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Aether Captains Feature Image on COG Gaming interview of Todd Sanders

Aether Captains: An Interview with Designer Todd Sanders | COG Gaming


COG Gaming | Aether Captains box artYear Published: 2010 (2016)
Designer: Todd Sanders
Publisher: Self Published/MAGE Company/Ninja Division
Players: 1-5
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

And the other primary visual source is the excellent anime series Last Exile which captures extremely well the kind of aerial battles I envision in the game.
Last Exile anime inspiration for Aether Captains
In both these imagined narratives there is a struggle for supremacy in the skies and the pirates have nasty habit showing up when you least expect it in pernicious swarms.
From a strictly component point of view there was Nick Hayes’ Chunky Fighters game which used a stacked column of dice where the player would rotate the face to show damage taken. I took this concept and put the dice in a row as sections of the ships. This had the added benefit of making the dice row feel more like a miniature, but one with realtime visual damage tracking.
 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.

Aether Captains Brass Ship

 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?
Less…in the ships, though for some of the stretch goals we are planning additional pirate ships that operate in new ways and have some interesting actions, and more so in how a player will go about fulfilling their objectives. Beyond the base game we’ve planned additional objectives for the pirate players.  These can bring some added challenges. I’ve also designed a series of engagement scenarios we are currently testing to change the “one against many” dynamic to “one on one”, “every captain for themselves” and other tactical narratives. This solo game has always skirted the edges of a war-game and these scenarios should provide a richer experience for those looking for strategy.
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?)
Current players will recognize all the ships and original crew members. With the addition of the macro level of the Arkady tiles, players will also find themselves in very familiar territory with the cities of the Grand Compact and the narrative I have created across all the Aether Captains series of games. I have designed a series of new ships for the pirates which will be part of the stretch goals for the campaign. These have not been seen before. Weather will also now be a factor and we are planning additional crew members. And if we are lucky with the campaign there may be a few new Aether Navy ships sighted on the horizon.
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?
Definitely the additional pirate ships and Navy ship I’ve designed. They will let players have a wider range of ships to choose from when setting up the game. Also we have planned some platforms the dice can snap into which will help visually to see the dice as ship miniatures. Lastly, one of my favorite PnP expansions was the Revenants. These are captured citizens of Arkady that the pirate scientists soul-bond to the inside of metal armor shells and use them as shock troops to board Navy ships during air combat situations. We have a rather neat idea planned to incorporate those.


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.  Steampunk fortress for Aether CaptainsThe 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!

Aether Captains on BoardGameGeek

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Author: bduerksen30 I have an m.a. in history focusing on naval and maritime history in the Atlantic from the seventeenth-early nineteenth centuries. I've worked as a website consultant, and am currently employed as an analyst. I also run the COG Gaming blog for board game reviews, news, and kickstarter highlights. COG Gaming also offers playesting and editing services for new designers, and we're in the process of developing a few titles of our own. Contact me if you're interested in having your game reviewed, previewed, or in one of our other services!

2 thoughts on “Aether Captains: An Interview with Designer Todd Sanders | COG Gaming

  1. Thanks for the interview with me

  2. Pingback: Aether captains

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