Dirigible Disaster: Review

In a busy travel week like Thanksgiving, Fairway picks up yet another game involving terrible modes of transportation (read his review of Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Universe).  Today, he hops aboard the highly flammable Aerclanken ship of Dirigible Disaster

Dirigible Disaster is a two- to five-player real-time, cooperative game from Letiman Games (also see my review of Dino Dude Ranch). In Dirigible Disaster, players are the stewards of an ill-fated airship attempting to keep it aloft.  I backed this game when it was on Kickstarter, and it was recently delivered.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game is chock full of some really nice components: tracker boards with cutouts for dice, nice wood bits, funny tophat meeples, and well-done custom dice. While the game comes with a sand time, we never used it. We like the musical accompaniment of the custom scored timer.
  2. Game is pretty easy to teach, but frantic.
  3. This game is hard.  Really, really, really… really hard.  It tooks us several plays, on easy with an extended timer, to finally win.

Game Play

Dirigible Disaster is played over the course of ten rounds. Each round lasts between 45 and 60 seconds depending on the player count. Quick confession: we always play 60 seconds because we’re not good enough to play at 45 seconds.  The object of the game is to keep the airship filled with steam, power on, the machines working, and the passengers calm and entertained and … alive all the way until it reaches its final destination. This turns out to be a tall order!

The game is played a board that depicts three levels of the airship, Aerclanken.  The board shows a floorplan of numbered rooms connected by doorways of the three floors.  The individual floors are connected by sets of stairs that lead up and down.

Before a round begins, a set of events befalls the airship.  In the standard game, there are five types of events: steam, panic, passengers, fire and cogs. In easy mode, you ignore the cog event and only play with the four other event types. In the game, the events are represented both by a die and matching colored cubes.  To set up the board, a player rolls all the colored event dice.

The number on each die serves two purposes. First, it indicates how many of those events need to be added to the board.  This is done by using a twelve-sided die and placing a matching colored cube in the room rolled.  Second, during the game play phase, the die value shows the number you must roll less than or equal to in order to remove it from the board.

For each “steam” event on the board, the steam’s pressure meter is decreased by 10%.  These steam events represent leaks. And if there are too many leaks or they remain on the board too long, your airship will crash (you lose).  A steam token is added to the room with the most leaks which allows you to use an action to increase the steam pressure.

For rounds other than the first, a few other things happen.  Earlier, unresolved fires will spread.  A new fire is added to a room with an existing fire.  If you have more than three fires, it spreads to an adjacent room.  In addition, passengers get injured (removed from the game) if placed in a room with three fires or if a panic or third fire is placed in a room they’re already present.  If at any time you cannot place passengers (or any other cube for that matter) when you have to, you lose.

Once the cubes are all placed, the game really starts. Players will take turns moving around the board addressing each of the events on the board. Each turn players can: move or do an action. This happens by players announcing their action then doing it in clockwise order.  For a “move” a player moves their meeple to an adjacent room.

For most other actions, that means picking up a six-sided die and declaring that they’re going to resolve one of the events: put out a fire, entertain a passenger, repair a leak, etc. They then roll the die. If it is less than or equal to the number rolled earlier during the setup, they can remove a cube from the room they’re in.  Once the clock stops, the round ends and a new one begins.

This continues all the way until the landing phase.

On the green

Dirigible Disaster is an interesting, albeit frustrating, game.

Components. The game is chock full of fun game components. The custom dice and wood bits all feel nice.  The cut outs and the board are all well done and well designed. For such a frenetic game, this was pretty important.

One quibble is that the top hat meeples are tall, and thus prone to tipping as you race him around the board.

Consistent, easy to learn. Although the players have a number of various tasks, they all use the same basic mechanic. The differences being mostly around the number you need to roll and the activity you need to declare. This make the game easy to teach as well as some thoughtful game design.

Fun, even when losing.  We lost a number of times. But we were always having fun.

Good cooperative design.  The real time nature of Dirigible Disaster means it also avoids the problem of a single player “solving” the game. Each player still has to execute their own moves and die rolls. There’s very little time for another player to intervene in another player’s turn.

Where it comes up short

Too hard? This game even with the difficulty way down is hard. I could easily imagine even seasoned gamers getting frustrated with the game if they set the difficulty too high to start. There are a few things that contribute to the difficulty:

First, while fire and steam are easy to recognize, remembering which events are associated with purple and green gets confusing. By the rules, you have to declare it, but it’s easy to forget when you’re frantically trying to save your airship.

Second, passing a single six-sided die around can get frustrating. Getting a nice controlled roll that doesn’t send it out of reach of the next player is a real skill.

In the hole

Dirigible Disaster is a well-designed, real-time game with plenty of frantic dice rolling. The frenetic feel of each round definitely calls to mind a crashing airship. I’m sure the nature of game is going to bug a people: those that don’t like cooperative games and those that don’t like real time games. But I think those folks would be remiss not to give Dirigible Disaster a shot. There is something deeply satisfying about clearing out the ship of trouble and getting it safely to the destination.  There’s also something equally satisfying about watching it crash and burn too.

Dirigible Disaster is in the hole for a Birdie.

Dan Letzring of Letiman Games is regular contributor to The Indie Game Report. However, Fairway backed this game on Kickstarter before Dan joined and Dan is mostly unaware that this review was even being written. Dan did not compensate Fairway in anyway for this review.

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