Designed by Alan R Moon
Published by Amigo
Reviewed by Mike Siggins
Alan Moon's Airlines (Abacus) has become one of the staples of the German Game hobby. Most gamers will be familiar with it, and many of those list it as one their favourite games. None of this is surprising as Airlines is the archetypal middleweight design - lots of decision making; interim scoring; well themed; replayable; and concluding within about an hour and a half. It first featured many of the ground breaking systems (wertungs and card selection) that have appeared in subsequent Moon games, and is still very much a played title despite having been around for ten years. In many senses it was a game ahead of its time, and stands today as something of a classic.
So, about time for a sequel then? Union Pacific is known to almost everyone, affectionately, as Airlines II. It has been circulating publishers for several years, and has finally found a home at Amigo. In that sense it is a little overdue, and must therefore stand comparison with the latest design techniques. It is also worth pointing out that Airlines is still available. I think.
So what are the changes? Gone is the airline theme, replaced by that original Moon concept - railroads! The layout of the board is slightly different but the idea is still to make networks across the States and to obtain decent shareholdings in the largest companies.
Also gone are the controversial sabotage rules - controversial because they were unpopular with many players, and rather pointless in a purely negative, time consuming way - so much so that they have been pretty much ignored round these parts.
Next up, graphics. The graphic designer has tried to improve the rather confusing route symbols of Airlines and has succeeded, but not spectacularly. What helps matters are the oversized, cleverly coloured locomotive markers that really show which railway is the biggest, and where it has reached thus far.
Finally, apart from a few tweaks to sort out the infamous 'Wertung-Bunching' problem, we have the major change. As well as collecting shares in the minor railway companies, you can also acquire Union Pacific shares. These are worth hardly anything initially, but as the game progresses they become very valuable. You must therefore ensure, in typical Moon style, that you have used your card options wisely and well, as my old headmaster used to say.
And that is that really. In every sense apart from the interchangeable theme, this is Airlines Mk II. And like any decent sequel should be, it is better than the original. Not by much, but it is smoother in play, the Union Pacific shares add interest, and the whole thing sits more comfortably as a railway game. All of that makes my job very easy.
If you don't know the game at all, put this magazine down and buy Union Pacific immediately. If you liked the former game, I suspect you will like this one but may not find too much to distinguish the two.
If you own the earlier game, you may wish to play Union Pacific first to see if it is sufficiently different to warrant the outlay. My view is that it isn't, but as I have been playing others' copies of Airlines for years, I shall hang onto Union Pacific and repay a few debts.
The interesting footnote is whether, having been cruelly left off the Spiel des Jahres list as Airlines, whether Union Pacific will have a shot at winning this year - the nomination is already safely secured and 'Second Time Around' games have a curious habit of succeeding.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell