oddball Aeronauts--A Double-Take Preview

oddballlogoYou're at the doctor's office. Or the DMV. (Shudder...) Or in line at at amusement park. Or waiting to buy tickets to a Radiohead concert. You're bored. You don't have a surface to play a game. But you have the sudden urge to battle it out for pirate-like supremacy of the air. What will you do?! I have just the thing...

The Overview

Oddball Aeronauts is a 2-player card game where you're trying to force your opponent to discard all of his or her cards. It's for ages 9 and up (which seems about right), and plays in about 15 minutes.

Everything you need to play the game. No...everything.

The Components

Note: We were sent prototype copies of the game. The quality and exact component list may change before publication.

Cards... That's it. No tokens. No nothing. Just cards. The cards are broken into two types:

Faction Cards - There are 2 decks of 24 cards per Faction. These cards have 3 skills listed on them - Sailing, Guns, and Boarding. Each of those skills has a primary "Skill Level" and a "Skill Bonus." We'll tell you a little more about that in a minute. These cards also have Special Abilities that will either affect this turn, or the next turn.

Event Cards - There are a total of six Events in the game, but with rule updates only three of them will come out in the game play. These Events come into play from one player's deck but affect the whole game and both players have to deal with its effect.

The Setup

Give each player a Faction deck, and randomly shuffle three Event cards into one of the decks. Players then hold their deck face-up towards them so they can see what is now the top card's face. The rules say to play Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine the starting player--the starting player is the one who loses. And you're ready to go.

The Gameplay

The game is played in rounds, and each round is essentially a portion of a battle between two rival Factions.

Before we go into how the game actually works, there are some interesting concepts and actual physical mechanics that should be noted and understood. As you probably noticed, the entire deck is being held by each player at this point. The goal of the game is to get the other player to discard all of their cards. It's a war of attrition. When a player discards a card they turn the card face down and puts it at the bottom of the deck. Once one player gets to his or her first face down card, they've exhausted their deck--and lose. Certain abilities and round results will allow players to recover a card, and in this instance players search down in their deck to the first face down card and then turn it face up, thus keeping more cards in the game. Some have an ability to add a bonus in the next round after it's discarded. They've printed this bonus on the back of the card in the top corner, so in this instance the card is discarded and then pushed up to reveal that bonus for use in the current round. There are also some abilities that take effect that round, and use the same mechanism to reveal the ability to your opponent by pushing the card up, without revealing the face to them.

One of the Factions...

The rounds are broken down into 5 phases:

1. Events -- If the player with the Event cards has an Event in their top three cards, it's brought out and dealt with. Or continues its effect on the round.

2. Announce Skill -- At this point each player will fan out their top 3 cards, and determine which skill they will use--Sailing, Guns, or Boarding. You're allowed to look past your top 3 cards to see what is coming up next, but you can only use up to your top 3 cards. Once both players have decided what skill they will use, they announce it and the next phase commences.

3. Play Cards -- Like we just said, you can choose to play up to 3 of your top cards. By playing more than one card you are supporting the top card in the fight. So you'll be using the top card's "Skill Level"--which is the big number on the top for that skill--but for the cards below it you'll be using their "Skill Bonus" value--which is the smaller number on the bottom of that skill. You also can only use the special ability of the top card. Once both players have decided how many cards they will play, the lead player--the one who lost Rock-Paper-Scissors--will count to three and each player will hold up X number of fingers: X being the number of cards they intend to play.

4. Winner of the Round -- Players reveal the cards they are playing, and show the total of their Skill, by adding up Skill Level, Skill Bonus and any Special Ability Bonuses that may be applied, and the player with the highest level of Skill wins the round. If there should be a draw, then no one wins and the cards are discarded.

5. Win Result --After one player is declared the winner of the round, both players discard any cards they played, and then you resolve the results.Β If the winning player used Sailing, they recover 2 cards. If they used Guns, the loser discards 2 additional cards. And if they used Boarding, the winner recovers 1 card and the loser discards 1 additional card.

The winning player starts the next round as the Lead player and you do the whole thing over again.

After all of the effects have been resolved, if a player has no more active (face up) cards, they lose; if both players have no more active cards, it's a tie!

The Verdict

Even the unfinished art is cool!

Firestone--What a terrific idea! I have no idea if someone's already thought about making a game that needs no surface to play, but who cares? It's great. I'll definitely be grabbing this game on trips and hikes and any travel I have to do.

Jeremiah--Yeah, I'm sure there are a few micro games out there that don't use a playing surface, but this is much more than a micro game, and I love the idea. You could easily play this on a table and lay down the cards you're playing for a round. But I love the thought that went into making it work without a playing surface. I played this with a friend while we were sitting on my couch. That's just cool.

Firestone--Yes, steampunk is all the rage now, so there's a part of me that wants to avoid everything steampunky, just on general principle. But I can't help myself! The artwork is really cool and evocative. The characters are interesting, and I'm kind of a sucker for anthropomorphic animals... Let's make this into a kick-butt cartoon!

Jeremiah--Yeah, I'm okay with the Steampunk movement for now. It's creative and imaginative, and it's just cool to look at; this game is no different. Steampunk is very much the Japanese Animation of this generation. I remember when Akira hit these shores; it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen and it blew up from there. Steampunk is riding that wave; I'm sure it will settle before long, but its carved out its niche and I'm sure it's here to stay. Lucky for us it doesn't involve sparkling vampires or any other lameness...

Firestone--With a box that small I wasn't expecting to be thinking too much, but there are definite, actual decisions to be made. Interesting decisions. You're always having to look at the next few cards and try to figure out the best way to play them, and when to tiptoe, and when to bum-rush.

Jeremiah--I totally agree. With not needing a playing surface, and holding all of your cards, I was really thinking along the lines of a streamlined micro game. But it's really not. Is it a 3-hour Euro? No. But the fact that you can plan ahead, and potentially throw a round so you can maneuver a card into a position to really slam your opponent hard in the next round, is a great mechanism, and adds a ton of strategic decisions to make. None of them are too deep that you get analysis paralysis, but enough to make the game really interesting and fun.

Jeremiah--If there was one thing I would add to this game components-wise, it would be something like three stones/tokens for each player. So instead of counting to three and sticking up your fingers, you would reach into your pocket and pull out a number of stones to reveal how many cards you're playing that round. It seems piratey to reveal stones in your hand, and wouldn't clutter up your non-existent playing area. But the fingers work fine.

Firestone--I've played this with adults, and they all thought it was clever and fun. Not super deep, but who wants to play Tigris & Euphrates at the doctor's office? I also played with my 9-year-old, and he loved it, once we got past the rules, which were a little hard for him to grasp at first. But as he was making his way through his deck, he kept seeing the next picture and saying, "Oh cool!" or "Aww....look at that one, Dad!" And then I'd have to remind him that he probably shouldn't show me his cards...

Jeremiah--I haven't played this one with either of my boys. My oldest could probably grasp it, and it would be good to work his math skills. Thematically and visually though I can't imagine many people that wouldn't think it's cool, including kids. The cards are just really cool to look at--very richly designed!

Firestone--I hope they come out with expansion cards, and maybe a way to customize your deck a little. It doesn't need that, but it would be fun, and give it some legs for the long-haul.

Jeremiah--I kind of don't want to see deck customization in this game; I feel like it could get unbalanced really easily, or just convoluted too much from what it is. It's a quick-playing game that you can throw in your pocket, laptop bag, etc. I'm sure there will be an expansion or two down the line--more events most likely--or maybe even another two decks that bring out more Factions. If there was a way to bring more than 2 players into the game, I'd be all for that, as long as it wouldn't break the game, because I really like it the way it is.

Firestone Final Verdict--oddball Aeronauts is a unique game. The footprint, artwork, and gameplay all combine to make a game I'm happy to play wherever I am. Even the DMV! I would say put this on the table, but it doesn't need a table! That's awesome!

Jeremiah Final Verdict--We totally agree on this one. oddball Aeronauts packs a lot of fun and strategy into about 15 minutes of gameplay. The unique mechanics and card design/layout seamlessly serve the purpose of the game, and don't come off as gimmicky at all. This a great play-it-anywhere game and yes, it doesn't need a table so, just go play it already!

oddball Aeronauts is on Kickstarter right now! They've got a little less than three weeks to go, but they're nearly funded! Yay!

We'd like to thank Maverick:Muse for providing preview copies of oddball Aeronauts. This in no way affected our opinions, and this was not a paid preview.

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