Category Archives: Capsule Reviews

Brief reviews.

Skies Above the Reich

Skies Above the Reich. GMT Games, 2018 Designed by Jerry White and Mark Aasted. 46 wooden plane blocks with stickers, 12 blue wooden altitude blocks, Pilot Roster pad, 2 double-sided mounted game boards (4 maps), two counter sheets, almost 100 poker-sized cards, 3 Player Aids, a 60 page rule book, an Advanced rule book, a Situation Manual, and two d10. 1-2 players, ages 12+. About 30-60 minutes per mission. MSRP $89.

In Skies Above the Reich, a solitaire player commands a squadron (staffel) of German Bf109s struggling to defend Germany against the daylight raids of B-17s from the United States Army Air Force during World War II.

In a campaign of several linked missions in one or more years, you will send your pilots, expert and green, along with other aircraft on loan from other Luftwaffe staffels, against various formations of American B-17s as they rumble across the skies over Europe. Over time, your pilots gain experience and improve, or are shot out of the sky by the deadly “combat box” formation of overlapping fire or by various allied escort aircraft, including Spitfires and P-51s. With each mission, you might gain Victory Points for downing bombers or you might lose pilots and planes. Lose too many pilots or gain too little victory, and you can lose your campaign. Destroy enough bombers and you just might win!

The rules are brilliant. After a brief introduction setting the historical stage, the reader is referred to the first of many charts and tables on the Player Aids. Following the aid step by step, with page references provided if you have questions, you immediately proceed to setting up your first staffel, first campaign, and first mission. Within minutes you are playing the game. Follow along and soon you’re deciding which pilots to send, what angle to attack, and how to maneuver through the formation. Before long you’ve hit the limit of fuel and time and must land whatever planes you have left, while watching the remaining bombers continue on their deadly mission. Following the mission tally, you determine the fate of your pilots who took damage during the fray, and hopefully rack up some experience and victory points.

After stickering the blocks, which are used to show your pilots’ positions and mode (determined or evasive), add counters for attachments (like cannon or armor) and head into battle. Once approach and altitude are determined, barring interference from escorts, your planes maneuver into the bomber formation for their attack run. Assuming no one is forced off track by collisions, attacking is handled by a set of cards, drawn based on approach angle, and the results read based on altitude and lethality of the bomber formation at your position. Damage to the bombers and hits on your fighters are handled by chit draw and dice roll. And when exiting the formation, the B-17s’ gunners force you to draw Continuing Fire cards.

As you might guess, between counters for attachments, hits, and maneuvers, plane blocks can become a bit crowded. The only record of green pilot penalties and “experten” pilot skills is on the Pilot Roster, which makes it difficult when looking at the plane blocks on the map (which look alike except for the pilots’ names) to tell who has what special ability and whether or not it’s been used yet this mission.

The Advanced rule book includes rules for two players, where each player commands their own half of the staffel. While cooperative in that you can work together for your advantage, ultimately you’re trying to have a better record than your mission partner. Also included are rules for pursuing “fallen” bombers, so if you force a bomber out of the formation, but don’t destroy it, you can pursue it to see if you can finish the job.

If you’re a fan of solitaire wargames like B-17 Queen of the Skies or Target for Today, you will definitely want to check out Skies Above the Reich. Thanks to the rule book and player aid design, you’ll be flying high in no time. And with many campaigning seasons providing different bomber formations, aircraft, and attachments, as well as a randomized situational setup, there is a lot of replay value in this package. Highly recommended.

 This review was written based on a privately purchased copy. No compensation was involved. c2018 by Richard A. Edwards

Unfair

Unfair. CMON, 2017. $50. Designed by Joel Finch. 6 themed packs of cards (Gangster, Jungle, Ninja, Pirate, Robot, and Vampire, with 57 cards each), 5 “Game Changer” cards, 2 player reference sheets, 1 double sided game board, 1 Starting Player marker, 1 Current Step miniature, 1 Blueprint Closure card, a score pad (and pencil), 80+ “coin” and various other tokens, and 1 beautifully illustrated, well and humorously written rule book. 2-5 players. Ages 14+. 30 minutes per player.

Starting with only a dream and a Main Gate, this very thematic card tableau-builder game has players creating theme park attractions and upgrading them while adding staff and resources with various effects. In each of the game’s eight rounds, players will draw an Event card, be affected by City Events, and play Event effects, then take three actions, one at a time, in player order. At the end of each round players collect their income based on how many guests they attract to their park, within the park’s limited capacity.

Park actions include taking cards from various decks, including the Event deck (which provide various powerful effects, both pro-player and “take that” mechanics as well as defenses), Blueprints (which provide lots of extra end game points IF you complete certain objectives), and Park cards (which are the heart of the game and include the many, varied Attractions and Upgrades that make them worth more, as well as Staff and Resources to enhance your park.) Having taken cards, you can Build cards from the openly displayed Market or from your hand or one of your “Showcase” major attractions. You can also Demolish cards to make room for new attractions, and gather “Loose Change” to gain a little quick income.

The entire game from card illustrations to core design to the phase tracking miniature roller coaster car is thematically fun! Once packs are selected, each contributes cards to every deck creating a unique game setup for every mix of themes. With expansions this variety will only increase. Each pack is rated for Attraction Size, Blueprints, Coins, and Unfairness, so if you want to play with a lot of money use Gangster; if you want lots of opportunities to mess up your opponent, choose Ninja.

Unfair isn’t just about building a Thrill Ride with a Vertical Drop Element and an Express Queue to score big points for the Short Sharp Shock Blueprint, nor creating a park with a Nature Area and a Food Outlet with a Quality upgrade as well as a Theatre in order to complete the River Romance Blueprint, it’s also about the most effective way to get there in terms of resources (coins and actions) while trying to attract guests to your park and hold off your rivals. There are a lot of deep game play decisions to be made while adapting to an ever changing landscape. While there is a lot of randomness in the game (it is a card game with many decks after all), this can be mitigated by knowing what effects might happen and adjusting your strategy accordingly.

However, having built a beautiful, park with a huge, unique attraction, it can be very disconcerting to have your opponent tear it (and your plans) apart. A lot of decisions require an in-depth knowledge of which cards have been added to the various decks and what your (and your opponent’s) options may be. This knowledge is really only gained through repeated game play. While half the fun is discovering the highly entertaining, thematic cards during play it’s important to learn each pack’s potential effects as well. It is highly recommended that you play your first few games with low Unfairness rating packs and/or use the “World Peace” Game Changer card so players can focus on building their parks and discovering the various cards and possible effects before being blindsided by them. Jumping straight into the game’s deep end can be jarring.

Unfair has become one of my favorite games of 2017! The beauty and theme easily draws you in and the game play has a lot to be explored. The ability to mix and match the various theme packs creates many fun mixes and modifying game play with “Game Changer” cards allows you to customize the game to your preferred style of play. Expansion packs (including the already announced Western, Alien, Dinosaurs, Hackers, Zombie, and Medieval themes) are eagerly awaited.

This review was written based on a privately purchased Kickstarter copy. No compensation was involved.
c2017 by Richard A. Edwards