Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Aether Captains’

Aether Captains

The skies above Arkady are filled with airships: pirate war-captains are eager to wrest control from the Grand Compact, but the Emperor has tasked the Navy with its defense. Pick a side and join in the conflict of Aether Captains!

At a glance: Aether Captains is a steampunk battle game for 1 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 30-60 minutes, depending on the number of players. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $60 for a copy of the game. (An $100 pledge adds in two expansions.)

New to Kickstarter? Please read our crowdfunding primer. This post was sponsored by MAGE Company.

Components

Aether Captains miniatures
Some of the planned miniatures for the ships.

A large image of the components is available on the Kickstarter page. I’ve pulled out a few images to show some details in this post.

The base game includes:

  • 2 Arkady boards
  • 6 War-Captain boards
  • 8 Stats boards
  • 108 Action cards
  • 14 Crew tiles
  • 16 Occupying Force tiles
  • 50 Resource tokens (10 each firearms, fuel, water, gold, repair)
  • 5 Crew cards
  • 2 Navy commander ships
  • 12 War-captain ships (3 unique shapes per color)
  • 8 Objective cards
  • 1 Neutral Ground tile
  • 26 hex tiles
  • 5 city tiles
  • 5 12-sided dice (1 per player)
  • 1 6-sided die
  • 6 HMS Dauntless Dice
  • 6 HMS Dominion Dice
  • 12 War-Captain Dice-ships (6 different models)
  • 1 Storm token
  • 1 Wind spinner
  • 1 cloth bag
Aether Captains dice
A Print-and-Play earlier version of Aether Captains by Todd Sanders how the ship dice work. Image: Todd Saunders, via BoardGameGeek

I got a prototype of Aether Captains but it was print-and-play quality so I can’t describe the final components (particularly the dice and plastic miniatures), but some of the preliminary artwork from MAGE Company has been posted on BoardGameGeek so you can see what it will look like.

Aether Captains dice ships

The ship dice for the large Navy ships each show a section of the ship, and there are four sides that show it from perfect condition to totally destroyed. (The other two sides just show a cross-section of the ship and are not meant to be oriented face-up.) Each die has two colored numbers: the blue number is the die’s defense, and the other number could be red (attack), yellow (repair), or green (move). The attack dice also have black squares indicating the gun’s range. The other faces show damage–the numbers are higher, and there are fewer gun squares–with one face indicating total destruction of that section.

The small pirate ships are single dice; each ship is a particular type of ship, with various stats on the 6 sides.

Aether Captains
The Pirate Fleet

How to Play

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A draft of the rules can be downloaded from the Kickstarter page. Here’s a brief overview, though I won’t get into the details.

One player will be the Navy commander, and the rest of the players are pirate war-captains. The Navy player’s goal is to eliminate a certain number of pirate ships. Each war-captain has an objective card showing their victory conditions.

To set up, each player takes boards, dice, and ship tokens for their character. War-captains each get 1 objective card (a choice from 2 cards), 5 Occupying Force tokens, 1 crew card, 1 flagship, 2 additional ships, and 3 fuel tokens. The rest of the ship dice are placed in the middle and are drafted, one per war-captain. Then each war-captain also gets 6 Action cards for each of the selected ships. The Navy commander gets one or two of the battleships (based on number of players) with the corresponding dice for the ships, the brown 12-sided die, 1 crew card, Action cards corresponding to the battleships.

Aether Captains
Location tiles–cities, sky, and Neutral Ground.

The map of Arkady is built with the Neutral ground in the center, and two rings of hexes around it. The Navy commander starts at the northernmost hex (which must be sky), and war-captains start based on the ships they have chosen, marking positions with the plastic miniatures. The Storm tile starts on the Neutral Ground, and Crew tokens are divided into Arkady and War-Captain stacks and placed face-down on Neutral Ground. City tiles, which indicate a city’s defense level, are placed randomly on the city hexes. Each city provides a different resource–firearms, fuel, gold, repair gear, and water. Resource tokens are set to the side.

War-Captains all take their turns in order, and then the Navy commander takes a turn.

The War-captains each choose up to 3 cards from their hand to play. Available actions include Move, Attack, Attack with Bomb Launcher, Repair Damage, Recruit, Camouflage, and Collect Resources. Of course, many of these actions only work if the ships are in the right positions, so you may have to predict what other players will do with their own actions. Camouflage prevents you from being attacked by the Navy for one round. War-captains can also activate a Crew member at any time when appropriate. There’s a wind spinner that indicates the direction of the wind–traveling against the wind costs fuel.

The Navy commander has 6 points to spend on actions, including Move, Attack, Repair Damage, Recruit, Telescope, Long Range Attack, Force Majeure, and Collect Resources. The Navy has fuel provided by the Emperor so doesn’t have to buy any. Force Majeure lets you choose another player and move that player’s ships once each to adjacent tiles, and Telescope lets you choose a player and see that player’s chosen actions. The Navy commander may also use Crew members. At the end of the Navy commander’s turn, the player rolls the black six-sided die 3 times to move the Storm token, which damages ships as it moves into them.

Aether Captains
Sample images of the two Navy ships (top) and the pirate fleet (bottom)

The Attacks are when the ship dice come into play. The pirate ships are positioned around the Navy battleship they’re attacking on the Arkady board. To attack, you roll your 12-sided die and must roll higher than your ship’s attack value. If successful, the defender must roll the 12-sided die and roll higher than the ship’s defense value. If the attack succeeds, the ship die is turned to indicate damage.

The Navy ships have guns that can fire longer distances, so although the pirates can only attack the section of ship they’re adjacent to, the Navy ship may be able to bring multiple guns to bear on any given pirate ship. However, as the gun sections take damage, they also lose range. Attacking the command section of the ship will make it harder for the Navy to repair damage, and attacking the engine will make it harder to move.

The crew can be used for particular bonuses–increasing attack rolls, helping with repair rolls, and so on.

Pirates can also occupy cities if they successfully attack it, allowing them to gain resources from that city. The Navy can liberate cities from Pirates, of course.

The game ends either when the Navy has eliminated enough pirate ships, or when a pirate war-captain achieves the goals on the objective card.

Aether Captains
The Brass Dagger.

My Impression

I can’t give a full verdict as I usually do with reviews since I haven’t played a prototype in this case, because the prototype I was sent required a bit more assembly than I was able to do in time. I can give some impressions and a little more background, though. Aether Captains was originally a print-and-play solo game by Todd Sanders from 2010: you played as the Navy, and pirate ships would swarm around you. The goal was to destroy all the pirates before four of your ship sections were destroyed.

MAGE Company has taken Todd’s original concept and done an almost-total overhaul, while preserving the combat system and the ship-dice. The game is now for more players, includes a modular board for movement, and the crew are now cards that can be chosen when recruited rather than a random roll of a die. And since the pirates are now controlled by players, they have their own goals to accomplish.

I like the idea of a many-vs.-one game in which the many aren’t entirely allied with each other. It remains to be seen how much cooperation there would actually be between pirate players, but I imagine that there will be shifting alliances throughout the game. In the end, though, there can only be one winner–however, the pirates win by accomplishing their objectives, not necessarily by directly attacking other pirates.

I have to confess that I do worry about the player elimination aspect. Note: I was told that there is not player elimination, but based on the draft rules, if a pirate ship takes too much damage, it is permanently eliminated from the game. I suppose you could try to repair before you lose your ship entirely, but I imagine that losing even a single ship could put you at a significant disadvantage for the rest of the game. That’s another aspect of the game that you just have to play to see how it feels. Generally, I’m not a fan of player elimination, but in some cases it can be done in a way that doesn’t mean somebody is sitting out for a long time with nothing to do.

The rules themselves have gone through a lot of versions, too. MAGE Company had originally planned to launch the campaign last fall, and actually did launch in February before immediately pulling the campaign to retool it. I can tell that there have been parts of the game that were streamlined and some unnecessary bits eliminated.

So far I’ve been impressed with the quality of MAGE Company’s components, though I haven’t seen yet how they handle custom dice. I know the original version of Todd’s print and play used very large cubes for the ships, but I don’t know as of this writing whether the final version from MAGE Company will use the large cubes or something smaller. The preliminary artwork looks pretty great and if you like steampunk then it’s worth a closer look.

The Kickstarter for Aether Captains just launched yesterday, so head over to the project page and check it out!

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.