Airplanes have always fascinated me.
When I was just a young lad, my grandfather would regularly design, construct, and decorate his own radio controlled flyers before taking them out into the field and flying them around. I have vivid memories of visiting with him and marveling at his handiwork. There was a massive 10 foot long Federal Express commercial plane hanging from his ceiling and hanging next to that were the crumpled remains of an aircraft that had not fared so well in a dogfight. Next to that was another plane, and another, and even more besides that.
I would sit there for hours in his workshop upstairs watching him meticulously cutting ribbing from balsa wood with an X-acto knife before sanding each and every piece by hand with the same delicacy and care that you typically reserve for a baby. In some ways, those planes were his children. That love and attention to detail shone through the final product. These were more than just model planes. They were glorious, functional works of art. I even had the occasion to go to the airfield with him one time to witness his creations in flight. It’s a memory I will always treasure.
Movies like The Memphis Belle, The Aviator, and Hayao Miyazaki’s amazing The Wind Rises have only served to bolster my fascination with all things aeronautical. And that is why I jumped at the chance to obtain a prototype of Planecrafters. I lack the vision and the skill to craft my own physical planes, but I’ve got a chance to do it here.
Disclaimer: Meeple Mountain was provided a pre-production copy of the game. It is this copy of the game that this review is based upon. As such, this review is not necessarily representative of the final product. All photographs, components, and rules described herein are subject to change.
In the game of Planecrafters, players take on the roles of industrialists trying to build up the most profitable plane-building operations that they can. Each turn, they will be able to draw plane parts into their hand from an open display of cards, use those parts to construct planes that they can sell for crowns (the game currency), and also hire employees from a lineup of Employee cards. These employees will help them to earn crowns faster and also use their actions more efficiently. At the end of the game, some bonus points will be awarded and added to the total of each player’s crowns. The player with the most points will be declared the winner.
Now, if you’d like to know more about how the game is actually played, then continue reading. If that isn’t you, though, feel free to fast forward to the Thoughts section at this time.
The setup for Planecrafters is fairly easy. First, the Employee cards are separated by type (Tier 1, 2, and 3 respectively) and arranged into a grid. Then the Parts cards are shuffled into a deck and each player is dealt some cards to form their starting hand. Each player also receives a player aid as well as 5 crowns. The remaining Parts cards are placed face up beside the Employee card rows and 4 cards are turned face up next to this pile to form the Parts Depot. The Bonus cards are placed close by as well. Then, simply choose a starting player and you are ready to begin.
In the first step of a player’s turn – the Hire step – they will have the opportunity to hire a worker from the Employee pool. Each worker has a cost associated with hiring them, a special ability that they can perform, and an icon which shows the particular turn step this ability can be performed in. Employee cards are placed in front of the player that hired them and that worker’s ability will be active for the rest of the game. The workers come in 3 tiers.
The Tier 1 workers all cost 4 crowns apiece and there are two copies of each one. Possessing BOTH copies of a single card would provide that player with twice the benefit.
The Tier 2 workers are slightly more expensive (6-8 crowns). There are no duplicates of any of these or the next tier of workers either.
Finally, there are the Tier 3 workers. These are the most expensive workers to hire (9-12 crowns).
In the Acquire step, the player will take two cards from the Parts Depot and place them into their hand. If they take a face up card, the card is immediately replaced. The player can also draw blindly from the top of the Parts deck if they so choose.
During the Flyer step, the player will add up to 2 cards from their hand to their factory (their play area) to construct planes. They will continue building onto this plane in subsequent turns until the plane is completed (i.e. – it has a nose, a tail, a left wing, and a right wing). The parts are not required to match. Unless the player has hired the Factory Manager, they are only ever allowed to construct a single plane at a time.
It is worth noting here that each plane is worth more crowns the more matching parts that it has in it. If a player placed a mismatched part in a previous turn but later drew the matching card, they are allowed to replace the existing part with the newly drawn one. There is even a “Spare Part” card that is played as a free action and can be used as a substitute for any other Part card.
In the Buyer step, if the player has a completed plane in their factory area, they can sell it for crowns. The total number of crowns depends entirely upon the makeup of the plane. The more matching parts there are, the greater the reward for selling the plane.
End Game and Scoring
The end of the game is triggered once a player empties the face down stack of Parts cards. The current round is finished out and then bonuses are awarded to people that meet the criteria. Any ties for these bonuses result in the total bonus being split between the tied players as evenly as possible. The players then add their total crowns to any bonuses that they collected and the person with the highest total wins.
The first thing that drew me to Planecrafters was the visual aesthetic. The minimalist art style and the subdued earthy tones make me feel like I’m part of a pulp novel or an old movie; there’s just something about it that really appeals to me. It isn’t often that you run across a game where the designer is also the primary artist, but this one is just such a case. And, man, has Andrew Bosley done a superb job on the artwork. Planecrafters is just a great looking game!
Since the copy that I received is just a prototype, I really cannot comment on the quality of the components, but I would like to single out one item that really impressed me: the player aid. I’ve never seen player aids like the ones included with this game. The player aid is a bi-folded piece of paper that’s jam-packed with all of the information needed to play the game: turn sequence, employee costs and abilities, a scoring aid, and even an illustrated example of what each completed plane looks like once it’s constructed. It reminds me of the little emergency procedure brochure you’d find in the seat pocket when you’ve boarded a commercial plane… very impressive!
But enough about the graphics. Let’s talk about the game play.
My initial concern going into the game for the first time was that the role of luck was going to play such a large part that I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I was afraid that I’d be stuck just drawing cards and hoping for the best without any real control over what happens to me. Going in, I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to enjoy myself at all. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. From hiring employees to overbuilding parts that you might not want to being able to slap together and sell any mishmash of random parts, Planecrafters presents plenty of opportunities for random luck mitigation.
This mitigation comes at a cost, though. Hiring employees costs crowns and each crown spent is a potential end game point. Should you invest your money now or save it until the end? Overbuilding a part is risky because you might not draw the other parts you need to make it worth it. Should you risk it or should you just sell your creation for a substandard profit? Every turn spent not selling planes is a turn in which you get further and further from winning the game. Since time is literally of the essence and your cash flow is a representation of your victory point pool, every tiny decision that you make in this game is an important one. I really like that. I appreciate a game that provides me with agonizing decisions and Planecrafters is definitely one of those games.
The interesting decisions, the small physical footprint, the ease of play, the helpful player aids, and the amazing artwork all come together to create a game that’s fun to play and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Planecrafters is on Kickstarter now. If you’re looking for a quick, lighthearted game to play with your family and friends, then definitely give this one a look!