The game War is a card game most of us have played. Sadly, the game does not have much going for it in the strategy department and its only redeeming quality is that it can be played almost anywhere because you don’t need a table for it. If only there was a game that would take advantage of the location flexibility trait, yet not put you into a lethargic state while playing it (oddball Aeronauts from maverick:muse games, that’s your cue). Today, we will be looking at a successful Kickstarter project that puts two players in command of dueling airships in a unique steampunk universe. Is this battle card game worth your investment? Read on.
oddball Aeronauts is a light strategy card game for two players and plays in 15-20 minutes.
The game takes place over the Middle Seas Realm of the oddball universe. This Realm is a landlocked ocean of many seas riddled with islands, reefs, whirlpools and other features. Oh, and it’s also swarming with pirates. The Empire of the Pendragon has had enough of the pirate’s and vows to put a stop to their aerial shenanigans. The pirate clans will not go down without a fight though, and that’s where the game begins. Each player receives a deck of cards for one of the factions. Players will choose one of the three skills to attack with each round and the goal is to force your opponent to discard all their cards. The player who still has troops remaining at the end will rule the skies…at least until the next battle.
There isn’t a lot to talk about component wise with oddball Aeronauts. The cards and box are good quality. The artwork is very interesting with a combination of steampunk and animals. Despite it not being my preferred style of artwork, I enjoyed the direction they took. The last thing I want to mention is that the iconography on the cards is well-balanced with the artwork. Neither one takes up so much room on the card that you feel one is encroaching on the other. Also, it was extremely smart to have all the relevant information for battle on the left hand side of the card. This allows you to simply slide the card over to make a decision on which cards to play that turn. Overall, I have no issues with the components.
How to Play:
Each player will start with a deck of 26 cards filled with officers, crew, and support cards for the faction they are playing. Each card has the three skill types necessary to be on a ship: Sailing, Guns, and Boarding. Each card will also have a trick (special ability) that applies during the round if the player chooses it. These can give bonuses to skills, force a player to discard cards or other effects. Each player will shuffle two event cards into their deck. The event cards are threats from the environment around the battle, such as storms, creatures, demons and other things that can potentially affect a player’s deck of cards. The last addition to the deck is one of two powerful mercenary cards. Players will put the entire deck face up in their hand and flip the bottom three cards face down on the bottom of their deck.
The rounds have five steps:
Step 1: Events
If either player has an event card in their top three cards, you must resolve that card first. These require players to compare skills to see who will take the effect of the event. Players will look at the necessary skill level from the top card on their deck and the player with the lowest or highest (depending on the event) to see who is affected. Once it is used, the card is discarded and placed face down at the bottom of the deck.
Step 2: Announce Skill
Every round, players can use a combination of the top three cards of their deck in battle. They will decide on a skill, (sailing, guns, or boarding), they want to use for this round and declare it, with the lead player, winner of the last round, going first.
Step 3: Play Cards
Players will decide how many of their top three cards they will play this round. The top card of the deck is always played and players can choose to play either of the second, third or both cards to support the attack of the top card. Additional cards will add to the skill bonus of the top card for that round. When both players are ready, they reveal the number of cards they wish to play.
Step 4: Winner of the Round
Players will total up the skill level of the top card, the skill bonus from any other played card, and any bonus from a trick or event. Then they compare their results. The player with the highest total wins the round. Each card that is played is discarded and placed face down at the bottom of the player’s deck.
Step 5: Win Result
Depending on which skill the winning player chooses will yield a different result. Winning with a Sailing skill will allow you to flip over the first two cards face down cards in your deck giving you more cards. Guns will force the loser to take the top two cards and place it face down at the bottom of their deck and Boarding allows you to recover a card and your opponent to lose one.
Rounds will continue until a player has no active (face up) cards remaining in their hand at the end of Step 5. A player with no face up cards loses the game because they have run out of crew, but if both players are out of active cards the game is a draw.
When I first got the preview request for oddball Aeronauts, the primary thing that intrigued me about the game was the portability. That this could be a game that allowed you to play while traveling or at home as long as you were not underwater. The game succeeded in this aspect due to one mechanic in the game, the discard. With other two player battle card games, you normally need a die or tokens to determine the hit points each player has remaining. Instead of that traditional route, oddball Aeronauts uses the simple action of turning your cards face down to accomplish that goal. I love a table full of components, dice and game boards, but I love that this game just gives us a set of cards. However, that simple and smart mechanic doesn’t add much to the core game element and I think it’s time to move on to how the game plays.
Overall, the game is very easy to play. You simply look at the top three cards in the deck and make a decision on which set gives you the most points that round. It might seem that the simple thing to do is just select all three cards and hope for the best. If this was the only strategy in the game it would quickly find its way onto my sell pile, however, it has a lot more going for it than that. The faction decks have a nice balance between what each card can do depending on where they are played. The officer and captain cards are solid as either a support or top card but specific support cards are great as a second or third card but can hurt the next round as your top card. These different abilities force you to think a round ahead and attempt to set yourself up to win the next round. This leads to more strategic decisions rather than just the most points. Also, this allows you to have some control over the deck rather than just subjected to the randomness of the shuffle. I do wish there were a few more mercenary cards in the deck. Currently there are only two, which doesn’t add a lot of variability.
The other thing that aids in the strategy of the game are the tricks on the cards. Each of these adds a different flavor to the game. This allows for each unit to have even more distinction from the others by allowing you to manipulate the rules of the game. This gives the player another thing to think about as they look at their hand. Another interesting mechanic is the different effects depending on which skill won the battle. The skill you choose depends on if you need to gain more crew members back into your deck or are trying to push more crew into the discard pile. It’s a simple thing, but adds more to the game then you would expect. All of the things I have mentioned allow this game to be an enjoyable experience; however there is one nagging thing that keeps this good game from being great.
My issue is not being able to plan for your opponent’s moves. If you play enough games like Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, you can start to anticipate what your different classes or colors of decks have in them. This allows you to plan your actions around what you assume could be lurking in the deck to crush you. In oddball Aeronauts, there is no way to do that. While I admit knowing what skill an opponent chooses could affect which one you choose, or how many cards to play during the game, ultimately comes down to hand optimization on the players part. Every turn you are looking at your deck of cards trying to get the most attack you can without leaving yourself exposed the next round. I love a game that forces you to think a few moves ahead, but I wish more went into the decision-making than just what I have in my deck.
One of the things I mentioned in my preview that could improve the game is some deck construction at the start of the game. After exceeding a few stretch goals, they were able to add more cards in the game that you can draft at the start of the game to mix with the main deck. This isn’t a feature for me necessarily, but a nice addition.
oddball Aeronauts has a lot of things going for it. It has very simple rules that once you get the terminology down will become second nature. The game also has surprisingly difficult, deep decisions for you to make throughout the game. I do wish there was more strategy anticipating what your opponent will have and a few more mercenary cards, however, that doesn’t take away that oddball Aeronauts is a solid game. Players will have to manage their hand as they attempt to out skill their opponent on each battle. Plus, the ability to play this game just about anywhere makes this a great game to have in your car or carry-on while you travel. If you are looking for a compact game that still gives you good game play, give oddball Aeronauts a purchase.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, you can get it for about $18.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A light strategy card game that brings an enjoyable gaming experience without the a pesky table.
• Lack of planning for what your opponent will do
• Only two mercenary cards