Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Dave Townsend
Artwork: Tim Allen
Ages: 13 and up
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Blueprint For Victory
Victory Point Games brings a unique perspective to the First World War with Wings for the Baron. Set against the backdrop of the war to end all wars, 1-5 players assume the role as heads of five different aeroplane manufacturers whose diligent efforts hope to provide Kaiser Wilhelm with the tools necessary to defeat the allies and save Germany from ruin.
I got my first taste of Wings for the Baron at BGG CON, during one of Alan Emrich’s marathon demo sessions. Alan is the Angus Young of the demo world, working tirelessly through numerous demos each day with the same fervent energy and infectious enthusiasm that he starts with on day one. You’ll learn the game in a snap under his tutelage and will likely find yourself walking away with a copy of whatever it is that he’s teaching because he’s damn good at showing you how solid VPG’s titles are.
Innovate, Design, Steal
The components may not make the sexiest game to look at but provide an effective layout that works very well. The player mats are back dropped with aeroplane schematics upon which the tech tree, scoring track and other information boxes all sit. There are an assortment of laser cut chits for marking the technologies that you unlock, for keeping score and specials for extra characters and abilities gained throughout the game. The mat may appear a bit dry at first glance, but you’ll come to appreciate and enjoy the elegance of its design once you sit down with it.
My only niggles with the components were a bit of color shift in the cards and the minuscule bonus marker. The color shift can be a bit telling as to which cards are in play once you get the know the deck well enough, but this can be resolved with some card sleeves if you find it necessary. The bonus marker is a tiny little arrow chit and as such, I fear it could easily be gobbled up by the carpet monster during a future play session if any fumble fingered gamer chooses to feed said monster with some mishandling. While these are minor issues, I felt them worth mentioning but neither are deal breakers for this game.
Wings for the Baron is designed for 3-5 players and comes with five different aeroplane manufacturers from the time period with asymmetric starting abilities or powers. While the base game deals solely with fighter planes, the campaign and solo modes add bombers and recon craft to the mix through three actions per turn versus just two. These are much simpler and abstract to design but the added tasks of balancing three concurrent designs makes for quite an interesting challenge.
There is a lot to keep you busy during each turn and the game covers those angles remarkably well, making the actions fairly intuitive from your first play. The game moves at a brisk pace thanks to simultaneous actions which are resolved in numerical order, allowing you to play in under an hour once everyone is familiar with the game.
Player’s start off with their mat and necessary tokens along with two tech/event cards and their six action cards. Each round you choose two different actions; build, espionage, design, research or bank. A sixth option called focused effort allows you to pour extra sweat equity into a single chosen action, granting you a bonus action.
Building factories and design work hand-in-hand to being eligible for and completing more government contracts to earn money. You’ll need to increase your aeroplane’s efficiency through designing to be eligible for more contracts plus have the factory infrastructure in place to complete the contracts to make the dough.
Designing is streamlined, carried out by using the dual-purpose technology/event cards to place aeroplane features on your mat. These features are applied in a tech tree fashion, with base features acting as pre-requisites that others branch out from. It follows an organic pathway that is easy to navigate and makes logical sense.
As your aeroplane evolves, so does its efficiency. All manufacturer efficiencies are measured against their competitors and those of the allied aircraft whose rating is controlled by a war status card drawn at the end of every round.
Technology cards are vital for your progress and the research action allows you to draw more, up to three if you crack the whip on your engineers to put in a more focused effort. To cover your assets, the bank action converts cash to gold and limits losses to hyperinflation which is rolled for at the end of every round.
If luck is not on your side when drawing tech cards to build new plane features, you can always steal what you need from a competitor using the espionage action, if you can pass the die roll necessary to grab it.
While you toil away at turning your empire into a profitable venture, you’ll also contend with the unpredictable swings of a fragile economy strained by the effects of the war. Hyperinflation is a random and ever present danger that can quickly put your Papiermark’s into a tailspin, unless you play it smart and recede to the safe haven of gold.
End game winners are decided by a mix of marks, gold and the number of special markers such as talented engineers that you have under your control at the finish. So be mindful of protecting your cash, it can evaporate quicker than water on Texas concrete in July if things turn sour, and they will.
Each turn players choose two actions to carry out in secret and place them in the first or second slot on their player mat. All cards are revealed simultaneously and carried out in numerical order, except in the cases of design and espionage where tie breakers may be called for because order of operations matters here. I really enjoy how the simultaneous actions speed play along and requires players to pay attention to what others are doing.
Actions in the first slot are taken once while those in the second are carried out twice. Using focused effort provides the benefit of a third action of the one in the second slot. This is pretty powerful, but the trade-off is that those are your only actions for the round.
Adding to the player engagement and putting in a take that aspect, the dual-purpose tech/event cards can be used at different stages of the game to give you a bonus or directly affect other player in different fashions.
Some effects may be to steal a talented engineer , hamper the economy or alter the contract phase. There are multiple ways in which these cards shape the game into a different experience every time, keeping things fresh.
The espionage action acts as a sort of catch-up mechanic, but it does have drawbacks. You’ll need to pass a die roll, which may get a modifier under the right circumstances, to steal a feature from another manufacturer. However, you don’t get a roll to increase your plane’s efficiency based on features stolen, which if you rely on this too often can leave you lagging behind. Only features added to your craft through the design phase count towards your efficiency roll, you won’t get a free ride while others do the heavy lifting!
At the end of the round, contracts are awarded in descending manner and the economy is tended to as the grind of the war carries on in ways that affect everyone. Once the morale of either side reaches zero, the game ends. If the Allies win the war, hyperinflation takes its toll and a 50% inflation takes effect and will really hurt anyone who has not converted their marks to gold.
Similarly, if the Germans win, the mark remains stable and marks and gold are counted with no loss to paper currency. Finally, if hyperinflation causes an end to the game, the value of the mark plummets to zero which will ruin those who failed to find safety in precious metals.
Fly high or crash and burn?
While the processes in the game are streamlined and fairly abstract, Wings for the Baron manages to convey the juggling act of running a business while contending with outside forces beyond your control and makes for a very entertaining journey. This game draws you in and gives a real sense of accomplishment from improving your aircraft and business while overcoming setbacks brought on by competitors, the economy and the war.
You’ll not only be concerned with the steps that you’re taking but also in what others are doing; but have no fear, this is not a multiplayer solitaire game. The tech/event cards can create interesting turning points while also presenting some tough decisions, keeping you engaged from beginning to end.
The addition of a solitaire mode will be welcomed by my fellow solo gamers, it works well and is quite enjoyable, offering the added challenge of building recon and bomber planes as in the campaign mode.
Gamers who find wargames off-putting shouldn’t overlook Wings for the Baron. While the backdrop is WWI, this is a euro-game at its core with a war theme that blends well with the easy to understand mechanics.
While there are dice rolls used to decide outcomes, they add a sense of uncertainty and chance rather than blind luck. Luck does shows its face and is more influential in the card draws and bad ones can put you a bit behind early on if others are getting good cards while you are not. Thankfully, the espionage action comes in handy to limit a runaway winner and helps to keep you in the thick of things, just don’t rely on it too much!
The constant race to stay ahead of the competition while balancing the take that aspects and worrying about the ever volatile economy and outcome of the war makes for a pretty enthralling ride.
If you’re a fan of card driven games and are looking for an enjoyable light to medium weight euro-style game with a unique theme, Wings for the Baron is one that should be on your shelf. With VPG’s Summer Sale going on right now, this is a perfect time to pick up a copy!
Company Website: http://www.victorypointgames.com
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.