With a design by Tim Fowers and art by Ryan Goldsberry, Now Boarding (Fowers Games) is quite literally a pick up and deliver game. Crucially, however, it’s a fully co-operative game where key actions have to be completed in real time.
Players are each controlling their own airlines but they are partner airlines working together to try to get passengers to their various destinations within the tight 15 seconds (2/3 players) or 30 seconds (4/5 players) allowed for each round of actions. Players each make money for the passengers they deliver to their destinations, and they can spend that money to upgrade their planes. The aim is to keep customers satisfied because passengers get increasingly angry for every turn they are left waiting at an airport. If they build up four anger tokens, they stomp off to lodge a letter of complaint. And if the players between them rack up three complaints then everyone collectively loses. Beware too that a complaint is generated for every two passengers still in transit when the game ends.
Each airline can only access certain routes, and players make choices as to whether to upgrade their plane’s speed, seating capacity or access to other routes. Passengers turn up randomly (from a deck of cards) as do the various weather conditions which affect the routes (favourable weather temporarily shortens a route; bad weather lengthens it).
As you might expect in any game involving actions against a tight timer, Now Boarding involves bouts of frantic activity but it builds up to these methodically, which adds to this game’s playability. Players are gently eased into the game before it steadily ramps up the difficulty.
At its heart, Now Boarding is a puzzle-solving game. Between the strictly timed actions, you need to work out between you how best to deploy all the planes based on the knowledge available to you, bearing in mind that some information (such as where the round’s new passengers actually want to get to) will only be revealed after the timer starts. Movement has to be completed in the 15 or 30 second time slot but it doesn’t have to be simultaneous, so, if you're quick and very well co-ordinated, a player can deliver a passenger to an airport at which another player has their plane, hand the passenger over and then the passenger can travel onward on a second flight. It would all be so easy if it weren’t for the timer, but that pesky timer certainly delivers an injection of adrenaline!
Now Boarding comes with the sort of cute components and art that we’ve come to expect from Fowers Games. The board represents a map of the USA, and it’s double-sided (one side is for use when playing with just two players; the other caters for 3–5 players). There are components that can be used to further step up the difficulty: designating certain passengers as VIPs with very specific travelling requirements. The box includes a 30 second and 15 second sand timer but you may well prefer instead to use a standard countdown timer on your smartphone. That also affords you the flexibility of stretching the time for movement if, like some of us, you find the 15/30 seconds just a little too frenetic.