An eccentric inventor is retiring and seeks to bequeath his wondrous factory to a worthy inheritor. It’s not Willy Wonka! No, it’s Professor Phineas Edmund Hornswoggle! And if you’re going to catch his goggle-bespectacled eye you’ll need to construct that most amazing of contraptions for which Steampunk Victoriana is most famous…or should have been. Dirigibles!
How to Play
You are an inventive engineer competing with other great tinkerers to create the world’s most Dastardly Dirigibles. The victor wins Hornswoggle’s factory – gears, cogs and clockwork casings! To stand out amongst your competitors you’ll build your airship using the most perfidious means you know – set collecting! Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound terribly devious, but worry not. There are still ways to mag your foes and leave them bellows to mend as you snidely grin, wheezingly snicker and twirl your mustache!
You start your invention like any good inventor – with a blueprint. This personal board outlines your airship’s seven sections from nose to tail – engines, gondolas and all. While it begins in such an orderly fashion, it’s not likely to end up so aesthetically charming. That’s because the deck of airship cards include nine different designs (suits), each with seven cards corresponding to a ship’s sections. Your goal is to find as many parts comprising the same design as possible. Two suits are wild, although those won’t net you as many points.
Beginning the affair with five cards you may undertake three actions on a turn. Before starting subsequent rounds you may refill your hand limit (also five) in any combination of drawing from the deck or taking a face-up card from the emporium. Then you may play a card, discard a card, swap a card from your hand with another in the emporium, totally clean out and replace every card in the emporium or pass. You may perform your actions in any order, and repeat any that you wish as long as you take no more than three. Your flimflammery only goes so far.
When playing a card it will generally be an airship section, but there are also twelve special action cards. The special cards provide a completely unfair and non-gentlemanly advantage or let you sabotage your opponents like a blackgaurded varlet. In other words, they’re great! Airship parts simply play to their appropriate sections on your blueprint.
However, when you play an airship card, every other designer must also play the same section to their own ship, if they have one in their hand.
“But, wait,” you say, “what if I already have a nose cone? Must I replace it with this ugly one in my hand?”
“Why, curse you, you gibfaced foozling perfidious whifflegig!”
To which the only appropriate response is wheezing and mischievous snickering.
The first to bite the tooth and complete his airship ends the round. At that point, every player determines the majority suit used to design their dirigible and scores two points per part. Wild cards count as any suit, but you only score one point for each section built with those. If your craft contains no more than one card from any suit (and no wilds), you score a single point for each card, instead. And if you can manage a complete airship comprised of one card from all seven regular suits (not wilds) you score a muddle worth twenty points!
Note your points and play two more rounds. The best aggregate score after three rounds wins the Hornswoggle factory and (in)famous renown! Now, if you can only figure out how to knap his goggles…
Bang Up to the Elephant?
Dastardly Dirigibles is a charming little game, but one of its best attributes is its vocabulary of Victorian insults and other slangs listed on the back of the rule book. Indeed it needs to be longer. There are scads of old-time words and phrases that are a blast to say, including some of my all time favorites like Moke, Mumper, Speeler, Bludger, Flummet, Off One’s Chump and How’s Your Poor Feet! With a rules set as brief as this, there should be plenty of room for an expanded dictionary. It would enhance the setting, as well, since the Steampunk veneer admittedly only goes as far as you soar with it. Conversing in cryptically antiquated crude and vulgar language spices up the rote set collecting.
That said, the set collecting aspect is the prime appeal. The mechanism is as recognizable as Rummy. It’s simple and easy on the brain for new and younger players, as well as like an old derby hat for traditional card gamers not accustomed to titles in the broader hobby. Still, the simplistic concept allows for some nuanced strategy that, while not deep, keeps you on your toes and feeling toff. So Dastardly Dirigibles is perfect for occasions with socialites, inexperienced fops and even hardcore gamers looking for lighter fare whilst lobbing insults at each other across the table.
As a card game, ludius cave! It is definitely random. Collecting parts from the same suit can be tricky. That’s inherent to card games. But also, there are nine suits, instead of four as in a standard deck, and less cards per suit. It can be even more problematic digging for the icon you seek. The emporium is designed to alleviate reliance on luck somewhat by make a drafting row available so that you’re not always shackled to a blind draw. However, you’d be amazed how often your suit never show up in the row. Or when it does, another player wipes it clean before your next turn – sending the part and suit you wanted to the discard pile! Or maybe I’m just a total gongoozler who’s that unlucky?!
I can understand the set collection twist might frustrate some gaming swells. Having to replace an airship section with one you don’t want could make you daft as a bush, especially if frequently targeted. Gamer personalities that like to carefully build sans interruption will find themselves ill-suited to that element. For any other player, even types usually lukewarm to set collection or spite, the game is fast and light enough it will be more than tolerable with the right group and in the right mindset. Keep the insult translator handy and the jibes flying!
However, sabotaging challengers’ dirigibles is the design’s clever conceit and what sets it apart from other titles in the category. Using that effectively while not penalizing your own creation at the same time is the heart of the show. There’s beauty in this spiteful jiggery-pokery. You can employ it shrewdly, laying out parts in suits you’ve no intention of keeping. Therefore you’re possibly messing with your foes’ designs while shedding unwanted cards yourself. That’s really spiteful. Plus it’s a little defensive since you might not mind replacing that section if forced to later. That or you can voluntarily switch it out anytime during a subsequent turn with a card suit more congruous with your engineering design.
The blueprint placards are really nice for organization and clarity. Unfortunately they’re just paper. Understandable as mounted boards would have unnecessarily driven up the price. Still, you have to crease them to lay flat and cards easily slide around on the slick surfaces. The cards are nice, slightly over-sized and suitably illustrated to do its thematic patina justice. That’s the extent of components in this small box card game which is priced well and a good value. It plays swiftly and smoothly. Sessions will only reach the hour-mark in five player games and it scales pleasingly well to any of its player counts.
There’s no significant depth to Dastardly Dirigibles. It’s meant for accessibility, casual play and light fun. Like its behemoth titular airships this one’s head rests loftily in the clouds. Its nonchalant and mischievous twist on set collection honors its Steampunk inspiration and gives it a distinctiveness. It evokes a nostalgic air of traditional card gaming with friends and family, a studious tilt between gentleman, a feeling of classicism. You could imagine – anachronistically – button-collared Victorians enjoying this whimsical title in their plush-furnished parlors. Or just enjoy it yourself whilst talking like one with any skilamalink rampallian looking for a jolly.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Fireside Games for providing a review copy of Dastardly Dirigibles.