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Now Boarding Review

Quick Look: Now Boarding

Designer: Tim Fowers
Artist: Ryan Goldsberry
Publisher: Fowers Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 30-60 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


tl;dr: Route management, pick up and deliver, and the tiniest bit of push your luck with those Catch Me if You Can artistic feels.

Getting to the Game: Give every player a matching airplane nose and tail, a single window seat, and a 3-speed engine on the wing. Put your colored plane meeple on your starting city. Each player then chooses a second seat or additional 1-speed engine for free. Set out the board in the middle of the table with the appropriate side up (2/3 players or 4/5), and then next to that add the Upgrades / Preflight sheet with the Preflight side up. Each player will start the game with a single passenger whose origin city matches the player's starting city. Shuffle the rest of the passenger deck, and add the correct number of cards for the player count next to the preflight board. From the Morning pile, deal out the correct number of passengers face down to the origin city listed. *Create the weather decks and add weather onto the board. Business Class passengers, prepare your carryons.

Your ultimate goal in Now Boarding, much to my surprise, was not to amass the most money by delivering passengers to their starting cities. Nor is it to have the largest and best plane at the end. No, your goal is far more American than that: keep less than three people from getting so mad that they storm out of the airport, presumably to write scathing tweets. That's it. Your only goal is to keep three people from gaining three anger cubes, which they get if they end a round stuck in an airport rather than on a plane. Easy right? Oh, my sweet summer child...

*Reviewer's note: Don't play with weather your first game. It's hard enough trying to grok it all in real-time. Add it in for your second, though. It's fun.

Playing the Game: Every round, you have the length of a sand timer to spend all of your available speed (denoted by the numbers on your engines) in your attempt to pick up and drop off all the passengers you can. Do so, and they'll pay you after (I want to know the airline where I can pay after I arrive in my destination city) in cash you can use to add more seats and better engines to your plane. You're going to want to prioritize seating, because as the day goes on, more and more people flock to fly, and your logistics will get much harder to pre-plan. However, you want to start with engine upgrades. The faster you can go, the less time you'll have annoying passengers clogging up your seats, and the goal is to pick them up and dump them off ASAP.

While each round only lasts 15 or 30 seconds, the time before each round will find you and your friends pointing at passengers and claiming to be able to pick them up, only to flip them over when the timer starts to see where they actually want to go, and realizing what an awful, terrible mistake you've made and how bad your life is. In practice, this is actually a crazy amount of fun. There's a learning curve to it, sure, but when our group played for the first time we had it down cold after just a couple rounds. 

What works especially well is the balance. This isn't Pandemic-level hard, but there's that feeling of a co-op game that's most certainly working against you and failure to plan well will ultimately result in a noted drop in your Yelp score. The board has routes on it that only certain airlines can travel, but others can buy access to them for $7. These often are the only way to travel with any kind of efficiency across the map, so you'll quickly learn that the best way to win is to layover people. My job as the purple plane (#purpplane4lyfe) was to work the Southeast. You want to go to Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, or Miami? I'm your man. Need to get to SeaTac? Allow me to introduce my friend over here. She'll be happy to help. It's this intricate dance of handoffs and pickups that feel amazing when you can pull them off.

When you can't, however, it sometimes feels like there's no way you could have stopped it. True, you do have three rounds to pick someone up before they get so mad they storm off, but sometimes three isn't enough. By the time you get into the swing of the game, you'd be loath to find anyone without at least one anger cube on them--a real testament to air travel. Who among us hasn't felt at least one-cube-angry while flying?

Artwork and Components: The artwork is stylized perfection that I've come to expect from Fowers Games writ large, and that's completely due to the amazing pen of Ryan Goldsberry. Fower's 2015 smash hit Burgle Bros also heavily featured his work, and I'm giddy every time I see it. From the tiny sharks just off the shore of Boston to the individuality of the passengers, it's visually outstanding across the map.


The components are fine here. Two timers sort of clutter up the box, but I get that turning over a 15-second timer to get to 30 seconds is annoying. It's probably a no-win situation as gamers moan if they have to use their cell phone in-game for anything other than Chwazi-ing to see who goes first. The upgrade tiles feel nice and thick, the plane meeples are cute, and while the passenger cards are slightly thinner and smaller than I'd like, I get that they need to fit in the plane pieces, and those can't be too big or you have huge table creep. Overall, I think the feel of the game on the table is good.

The Good: Pulling off a complex maneuver to deliver a passenger on time and pick up two more feels amazing. The art is beyond just "good." Losing the game doesn't feel awful, which is good, because it's going to happen a lot.

The Bad: Putting everything back into the box at the end of your game is a pain. There aren't enough baggies, and nothing really has a "place"; you're just jamming stuff in until it all fits. Sometimes you know you're going to lose the game, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Score: My niggling qualms with Now Boarding aside, it's a wonderful addition to your co-op collection, and if you're also the type of person who happens to have a penchant for the golden age of air travel, then the overall aesthetic here is really going to send you soaring. That being said, storage is a real issue, as the slapdash nature of the box innards is going to mess up your pieces. I'm giving Now Boarding a score of First Class.


Nicholas Leeman - Reviewer

Nicholas has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

See Nicholas's reviews HERE.
Now Boarding Review Now Boarding Review Reviewed by The Madjai on January 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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