I admire the work that air traffic controllers do, as well as all of the folks behind the scenes who plan optimal flight routes and the like. When I’ve travelled, things have mostly gone smoothly – and I know it’s gotta be hard to make that happen. Weather happens, routes need to detour.. Passengers start to get angry… I’m sure you’ve seen this if you’ve flown even a few times! Now Boarding is a new co-operative game that takes on this logistics struggle with quite a remarkable result.
Set on a map of the United States of America, players are pilots navigating their way around the country between major hubs, ensuring passengers are delivered to their desired destination without having to wait too long. Over the course of the game, players will be progressing through a morning, afternoon and night phase of the game, with weather changing up as the game goes on and passengers are arriving more frequently for flights. Each passenger who arrives at their desired destination gives the player who got them there their ticket fee – and these can be used to upgrade your plane to fly further, hold more passengers, or share exclusive routes.
Unlike a complex planning Euro, or even a steadily paced co-op game like Pandemic, Now Boarding has players working together to plan each phase of travel, and then executing it under duress of a 30 second timer! I think real-time co-operative games can be a little stressful or overwhelming for some players – the idea of having to communicate and get everything done at the same time (for instance, Escape: Curse of the Temple) can be a lot. Even further, a game like Magic Maze has very little communication and is under a constant strain of timers. For me, Now Boarding mixes things together in a satisfying balance of being able to make some of your own decisions (upgrades), plan things out with other players without much opportunity for Alpha gamers to dominate, and then carry out that plan seriously and efficiently without flailing and shouting like other real-time games.
Anger cubes: the bane of the pilot’s existence. This component tracks passengers that wait from round to round, longer and longer for that delayed or diverted flight to get them where they’d like to go. This is certainly the aspect of the game that requires the most attention to ensure that none of the passengers end up so angry they leave to file a complaint – once three passengers do that, you’ve lost the game of planes. However, there’s a fun and messy puzzle to be had with your fellow pilots – figuring out who can swing by DFW to get that passenger who needs to get to ORD on that far more direct, yet exclusive to one pilot, route; negotiating multi-stop flights for some passengers, so you can leave JFK with a passenger, and exchange them for another in ATL, so you can head off to MIA while someone else deals with them; figuring out if it’s best to try and haul more passengers or get further with less, maximizing the efficiency of your upgrades to balance out with what other players are choosing. And don’t forget the pesky weather! Or, perhaps not always pesky – for each storm that slows you down, you might be lucky on the next leg to have a tail wind.
I don’t feel like I’ve experienced co-operative play in a game quite the way that Now Boarding offers. It’s very much a breath of fresh air, that allows everyone playing to really take part – to discuss, to suggest, to decide what is best as a team. The game even scales remarkably well from its maximum of 5, down to its minimum of 2 – more passengers and weather in the former and far less in the latter. I’m always a little bit dubious of co-operative games that state they play at two – and let’s face it, a lot of games struggle to scale down to that player count well – but Now Boarding has done a great job of this (with a slightly smaller map) and still making it a great challenge where the players must communicate and plan effectively.
I love the graphic design for the game – along with the clean, retro-style art, it makes an easy to read and follow board and clear passenger cards. My only quibble was we were sometimes misleading ourselves to the wrong airports for dealing out new passengers (but then again no matter how mid-west ORD looks, so many of us kept calling it Orlando!) – not a super big deal but can confuse planning if you’re not double checking passengers. Otherwise, I love the sweet little airplanes that each player gets to start with, and how the engine and seat upgrades plug right in there to grow your plane over the course of the game – it’s got fun table presence, even as a mostly-2D game. Those airplane meeples, though! Such a nice touch. I’m looking forward to seeing what the little deck of VIP travellers has to offer for changing up the game a little.
Now Boarding is not exactly a walk in the park – or a zoom through the air? – but it’s a great, fun challenge that’s light enough that it can be a great introduction to co-operative games for most game groups. And for those of you out there who are old hands at co-op – well, you’re getting upgraded to first class with this game for a fun new experience in the genre. Final boarding call for this review… doors are now closing.
Now Boarding is a co-operative game for 2 – 5 players taking between 30 and 60 minutes to play. Designed by Tim Fowers, and art by Ryan Goldsberry, it is published by Fowers Games, who kindly sent us this copy for review.