Come cruise the wide open skies in style and comfort! Let us take you to all of the amazing and wondrous places all throughout the Gaslight Empire. From the ancient ruins in the west to the ice capped mountains in the east, we will show you sights that will delight and astound you. We set sail soon for adventure, so don’t delay. Sign up now!
Signing up is precisely what you did. You, being the smart, savvy criminal that you are, quickly realized that this airship cruise provided the perfect mode of transportation to get your team in and out of some of the most exclusive and remote places in the Empire. Each of the stops has valuable treasures just right for the taking, and you aimed to get every last one. Problem is, a number of rival teams have come aboard with the exact same intentions. Only one group can hire the right professionals and walk away from the victor, though, so it appears the race is on. It’s time for some Skyway Robbery.
Skyway Robbery is a programmable Tableau game for 2-5 players, and your goal is to cement your reputation as the most powerful criminal lord around.
Before you set sail with Skyway Robbery you must prep the ship for departure. Each player starts with a set of action cards, some money, and a small gang. Then you fill up the Airship (the top part of the board) with the corresponding card types. Similar to other tableau games like Race for the Galaxy or Firefly, there are a lot of cards to Skyway. They consist of attainable things like the ship’s crew, recruitable gang members, equipment to purchase, and more. Like any good cruise ship, it comes plenty stocked, so there’s always something new to reveal.
Then the adventure really begins.
The game progresses as the ship moves through each of the game’s destinations. Skyway Robbery comes with ten different locations, but you only use five at any given time. Although stealing everything the Empire holds dear would be quite the caper, five still proves plenty with a 60-90 minute runtime.
Each round, players select three action cards to use and which order they’ll be used in, and place them face down. They’re then resolved in a boomerang fashion (where the last player to resolve their first action starts the second). The importance of turn order is evident in the game – especially in the later stages – so using this style turn structure shrewdly keeps it from becoming an issue. Some card actions are straightforward, such as getting some quick money, buying equipment or gang members, coercing crew to aid you, or using a card’s Skill.
Of course, those are all means to an end. The real fun comes when there’s thieving to be done.
There are four ways to exercise your criminal prowess: Side Jobs, Jail Breaks, the Local Heist, and Turf Wars. The first three require that you get through a series of randomized defenses: all three locations are slotted with a number of Defense cards. Each Defense card has one or more defense symbols on them, from Poison Gas to Guards to Electrified Fields. The Local Heist also requires you be able to crack the safe.
But getting through these defenses is why you have a gang to begin with! Most gang members, crew, and equipment aid you in overcoming them, and in Skyway Robbery, it’s as simple as matching symbols. This simplicity is part of what gives Skyway Robbery some of its bad boy charm: the basics of it are pretty easy to follow.
Now, sending everyone on your team would raise a ton of attention. So, instead, you have to rely on having a diverse group of cohorts to solve your problem, Ocean’s 11 style. For a job, players may choose two gang members and two pieces of equipment without raising alarms. Literally. With more than two people (or Loud items), you’re going to attract some attention, and you’ll have to roll alarm dice. Each die failure means one of your crew is caught and sent to the Brig. But if you still can overcome your target’s defenses, then you reap its reward.
Jail Breaks let you recruit gang members stuck in the Brig, and a successful Side Job or Local Heist nets you Reputation and money. The Local Heists also net you some serious bragging rights.
Turf Wars work a little differently. That they aren’t solved by cunningly overcoming elaborate traps but are instead resolved by getting your hands dirty. Many gang members have a strength rating, and if you have a pair of them that can overcome a local thug, you can defeat him to earn some Reputation.
Now, it wouldn’t be as fun to just let people walk unfettered through the vaults, and Skyway Robbery sees to it that isn’t a cakewalk. One of the more entertaining aspects of the game is the back-and-forth between players trying to undercut one another via the Anonymous Tip action. After a Tip action is revealed, any illegal activity for the rest of the round adds alarm dice. Here you aren’t just making it harder on your opponents, you are actively helping to get them caught so you can steal it instead. Honor among thieves and all.
At the end of a round where the ship would move on the turn track to a new location marker, or if a Local Heist is successful, the ship departs for its next destination. When the Location changes, the Docks (the bottom half of the board) are cleared away and filled with a new Location and new cards. Then, the race resumes. Players go until the end of the final turn space or if the last location’s Loot card is stolen. The player with the most Reputation solidifies themselves as the new crime boss of the Gaslight Empire.
After casing Skyway Robbery, a few things are pretty evident. Firstly, this will be a beautiful-looking game. From the airship to the different locales to the diversity of the cards themselves, there is a ton of detail that really helps sells the theme of mile-high crime.
Secondly, it’s impressive is how well the game integrates its themes with its simple mechanics; it’s easily the game’s best feature. For instance, each Location board comes with local gang members and equipment that tailor specifically to the job at hand. This reinforces the idea that you’re actually out on the docks recruiting those assets. Now if they get pinched later on…eh, they’ve served their purpose.
Moreover, having the airship only stay at port for a set number of turns reiterates that you’re on a timetable. You don’t have months to plan ahead, and it keeps the game easy to understand and engaging without getting bogged down.
That said, the flow of the game can be a little uneven at times since sometimes you’ll be at a Location all four rounds, whereas it’s possible at others to only be there for one. Similarly, because of the sheer number of defense symbols in this game, you can be forced to pause and see if you have the right combination of assets to pull off a heist.
Yet Skyway Robbery’s use of the programming mechanic is its best example of marriage between theme and function. It’s a terribly flavorful and clever way to depict players setting their plans in motion – and how interference from others can cause those plans to go sideways. Anonymous Tips also see to it that no job is going to be easily solved if lots of rival teams are after the same goal, allowing players a means to derail someone’s plans off without actually being combative. Not only does it add another layer of strategy by trying to guess your enemy’s move and keep them in check, but it’s also fun to have someone get caught flatfooted while preparing a job. Skyway Robbery certainly conveys the idea that every player is out for themselves, but it does so with style. If you think you have what it takes, then grab your wallet and head over to Kickstarter.
Oh, right. You may need your wallet back in that case. I sort of nicked it earlier. My bad.
Photo Credits: Italian Job by Paramount Pictures.