Ab Die Post!

Designed by Helga und Hermann Huber
Published by GoldSieber
Reviewed by Mike Siggins

£24 ($36)
3-6 players
45 mins

If there is one category of games that has me cautiously fingering the credit card, it is those targeted at the 8+ age group. By now, having bought far too many of these family games suitable for younger children, I have been burned more often than I have been satisfied. But the thrill of the chase, and the buy, is still there (damn!) and at the very least one normally gets a light, fun game with some interesting ideas. Ab Die Post fits into that category exactly, and is one of those that might just, with patience, get to stay on the shelf and avoid the dreaded game sale. Ab Die Post (no idea what this means...) is a game about delivering parcels and passengers from one airfield to another in rickety old US Mail planes that would rather fall apart than fly. Since the said deliveries are made in a weird meteorological area that enjoys a hurricane every other day, you can imagine how difficult this would be. Nevertheless, that is the slightly contrived theme and the result is deemed sufficiently sparkling to be nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award. Nice one Helga and Hermann!

When I opened this game, Paul Jefferies was sitting opposite me and exclaimed, 'How do they keep doing these games?!". The reference was to Goldsieber's production standards which are nothing short of spectacular, and by extension the depth of their pockets. The answer is that they are backed by Simba Toys who badly want a piece of the game market action and are willing to pay for it. And since they are bagging 20% of the SdJ nominations each year, who are we to argue? Whatever, those big boxes are just so tempting, the high quality components tend towards the unusual, and the whole look is professional. Sadly, once we'd taken the board out of this particular box, all that was left was air. A few cards and plastic planes were languishing at the bottom, together with the reason many people are buying, and enjoying, this game - The Shaker.

The Shaker is a unique (?) device that is filled with little coloured balls in varying ratios depending on the number of players, or indeed the type of game you prefer. It looks like a small baby's bottle, shaped like a cloud, and when shaken and tipped up, one of the coloured balls appears in the transparent teat. As we shall see, this determines your movement allowance. What is not very clever is that this could have all been done on a coloured die (a ten sided Mousie Mousie job) but what is clever is that they have avoided the need for several such die and provided something to promote loud rattling and shouting of, "Black! Black!", like some demented Roulette player. On balance, we'll give them this one.

Okay, enough about the bits. Ab Die Post is a race game played on a board showing two airfields. You grab a plastic biplane (quite neat, these) and park it at airfield one. Your aim is to make you plane airworthy, by picking up spare parts cards, and then flying round the board to be first to the other airfield. En route you will, almost certainly, encounter at least one hurricane. If your plane is damaged below the airworthy limit, you stay in one place until you can get the necessary cards to continue, but if you are reduced to zero spare parts you crash and have to return to the start. The first plane to arrive at the finish receives 7 points, then 5,4,3,2,1 but if you are still on the start airfield, you score zero. If you are the first plane to the midway point, you can pick up a passenger who is worth a bonus two, wherever you finish. Repeat races until someone reaches fifteen and wins the game.

Your turn is simply a choice of picking up spare parts cards or moving. The cards range from 1 to 3, there is no limit to how many you can hold, and you need four points of cards to get off the ground (and stay there). If you move, you rattle the Shaker and the colour of the ball tells you how far you can progress - 2,3,4 or 5 spaces. If the ball is black, you and everyone else have been hit by the hurricane and it is now that your choice of movement route will be important. The board shows three tracks, outside, middle and inner. There are links between the two so you can zigzag, but not too many. If you are flying on the inner track the spaces are spread far apart and it is by far the quickest. The middle one is longer, the outer one is painfully slow. However, if you are on the outer track you will suffer but two points of damage from the hurricane, on the middle you will lose four, and on the inner you get cruelly blasted for eight which will see many planes crash and burn.

As you'll have worked out, the game is basically one of preparation and risk. Do you take off with minimal spare parts, hoping to make it round without too severe a gust and perhaps the odd maintenance halt, or do you wait until you have a Sherman Tank of a plane that will not only withstand anything the hurricane dishes out, but also laugh in its face? Of course the designers have spotted the latter ploy, and have made one of the spare part cards a joker with a downside - if you pick up to two 3 cards you are fine, but three 3 cards causes you to lose all three. Not pleasant. The risk element is deciding whether to fly close to the storm for speed, and gamble on extensive damage, take the middling option, or to fly slowly round the edge with merely a little buffeting. In practice, a combination of the three works well, and if things are desperate and a rival is about to secure first place, you go for the inside track and hope... However, since we have only played this three and four handed, I think with more players the chances of avoiding a hurricane would be much slimmer and this may have a bearing on your decisions, and the game.

While there is a strong race element here, it is spoilt somewhat by the staggered tactics (some planes will be in the air, while some will be loading up on protection, and others will be scudding riskily to the finish) and the heavy luck element. I have seen planes fly right round the fast course with moves of 5 or 4, and not so much as a puff of wind, while I have seen others hit three times in a row on the 'safe' track. Of course if the luck is too much for you, you have an instant variant option in the shape of the coloured ball ratio. Otherwise, the vagaries of The Shaker aside, this is a fun little race theme and works well. We played two games and each time three races were sufficient to determine a winner - the whole game is over in 45 minutes or less.

I didn't think Ab Die Post was too bad at all. Certainly there is more to think about here than in Entdecker albeit with just as much luck and less atmosphere, but for me Ab Die Post's fun, decision and risk elements were of a higher order. However, this is still a very light family game, which costs an awful lot of money for what you get, and should be approached warily by gamers. It is likely to draw the infamous 'Is That It?' comment from many of you. And as much as I'd like to think it will come off the shelf again, the reaction to the game, myself excluded, was muted at best, contemptuous at worst. Perhaps I'll try it with my social game group. It is light, it is simple, but it is a race game with interesting elements and it's quick enough. At £24 I can't honestly recommend this one simply because of the price and the likely lack of repeat play value, but if you get the chance to play someone else's, do take the opportunity.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell