Review: Avertigos – The South China Skies Board Game

Avertigos, a Steampunk Hallmark… With Airships!

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The steampunk genre has always been defined by the rise of the airship. These graceful mega-structures are seen floating silently through the skies, some to bring trade, some to explore and others to bring war. Their ruddy halls and intricate sails are the hallmark of this popular genre. However, before Avertigos, they have not been fully represented in the gaming world.

That omission has ended with the advent of Avertigos: The South China Skies. Playware Games has a strong showing in this behemoth game. You see elements of competing dynasties, customizable airships and even the classic resource control of euro-games.

Alt History China: Fighting for Control

So let’s look at the story of Avertigos. In this game, you play a ship captain for one of two rival factions in Alt-history China. These dynasties are fighting for ownership of the skies using massive airships to control regions and islands. Wanting to avoid war because it is bad for trade, the dynasties allow their privateer fleets to battle in skirmishes without ever really facing each other in all out war.

With the discovery of new lands in the sea, the dynasties are engaging in more ruthless battles while fighting for the resources available on the islands. As a privateer captain, you are at the helm in this epic adventure. The story rocks with steampunk/sci-fi elements in an Asian setting. This earns Avertigos 8 out of 10 for story. This is one of the games you can see fan fiction arising from).

The Artwork of the Game

Next, we need to look at the artwork of the game. Dropping someone into an epic story with subpar artwork is a problem many games face. Luckily Avertigos does not suffer from this problem. Within the strategy variant, there is an amazing board that has the islands used in strategy laid out for play (other boards available from their website). The ship control cards and modules are functional works of art.

However, with a mini game, it all comes down to the pieces. Avertigos has several different types of ships and a half dozen modules you can build onto to make it your own ship. The bright colorful sails of the ships contrast the grey hulls wonderfully out of the box, but the intricate detail of the ships will have custom painters drooling at the opportunity to customize them even further.

The movement cards are very simple and double sided (one side being common so you always have a card to play). While they are aesthetically pleasing, the lack of detail seems to take away from the rest of the experience. For the artwork, and it is artwork, Avertigos brings in a solid 8 out 10.

Combining a Strategy Game with a Euro-Game

The mechanics of the game are often the heart of a game. When you combine a strategy game and a Euro-game, you need mechanics that are spot on. Avertigos has excellent balance and mechanics features that should place it well into the hierarchy of the “everybody can own” mini-game market. The key mechanic that is leading the way for this game is the card based movement system.

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The only place I have seen something similar was in Zero-G (a mid 90s combat game). In ZG the cards were used to aim and move, but the mechanics were clunky and made the game difficult. In Avertigos, many of those flaws are eliminated with an elegant movement system which allows for complex maneuvers. The next interesting element is the aiming mechanism. Players have the ability to aim their weapons using a range indicator. This allows you to look at where the ship can fire.

Rockets have a massive range of 12”, but can only be fired at ships level with you or above. Guns have a limited range, but can fire up and down. This is very important because the third major mechanic of the game is that you are playing in a 3-D space, which allows your minis to move up and down as the game moves forward. The randomizer is a set of custom dice (augmented by random card draws) so there is enough change in the game. That allows you to have high level mechanics but not pre-predictive randomizers. For this Avertigos receives a 9.5 out of 10 for mechanics.

Now For Strategy

Strategy is a must have for a game this size. Within the skirmish mode, strategy comes down to piloting your ship (with cards), knowing when to load and when to fire, and range of the battle. While this matrix is great for a “quick” game, one of the complaints I heard from our play testers (well the only complaint) was that they felt some weapons should do more damage at close range. Other than that, the skirmish variant was a good “quick game.”

The game really shined in the strategy mode, which is a good thing- if you call something strategy then it should be there. In this mode you have several methods of controlling the board and which method you choose indicates how you will play. This mode also adds troops and money to the game, which allows for another layer of depth.

This variant really opens the story up to the game-play, which they adds to the depth of strategy. Several times in the play test, I found myself wondering what the dynasty I was playing would do because of their personality. This added that extra level of connection that you like to see in a strategy game, for this Avertigos earns an 8 out of 10 for strategy.

Avertigos Game Review: The Novelty of it All

As always, our last category is novelty. There are very few games out there that deal with airships, and fewer still that incorporate the mobile 3D element into the game. Add to the criteria games that focus on strategy at the meso-economic level, and you have a novel game. Avertigos is unique enough that you are not playing the same old war game or Eurogame, but it has mechanics that are either simple or familiar enough that a person can pick it up quite quickly.

One slight knock in this area is that some of the familiar items in the rule book are hard to find (ship prices for skirmish) which can be frustrating. However, overall the concept, building and layout of the board works well within this truly unique game. For this Avertigos earns a 7 out of 10 for novelty.

Avertigos: In the Top 10

Avertigos is a great game, and it is not a little game. This game has the potential to draw in the hardcore “Warhammer” crowd while still not alienating the casual gamer. The website has additional pieces that players can pick up to add depth to their gaming. Avertigos comes into this ranking with a stellar raw score of 40.5 out of 50, placing it in the top 10 games that were reviewed this year.

The customizability of the game pieces adds a 2 point discretionary bump to the game, which brings its final score to 42.5. While this game is a little on the pricey side, for the number of meeples, custom minis and dice that you have in this game, it is well worth every penny. If you are looking for a “big box” game to play with your friends, this would be a good choice.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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