A BATTLE WORTH FIGHTING… MY REVIEW OF AIR, LAND, & SEA
15 - 30 minutes
Move over Hanamikoji, there’s a new champion in the field of small box duelers. Air, Land and Sea steps up the “Battleline” style of game and adds a unique level of depth absent from its competitors.
Air, Land and Sea revolves around placing cards on combat theatres until at the end of turn someone wins two out of three theatres and wins that round. Standard fare for the genre but Air, Land and Sea makes a number of changes that ratchets up the tension and the depth. There are only three arenas to win, significantly less than most other games in this style and a source of much more tension for every potential win. The deck totals 18 unique cards where 6 can be played exclusively in their area. Each card has a value between 1 and 6 as well as a unique power, with the exception of the most powerful “6s”. Optionally, any card can be played face down to act as a vanilla card with a value of 2. Each player gets 6 cards, and 6 cards are out of play for that round. The complexity in trying to read your opponents tells and predict their possible combinations grows exponentially from its competitors with the possible player powers.
The greatest source of tension comes from the number of points needed to win and the withdrawal mechanism. The first player to 12 points wins, and any complete round won is worth 6 points. However, a player can withdraw at any points. If you concede a round you give your opponent a number of points based on how many cards you have left to play, withdraw early and you might only give you opponent 2 or 3 points. It draws out the game into a tense series of battle that create the narrative for the larger war. Most rounds will have an opponent withdraw when the situation becomes untenable, but any round where players stay in it until the end are incredibly exciting.
The games immersion is aided by gorgeous art and abilities that fit the theme. Air support can drop troops in theatres they normally wouldn’t be able too or increase the power of adjacent theatres, naval units could redeploy or blockade areas, artillery will potentially buff cards that have gone before. The simple rules were used to great effect to create a sense of place on the battlefield. Everyone will leave a game of Air, Land and Sea with a favorite card and ability.
The only trade off the game has is that it’s not as approachable as its competitors. While it only takes a game or two to understand all the potential 18 cards, a more casual player might not want to keep going after the initial game. The length of how long a game can take to resolve with savvy players is also considerably increased. When players know when to withdrawal most rounds will see the goal of 12 points achieved in bite sized 2- and 3-point increments. Finally, the color choice of grey, dark blue and dark green isn’t the best for any situations in which visibility is an issue.
The few issues this game has do little to stifle it’s greatness. It’s a modern immersive, deep small box dueler. It has all the production values and theme you’d come to expect from board games in 2019 and at a price as reasonable as games come now a days. In any situation where a two-player game night could use a nice opener or cooldown game, Air, Land and Sea should almost always be reached for first.