Relive the Glory Days of Air Travel with ‘Pan Am: The Game’

Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

Like most people my age, I have clear and fond memories of Pan Am. I remember their logo, surely one of the most iconic airline logos of all time, on the side of the Orion III space clipper that delivers Heywood Floyd to the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s famous early sequence. And I also remember being at my girlfriend’s house in high school and watching the coverage of the tragic loss of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (The lawsuits from that incident were a key factor to the company’s eventual bankruptcy and liquidation.) So it was with history in mind that I took a look at Funko’s Pan Am: The Game.

What Is Pan Am: The Game?

Pan Am: The Game is a game for 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 60 minutes to play. It’s currently available exclusively at Target for $34.99.

Pan Am: The Game is GeekDad Approved!

Pan Am Components

The ‘Pan Am’ components. Image by Rob Huddleston

Inside the box, you’ll find:

  • Game board
  • 2 hangers
  • 20 engineers, 5 in each of four colors
  • 20 airports, 5 in each of four colors
  • 20 trimotor planes, 5 in each of four colors
  • 16 Clippers, 4 in each of four colors
  • 12 cruisers, 3 in each of four colors
  • 4 jets, 1 in each of four colors
  • 4 player mats
  • 4 income trackers
  • 28 event cards
  • 50 destination cards
  • 40 directive cards
  • 40 one-value Pan Am stock cards
  • 20 five-value Pan Am stock cards
  • 1 custom die
  • 40 Pan Am route markers
  • 50 $1 money tokens
  • 25 $5 money tokens
  • 1 each cruiser and jet tiles
  • 1 first player marker
  • 1 stock marker and plastic base

The components in the game are all the high-quality components one would expect from Funko and Prospero Hall, the company that designed it.

The board. Image by Rob Huddleston

The board is nice and big, providing plenty of space to place all of the pieces during the game. It’s also unique: it’s a map of the world, but one that looks down from the top, so the North Pole is roughly in the board’s center. Because Pan Am flew mostly northern hemisphere routes, this allowed the designers to not have to devote board space to areas that would have been irrelevant to playing the game. South America, where they did fly, is shown by extending that portion of the board, which also worked in creating an empty space in the unnaturally elongated Atlantic for other elements on the board.

While the map consumes most of the open space, the important playing areas needed for the game’s five phases have plenty of room. My only minor quibble with the layout is that the phases don’t quite work clockwise around the board: you start in the top left with A, move right to get to B, then down to C, but at that point you have to jump over E to get to D, before backtracking. It could be argued that it works more like reading: you go right-to-left along the top of the board, and then right-to-left along the bottom, but since the actions for C are clearly down that side I think the more natural movement is clockwise. But as I said, it’s a minor annoyance.

One of the engineers. Image by Rob Huddleston

The plastic engineers are the most abstract element of the game: they are very tradition game pawns, which a slight twist that their bases look like a gear. But they are absolutely functional, and in some ways a departure from the ubiquitous meeple is nice.

One of the airports. Image by Rob Huddleston

The airports resemble small air traffic control towers, and are not only nicely designed but they also stack well, giving the player on that side of the board something to do to annoy other players between turns.

The tri-motors, the smallest of the planes. Note the single bar on their wings. Image by Rob Huddleston

The planes are, of course, the very cool component. There are four different planes, each representing an increased range and something of the technological advancement over the course of the game.

The Clippers. Image by Rob Huddleston

The small trimotors and Clippers are the starter pieces for the beginning of the game, but eventually players will move into the bigger cruisers and finally, enter the jet age just before the game ends to fly the really long routes.

The cruisers enter in round 4. Image by Rob Huddleston

None of these planes are designed to resemble actual, specific planes (I’m honestly a bit disappointed that the Clippers don’t look like Pan Am’s actual Clippers), but that’s OK.

The complete set of jets – there’s only one per color. Image by Rob Huddleston

As a nice design element: all of the planes have small markings on their wings showing their range, which is a nice reminder during gameplay.

The hangars. Useful, but under-designed. Image by Rob Huddleston

The hangars are really just storage trays for the planes not currently in use.

One of the player mats, with the income tracker. Image by Rob Huddleston

The player mats are nicely laid out and provide space for the important elements players need to track: their income and their current fleet. There’s also a handy reference guide for each phase of gameplay printed on each mat.

The income trackers are simple colored cubes.

The custom Pan Am die. Image by Rob Huddleston

The Pan Am dice is one of the few pieces of the game with the iconic logo. The other sides represent the paths Pan Am expands along.

An event card. This one sets the stock price at $4 and says the Pan Am die will be rolled once. Image by Rob Huddleston

The event cards are also well designed. They need to present three pieces of information–what event is being triggered and its impact on that round, how many times the die wil be rolled, and what happens to the stock price. It does all of that at a glance, while also helping the theme by providing historical pictures of Pan Am planes and a brief sentence describing some period of the airline’s history. The cards also help the game’s replayability, as of the 28 cards in the deck, only 7 are used in each game.

A sample set of destination cards, showing the five colors. Image by Rob Huddleston

The destination cards make up a player’s hand, and need only convey two things: the city the card refers to and the route that city belongs to. Here, a series of strong design choices help the cards achieve those goals: each card is predominately the color of the route, with white and black only used for highlights. The icon for each route is clearly marked on the card as well. Because the designers chose very strongly contrasting colors–something far too often overlooked or outright ignored these days–there is never even the slightest confusion as to which route a city is in.

A sample set of directive cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

The directive cards are the most text-heavy element of the game, and thankfully the designers recognized that and left artwork or any other distractions off the cards.

The stock cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

The stock cards are pretty straight-forward. They basically look like what you think a stock certificate looks like, but with clear, prominent ONE or FIVE printed on them. It also helps that they are different colors, so when counting your stock at game’s end it’s easy to sort them.

The money. Cardboard tokens for the win. Image by Rob Huddleston
The Pan Am tokens. Image by Rob Huddleston

There are three sets of small, round cardboard tokens: the Pan Am tokens and the two denominations used for money. They are all perfectly functional, but let me take a quite moment to say something about games in general: absolutely 100% of the time, cardboard tokens for money are better than paper money. Always.

The plane tiles. Image by Rob Huddleston
The first player token. Image by Rob Huddleston

The three larger cardboard pieces are used to cover up the cruiser and jet spaces until those become available to play later in the game, and the first-player marker. And while I’m at it: first-player markers are hardly ever all that useful. 99.9% of the time we forget to pass it around the table. Just saying.

The stock price marker. Image by Rob Huddleston

The final component is the stock price marker. And here the designers once again made a subtle but very useful design choice: rather than a simple flat cardboard marker, they added one of those ubiquitous plastic stands so that the marker stands up on the board. As someone who has played the game multiple times sitting at the far end of the board from the marker, I can tell you that this helps a ton to be able to glance up and see what the stock price is.

How to Play Pan Am

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to be the player with the most Pan Am stock after seven rounds. This is accomplished by claiming routes you think Pan Am is going to gobble up, and then investing the profits from those routes into stock.

Setup

The game set up for four people … if all four people were going to sit on the same side of the table. Image by Rob Huddleston.

To set up the game, start by placing the board in the middle of the table. Place the two hangers next to the board on the right side next to area C.

Select one card at random from each of the seven rounds. Take the selected cards are form a deck, with round 1 on top and then place them on the designated spot on the board. Return the rest to the box.

Shuffle all of the destination cards and place the deck on the indicated spot on the board in area B. Draw four cards and place them faceup on the board.

Shuffle the directive cards and place them facedown on the board in area E.

Place the Pan Am route markers, money, stocks, and Pan Am dice next to the board.

Place the Cruiser and Jet tiles on the board in area C to cover those two sections.

Each player takes a player mat of their color. They take two trimotor planes and one Clipper and place them on their player mat, and then place the rest of their planes in the appropriate hanger. They place their income tracker on the zero space on their mat. They take the five airports of their color and place them off the board above the area A space. They take engineers of their color: all five in a two player game, four in a three player game, and three in a four player game. They then draw two destination cards and one directive card and receive $12. The destination card should be placed faceup in front of them, but the directive cards are kept secret.

The first player was the last person to ride on a plane (remember when that was a thing we did?) and receives the first player marker.

Gameplay

The first step in each round is to reveal the event card from the deck in the middle of the board. This card not only tracks the rounds, it also provides some kind of event that effects all players for the entire round, sets the Pan Am stock price, and tells how many times the Pan Am die will be rolled. In the first round, the Pan Am stock marker is placed in the appropriate spot on the tracker; after that, it is moved as needed.

After the card is revealed, the first player begins the engineer phase, which is the worker placement element of the game. In the first round, the first player simply places their first engineer in whatever area they want. The second player follows suit, and so forth, until all of the engineers are placed or everyone passes.

The are five areas of the board that engineers can be placed in.

Area A on the board. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Area A allows players to bid to build an airport. All of the bidding areas are set up the same: there are a series of prices that a player can place their engineer in. However, bidding in Pan Am is a bit different than in other games, as engineers that are outbid are returned to their owner and can reused again that round.

Here, green has outbid grey. Grey’s engineer is returned and can be used again this round. Image by Rob Huddleston.

In other words, if the first player places an engineer in the $3 spot (the cheapest spot) on the airports track, and then player two outbids them and places their engineer on the $5 spot, the first player’s engineer is returned to them. On their turn, they could choose to outbid player two by putting their engineer back on the airports track in the $7 spot, at which point player two would get their engineer back, or player one could choose to give up on airports and play that engineer somewhere else. Each bidding track also has a maximum price spot–for airports, it’s $9–and any player bidding that automatically wins the bidding. (Bidding does not need to be in order. A player can start off by placing an engineer in the top spot if they so choose.)

At the end of the engineer phase, the players have bid on destinations. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Area B is where players pick up new destinations, and is also bidding-based. However, there are four tracks here, one for each of the face-up destinations. Prices range from $0-$6 on each, and bidding works the same way as described above.

Green will be able to get a new tri-motor. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Area C lets players buy new planes, and as with A and B, is based on bidding. For the first two rounds, players may only bid on the small planes (trimotors and Clippers). Cruisers become avaiable at the start of round 3, and jets are not available to be bid on until round 6. Tiles are placed over these spots during setup to remind players of this. Each size of plane has a separate bidding track, so multiple players may be able to build planes in each round, but only one of each size can be built.

Grey will claim the first route, followed by yellow, then grey again, then red. Green will not claim a route as they chose to place their engineers elsewhere. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Areas D and E are not bidding-based. Area D allows a player to place an engineer to be used to claim a route. During the next phase, players will use their planes to claim routes (described below) in the order that engineers are placed here. It’s possible for one player to place multiple engineers here and thus claim multiple routes, possibly consecutively.

Red will draw a directive card, then yellow. But importantly, in the next round, red will place this engineer first, followed by yellow’s, before the normal turn order. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Area E lets players do two things. First, they will draw a new directive card. These cards provide hidden advantages (they are all good things) to players at various points in the game, such as paying less for winning bids or receiving free planes or airports or Pan Am stock. Area E also allows players to jump in line in the turn order for the next round, which I’ll also describe below.

Players can continue placing engineers until they run out or chose to pass. If they pass they cannot resume playing engineers in that round. Note that because outbidding a player returns their engineer, it’s possible to have a player with several engineers left in their hand when everyone else has finished placing all of theirs. In that case, the remaining player can simply place their engineers as they see fit.

Once all engineers are player or all players have passed, the game moves into the resolution phase. This phase is done in order of areas around the board.

First, the player (if any) who placed the winning bid for airports pays the amount they bid to the bank. They then take one of their airports and place it in any city on the board. The only rule for placing an airport is that only one airport may be placed in any city.

I need to pause here and make an important note about paying for things. Players must pay for any bids they win during the round. There is no ability to have any income during a round–all of that happens in the final phase. If a player overbids themselves, then they must liquidate stock to make up the difference, and that stock has to be liquidated at $2 less than the current price. So if the Pan Am stock is at $4, stock can only be sold back at $2 a share. If selling all of their stock still results in the player being unable to pay their bid, they have to sell of whatever stock they have, and then they do not gain the benefit of whatever they bid on. As the number of stock is the ultimate victory condition, being forced to sell stock can have long-lasting impacts, so it’s vital to carefully manage your money and make sure you can always pay what you bid for.

After the player places their airports, you move to area B: destinations. This is basically done simultaneously–every player who won a bid for a card pays for it and takes it, placing it face up in front of them.

Area C is next, and works the same: the player who won the bid for each size plane pays for it and takes it from the hanger.

Area D is the part that takes the longest in this phase. In order based on how the engineers were placed, each player claims a route.

To claim a route, players need landing rights in both of the cities on either side of the route. There are four ways to get landing rights:

  1. You automatically have landing rights in any city in which you have an airport.
  2. You have landing rights for any city for which you hold a destination card. You do not need to discard this card to use it.
  3. You have landing rights for any city of the same color as a card you have in your hand, but you must discard the card to use it.
  4. You have landing rights for any city on the board if you discard two cards of the same color, but a different color than the city in question.
Several claimed routes. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Routes are claimed by playing a plane on the Pan Am space highway between the cities. Trimotors can only be used to claim distance 1 routers. Clippers can claim routes of up to distance 2, cruisers routes up to distance 3, and jets up to distance 4. Larger planes can always be used on shorter routes. A nice subtle design feature: each plane has a number of bars on its wings representing its maximum route distance.

A few examples to illustrate this. Let’s say a player has an airport in Miami and has the New York card in their hand. They can claim the Miami-New York route by placing any plane on it.

A player with the Mexico City card and any blue card other than San Franciso could claim that route with a Clipper, cruiser, or jet by discarding the other blue card. They do not discard Mexico City.

A player with an airport in Lisbon or the Lisbon card but no other purple cards could instead discard two green cards to claim the route to Paris.

A player can use the same card repeatedly to claim multiple routes as long as they have played multiple engineers in area D and as long as they have the planes to do so. For example, if a player had cards for Mexico City, New York, and Seattle could discard New York to claim the Mexico City-to-San Francisco route, and then as a second area D action discard the Mexico City card to claim the San Francisco-to-Seattle route. They would then still have the Seattle card in their hand to play later.

If a player placed an engineer in area D and then either didn’t have the correct landing rights or the correct planes to claim a route, they simply get their engineer back and do not get to play. There is no other penalty for misplaying in area D.

After all of the routes are claimed, the destination should be reset for the next round: any unpurchased cards get $1 on them, which can be claimed by any player winning the bid for that card in a future round (and which can be used to pay for the card), and then new cards are drawn so that four are face up.

Then play continues to area E. Each player who played an engineer here draws a directive card, which they keep hidden from other players. Directive cards all state on them in which phase they can be played, and they can be used at any point in the game as long as they are played in the correct phase, even on the turn in which they are drawn.

However, area E offers another critical advantage to players. In all other areas, engineers are reclaimed as they are resolved. Area E engineers, however, remain on the board. These engineers will be placed first in the next round, allowing players to skip over the normal turn order. It’s possible, if other players aren’t paying close enough attention, for a single player to play in all three spots on area E, thus allowing them three uninterrupted turns in the worker placement phase in the next round.

Later in the game, Pan Am has claimed a bunch of routes. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Once area E is resolved, the Pan Am phase begins. This phase occurs in four steps. First, Pan Am expands. A player (the rules say it’s the first player, but really it doesn’t matter) rolls the Pan Am die the number of times indicated on the event card. Most of the sides of this die show one or two paths, which are indicated both on the die and on the board by shapes: the South America path is a series of dots, the Europe path is squares, and the Asia-Pacific path is triangles. Starting from Miami, Pan Am buys the next route along this path that it has not already claimed. If the route is unclaimed by any players, Pan Am simply claims the route by placing a Pan Am marker on it. If, however, a player owns that route, their plane is returned to them, a Pan Am marker is placed on the route, the Pan Am pays the player a set amount: $5 for a 1-length route, $9 for a 2-length route, $12 for a 3 route, and $14 for a 4 route. Once Pan Am claims a route, it cannot be claimed by a player for the rest of the game.

Next is the income step. Players gain income by placing airports (worth $1 each) and claiming routes (worth their length, so 1 routes are $1, 2 routes are $2, etc.) However, players lose income when Pan Am buys a route from them. In theory, players should be adding their income during the resolution phase as they place airports and claim routes, and then adjusting it down as Pan Am buys their routes, but in practice we always ignore this when we play and instead just quickly recalculate each person’s income during this phase. Once everyone’s income is correct, the bank pays them.

Then, players can choose to buy stock. The current price is set by the event card. We’ve had games where the stock price is always pretty low, and others where it varies a lot. Because you use different event cards in each game it’s basically impossible to predict. Players pay the bank and take the number of stocks.

However, it’s important to remember that there is no way to get more income until the end of the next round, so before buying stocks, each player needs to try to figure out what things they may want to buy in the next round, and reserve enough money for that. This is ultimately the key strategic element of the game. Being too aggressive in buying stock will prevent you from doing very much in the next phase, but being too cautious will mean you don’t end up enough stock at the end of the game to have a chance of winning. Of course the classic “buy low, sell high” theory applies, but again, you can’t really predict whether the stock will go up or down from one round to the next, so it’s hard to know if you’re buying at the bottom of the market or the top.

The round is over. The first player marker is moved to the left. If it’s the end of round 2, the cruiser tile should be removed from the board, and if it’s the end of round 5, remove the jet tile.

A new round begins by drawing the next event card, reading it outloud, and adjusting the stock price. Then, the player who has an engineer in the first space of area E places that engineer wherever they want, including back in that space on area E. The next player in E does the same, and then the third player (assuming all three spots were claimed). After that, the first player places their first engineer, and so forth.

Game End

The game ends at the end of round seven. That round is played as normal, all the way through the Pan Am phase. Players can still play in area E in this last round, claiming the directive card as usual, but it’s a bit of a risk as only some of those cards can be used at the end of the game. Obviously, they would not get the other advantage of early play from this area.

Players then add up the stock they have, and the player with the most stock wins. In care of a tie, the player with the most money wins, but note that left over money is only used as a tie breaker, so in the final round if given the choice between buying stock and hoarding money, everyone needs to buy stock. If players are tied on both stock and left over money, they just tie.

Why You Should Play Pan Am

When Funko first reached out to ask if I wanted to review the game, I was excited. I’m old enough to remember Pan Am, and although I never flew them (in looking up facts about the airline after playing the game, I learned that for a lot of complicated reasons they only ever flew international routes) they were as iconic a part of the airline industry growing up as TWA.

I also like worker placement games, and this game provides a couple of unique twists on the mechanic. I particularly like the element of bidding where engineers are returned to their owner. It adds an extra element to that phase: if I want to outbid someone, I have to think about the fact that I’m giving them another turn this phase, which they can use to either outbid me again (although that gives me an added turn…) or possibly do something else that might help them. Each bidding track has exactly four spaces, which means that if two players are competing and each one only ups the bid by one unit, the second player will eventually win. So, if you’ve been outbid, you have to consider that as well: by simply upping the bid by one unit, you invite the other player to beat you. Or, you can circumvent that and just jump right to the high bid spot … assuming you can afford it.

There’s also a really nice resource management element in the game. You have a very limited number of planes, and you only get planes back if the die is in your favor and Pan Am buys your route. (There are some event cards that have Pan Am simply buy a route of your choosing, but you can’t rely on those being in the game.) So you have to be careful. Also, most of the higher-priced routes are not on Pan Am’s paths at all. They will provide you with stable income, but tie up that plane for the game. Is that worth it? You have to decide.

There are so many elements in the game that are really nicely balanced. The whole issue of income, for instance. Yes, having a cruiser on a 3-route provides you with $3 of income per round, but having Pan Am buy that route gives you $12 up front. In a game with only seven rounds, getting the equivelent of 4 rounds of income all at once is obviously great. This pretty much ensures that players will buy the Pan Am routes over the non-Pan Am routes, which keeps the game moving along.

The game has quick turns and a lot of player interaction. Not only can you mess up other players’ plans by outbidding them for things they need (and keep in mind the only hidden information in the game is the directive cards, so you can always seen what destinations other players have and how many planes they own), you also compete directly with them for the routes. Do you try to grab early spots in area D so you are play routes before other players, or do you try to bid for that key airport or bigger plane? Or play the long game by going in area E so you get that jump on the next turn, possibly grabbing something before an opponent then?

Not only was I honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed the game, I was surprised by how much my kids did, too. They of course are way too young to have ever heard of Pan Am, so the whole theme of the game might as well have been fiction to them. But the stragetic elements and quick game play more than made up for their lack of airline history knowledge.

I have no doubt that this game will continue to make it to the table over and over in my family, which is why it was an easy call to give it the GeekDad Approved seal this year.

Pan Am: The Game is currently available exclusively at Target. If you have any gift giving to do for the gamers in your life, this should be on your list.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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