Published on October 27th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen2
Grab your aviator goggles and mustache wax, we’re going on a zeppelin ride! Evil Hat has another licensed game for their award winning Spirit of the Century franchise- Zeppelin Attack.
Spirit of the Century was the 2006 Indie RPG Award Game of the Year and has been gaining even more popularity in the last year or two. The setting is based on pulp adventures of the 1920s and 30s, like Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer or King Kong and lends itself to many colorful characters. In a lot of ways it is a superhero setting before heroes had super-powers, when they only had their mechanics wrench and a bunch of moxie.
Zeppelin Attack takes this high-action, high-adventure tone and gives it a bit of a twist. In this game you are all playing the arch-villains of the Spirit of the Century setting and you are all in the business of hiring mercenaries and expanding your influence while putting down rivals. Once all immediate resources have been expended then who ever has the most prestige comes out on top.
Essentially, Zeppelin Attack (and its expansion Doomsday Weapon) is a deck-building card game, but I feel as if that’s misleading. Most deck-building games on the market are some variation of Dominion with rules changed slightly to fit the needs of the designers or niche market. Zeppelin Attack goes a bit further and really shakes up the core assumptions of what you can do with a deck-builder. Zeppelin Attack makes the deck-building mechanic work for it, not the other way around.
Like other deck-builders, you have a starting deck that is similar to other players’ starting decks. There is also a tableau of cards set into stacks, with the top card face-up, that you can buy throughout the game. Cards have useful abilities and are also worth a certain amount of points at the end of the game.
Basically, there are three cards types in the game: Action cards, Zeppelin cards and Fate cards. You start with one zeppelin in play, one that is decent at everything and can’t be destroyed- your Flagship. To play actions you have to have a ship that has not played an action this turn, that meets the requirements of the card (mostly/kind of). Your actions per turn are then limited by how many ships you have in play.
So what’s to stop you from just putting out a bunch of ships? Well, hopefully your enemy has that part figured out! Attack cards let you take out opposing ships that you’d rather not have in play. When you take out another ship you get a bonus victory point, and you get to remove from the game the top card on a stack of cards available to buy. The better attack cards will also let you do more things, like draw cards or have your opponent discard cards.
Defense cards are useful to stop you enemies from wiping out your available actions, as well as stop their attack effects from happening. Defense cards also usually have a bonus they give on a successful defense action. Operative cards are used to send your henchmen on missions to get you money and influence so you can hire better mercenaries for your fleet. Fate cards are the currency used to buy more ships and actions (you usually get them from operative cards), though they are taken out of your deck upon use.
Zeppelin Attack is an engaging deck-builder because the interaction you have with your fellow players is much more involved and dynamic than any other deck-building game I have played. The attack/defend mechanic sees use almost every turn and is an integral part of making sure you opponent can’t respond to the threat that you are building. That said, you don’t get too worried when attacks do destroy your ships because you know you’ll see them back again before too long.
I like how the game had a built in filtering mechanic- every time you buy an action card, you can ditch one card in your deck for free AND gain a victory point. That makes it much easier to run a tight ship and get rid of any wastage that might accrue during play. Also, the idea that you can keep as many cards in your hand as you like at the end of the turn is a good one. I like Puzzle Strike’s bank feature and I’m glad Zeppelin Attack just let everyone do that all the time.
At first I was a little annoyed that each attack and defense have keywords (explosion, psychic, radiation) and to defend you have to match up at least one suit. But after playing the game a couple times, it makes sense to limit defense in that way. Better attack cards are ones with more powerful “if I hit you effects” but never scale up their accuracy. Defense cards don’t get much cooler “if I defend” effects typically, but they tend to protect against multiple energy fields, making it more likely to work if you choose to invest in the more expensive defenses.
On top of it all, the art is great and the theme is well represented. There were several repeated zeppelin models, but they all had different designs on the side, and those designs were unique and interesting (my favorites are Cold Blood and Rasputin’s Vengeance). When I played as Jacqueline Frost I felt drawn to the ice attacks, and most of our smack talk at the table was in character.
Zeppelin Attack is an amazing deck-building game that reached to do something different in the genre and succeeded. It’s light-hearted, thematic, moderately complex and includes many familiar mechanics that you love. I look forward to playing my copy a lot in the coming days!