Preview: Skyway Robbery: The Airship Heist of the Century?

If you have read any other reviews you already know one thing for sure…Skyway Robbery is gorgeous. The artwork is amazing and could easily attract people to the game on its own. So the question that begs to be answered is, “Does the game stand up on its own or is it an invalid using the art as a crutch?”

Components

This game comes with a ridiculous amount of cards and when I say ridiculous amount, I mean a lot. It has defense, loot, equipment (location and non-location specific), gang members (location and non-location specific), airship crew, turf war and side job cards. Then there is the giant board, player mats, reputation chits and money chits. I played with a preview copy so not everything was top quality, but one thing that was beyond top quality is the artwork. If my pictures make you think otherwise, I apologize, because the art in the game is darn near close to perfect!

Skyway Robbery Game Board
The beautiful board with the slots for cards easily understood.

Theme

The theme of Skyway Robbery is a unique mix of the more common steampunk and the very rarely seen heist game. Heist games aren’t often seen in the boardgaming world, but quite frankly, they should be and Skyway Robbery does a good job of bringing that theme to life.

The idea behind the game is that you are flying on an airship with other gangs and every gang is trying to establish their reputation as the biggest and toughest of them all. Each gang (represented by the players) can recruit new gang members, hire airship crew, purchase equipment, establish dominance over shadow gangs (not the players themselves), complete side jobs or local heists.

The gang members, airship crew and equipment can be played to give specific abilities to either enhance your ability to complete the side jobs/local heists or to gain new members, money and/or hurt your opponents a little. The gang members stay with you for the rest of the game while all airship crew are one-time use only. While this goes more into the gameplay area of discussion, each of the card types also feed into the theme quite nicely. The airship crew can be bribed to do something once, but more than that is too dangerous. The gang members bring specific abilities to the table and the equipment gives you even more abilities. These are exactly the things you would consider if you were putting your own gang together for a heist and this game nails that!

Skyway Robbery Recruitables
A selection if the different types of recruitable cards.

Gameplay

The game starts with a short draft of cards where you end up with one less gang member than players. After that, the tricky part (for some) begins. Everyone has the same number and type of action cards which, when played, allow you to do everything that is possible to do. Everyone picks three actions in secret and places them face-down on their player board in the order they want them to resolve. That’s not too difficult, but the order in which you play those actions is a very interesting mechanic. The first player goes first for the first action, second for the second action and third for the third action (in a three player game. The second player goes second, third, first and the third player goes third, first, second. I really liked this mechanic, but the other people I played the game with had a hard time wrapping their head about the best way to play their actions based on turn order.

Resolving the actions is as simple as doing whatever the action card says. This is the time though that you can play your characters to do certain actions, or complete side jobs, break members out of the brig, fight in turf wars and complete the local heist. You can also acquire new crew, gang members or equipment cards.

One of the actions allows you to make the illegal actions (break out of the brig, side job, local heist and turf war) a little harder for the other players. The action requires a die to be rolled if an illegal action is taken by another player, thematically representing snitching. If the die result is a handcuff then one gang member must go to the brig.

A very unique aspect to this game is the variance in length based on when the local heists are completed. Each location gives you a set number of rounds to complete it (to gain the loot) before the airship reaches the next location, but if the local heist can be completed on the first round at that location, the round finishes and the airship progresses to the new location. This can greatly change the way the game plays and the length of the game as well. It also makes you consider whether you want to complete the local heist on round one of the new location or try to gain some reputation before attempting it the next round.

The game ends after all five local heists have been completed or after the set number of rounds ends for the last location. The players add up their reputation (money does play a role in this as well) and the player with the most reputation is the winner.

Skyway Robbery Jobs
A local heist card with a turf war, side job and a loot card (for a different location).

Overall Opinion

I really wanted to fall in love with this game. It has so much to offer; interesting mechanics, engine building, great art, cool theme, great designer and many other things. Before I go into my overall opinion let me highlight some things that my friends and I did and did not like.

Here are the things that we liked:

Engine building – I always love being able to find the best combo of characters and equipment to effectively achieve all that I want it to achieve.

Art – I honestly don’t think I could say this more, but it is gorgeous. The whole game looks amazing!

Turn order mechanic – I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. While it could be a little tricky to try to figure out whom was going to play what, and what should I play when I get two turns in a row, I really enjoyed those difficult decisions. It added a depth to the choices that really got me excited.

Simultaneous action selection – Being able to choose my actions independently of what others are doing is great. This allows me to see how well I can play a game, regardless of what the others are doing (on a turn by turn basis).

Variable player powers – Who doesn’t like this, I mean seriously, who?

Here are the things we didn’t like:

Need more rolling for capture – In addition to my description earlier some pieces of equipment cause a die to roll too. The problem we had been it didn’t come up often enough in the games I played. It’s not a game breaker, but it would add some tension to each illegal action if you had to roll more.

Some combo of cards are deadly – We encountered a combination of cards that allowed for the player to play two actions and then as one of the other actions he could take a character out of the brig for 2k less than it’s normal cost. Oh and he could steal money from us with one of his other cards too. Yeah, that hurt bad and he was never at a loss for gang members or money.

The nasty combo my friend ended up getting.
The nasty combo my friend ended up getting.

Money is too tight – This was probably my biggest complaint of the game. You start out with 8k and have to buy gang members in the draft with that money, then you can play a pick-pocket action (gaining 2k) and the repeat action, so in theory every round you could get 4k. That’s not too bad, but it uses up two of your three actions which doesn’t leave a lot of room for recruiting and/or completing jobs. If the other player is consistently taking money from you too, then it was even harder to build up money.

The simultaneous action selection also led to a slight problem. Sometimes when you go to the end of the round you might have chosen an action that you can no longer do…and you get nothing. This leads to a rich get richer and the poor get poorer situation. This happened several times to me due to the actions of other players (specifically stealing money from me).

So did I like it? I did! Some of the players I played with admitted it wasn’t their type of game, but they all said they would play again.

There were some complaints and quite frankly it is easier to dwell on them then the positives, but most of the complaints could be easily fixed, whether officially or by a simple house rule. Want more rolling? Make every illegal action roll at least one die. Want more money? Give everyone 10k instead of 8k or make their cheapest drafted hire free.  Want something for an action you can’t take, say it’s worth 1k because you were planning your next phase.

The only problem that can’t be house ruled is the combination of cards issue I discussed. That will happen from time to time, but that kind of thing happens in just about every game Think back to games like Catan and Ticket to Ride. This stuff happened in those games all of the time. I am sure you can recall a game of Catan where a 2 was rolled far more than the average and yet you couldn’t roll a 6 to save your life. Anytime you add some luck into a gem, sometimes people are going to get luckier than others.

Just because I mention that I suggest house ruling this game, doesn’t mean that I think it needs it or it is a bad game. In fact it means just the opposite. I won’t even consider house-ruling a game that I absolutely don’t like. There has to be a good base game for me to consider playing multiple more times with or without house rules.

My suggestion is head over to the Kickstarter if it is before Friday, September 25th and check out more reviews if you are still on the fence.  If it is after the Kickstarter then head to your FLGS and see if they can get a demo copy for you to check out.

Skyway Robbery Player Cards
One more view at the art, this time the player cards.

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