What's Eric Playing? #221: Planecrafters [Preview]
Full disclosure: A preview copy of Planecrafters was provided by Paisley Board Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
May was a bit heavy on the Kickstarters, but I think I’m going to slow down with those a bit as we progress towards convention season. It’s harder to be on as tight of a schedule when you’re traveling all the time (and you may see me shift back towards a lighter review schedule in the second half of the year to compensate, as well, but who knows; haven’t committed to that lifestyle yet). Either way, we’ve still got more games hitting Kickstarter this month, so I’ve got more previews coming your way.
Enter Planecrafters, a game of plane construction and engine building from Paisley Games. In Planecrafters, you play a variety of eccentric plane construction types (think sandwich artists, but for planes) in the service of the tiny nation of Crumplehorn, who would like to get some planes built. They’re letting you compete among yourselves to see who can make the most profitable enterprise for their tiny nation so that they, too, can enjoy the fruits of industry. Sure, they’ll probably have to deal with late-stage capitalism, but that’s honestly probably 60, 80 years off for them so it’s hard to blame them for being relatively shortsighted about it. Will you be able to build the most efficient factory? Or are your efforts never really going to take off?
So, to set up the game, you’ll want to take the Parts Cards:
Those are all the different kinds of parts available, along with the Spare Parts:
First, remove all the 4+ cards if you’re playing with 2 or 3 players, and remove the 3+ / 4+ cards if you’re playing with 2 players. Once you’ve done that, shuffle them up.
Now, you’ll want to lay out the various Employees:
There are tiny dots on the cards that show what Tier the Employee is, but generally speaking Tier 3 costs 9+, Tier 2 costs 6 – 8, and Tier 1 costs 4. There are 20 cards (two each of the Tier 1), so put them in three rows within reach of all players.
Give each player 5 Crowns (the currency):
Set out the three awards:
You’re basically ready to start, now. Choose a start player, and pass them the correct number of cards, based on the player count:
- 2 players: Deal 3 and 4 cards to the first and second players, respectively.
- 3 players: Deal 3, 4, and 5 cards to the first, second, and third players, respectively.
- 4 players: Deal 3, 4, 4, and 5 cards to the first, second, third, and fourth players, respectively.
You’re all ready to start!
A game of Planecrafters is played over several rounds, with each player’s turn being composed of a variety of phases. I’ll go through each in turn.
The Hire Phase happens first. It’s optional, but you can spend crowns to hire one Employee each turn. As soon as you buy them, if they have a Hire Phase effect, it happens (like the Accountant).
During the Acquire Phase, you draw two cards from either the top of the deck or from the Parts Depot and add them to your hand. If you take a card from the Parts Depot, immediately replace it with a card from the top of the deck. Generally speaking, if you have any Employees with an Acquire Phase action, their action occurs after you draw (especially in the case of the Agent of the Board).
During this phase, you’ll try to build planes to hopefully sell them during the Buyer Phase. Unfortunately, you can’t build planes very quickly, so you’ll want to build them over the course of several turns. You may add up to two parts from your hand to a plane, following these rules:
- The parts do not need to match. Sure, it’s weird to build some horrible hodgepodge of a plane, but if it flies, it sells, and that … sells. You’ll earn more money if your parts are from the same set, generally.
- You may replace parts, if you want. To do that, remove the part from your plane and replace it with one from your hand. The removed part is placed face-down on the bottom of the deck. This does count as one of your two parts added.
- Spare Parts are free plays. If you have any Spare Parts in your hand, you may add them for free to a plane you’re building in lieu of another piece.
If you have a complete plane (tail, right wing, left wing, nose, and optional fuselage), you may sell the plane for money. When you do, check how the pieces score for each model. A model, in this case, is a specific brand of plane (Night Fury, Paladin, Black Hole, Supernova, Big Boy, and Goliath).
- 1 part of a model: 1 crown
- 2 parts of a model: 3 crowns
- 3 parts of a model: 6 crowns
- 4 parts of a model: 10 crowns
- All 5 parts of a model: 15 crowns!
So if you have a plane that’s Night Fury tail, Paladin Left and Right Wings, and Supernova Nose and Fuselage, you’ll collectively earn (1 + 3 +3) 7 crowns! Set the parts sold aside in a pile for your own use; you’ll want to know how many parts you sold at the end of the game.
If you happened to sell a more valuable plane than anyone else, you earn the Distinction Award. Note that it only scores at the end of the game, so if someone outsells your plane, they get the Distinction Award and take it away from you. At the end of the game, whoever holds the Award scores the points. It may help to keep the plane handy so that you know how much it was worth, but live your truth.
At the end of your turn, well, you’ve got a 5-card hand limit. Discard any excess cards to the bottom of the Parts Deck.
Play continues until one player empties the Parts Deck (not the Parts Depot; just the deck). This is an equal-turn game, so you’ll finish out the round so that every player has played the same number of turns. Now, count your money, and add bonus Awards:
- Industry Award: The player who sold the most parts earns 8 crowns.
- Enterprise Award: The player with the highest employee cost (ignoring any Recruiter or other discounts) earns 8 crowns.
- Distinction Award: The player who sold the most valuable plane earns 8 crowns.
In case of a tie, split the points between players, rounding down.
The player with the most crowns wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
As I’ll mention a bit below, I’ve played this a few times at 2, 3, and 4, and it seems like at 2 and 3 it’s a bit easier to get megacombos (specifically around the Contractor and the Ace Pilot) moving, and the take-that cards seem to be less valuable. I imagine this wears off a bit as you become more experienced, but if you’re playing with new players those combos are a fair bit easier to obtain (in my experience) since new players don’t precisely know to look for them. It’s a bit exploitable, so I’d probably recommend playing this at four players when you’re teaching it, and then once you’ve got some experience with the game going at two players or three players to really see if you can block other players’ combos and such. Also, certain cards are better at higher player counts, as they provide more value (especially cards that steal coins from all other players, as there are more other players). Like I said, my personal recommendation is four players, but I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played of it at two and three, as well.
- Watch for combos. You should be constantly keeping your eye out for potential synergies between what you have and what you want to have. What you want to have is more money.
- Recruiters can help you get an early edge, for a slight opportunity cost. If you’ve got two of them, some of the most expensive employees in the game are only slightly more expensive than your Tier 1 friends. That’s not nothing. Just don’t overcommit to spending money on your employees; while that’s nice, you still need to have the most money to win.
- If low-cost planes are your thing, get a Contractor. You can basically sell parts every turn for a gain of at least 3 crowns.
- Generally, it’s not a bad idea to buy a defensive employee before you buy its offensive counterpart. That might be telegraphing your next play, but, on the other hand, if you can pull it off then nobody can really mess with you and you can take all of their money / parts / cards. The less money you have to give other people, the more money you have for you.
- Don’t really see much of a reason to buy the Tax Collector in a two-player game. You’ll gain 1 Crown per turn, unless your opponent buys the Investigator and makes that worthless. If they do, well, they got you, I guess. You just won’t really recoup the lost money.
- Your Boss’s Boss is a really easy way to stop both Ace Pilots and Contractors. Contractors are selling low-cost planes and Ace Pilots are getting bonuses for selling planes. You figure, that’s your money, and that’s where Your Boss’s Boss is all too happy to help. By stealing two Crowns from their sold plane’s value, it disincentivizes aggressive Contractor plays from players, which is really awesome.
- If you’re a cruel person, you should wait until the Factory Manager has a ton of cards in their hand and then use the Agent of the Board to steal their cards. If you already know you’re going to do that, you can make it especially dire. I once passed a player a hand of four cards (enough parts to build a plane), but they were all Right Wings, making the entire hand essentially garbage. The more cards they have, the more you gain. Maybe you’ll get even luckier and they’ll have a ton of Spare Parts for you to claim…
- If you’re not sure what to do, get the Jack of All Trades! His ability to be any Tier 1 Employee will offer you a lot of flexibility with regards to what you actually want to do on your turn. It also makes you more difficult to counter, should your opponents be gunning for you.
- Always take the Spare Part. If you see one, it’s not only free +1 money, but it can also be used to finish a plane. The only time I wouldn’t take one is if I could finish a plane with a different part already on the table and I’m on my second draw. Even then, I’d regret not having the Logistician.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Super fun theme. I mean, the phases are Hire, Aquire, Flyer, and Buyer, so they’re definitely shooting for whimsy. One of the planes is a How to Train Your Dragon reference; the whole thing has wonderfully whimsical art and it’s got a nice theme of pleasant plane construction going for it, which I really like. It’s very unique, and kind of refreshing.
- Relatively low downtime. The turns are relatively short, which I appreciate. You don’t ever have an aggressively large decision space, so AP also stays kind of low, too.
- The art is nice (and also diverse!). I got a bit worried when it was a solo white dude on the cover, but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of the employees. Lots of different people involved in the manufacturing and care of planes in this game.
- Lots of expansion / variant potential. I’d love to see a Dominion-style upgrade for this where there are enough employees that you can see recommended loadouts for various games (and various preferences). It could be a really interesting f
- I appreciate the variety of strategies available. I think there are a few strategies that are definitely solid, but I think exploring alternate options is definitely a fun feature of the game.
- Building the planes is a super fun mechanic. It’s actually pretty structurally similar to XYbrid, another game that was on Kickstarter a while back. I like the assembly part of the game a lot.
- Kind of a weirdly sized box? I appreciate it, though — there’s a perfect shelf for it because it’s kind of narrow but pretty long. It’s a bit of a tight fit, though, just being real.
- I don’t love the take-that, but it’s also not too aggressive. It’s a bit rougher at three players because it’s very easy for one player to just … exempt themselves from the take-that if they buy the right cards, leaving the other player to the wolves. It’s definitely not the worst I’ve played with in games, though, so it’s really only a problem if you’re like, really specifically opposed to take-that in board games. Which is also fine.
- There are some deep combos in the game, and knowing them will generally give experienced players some edge over new players, especially if the experienced player goes first. This is less of an issue at higher player counts, but at two it’s particularly prevalent, since there are so many employees available for both players to buy. Just worth keeping an eye out. The combos aren’t especially convoluted or complex, but a new player may not notice them straight away while they’re learning the basics. It’s a similar issue to, say, the placement mechanics of Kingdom Builder. You just gotta learn the game, first, before you can get the deeper strategy.
- Some card effects aren’t listed on the Employee cards. The particular one I’m thinking of is that if you own both Contractors, you gain an extra Crown for every plane sold. That’s sort-of-tucked away in the rulebook and it’d be nice to have that more visible.
OVERALL: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Planecrafters is super fun! Everyone I’ve played it with has really enjoyed it, and I think it’s a nice mixture of engine-building and actual-plane-building, which occupies a fun niche I haven’t done much with. Personally, I’d love to see more variable loadouts where you have like, an almost Sushi Go Party-style menu of employee sets you can pick from to customize your games (I suppose Dominion does this too, but with recommended Kingdom card sets) or to target specific things about the game. It’s more a personal preference, but even without that the game is pretty great. Most of my concern is that it’s a difficult game to teach to new players if you’re already aware of some of the better combos, so I’d put it with Kingdom Builder in that it’s a great game to learn with people, but if you already know it you’re probably better off teaching it and then playing with players once they’re a bit more experienced. Either way, it’s a super fun theme, it’s got great art, and the game’s fun to boot, so if you’re looking for a game that’s far more plane than plain, I’d recommend taking a look at Planecrafters once it hits Kickstarter!