The Hachette Board Games booth at Gen Con, which consists of many different publishers including Le Scorpion Masqué, was busy every day of the convention thanks to the soft release of Sky Team!
Designed by Luc Rémond, Sky Team is a cooperative two-player game between pilot and co-pilot as the players try to safely land their plane at an airport. It plays quickly – in about a half hour – but the limited communication aspect forces players to trust each other to make the best decisions for the flight.
So grab that throttle and let’s take a controlled nose dive into Sky Team!
Sky Team Gameplay
Let me start off by disclosing that I was working part-time at Gen Con for Hachette demoing Sky Team. This means that I was able to see countless reactions firsthand, including before, during, and after gameplay. Nearly everybody was super excited about this game, and the emotion was infectious!
Players alternate placing their four dice until all of the dice are placed. There are certain spaces that must have a die there at the end of each round – the engine and axis tilt spaces for both players. While the dice are being placed there is limited communication, but in between rounds players can strategize as much as they’d like.
The placement of the dice will accomplish various end-game goals such as deploying the landing gear or configuring the flaps to prepare for landing. Additionally, both players must radio in to ground control to help clear the skies of other planes in the area.
When the second die is placed on the axis, the difference between the two dice determines if the plane stays level or not. Likewise, the second die on the engines will move the plane closer to the airport on its approach.
There are a ton of ways that players can lose the game, but only by maintaining all of the various controls will they be able to win the game when it comes time to land. During the landing, the speed of the plane must be equal to or less than the brakes’ value for the plane to come to a complete and total stop safely.
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Sky Team!
We’ll talk more about the presentation when we get to Aesthetics but the components are just fantastic in Sky Team. The game itself is already very reasonably priced, but it could have been even cheaper if there had been sacrifices made in the name of component quality. Lucky for us, that isn’t the case; the Sky Team board game production is superb.
Not only are the dice engraved, which is one of my favorite component upgrades, but the board is also double-layered to ensure that your dice don’t get knocked off course during turbulence. And, on top of that, the plane tokens are actually wooden and cutout into a plane shape instead of just sticking with cardboard tokens.
The only qualm I have is that there are little double-sided stickers that you’re supposed to use to stick the two halves of the board together and create a bit of separation. Unfortunately, I found that getting the paper off one side of the stickers was quite difficult, but there are plenty of other ways to get the same effect if you have that same problem.
Overall, I’m also very pleased with the minimal amount of plastic including no shrink wrap and no plastic baggies. As board gamers we’ve come to expect these things for whatever reason and I’m glad that we’re finally swinging back towards a more sustainable direction.
As Sky Team is a dice placement game, there is plenty of luck that you’ll have to work to mitigate. However, your teammate’s placement of their dice is an indirect method of communication that you’ll have to bake into your strategy. What does the timing of their placement mean? What about the value?
Some people will curse the randomness but keep in mind that you can adjust die values using the coffee cups to help guide you closer towards a safe landing. The strategy comes from the combination of using dice and also limiting communication between the players. Otherwise it should just a puzzle-solving game.
Sky Team‘s iconography and theming is some of the best that I’ve seen, creating a complete package that we’d love to find in any of our seatbacks. There is little ambiguity around what all of the dice placement spots represent because the board is designed so well. When things have prerequisites, you just have to look for the little white arrow. The color of the box determines who can place a die there. The caution symbol represents which spaces that players must place their dice in each round.
And don’t get me started on the tiny cardboard token that you move to flip the switch to green! It’s such a simple design but it really feels as though you are flipping switches in a cockpit as you prepare for landing.
This game is the real in-flight entertainment.
People actually involved with aviation assisted in the design of the game to help convey the theme and be as close to representative of the actual flight process as possible. Even in talking with some of the people demoing the game at Gen Con, I found a surprising number of people with ties to aviation who were having a blast. And they were all asking questions about all the ways that Sky Team conveys that theme.
If you consistently play games at two-player, then Sky Team really should be up there on your wish list. It’s tactile and engaging, with tons of the magic word that gamers love to hear: replayability. Except this will be a little different because you will actually want to get Sky Team to the table over and over again. Not only does it play in roughly 30 min (including the teach), but there are a bunch of other airport scenarios and modules that you can incorporate to tailor the game to your desired complexity.
I’ve never flown a plane, so I can’t speculate with absolute certainty, but I feel that the tension created during a game of Sky Team at least somewhat reflects the emotions that can emerge in a cockpit when the pilot and co-pilot are getting everything ready for landing. Okay…obviously those two things aren’t really comparable. However, there are moments in the game where you’re just trying to get to the next round, hoping that your co-pilot can provide the necessary assistance to get you there.
It’s also a riot when you get into character and start saying things like ‘Niner Niner’ and pretending that you’re giving announcements over the plane’s intercom. You can see the care and detail that went into this board game’s creation and it really makes you appreciate that level of attention.
Sky Team: These are the Friendly Skies!
Going into Gen Con, I knew that Sky Team would be popular. There was plenty of pre-show hype around the game to suggest it. I was floored, however, when I actually saw the turnout and constantly heard the buzz about Sky Team all over the exhibit hall floor.
I typically play two-player games and this one is right up there with the best of them, without question. Therefore, I’m honored to give Sky Team the coveted Seal of Awesomeness award for its presentation and innovation in replicating the flight experience. I’m also calling it right now that Sky Team is already in a holding pattern for some of the 2023 Game of the Year awards.
You can pick up a copy of Sky Team from your FLGS when it releases closer to October, or you can preorder from Hachette Boardgames directly.
[Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Sky Team from Hachette Boardgames in exchange for an honest review.]