the game with two randomly determined shares of two different airlines participating in the game. Depending on their size (and available license markers), all airlines have a different total of shares, and all those shares have been shuffled into a big deck from which the players have received their starting shares. Whenever a player has used his turn action to purchase one or two route licenses, he is also entitled to take one new share either from the hidden deck or from a set of five open shares which are available in a "market" next to the gameboard. However, the share is not yet added to the player's portfolio, but instead he must take it to his hand for using it in a later turn.

So, instead of purchasing new licenses, a player also may opt to use his turn to add shares from his hand to his portfolio, and he may do this either by placing one share each of two different airlines, or a free amount of shares of just one airline. For each share placed, the player will receive a fixed dividend of two currency units from the bank, and so the placement of new shares is used to replenish a player's funds.

The total value of each individual airline is reflected by its route licenses, and apart from the normal continental routes the players also have the possibility to link airlines to some limited intercontinental routes. In addition, some of the smaller airlines also can gain bonus value if they succeed in connecting their home airport to a specific other airport on the gameboard, and the total value of all of each airline's routes will be marked on a track which runs on the outer edge of the gameboard.

Three times during the game the players will score victory points based on the shares held in their portfolio, and at these scorings each individual airline will be evaluated. As indicated, each airline's value is made up by its route licenses, and the more licenses an airline possesses the more victory points can be scored with that airline. During a scoring, most victory points for an airline will be scored by the player who possesses most shares of that specific airline, whereas other shareholders also may receive some victory points depending on the airline's value and the number of their shares.

The game ends after the third and final scoring, and if you look just at the rules lined out above you might think that Airlines Europe is a pretty straightforward shareholding game which doesn't hold that many surprises. However, once you get into the flight controller's chair, you will quickly discover that the game offers a much more interesting challenge than might be thought at first glimpse.

For one, Airlines Europe demands of the players to keep a good balancing of their actions, since a well timed placement of a player's shares may bring some quite interesting effects. So, it is an option not to play shares too early, since a company remains interesting for all players if the majority of shares has not yet been revealed, and this may result in other players buying route licenses for this company as well. So, the late use of shares also may bring some surprising last-minute changes, although such a strategy may backfire because the time of each scoring cannot fully be predicted.

Another interesting twist is the investment in shares of an intercontinental airline which is not present on the gameboard. While the whole concept if an airline without route licenses is somewhat inconsistent with the game's background, the rules mechanics for the "Air Abacus" airline fit well with the rest of the game. During their turn, the players may opt to discard shares from their hand, and they will receive either one or two "Air Abacus" shares for discarding either one or three shares from their hand. For one, the discarding of shares will remove these shares from the grasp of other players, and so a player can use this option if he thinks that he already has enough shares in an airline to secure a majority influence. However, even more important is the fact that the "Air Abacus" shares (which must be played just like any other shares) will participate in the three scorings, and here the value of that specific company is not determined by its route licenses but fixed. The value of "Air Abacus" increases at each scoring, and so the investment into "Air Abacus" provides players with some "useless" shares on their hand to get rid of those by exchanging them for shares which hold a possibility of profit.

The game keeps a good pace right from the beginning, and this is partly due to the fact that the players are forced to keep investing their money on a regular basis. The amount of money available in the game is limited, and if the bank would run out of cash devaluation would take place. This would force all players with more than eight currency units to discard money until they reach this amount, and so it is preferable for the players to keep investing instead of loosing money due to a financial crisis.

Overall, these elements work well with quite a few different strategic approaches which can be chosen by the players, and after a few rounds the players will start to explore these different ways to victory. Using synergy effects, well-timed share placements and even the blocking of airlines by purchasing licenses for neighbouring airlines all are part of a very harmonious gameplay, and seen as a whole Airlines Europe certainly has made an appearance which is stronger than all its predecessors.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany