#910 – First in Flight [Preview]

Kickstarter price: $39 for the standard edition; $55 for the collector’s edition.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: 45 – 75 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of First in Flight was provided by Artana and Genius Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.

We’re getting back into crowdfunding season! This used to be Kickstarter Season, and then they got into blockchain stuff and I started liking Kickstarter less. Now it’s Crowdfunding Season, a more generic term! Hooray the slow decay of customer goodwill! Anyways. Artana is back with another new game, after their successes with Lovelace & Babbage, Genotype, and more. I’ve been a fan of Artana for some time; I really love how they blend science and history with cool gameplay mechanics. Lovelace & Babbage was excellent, and Genotype was pretty darn good, as well. So naturally, when they came back around with First in Flight, I was intrigued. Let’s check it out!

In First in Flight, players take on the role of various aviation pioneers of the early 20th century. Their goal? Be the first to fly a self-powered vehicle 36 feet through the air. That might not seem like much, now, but their success will fundamentally change how the world thinks about transportation. To get there, you’ll have to fail … a bunch, so buckle up and get used to occasionally crashing your plane. Will you be able to land your flying machine and become a hero of flight? Or will your endeavor end up more like the mythical Icarus?

Contents

Setup

Let’s start with the easy thing. Set the board in the center of the play area:

You can set the coins nearby. Then, shuffle up the Friend Cards, making a deck:

Do the same thing for the Technology Cards:

Also, shuffle the Skill Cards:

Place two Technology Cards and two Friend Cards face-up on the left side of the board, and four Skill Cards face-up on the right side of the board. Place the decks nearby.

Place the Glide Cards in a face-up stack above the board, along with the Basic Flight Problem and Experience Cards:

There are a lot of face-up cards! I think that’s most of them, though. Now, shuffle the Upgrade Cards into a face-down deck, placing them above the Glide Cards:

Similarly, shuffle the Design Flaw Cards into a face-down deck, putting those above the Basic Flyer Problems Cards:

Give each player a player board:

And then give them a Descend Card:

It’s also polite to give them a pair of Pilot Pawn and Flyer in the same color:

The Flyers go on the “Start” space on the bottom of the board, and the Pilots get shuffled and put in the spaces in the top-left of the board (near the one marked 4P). If playing with two players, use a third Pilot and Flyer; they’ll be a dummy player, and I’ll talk more about that in Gameplay. Give the leftmost player 5 coins, then the player to the right 6 coins, then 7 coins to the next player, and the last player gets 8 coins (if applicable). Then, each player should make a starting deck of the following cards:

  • 4 Glide Cards
  • 1 Experience Card
  • 2 Basic Flyer Problems
  • 2 randomly-drawn Design Flaws

Don’t look at the Design Flaws, and shuffle the deck together, placing it on your player board. Then, players get to choose their Pilot:

Draw a number of Pilot Cards equal to the number of players plus one. Starting with the player whose Pilot Pawn is farthest right (they’ll go last), each player chooses a Pilot Card. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of First in Flight takes place over four years, as players work to break more and more Flight Records as they try to become a titan of aviation. Players move to different action spaces to perform various actions, which can earn cards, repair issues, and let them test out their flying contraption! The player farthest back on the board goes first, and it’s always the farthest back player’s turn to go (similar to Tokaido, for instance), so some players may end up taking more turns than others. On a turn, you may move to any unoccupied space ahead of you (except for Time spaces) and take that action. Let’s go through the various actions.

Recover Action [Special Action]

If your Pilot is laying down (because your Flyer crashed last turn), you must take the Recover Action. Stand your Pilot up and advance two Time spaces. If you are now sharing a Time space with another player, place your token in front of theirs. Your turn then ends.

Repair Action

To use the Repair Action, you must have at least one Design Flaw face-up on top of your deck (this happens during a Fly Action; more on that later). Pay 3 money or 2 Time (by advancing two Time Spaces) and discard one revealed Design Flaw from the game. You then gain a Basic Flyer Problem and an additional benefit, depending on the Design Flaw. This might give you Friends, Skills, Technologies, Upgrades, or Glide Cards.

Experience Action

Pay 3 money or 2 Time to gain an Experience Card to the top of your deck.

Development Card Action

Pay 3 money (2 money if you’re Famous; more on that later) to gain a Development Card of the type indicated on the space. These Development Cards have various types and benefits. If all face-up cards of that type are taken, you must take the top card of the deck, instead.

  • Skill Cards (Green): These cards may be used once per Fly Action, before using your Descend Card. They refresh every Fly Action.
  • Technology Cards (Blue): These cards are just always in effect.
  • Friend Cards (Yellow): These cards may be used once per year (lap around the board). Turn them sideways when you’ve used them to indicate that they’ve been used, but remember to refresh them at the end of a year.

Upgrade Action

This one’s interesting. First, choose how much money (or Time) you’d like to pay (minimum 2). Spend it, and then draw that many Upgrade Cards from the Upgrade Deck. Choose two of them, and place them on top of your deck, shuffling the remaining cards into the Upgrade Deck. Then, add a Design Flaw to the top of your deck without looking at it.

Funding Action

This one’s easy. Just gain 5 money.

Any Action

Also an easy one. You may take any available action; you must just first spend a coin to do so. If that action has an associated cost, you have to pay that as well.

Fly Action

Here’s the tricky one. When you Fly, you bet big on being able to beat your previous Flight Record. To start, shuffle your deck. That way, all the cards you gained won’t just be on top. Now, you push your luck!

Draw cards, one at a time, making a row of cards. You don’t have to do this quickly, so think about it. Each Flight Card has a Distance value on it, showing how far you fly. Between drawing, you can use Skills and Friend abilities (and your Pilot ability, if relevant). If you draw four explosion icons, you Crash, and must stop flying immediately. When you crash, lay your Pilot over (you’ll take the Recover Action next turn).

If you’d rather not Crash (weird), you can also try to land safely by playing your Descend Card. This may be a bumpy landing, because in order to land, you must then draw and play two additional Flight Cards from your deck. If you still haven’t drawn the fourth explosion icon, you land safely! The Descend Card counts as 5 Distance, in that case. If you do Crash, after playing the Descend Card, you only gain 2 Distance from it.

Crash or not, you finish up by totaling your Flight Distance. If it exceeds your previous record (you start at 0, in the game), advance your Flyer token to your new Flight Distance. Your Flight Record is always the single best flight you had.

Clean up your row by placing the played cards on top of your deck. Take out the Design Flaws, and place them face-up on top of your deck (you can keep them perpendicular if you want), so that you can repair them on a later turn, if you want.

End of Year

Eventually, you’ll run out of spaces to advance to as you move around the board. When that happens, you move into the Starting Spaces (starting with the leftmost space), indicating the turn order for starting the next year. Once every player is there, the Year ends. Prepare for the next year as follows:

  1. Award the Michelin Cup! Check every player’s Flight Records. The player with the highest gains 8 money, the next highest player gains 6 money, then 4, then 4, as needed. All players get money, even if they have a Flight Record of 0. Feel free to mock any player with a 0, though.
  2. Advance the Year Marker by 1.
  3. Clean up the cards: any face-up Friend / Technology / Skill Cards get discarded from the game, and their respective areas are refilled with new cards from the deck.
  4. Remind players to reset their Friend Cards. It’s a new year. New year, same friends.

If this is the end of Year 4, the game ends. Otherwise, play starts with the player whose Pilot token is farthest to the left.

End of Game

The game can end one of two ways:

  • End of Year 4.
  • A player’s Flight Record meets or exceeds 36.

When either happens, the game immediately ends, and all players then must do one final Fly Action. After that, the player with the best Flight Record wins!

Two-Player Variant

In a two-player game, your dummy player is named Gustave. He’s a nightmare. He hates you. He’s out for blood. He craves violence.

Generally speaking, he needs nothing but his Pilot Pawn and Flyer Token. When it’s his turn, he automatically moves to the next available space. If it’s a Fly Space or an Any Space, advance his Flight Record by 4. If it’s a Development Card space, discard the bottommost card (if any are still there).

At the end of each year, also advance Gustave’s Flight Record by 4. He competes in the Michelin Cup, but mostly out of spite.

If Gustave reaches 36 on the Flight Tracker, he ends the game. You can lose to Gustave. He is the abyss beyond time. Only Gustave.

Player Count Differences

Generally, I’d recommend First in Flight at three or four players. At two, the game compensates for its movement and time mechanic with a dummy player that’s not (currently) altogether satisfying. It just generally moves to the next available space, slowly advancing its flight record by 4, each round. One fun thing about that is that sometimes, players are incentivized to work together to keep the dummy player behind so that they can get better placements in the Michelin Cup at the end of the round, but largely, the dummy player ends up feeling more annoying than challenging. At higher player counts, it’s other players getting in your way, but you can also anticipate their actions to a certain level by looking at what they need and figuring out their strategy. It’s a more satisfying prediction, in my opinion, though the game does take longer with more players, granted. Even then, learning the game with a two-player variant wasn’t terribly satisfying, so I’d honestly just play it with three or four again instead of two. Variants are fine, and we still enjoyed the game, but if I’m going to have a dummy player in place, I’d rather just play First in Flight with a real person.

Strategy

  • Honestly, getting a bunch of Skills can be a handy way to effectively pass problematic cards to yourself until you can safely bury them at the bottom of your deck. I had an excellent game where I did just that. Kept using cards to draw some of the top cards of my deck and reorder them, and kept using that to push Design Flaws farther and farther back until I used another Skill to put four problem cards on the bottom of my deck, effectively removing them from my notice for the round. It was awesome. It also helped me win, so, doubly good. Don’t undervalue some good Skill Cards.
  • Technology Cards can be pretty helpful, either for making money or shoring up strategies based on your Character. Technology Cards are really useful ways to add to existing strategies. Have a Character that can spend money instead of using a Recover Action? Having a Technology that gives you money after every flight might be a pretty great combination. You can discover more of these useful combos, but they’re worth exploring.
  • Running out of money can be rough, since then you have to spend time as a resource, and you don’t get much of that. Spending Time pretty much always sucks. It forces you to skip useful actions and it gives your opponents more shots at flights, which usually result in them getting more Glide Cards. You don’t want that; you want you to get those cards. So try to keep a steady amount of cash. That might mean passing up on the occasional card, but that might be worth it?
  • Your player ability can be pretty critical to your success. As with all games that bother to give you a player ability, use it. Figuring out how to match that up with your play style might be challenging, but it’s often worth it.
  • Upgrading is a good idea, but keep in mind that Upgrade Actions introduce even more Design Flaws; you may be better off trying to dilute your deck with Glide Cards and get your Upgrade Cards elsewhere. You can get Upgrade Cards through a variety of non-action routes that might be able to cut off some of those pesky Design Flaws. That said, getting an early-game 4 and 5 can be pretty clutch, so, it may be worth at least one Design Flaw to just dig into them. Plus, repairing Design Flaws can get you even more stuff! But if you overuse the Upgrade Action, you’ll have a bunch of highly-volatile cards in your deck that you’ll have to deal with. Better to try and figure out another way to get upgrades (or focus on getting as many Glide cards as possible).
  • Keep an eye on what your opponents are going to want to do; you might be able to cut them off, to some degree, which may throw their plans off. Just kind of take up their space. If you see a player hoarding Skills, for instance, maybe you should buy one, instead. If you cut them off, they might have to change up their plans. You might even be able to temporarily thwart them, though that’s less common. Just keep an eye on how other players are trying to win! It can tell you a lot about their strategy. Once you know that, figuring out how to poke holes in it is just a matter of making sure they can’t always get the space they want.
  • Flying last in a round isn’t a bad idea, since that gives you the best shot at getting first place in the Michelin Cup (and it doesn’t matter too much if you crash). You can kind of go for broke, if you have nothing else better to do, though keep in mind successfully Descending is usually pretty valuable (that +5 is nice). If you fly last, you know what your target to beat looks like, so you can try and hit it to get the extra money from the Michelin Cup.
  • Early-game, becoming Famous pretty quickly can pay dividends, since cards will become significantly less expensive. 33% less expensive, to be precise. If you can, it’s worth pushing a bit to try and hit that 15 as quickly as possible so that you can make the discount work for you for as long as possible.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I really like the art style! It’s very pleasant and feels “historical”, plus the art on the Skill Cards is a lot of fun. People used to do wild stuff on planes. You ever just look at history and are surprised that human civilization survived? I do and am.
  • Push-your-luck is a very satisfying mechanic, and I really like the way that it folds into the deckbuilding aspect of the game, here (and the theme!). I think that the ideal of try, try again that’s represented by the flights and the repairs and the skill development is amazing, and I love how that’s represented by a push-your-luck mechanic, here. Unexpected problems come up when you’re inventing, and it’s a really smart way to tie it all together! It fits in so nicely with all the almost-record-breaking flights, as well. It’s incredibly cohesive, and I love that, from a player perspective.
  • I also like the theme quite a lot. It’s a fun theme that I haven’t seen before, personally, though I have to assume there must have been a few already. It just really works for this game, and it’s right in Artana’s wheelhouse, so I like all of that.
  • There’s also a pleasantly diverse set of pilots available for players, which I appreciate. Lots of people were part of the history of aviation, and I love seeing them represented in this game. It’s just really great.
  • Honestly, it’s even fun to watch another player try their best to beat their flight record, which is nice. I am fundamentally, at my core, very cooperative, so I tend to cheer other players on even if we’re playing a competitive game. And watching someone just crush a really good flight is impressive, even if I wish it were me winning the game. It’s exciting!
  • I really appreciate that the Descend card is a different size than the other Flight cards, so it never gets shuffled back into the deck accidentally. That’s just a very smooth and smart little bit of practical game design. The Descend card is wider than the other Flight Cards, so when you inevitably grab them all at once and try and put them back on top of the deck, the Descend card sticks out, and you’re like, “oh, wait, that doesn’t go there”. It’s genius, frankly, and it’s something so simple that I almost feel silly that it happens to me constantly.
  • I like the two different ways that the game can be ended, as well. I appreciate that the game naturally progresses towards a conclusion, even if players aren’t necessarily able to get across the 36′ threshold. I haven’t seen a game where the game ends after Year 4, yet, but it’s nice to have that gate there so that a tough game doesn’t just run on forever.
  • I do think it’s very funny that the dummy player can win, in a two-player game. I mean, if you lose to a fake player, that’s on you, but it is a funny concept that it could even happen.

Mehs

  • There are a lot of things going on, in the game; it kind of interests me as to what a “beginner’s mode” of this game would look like. It could be a nice way to teach deckbuilding. There are a lot of moving parts and cards to deal with; I’d be curious if there’s a streamlined mode that could exist to make the core game a bit easier to learn, adding in new components and modules as you get experienced with them. I don’t think the game is overcomplicated, but I’d be interested to see if a simpler mode was possible.

Cons

  • It’s a bit disappointing to learn a two-player game that’s just a dummy player variant. I generally play my first play of most games at two players, so it’s always a bit of a bummer when the game isn’t really a “two-player game”, it’s a game with a two-player variant. The variant plays fine, but I was a bit disappointed. Plus, it adds extra complexity to learning the game, which can occasionally result in rules getting missed (which is unfortunate).
  • The one thing you gotta watch out for in a push-your-luck game is that you might just have an absolute garbage round, and having that happen on your final Fly action of the game can feel … bad. There’s not much to be done about it, but if you draw a Design Flaw as your first card, you definitely don’t feel like the flight is going to go well. Ideally, you would have skills and technologies to mitigate the impact of that, but if you have just an absolutely terrible flight, it can definitely negatively color your impression of the game, which is unfortunate. It mostly just feels bad from a player standpoint, since you don’t really get anything for crashing beyond having your Design Flaws be available for repair. For the last flight of the game, that doesn’t mean much of anything.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, I really like First in Flight! I think push-your-luck is an absolutely fantastic genre, personally, and First in Flight does a nice job adding a fun deckbuilding spin to a genre with a lot of other great titles, like Cubitos and Quacks of Quedlinberg. On top of fun game mechanics, I think the theme of getting the first self-powered airplanes to work is a fantastic pairing. Every time you fly, you might get unlucky with a design flaw and crash out early, or you might get the perfect weather; the right conditions; and an ideal landing and just break a personal record. It’s finicky, and it should be finicky. I like that your skills, your friends, and your technological advancements can help you a lot but ultimately it’s you and your deck that make or break you. There’s a thrill to it, and it makes a player’s flight as fun to watch as it is to play. A big flight record is a full-table celebration, even if it means you’re going to lose, and the final flight of the game is a do-or-die moment as climactic as it might be brief, for some. The challenge with push-your-luck games is making sure that you balance the thrill of success with something decent for losing, and the preservation of your Flight Record, even if you crash, is pretty fair, though the time penalty for crashing can be a bit punishing. If you’re up for a flight, you enjoy the history of that invention, or you just like deckbuilding, I think First in Flight in a solid title! I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I played, and I’m excited to try it again.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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