Review of Skyliners by Z-Man Games and Hans im Glück

 

  • Designers:  Gabriele Bubola
  • Publisher: Hans im Glück, Z-Man Games
  • Players: 2 – 4 (Best with 4)
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 30 – 40 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 10

Skyliners

Hans im Glück is one of my favorite publishers, so I’m always excited to see their new releases.  When I first saw pictures of Skyliners, I thought maybe the company had redone Manhattan, their 1994 Spiel des Jahres winner, but one closer examination, I discovered that it was a new game by a new designer, Gabrielle Bubola.  I resolved to give it a try at Essen, and it ended up being one of the games that I brought back in my suitcase.

Gameplay

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The Introductory Four-Player Game

In Skyliners, the goal is to see the the best skyline at the end of the game from your edge of the board.  Each player sits on one side of the board (which sits in the gamebox), and over the course of a four-player game, each player will place 12 floors, 10 antennas, 2 roofs, and one park.  The game ends when these objects have all been placed, and at that point, the player with the best skyline (i.e. most points) wins.  

To set up the game, the components are emptied from the box, the game board is placed on top of the box insert, and the players pick their edge of the board, taking the pieces of that edge’s color.  Each player also receives one “skyscraper card.”  A park is put in the very middle space of the 5×5 board, and six “starting setup cards” are drawn.  The youngest player takes the first starting setup card and places one of the neutral (i.e. white) pieces in the appropriate space from his side of the board.  This proceeds until all six cards are addressed and there are six neutral pieces on the board.  The game then begins.

On a player’s turn, he must take the construction action twice.  A construction action involves taking one building piece — a floor, roof, or park — and placing it on the gameboard.  Parks can only go at ground level.  Roofs can only be placed on floors.  Floors can be placed on ground level or existing floors.  You can place over other players’ pieces.

The goal of the game is to see the most structures — buildings or parks — from your edge of the board when the game ends.  You get one point at the end of the game for each structure you see.  Strategy wise, for each row you face, you want the tallest structures to be in the back, and the shortest structures to be in the front.  If, in your row A you had buildings with 1, 3, 5, 3, and 4 floors, respectively, you would only see three structures (and get 3 points), because the 5 would block the 3 and 4.  The parks, floors, and roofs are different heights, though, so you might be able to see a structure even if the piece in front of it has the same number of pieces.

Each player receives a skyscraper card at the start of the game.  This card shows a quadrant of the board.  If the highest structure in the game is in that quadrant at the end, the player will score three additional points.

The game is over when all players have placed their building pieces.  At this point, antennas are placed for bonus points.  In the introductory game, antennas are placed in a particular order.  Going from the leftmost row to the rightmost row, players place antennas in order on the backmost structure they can see.  Antennas may not be placed over an opponent’s antenna.  Each antenna placed is worth one point.

At the end, the player with the most points is the winner.

Playing with Two or Three Players

When playing with two players, players sit next to each other (not opposite each other).  They start with 16 floors, along with 12 starting setup cards.

When playing with three players, 14 floors are used, along with 9 starting setup cards.  

The Full Game

The full game makes two important changes:

  • Planning actions are used, and only correctly-planned rows are scored.  Players receive five planning cards at the start of the game.  Players still take two actions on their turn: he first action must be a construction action, but the second action will either be a construction action or a planning action.  A planning action means predicting how many structures you will be able to see in a particular row.  Each player has a card for each of their rows, and a planning action involves placing a card in the planning office in such a manner as to predict being able to see 1, 2, 3, or 4/5 objects in that row.  If the player doesn’t predict correctly, the row doesn’t score at the end of the game.
  • Antennas are placed on correctly-planned rows.  Antennas will only be placed on correctly planned rows, and they are placed on all visible structures in that row.  Since the planning cards are reviewed in the order placed, this provides an extra incentive to play planning cards early.  

 

My thoughts on the game…

I bordered between liking and loving Skyliners after I first played it at Essen.  I thought it was a novel, easy-to-learn, fast-paced, and well-produced game.  Knowing it would be a hit with my family, I used some of my oh-so-valuable suitcase space to bring it home.  Since then, both my family and game group have asked for repeated plays, and they seem to greatly enjoy it.  

As I said above, the gameplay is fast: there is little time between turns, and my group has been playing the full game in about 20-25 minutes.  Though the game has interesting decisions, they are not the sort of calculations that trigger analysis paralysis, so even a long game of Skyliners feels faster than it is.  Given the speed of gameplay and easily-understood rules, we’ve been treating this as a “filler plus,” using it to open game night or pass the time when waiting for another game to finish.  

Gameplay can be cutthroat, and this is a game that is all about knowing when to cut your losses.  Sometimes you’re just not going to be able to stop a neighbor from annihilating one of your rows, and you have to have be realistic about whether you can keep the tallest tower in your quadrant.  Anticipating your opponent’s moves is critical, and it helps — literally, in this case — to be able to see the game from their perspective.  

The game is clever.  It gameplay reminds me of Kramer and Kiesling’s Pueblo and the look reminds me of Seyfarth’s Manhattan.  And in the end, that’s what I like best about the game: it takes a novel approach to the pattern-building genre, complete with engaging and family-friendly gameplay, and adds in eye-popping components.  

That said, I think Skyliners suffers from two minor problems.  First, the novelty of the gameplay wore off for me after about five plays.  It may remind me of Pueblo and Manhattan, but unfortunately, it lacks the replayability of both (at least for me).  I think I’m going to get about ten plays out of this, and while I consider that to be a solid value for a game, I know that might bother some gamers.  Secondly, I think the designer and publishers made a mistake in making the antennas part of the introductory game.  It adds a part of the game that is a bit wonkier than it should be, all for what amounts to little differentiation in the end.  I understand why the antennas are there in the full game — they are part of what incentivizes early planning, and they add greatly to the gameplay — but I fail to see how they are relevant in the introductory game at all.  When I taught one group the game, they spent several minutes debating the significance of having the antennas in the game, seeming confused about how — and if — it should affect their strategy.  I share their sentiments: I still haven’t figured out how to factor in the antennas into my strategy in the intro game.  In the end, though, this issue can be avoided by going straight to the full game, which is itself very easy to learn.  

Despite these criticisms, I think Skyliners is one of the better lightweight Euros from this year’s Essen, and I think it’ll hang around in my collection.  It is a great family game, and the components and fun mechanics mean I’ll be willing to pull this off the shelf once or twice a year.  

Thoughts From Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Yu: (Times played: 2) For a lighter game, this one fits the bill nicely.  I think that it might stand a chance at a recommendation for SdJ – given the choices of the past few years.  I’ve played both the introductory game and the full game once each, and after those experiences, I’d probably lean more towards the full game.  The added depth of the scoring prediction makes the game much more interesting and strategic.  Not only are you playing for a particular scoring set in each row, you also have to balance the potential rewards of playing a card earlier for higher possible antennae bonuses versus the higher likelihood of scoring points by playing your prediction later in the game.  I did not see any confusion with the antennae play in either version of the game, and I don’t think that either of my two boys had an issue either.  

Overall, it is a fairly light game, and I think this will also fit into the “super filler” category around here.  The game takes about 15-20 minutes to play, though there are a few turns where you really might need to take a step back (or perhaps around the table) to try to really see what each of your opponents sees.  

The only other possible catch for me here is that the game seems to only play well with 4 because with 3, someone is going to have neighbors on both sides while two players have one side free which makes for reduced competition, etc.  Now admittedly, I haven’t played the game with 3, so this is merely conjecture at this point.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  
  • I like it. Chris W., Dale Yu
  • Neutral.  Jonathan F., Rick T.
  • Not for me.

 

 

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