I bet you didn’t recognise me stood there in that dashing pose, brass goggles affront my Victorian Topper worn at a jaunty angle, chromeplated plastic shin guards neatly buckled to my knee straps, clockwork eyebrow curlers and full pressure building up in my back boiler. Yes, I take the helm of the freeship Swiftwind, setting sail in clear skies, a full head of steam (I hear it is good for clearing the sinuses) and a cargo hold full of rather nifty items to sell when I next make port.
Puts on Abney Park music in background to help set the scene
It is said that the Grand Compact is completely reliant on coal for its steam…and that steam is reliant on coal. A wonderful steampunk symbiotic revolution!
Come join me, fellow soloists, on a an epic zeppelin infused, captain-ing adventure of Pirates, Revenants and Traders…we are destined for glory!
So What’s All The Fuss About?
This was a find based on a number of …well all of the Shadows Upon Lassadar series that Todd Sanders had posted on BGG. After that series I discovered there was a series of steampunk titles…that was me sold, especially as most of these were SOLO.
“Aether Captains: Pirates and Traders, a solitaire game (20-30 min) in which you play the captain of the freeship Swiftwind. As a trader and mercenary, you will buy and sell goods, brave the natural elements, and skirmish with dread air pirates over the skies of Arkady’s Grand Compact, the city-states of the Empire.
To win you must manage your zeppelin resources: engine components, your loyal crew, your weapons,and your cache of gold while completing 3 game Scenarios involving buying and selling trade goods, fighting Air Pirates and visiting cities and waystations. If ever 2 kinds of your resources stored in the sections of your zeppelin (Gold, Weapons, Crew, and Engine) fall to zero you have lost the game.”
Aether Captains:Pirates & Traders promised adventure in the sky with Revenants all over the shop, Pirates doing the dirty and the buying and selling of specialist cargo.
Todd has a certain way with graphic presentation on all of his game components and, if past games have been anything to go by, a special knack of employing some elegant mechanics…but was that going to be the case with this little title?
This is our ship! Four tiles representing engine room, crew quarters, cargo hold and the forward gunnery. There are a potential for choices for each section (allowing storage of lesser or greater resources/components such as engine strength) The four must total no more than TEN adding the bottom right hand number. The more costly a section, the more defensive resilience it has but not all sections can be at full strength to fulfil the ten point criterion. Difficult decisions before our adventure even starts. Does a heavy armoury hold more importance than a powerful engine room?
As play commences we work our way through three scenarios, each with specific completion conditions (be it buying/selling goods, earning certain quantities of gold or defeating pirates. As play proceeds we turn cards in the action deck (I may possibly refered to this as an event deck to, so don’t shout out my error)
This is as complex as the game gets…but hold on…now is the clever part. The action cards have two parts. Upper parts have a particular encounter, be it pirates, weather etc with certain criteria to achieve.
Combat, commerce, resource management are all governed by the lower part of the card. Statistics for Pirate attack, Health, our engine speed, crew strength etc are all present in easy to follow graphics.
The clever part to which I allude is the way in which we use these cards. An action/event card is drawn…the upper half sets the scene and tells us what we need to do to achieve success. The next card is then drawn from the deck and it is the stats bar/lower half of this card that is refered to resolve conflicts and establish our loses or gains.
Throughout the game we are treading a fine line, balancing accrued wealth with the replenishment of vital ship resources and components.
Immersion or Subversion?
The game finds us at the helm of an aether soaring flying machine, buying and selling…trying to avoid bad weather, bad pirates and all manner of steampunk-esque obstacles. Oodles of theme here but this title doesn’t sit on its visual laurels. Not at all. The way the game plays keeps us flying deep into the depths of this steampunk world. Economics run high in this world but the multitude of events, with their relevent flavour text, bring home all that is Steampunk in Arkady’s Grand Compact- city states of the Empire.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
Obviously the photos are of my print and play copy with some pinched and scrounged cubes…and some plastic pirate coins from somewhere or other but the card layouts, iconography and choice of illustrations really stand out as a pretty spectacular offering. The coffee mug is not a game component but is vital for holding my coffee.
Meeples and Standees:
Game Designer: Todd Sanders
Art/graphics: Todd Sanders
If a solo game set in a steampunk, aether filled world is not a great fit for solitarianistic measure, I don’t know what is. Everything we need is here. Action, excitement…weather…tortured souls inside automaton bodies. Speaking of Automa there is not an AI in sight, right to the distant horizon.
This game pits our wit, skill and captain intuition against the very game its self. With a hold full of characters (each posessing their own special ability), a large number of cunning scenarios to work our way through and the large event/encounter deck, Aether Captains: P&T offers us, the budding soloist, a plethora of game experience where re-playability is high on the agenda. Though not a complex game, this is a tricky blighter and takes all of our skill and tenacity to succeed in.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: It is not beyond the realms of possibility to win this game but as each game is a unique experience, the order with which we face scenario cards or face off against pirates, dreadful weather and goodness knows what else, Pushes us to the limits making difficult judgment calls on when and where spending valuable resources will be of optimum benefit to us. Challenging, yes, but not a game that will beat you down with its ridiculous difficulty level.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book is succinct and to the point. The eight A5 sized pages provide a clear set of rules and a multitude of visual aids. This facilitates a quick learning experience and means we can get straight into the thick of the action without much-of-a-do.
- Lucky Buggers: There is an element of luck involved in combat, when addressing encounters and dealing with the unpredictability of the weather (wonder if it is set in England?) but this is all down to card draw rather than a maddening dice fest. A degree of this randomness can be negated by the use of resources….but there is a price to pay by careless use of such.
- Highs and Lows: Although there are unsavoury encounters, this steampunk fantasy adventure even after defeat, leaves one with a feeling of satisfaction. Our best was just not good enough this time but next time will surely be a different matter?! It is an adventure with excitement, thrills and spills but in the end it does not have one of those soul-destroying dismal storylines. To me it feels upbeat and, with the way the game looks, makes me want to come back for more of the same.
Me, Myself and I:
Both me and myself have an interest in many things Steampunk but I often find this doesn’t always translate well into game format. Mechanics are bitty or overly complex, imagery falls into the trap of being too dark and we never feel the Steampunkness has been fulfilled. I am pleased to announce that this title “ticks all the boxes” (I do hate that phrase but it gets my point across here). This is an entertaining adventure up in the aether. It is simple to play, clever mechanics but dashed tricky at times to achieve success. It looks great and the game experience all three of us have had has been extremely positive. A small footprint with relatively small component count provides a particularly big adventure feel. It is not overproduced, doing its job simply but effectively. A very portable, handy solo gaming experience allowing us to Captain our very own steampunk vessel. Travelling the Grand Compact is a lot of fun.
Yay or Nay?
Without a shadow of a doubt, and not the one over Lassadar, this is such an engaging and entertaining solo jaunt into the world of Aether Captains. The cleaver use of stats on subsequently drawn cards adds to the suspense as it can never be a certainty what statistics will fall in our favour. As the clouds part and the sun glints off the polished rusty handrail, Aether Captains: Pirates and Traders skillfully flies its way into a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7). If you have the time and resources to PnP this game, I highly recommend you do so.
And so my fellow Captains, I must leave port post-haste. The wind is getting up terribly and I am not one to frequent the dire public toilet facilities of this here port. The back boiler is fully stokes, we have a full head of steam (though for the life of me, I have no idea what so ever what that means) and a cargo hold full of kneelength freeze-dried, brass coated pyjama bottoms to deliver before the sell-by date expires…
..clear skies to you all…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Aether Captains: Pirates & Traders on BGG:
Todd Sanders on Twitter: