Year Published: 2010 (2016)
Designer: Todd Sanders
Publisher: Self Published/MAGE Company/Ninja Division
Playtime: 45-90 minutes
As some of you probably know, or as newcomers to the site can probably guess, I’m a sucker for Steampunk. I like themes with historical roots anyway, but the combination of the Victorian age with the alternate energy track and the focus on exposed inner-workings just creates a really cool atmosphere and hits home with me. The genre has become more popular in the last few years, and although the number of board games sporting the theme has started to expand, including Steampunk Rally, World of Smog, and Captain’s Wager, there’s pretty slim pickings as far as good Steampunk games are concerned.
I hadn’t heard of Aether Captains before MAGE Company notified me of its impending Kickstarter launch, but after reading about it in its current print & play state I immediately got pretty excited about the possibility of having it professionally published. In its current form Aether Captains is a solo experience, but the MAGE Company version hitting Kickstarter takes the form of an asymmetric, one-against-many, scenario-based tactical game where one player commands the huge zepplins of the Navy, and other players with their own unique objectives pilot semi-cooperative swarms of pirate vessels bent on shooting the Navy out of the sky. Each Navy ship is composed of numerous dice to make them quite large and imposing, with different sides reflecting the current state of damage for that section of the ship. As the ship becomes more damaged the sides change to not only show different art representing that damage, but they also affect the capability of that section’s utility or firepower!
Pirate ships and Navy ships are also getting a full miniatures treatment now that MAGE Company has partnered with Ninja Division. Have to say…WOW!
Todd Sanders, the designer of Aether Captains who has been actively churning out content for the solo version over the last six years, was kind enough to take some time out of his campaign prep to answer some questions about his inspirations for the original game, designing the mechanics for the retooled, published version of the game, and about the campaign itself.
1. Looking at the game I’m reminded of scenes in various sci-fi movies and video games of a massive vessel bristling with weapons fire under attack by swarms of smaller ships. Quite the striking image. What inspired you to initially create the game?
There are a few different sources I drew from while I was working on the game. Primarily a story by Benjamin Rosenbaum called “Biographical Notes to ‘A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes’, by Benjamin Rosenbaum”. I would recommend this story anyone who is interested in steampunk fantasy. You can read it for free in fact at http://benjaminrosenbaum.com/stories/rosenbaum-notes.pdf
2. Aether Captains is currently available as a solo print & play experience. What inspired you to make the leap from a solo game to a one vs. many?
This was a market decision driven by the publisher. We redesigned aspects of the game to operate on a macro level – players flying over Arkady, the Aether Captains world – and a micro level – the aerial fights, the core of the game. This gave us a larger battlefield to play in and more strategic opportunities for the pirate players who were formerly just a function of the AI mechanics in the solo game. While I am still very much a solo game designer at heart, I hope the expanded game has some exciting moments for both new players and those familiar with the solo game.
3. What were some of the challenges you encountered in turning the game into a multiplayer, one vs. many experience?
Well chiefly it involved the pirate players. The Aether Navy player has a very direct goal, that of wiping the scourge of the Domain of the Air Pirates from the skies over Arkady. The pirates though have an interesting play dynamic in that they are forced to be cooperative to take down the Navy ships but they each have a hidden objective in the game which means they must be competitive as well and must decide when to break off from the group. This game will not be a ‘take that’ backstabbing experience by any means. I don’t like or design those sorts of games but there are opportunities that will arise for a player to exploit for their own agenda.
4. Is there a particular mechanic you’ve developed in turning Aether Captains into a one vs. many tactical game that you’re especially excited about introducing to players?
Well for those who enjoy the solo game I think it will mainly be the experience of playing against real players. There is only much I could design into the AI side of the solo game. Unpredictability is not on that list.
5. Aether Captains is described as being an asymmetric tactical game; are there significant differences to how each of the pirate characters plays? Could you share a couple of examples if so?
6. How much content (ships, characters, crew, etc.) is new for the published version of the game? (or to rephrase, will current players recognize all the ship and character options, or has new content been developed specifically for the published version?)
7. You’ve mentioned elsewhere you’d like to keep supporting the print & play version with new ship content. Though it may be speculation, do you foresee any of that content finding its way to the published version in the form of expansions?
Yes. The print and play community has embraced the game and they are who I come to first with new ideas and concepts (In fact many of the names of the places, captains and ships in Aether Captains refer directly to PnP community friends). My PnP designs will be a proving ground for any new expansion development.
8. Are there any strictly mechanical additions you’re already thinking about developing for future content releases?
I am thinking mainly of introducing the Free Captains who are mercenaries in Arkady. Neither pirates nor part of the Aether Navy, they find themselves caught in between those two forces and their sympathies lie with both. In terms of game play this can mean assisting one side but then turning on them if the winds change direction. This also means ships of 3 or 4 dice, smaller than the Aether Navy vessels but larger than the single die pirate vessel and more room for me as a designer to create interesting play situations.
9. Board game kickstarter campaigns almost always have stretch goals, and Aether Captains is no exception. What are a couple of the stretch goals you’d especially like the campaign to achieve and why?
And there you have it: the one-against-many Aether Captains is sounding like a very promising evolution of the solo version of the game, which Todd plans to continue supporting with new content that may find its way into future expansion content for players outside the PnP community. The art is looking spectacular, and with the new ship minis I can see people who are simply into miniatures games wanting to take a look at the campaign. I for one am definitely looking forward to some of the stretch goals MAGE Company and Ninja Division plan to reveal once the game is funded, and considering their stellar record in the past of smooth delivery of Kickstarted products with plenty of communication in the interim, you can count COG Gaming as being a day 1 backer for this one! VISIT THE CAMPAIGN ON KS TODAY!