Steampunk is a very popular sub culture in the gaming world and among nerds, geeks, and all types in between. However, despite it's popularity, there aren't as many games, let alone good games, that one would think they'd find when perusing the shelves of their local game shop. Enter Sky Traders, Fantasy Flight Games' latest release, where trading goods, influencing others, and downright attacking other airships is completely encouraged!
Fantasy Flight bills this as a game of commerce and inrtigue set in the age of skyships. There are a ton of components, goods to buy, crew to hire (and fire), sludge to cart off, and the illegal "drink" known as Grog to hijack and make windfall profits from!
But does the game pull it all off in a way that makes you want to keep command of the skies? Check out our video and read more below to find out!
The first thing you'll notice, apart from the sheer amount of cardboard pieces to punch out is that the artwork is beautiful and the playing pieces are wonderfully unique! Each player gets a playmat representing their Skyship and a character "bust" that reperesents where their ship is on the playing board. These busts are very detailed, wonderfully creative, and very fun to move around the board.
Speaking of the board, as you see in our video, it's created at the beginning of each game from a set number of hex tiles, so every game is different, even with the small amount of tiles. The artwork on these is beautiful and adds to the flare of the game very well.
Players vie for "Influence" to become the new master of the Sky Guild. To gain influence, well, you do it the old fashioned way, you buy it! You have to trade goods, both legal and illegal, to gain money, and then use that money to buy your way up the ladder so to speak!
There is an element of combat in the game, both with players attacking each other, as well as "Ill Wind" cards that reperesent the governmental characters and other Wind Pirates that may attack you. Once nice thing, is nothing gaurantees you safety! Some cards impact you if you have legal goods on your vessel, others if you have illegal. Some hunt you down if you are wanted and some will force you to ditch goods over the side to avoid a hassel! There's a small stack of these Ill Wind cards, but their effects are well done.
In addition, you can hire crew to help you fight, help you hold more, and hinder your opponents. Each city you land in allows you to trade goods, hire and fire crew, gain phlogiston (the magical liquid that moves your ships) and upgrade your ships. In addition, there is a special city that randomly sells certain goods while buying others, and it changes each time a player goes there.
Finally, there are Zephyrglyphs that allow you to teleport from one glyph to the next, so depending on where they are on the board, they can be placed to your advantage... assuming you have them when the tiles are distributed at the beginning of the game to place them as such.
Throughout the game, as in any business, you want to buy low and sell high. At the start, all the commodities you can purchase are the lowest level. As the game progresses, you and other players, will influence the exchange rate, due to rolling and placing dice during a "Guild Council" step. This is VERY well done as it allows time for players to bid and make offers to other players to "buy their dice" so they can determine if everyone's results will positively or negatively affect the exchange rate.
Combat is also well done, albeit simple. Each player rolls a die, adds any modifiers from a chosen crewman to enter the battle, and the highest wins with the lowest getting a damage card. The random damage card is drawn and placed on one of your cargo holds, 1 through 6, based on a die roll. Simple, but effective. Combat never takes long, and is something fun as you can demand things as an attacker to hold your cannons and stop the attack.
Overall, I love this game. It plays well with two players, but it is best with three or more. In two player games, the exchange can be easily manipulated, but in larger groups, it's just so much fun to play around with influence and demand things from other players to ensure you help them.
The best part, is you don't have to love Steampunk to enjoy this game. Possibly the most fun is that it is an engaging game. When it's not your turn, there is still so much happening you are compelled to pay attention, interact to influence others, and ensure the best outcome for yourself.
I personally love games that keep a good solid pace like this, and make you feel as though the entire time spent was well invested. Overall, Sky Traders is a joy to play, even if it takes a bit to set it up. But then again, anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do it right, and Sky Traders is done right. It is a great experience when it hits the table top and pulls you into a new universe of fun, mayhem, and politics!
Critical Review Score (Crit, Hit, or Miss):
Sky Traders Rulebook (PDF)