Blue Skies by Joe Huber, published Rio Grande Games in 2020.
I’ve played this couple of times with a friend’s copy.
Elevator pitch: This very plain-looking game offers an interesting mix of short-term point collection and long-term area majority in a very old-fashioned way.
What’s in the box? There’s a big very plain-looking board full of grids and boxes. There’s a deck of cards, some tokens and cubes, and player aids. Everything’s a bit beige, this game sure isn’t a stunner. The card backs do feature colourful art, which seems thoroughly out of place compared to everything else in the game.
Everything is functional, though, and the target audience isn’t the people looking for flashy components. The board may look boring when it’s empty, but it won’t stay that way a long time.
What do you do in the game? Each round begins with the placement of airport gates. Each player has six points to purchase gates, which cost 1–5 points – the cheap 1-point ones do get bought right away, so generally, you’ll be buying two per round.
These gates are the source of points in this game, or more exactly, the passengers that flock to the gates are. In the next phase, each player plays a card that depicts one of the airports and passengers get added to the gates of that airport; usually one, sometimes more. The passengers are divided equally among the gates, with earlier gates getting the remainder. Then for each player, a random card is drawn from the deck to add more passengers.
Then everybody gets one point per passenger at their gates. This is the main loop of the game and this process is repeated until somebody hits 100 points or plays their last gate on the board.
The bulk of the points comes from the passengers, but there’s also an area majority game in here. The airports are divided into seven regions and for each region, the airline with the majority of the gates (counting their value, not the amount, so the more expensive gates are worth more) gets a big bonus and the second airline gets a smaller bonus.
Lucky or skilful? There’s a good chunk of randomness here, but the area majority game makes this a game of skill. Also, the airports aren’t all that random: the lower-value gates have fewer cards and thus get fewer passengers during the game. At least in the bigger player counts, the deck is played through, so the odds work out. I think there’s a good amount of lucky fuzziness in the game.
Abstract or thematic? The game is ostensibly about airlines, but could really be about anything. The airport gates could be railroad stations, retail stores, or medieval castles. The theme makes sense, but so would many other themes. If you think air travel is immoral in times of the climate crisis, this game won’t offend you, it’s that vague.
Solitaire or interactive? There’s interaction, sure. If you control an airport with lots of passengers and just one gate, you can be sure you won’t be alone there for a long time. Actually, it might just make sense to plonk down a second gate just to protect yourself. The majority game also makes you really think about what other players are doing.
Players: 2–5. I wouldn’t play with two. The five-player game likely requires somewhat swift players to be pleasant. I’ve played with four and five and like both.
Who can play? The age recommendation is 14+. That’s too high. Of course, finding kids that are interested in a dry spreadsheet like this might prove hard, but especially kids that are experienced with games will have no problems playing the game.
What’s to like? If you’re the kind of person that likes the Winsome Games cube rail games, Blue Skies can be an exciting game. I don’t think there are too many interesting five-player games that play in less than an hour, and there Blue Skies delivers. The conflict between short term goals (place gates to collect passengers and point income now) and long term goals (place gates to win the area majority bonuses) is interesting.
What’s not to like? Critical comments say the game is bland, boring, and repetitive. I can certainly see where those comments are coming from. To me, the biggest problem is an interface issue: tracking who controls which area is important, but it’s also slow and wieldy because you can’t just count gates, but must total the values. That’s slow and annoying, but also something you have to do to do well in the game. Blue Skies is available on BGA, and there those values are always visible. For many, that’s the most enjoyable way to play this game.
My verdict: I didn’t expect much from this game, but it was something I was open to trying. A friend had played this on BGA and got a physical copy, and we’ve played this couple of times now. Our game group is fond of the Winsome cube rail games, and this fits our tastes well. When we’re looking for a quick game to play with four or five players, Blue Skies is a good match.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Blue Skies gets Suggest.