Barrett is a graduate educated professor, performer and academically published writer. A lover of table top RPGs, board and card games alike, he’s been an enthusiast of the hobby for the past few decades. You can find more of his written work here.
“Games that FIRED other games” is a care worn thread meme on Board Game Geek with myriad permutations. Enthusiasts use the forum and its mirrors as a “Speaker’s Corner” for declaring the obsolescence of an existing title based on newer, innovative products with similar mechanics or themes. My opinion of this phenomenon tends to err towards suspicion. I am an “old timer” with a closet saturated in early editions, obscure miniature war systems and arcane dice games. I am a weekend warrior who can neither afford nor pursue every title that accedes to “Hotness” status. Some games one grows out of – Munchkin, Cards Against Humanity, Fluxx – like a toddler chafing in last season’s shoes. But many games are as a vintage Pinot Noir, beckoning the player back after maturation. Enthusiasts do discourtesy to the hobby when older titles are hastily dismissed in favor of newer products.
That being said, Zeppelin Attack totally FIRED Star Realms.
Let me walk back that last statement. As I type, Star Realms remains an indelible shortcut on my PC desktop. It also seems remiss to flippantly discard a title that has been so lovingly recommended by Rollin’ Dice. Star Realms is enviably elegant in its capacity to bypass the more cumbersome traits of the deck building genre. Star Realms is just fine. But for those seeking a deck building experience with more “crunch” and player interaction, Zeppelin Attack offers intricate mechanics and strong narrative theme.
Zeppelin Attack uses the mis en scene of Evil Hat Production’s “Spirit of the Century,” a pulp genre featuring super intelligent apes, gigantic brains and an assortment of jetpack wielding adventurers and entrepreneurs. From this thematic surplus, Zeppelin Attack installs each player in the role of an evil mastermind. Masterminds lead an armada of zeppelins, including agents, missiles and defensive tactics to thwart opponents and secure one’s victory by acquiring points.
As stated, Zeppelin Attack is a point based “race for the county line” draft system. In an interview with Mechanics and Meeples’ Shannon Appelcline, creator Eric Vogel admits to improving the design of perennial deck building titles like “Dominion” as the blueprint for Zeppelin Attack: “You’ve touched on an element of game design philosophy that I have been overthinking for years. When is a game “original enough?” I have some kind of internal standard of originality that I want my designs to meet, or I don’t pursue them.” Here Vogel insinuates the appeal of Zeppelin Attack. Whereas typical deck builders place a premium on building Rube Goldberg machines to force multiply a player’s strategy, Zeppelin Attack capitalizes on conflict and interaction.
After choosing a mastermind, each player begins the game with a base deck that enhances its unique strategy. Players then launch zeppelins, assign agents and deploy attacks to procure more powerful cards from a communal draft. In addition, players can even secure experimental items exclusively available to their own mastermind. Subsequent drafts include a numeric value that players use to achieve victory. Victory points are also obtained by successfully attacking opponents and counter drafting cards from the remaining pool. As one might expect, game play ends when one or more draft decks have been exhausted, providing a suspenseful “doomsday trigger” that mounts tension between opponents.
So why the hyperbolic endorsement? What does Zeppelin Attack offer deck builder aficionados? One can safely dub Vogel’s design a “second generation” deck building system for the following reasons. Foremost, Zeppelin Attack bypasses the chronic complaint regarding deck building titles – multiplayer solitaire. Zeppelin Attack strikes a balance between passive interactions – Dominion, Thunderstone – and aggressive engines – Rune Age, Star Realms – to deliver maximum strategic choice to players. Second, Zeppelin Attack removes from combat. On the surface I was skeptical of this decision. After all, the fun in Star Realms derives from deploying double digit strikes against your opponent, felling their entire cadre of space stations and remaining authority in a single swoop. Zeppelin Attack offers a system in which attacks feature one of four payloads – cold, electricity, psionic, explosive. To defend, an opponent need only defend with the corresponding payload value. Failure to defend can prove catastrophic, including losing valuable zeppelins from one’s fleet or allowing your opponent to counter draft extra points. Finally, Zeppelin Attack offers the deck building genre a theme that evades space opera or high fantasy tropes. This theme favors the dynamic combat system and events that can seismically shift the tide of victory between turns. More importantly, the peculiar genre supplants the legitimacy of deck building among more venerated game mechanics.
While Zeppelin Attack didn’t “write the book” on deck building, its innovations render it a superb choice for those that have outgrown the entry level titles of the genre.