Designed by Manuel Lorenz
2-6 Players, 40-60 minutes
Reviewed by Mike Siggins
Cockpit is a frustrating game. Visually enticing, thematically sound, lovingly developed - it's just a shame it doesn't work. Well actually that's unfair. It does work, though it is an effort to get there, it just doesn't engage you as a game should and it hardly matters is you play well or not because the luck element is overpowering. It's a simulation without the simulation and a game without the game. Ultimately, it's boring - I had hoped that this would be the sleeper from Essen '92, but not in quite that way.
The theme is halfway between the subjects of air traffic control (important but less than rivetting) and a commercial flight simulator. All the players start at the far end of the board with their little metal aircraft and aim to navigate around the mountains and up the valley to an airstrip, all the while contending with ever changing weather and event cards. The first one touching down is the winner and gets to buzz the control tower, or something similar. Older readers may have noted the close similarity to Eric Solomon's Balloon Race (Ravensburger) which by odd coincidence we played soon afterwards. Sadly, that was disappointing as well and for almost all the same reasons. In both cases the good game didn't seem too deeply buried so perhaps some urgent modifications would redeem them from the sale list.
The game system, and I will keep this short, is driven off movement cards that allow a change of heading and, usually, a shift in altitude. The climb cards are in short supply (or seem that way) but are the only way of getting over the mountains. The headings are shown in the usual 360 degree terminology and allow planes to fly along a heading until changed on the next turn. Anyone who paid attention in maths when vectors, bearings and map reading were on the blackboard will be okay-ish, but I do debate the wisdom of this in an otherwise simple game. We are also treated to the traditional wargame 'eight way facing within a square' problem which is a bit of a bummer. The net result, depending on the luck of the deal and replenishing, is either for planes to race straight and true to their target with slight course adjustments or, with Siggins at the controls, to fly with distinct similarities to a stunt pilot on acid. Each turn the players draw an event card that will change wind direction, cause a gust that blows you off course (great stuff if you are about to land) or other pains which are all standard fare for the type of game we have here.
I have no complaints with the components and the rules are generally clear given the complexity of the subject but they are long and thus relatively hard work for a German game (fortunately, we are aided here by an excellent piece of translation by the prolific Chris Mellor). The playing time of about 30-40 minutes is about right for what it offers and the price is reasonable for what you get. The theme is appealing and the idea should work in some form, but probably not this one. Where then does it fail?
Firstly, the complexity within the heading based movement system is going to make this unapproachable for most family players. We didn't exactly have trouble with it but it was far from easy and, more importantly, devoid of interest. I suppose it might have educational value if you were willing to stick to it with the kids, but I doubt it. Secondly, the game just fails to work on most gaming criteria. There's no fun, no interaction to speak of and even the race element of being first home is uninspiring. Finally, the drawing, trading and playing of cards is routine and offers no real decision making. You either have the card you need or you don't yet trading with the other players seems fruitless as they obviously want to hold the good cards (particularly the ones that get you over the hills) and the spread of card 'values' is such that a mutually agreeable trade is hard to close.
The net result is that without the right card, you are forced to take evasive action and let fate take the joystick. So much so that I spent much of the game circling, quite unable to cross the hills or get lined up for the valley, and ended the game (as the others were touching down and heading for arrivals) flying back towards my startpoint. Perhaps I had a hijacker on board. I appreciate that this performance will have clouded my judgement somewhat, but a game that relies on luck to that extent simply isn't worth the candle. My recommendation is that you don't bother with this one or if you do, please feel free to buy my copy.
On to the review of Bazaar or back to the review of Kalahen.
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