Previewing: Dirigible Disaster

Suitcase? Check.
Sunglasses? Check.
Fire Extinguishers? Check.

There’s no place for heady thinking here my friend. Just stow your stuff, grab a wrench and a water pail, and follow along. We have work to do.

Welcome aboard the airship Dirigible, the namesake setting for Dirigible Disaster, a 30 minute real-time co-op game by Letiman Games for 2-5 players. It is here on this ship that you and your cohorts must help keep the Dirigible aloft for its entire maiden voyage. Since it’s basically a giant wooden tinderbox though, it won’t take long to see if you make it to the end. In fact, probably 10 minutes or so should do the trick. That’ll give us enough time to see if you can keep this deathtrap of an airship functional.

A possible setup for the first round. Prototype Shown

A possible setup for the first round.
Prototype Shown

Oh, and while the ship had parachutes and escape craft planned, funding fell a little short. So…rather than wait until they acquired the money to get them out of a warehouse in Chattanooga, they decided to have the inaugural launch anyhow. On the one hand, the ship is lighter. On the other, it’d be really ideal if you didn’t go down with the ship. No pressure or anything.

In Dirigible Disaster, players must work together to clear the ship of various calamities as quickly as possible. The game is broken down into 10 rounds, each of which is played out over a single minute. 60 seconds. 1/60th of one hour.

You get the idea. Time is short, and it’s not on your side. Even with a top-notch crew, you will not be able to remove every obstacle in your way. Although you will have brief moments to plan, many on the fly decisions will have to be made. Hopefully you make the right one. The last guys they hired out of the want ads like you didn’t…actually, never mind that.

From the onset, Dirigible Disaster doesn’t hide that its rules are remarkably basic and can be easily explained. In fact, it sort of counts on that. However, as becomes evident from the moment the clock starts, the devil isn’t in the details insomuch as whether you can actually pull it off.

Each round is played out aboard the airship itself, which consists of 12 rooms across three floors. At the start of the game everyone embarks from Room 7, but players will spread all over the ship after that. There’s no point in an emergency muster station once things start falling apart, as there’s only one way you’re getting off this ship.

Okay, two ways. But you won’t like the latter option.

Welcome aboard. Prepare to die. Prototype Shown

Welcome aboard. Prepare to die.
Prototype Shown

Every round behaves the same way. First, you roll a die to determine which room houses the Steam Valve. Then, a set of five colored Event Dice are rolled, each corresponding to one of the five calamities affecting the ship. This determines how many cubes of that problem appear on the ship that round, with the possible results varying depending on which Event Die it is. Then, in order, you resolve each Event Die, rolling the Room Die for each cube being placed and address any potential ramifications of doing so. (For example, if the Fire Event Die has a result of 3, you roll the Room Die three times and add one Fire cube into each result.) These are:

  • Plague: Add a Plague cube and then remove any Passenger cubes in that room from the game.
  • Fire: Add a Fire cube. If it’s the third cube, a Passenger cube in that room is removed from the game. If a room ever already has three, the Fire instead spreads to all adjacent rooms.
  • Passenger: Add a Passenger cube. If the room has three Fire cubes, a Passenger in that room is then removed from the game.
  • Steam: Add a Steam cube. After all cubes are placed, the ship’s steam pressure will drop by 10% for each Steam cube on the board.
  • Cog: Add a Cog cube unless a room already has two, in which case it’s removed from the game instead.
A typical round's Event Dice. Prototype Shown

A typical round’s Event Dice.
Prototype Shown

This part is the only pause in an otherwise frantic fast-paced game, as setting up requires you roll the Room Die roughly 7-15 times each round. Yet it’s a minor issue that could simply be fixed by rolling more than one d12 at a time. After that, you have a moment of respite to plan your attack. Although the game is rather light on strategy – and offers little chance to plan beyond the current round – having a gameplan is essential. Once the timer starts, any time spent debating is one step closer to a sudden meeting with the ground below, which you probably don’t want.

Once everyone is ready, the countdown for the round begins. Players take turns taking a single action, of which you effectively have three options: move one space, use the Steam Valve, or attempt to remove a cube.

That’s it.

To remove a cube from the room you are in, you state which type of cube you’re removing and then roll the Action Die (a standard six-sided die). If your die result is less than or equal to the number on that cube’s Event Die, it is removed. Otherwise it stays right where it is, mocking you about your impending demise. By contrast, moving doesn’t require a roll, nor does using the Steam Valve (which raises the ship’s steam pressure by 20%), but you must be in the room with the Steam Valve to do so.

Black called Steam and rolled a 3. The Steam Event Die was also a 3, and the white cube is removed. Prototype Shown

Black calls ‘Steam’, rolling a 3. The Steam Die is also a 3, so the white cube is removed.
Prototype Shown

Aside from keeping the rules simple, this removal process highlights the subtle but clever dual nature of the game’s Event dice. That is, the higher an Event Die is rolled at the beginning of the round, the more cubes you have to add, but it also makes removing them easier. Similarly, while only adding 1-2 cubes for an event definitely slows their proliferation, it becomes that much harder to get rid of them that round.

What’s more, although may seem reductionist from a complexity standpoint for the removal process to be the same for any cube type, but it surprisingly functions fine as is. Which makes sense: once the countdown has begun, the last thing you want to do is remember corner case rules. Indeed, Dirigible Disaster’s challenge comes far more from the execution of gameplay than the complexity of it.

Regardless of your action, you then pass the Action Die to the next player, who does the same, and so forth, until time runs out. Then, the round ends and any rooms with Fire cubes remaining gain another.

What? It wasn’t our idea to make a flying bundle of kindling.

Picture this, except made out of wood. Good luck!

Picture this, except made out of wood

Assuming everyone is still in one piece, you move to the next round and repeat the process 9 more times. Any cubes from previous rounds stay put, burning, breaking, and causing general mayhem. In fact, that’s one of the two ways you lose. In Dirigible Disaster, if you ever need to add a cube type and you don’t have any more in (either because they’re already on the board or have been removed from the game), you lose. Alternatively, if the ship’s pressure ever reaches 0%, you’re in for a different kind of one-way trip.

After the 10th round, you perform one final set of Event rolls. If by some miracle you didn’t lose, the ship reaches its destination and everyone walks away happy and alive. Given that this is the 1,022nd maiden voyage of a ship called the Dirigible, though, we’ll let the results speak for themselves.

Kidding aside, it should lauded that the game does a decent job at being quite scalable. Easier playthroughs can remove the Cog Event die, while experts at time management can experience an additional layer of difficulty with rolling blackouts. The same can be said of player size. More players allow you to spread out and cover more of the ship but at the cost of fewer actions and extra seconds lost between passing the die. On the other hand, a two-player assault is highly efficient at moving and communicating, but you only get 45 seconds instead of the full 60.

Hey, we didn’t say they were going to make it too easy.

Interested in investment opportunities?

Interested in investment opportunities?

All told, Dirigible Disaster is a lightweight-yet-dynamic game. Dirigible Disaster is a fine example of an uncomplicated, unencumbered system that works…which is sort of the opposite of the ship itself. While Dirigible Disaster is effectively a dice-rolling game on a timer, and much of what happens comes down to luck of the roll, that doesn’t diminish the positive hectic experience that comes from collectively trying to keep everyone aboard alive. It is also through this experience that the game’s oddball theme comes to light, shining like a bright mayday beacon we’re sure the ship doesn’t have.

Moreover, the game handling its real-time co-op aspect well, remaining simple and engaging while still finding a way to separate itself from similar games in the genre. Dirigible Disaster allows you to set up and plan a coordinated attack reach round (unlike Space Alert), and although team-based, it’s not a case of everyone making simultaneous actions (like Space Cadets). Rather, the number of actions you get each round is entirely dependent on team cohesion and how fast the Action Die can be passed around. Stay alert. Roll well. Stay alive.

It may sound crazy to say, but for those who enjoy games of a fast-paced nature, dice rolling, simple rules, a wacky premise, or any combination thereof, Dirigible Disaster is one trip you may want to consider booking. Ticket agents are current standing by over on its Kickstarter.

Bon voyage!


Photo Credits: Dirigible Disaster cover and artwork by Letiman Games; Excelsior logo by 20th Television.