Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Zephyr: Winds of Change

Thank you for checking review #105 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of Zephyr: Winds of Change

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a board game designed by Aaron Kluck and Jon Mietling that is published by Portal Dragon. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-270 minutes.

Soar above the clouds in an array of airships. Defend innocent outposts from enemy vessels. Skirmish against droves of vicious attackers. Scavenge resources, complete assignments, and earn rewards, to upgrade your craft. Hire crew and join with your allies to achieve victory against overwhelming odds.

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a cooperative modular tabletop adventure for one to four players. Each player takes on the role of an airship captain. As a recent recruit to the band of vigilantes called Zephyr, each player must outfit their own vessel and work together defend the last remaining shred of civilization from malevolent marauders and unrelenting warlords.

Throughout the game, players upgrade their ship and hire crew members. Each of these brings unique abilities and can help you customize your ship and fill a unique role on your team. Each game you select a mission which shapes its overall structure, length, and difficulty. Join us, a vessel in Zephyr awaits its captain.

Game Details:

This is a 1 to 4 player cooperative modular adventure with rogue-like elements set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk environment. Players pick their ship and can spend their starting resource to add tokens to their ship and cards to their deck. They can also hire crew which are a modular component that comes by combining two cards, which each give unique abilities, and adding them to your ship. Players choose a mission which each has a different lengths and difficulty which maps out starting supplies, the win event and the structure between. Players travel on their selected mission through a series of regions. Each of these has a unique global effect for the area. Each turn, or day as we call it, each player draws an exploration card which causes them to make decisions, deal with random events or fight in battles. Battles are a large portion of the game since you will deal with them on the way to and during a warlord battle or most end events. During battles, players draw a hand and decide what cards to play based on what their ship and crew enable them to play. They roll for the actions of their enemy and resolve the damage. This process repeats until one side or the other has been destroyed. When you win a battle you take the due rewards which can be used to trade for additional ship upgrades or crew members. These augmentations help to prepare your ship for the end conflict and ultimately win the game.

My Thoughts

 There is a ton of variety contained in this box. You’d think that the ships would be just different in appearance, but every one of them is drastically different in approach, its strengths/weaknesses, etc. There are tons of cards for your travel decks, a large number of assignments you can complete, and a decent number of scenarios to challenge. Mechanically the game plays the same, but your approach can vary wildly from game to game.

 The different ships are just fantastic. I love the dual-layer boards where the tokens slot into the ship. I like the place for ally cards at the bottom of the ship. And I really like that the are DIFFERENT from each other in more than appearance. Their deck of cards is unique, they have a different ability, and the way in which they can draw more cards is different from ship to ship. Every one presents a new puzzle toward how to effectively approach your scenario, and I love it.

 It’s no secret that I love the transparent cards, being a huge fan of Mystic Vale. I wish they sleeved together to form a card, but as it is this is a clever way to form crew members that have two different one-time-per-trip abilities you can trigger to overcome your obstacles. Not only that, but adding crew members lets you play more cards than the standard 1 card.

 Most games would tell you how to equip yourself at the beginning and let you refine from there. But not here. Most missions will give you a single upgrade, usually to your hull, and then a good handful of scrap you can use to purchase other upgrades or crew members before flying off on your first assignment. This allows you the freedom to experiment and to determine where you want your emphasis to be placed on your ship.

 The game looks downright good on the table. My wife expressed an interest in the game just from seeing it set up, and that is a strong endorsement right there. The quality of what comes in the box was surprisingly good, and full of a lot of stuff. The artwork on the ships is great, although there is pretty minimal artwork beyond that and the region cards and the crew members.

 Combat in the game is relatively simple, and I like that you aren’t leaving your portion up to random die rolls. You draw a certain number of cards from your deck each round and then choose cards to play. The number of cards, and type of cards, are dictated by the slots you have crew members assigned to – they let you play a card of the type associated with the space – plus one of any type for the captain (you). So while it might be tempting to stack your ship full of nothing but weaponry to blow the other ships up, drawing a hand of just attack cards is wasteful because you’re probably only going to be able to play 1-2 of them. This makes balancing your ship purchases, and by extension the deck construction, one of the most important – and interesting – aspects of the game.

 The learn-to-play guide technically does its job in walking you through a little of the game. But the examples it provides are with theoretical cards that you can’t pull out to look at and is a scenario that just ends. It would be far more effective to do the starting few turns of a real scenario, using real cards that a player pulls out, and then let the player finish the scenario from that point – much like a tutorial in most board game app implementations do on their tutorial plays.

 The challenge level seemed questionably low at best…until I finally tried my hand at a scenario with a Warlord. There is a spread of difficulties in the game, and I think that is a strong benefit there. Sometimes the card draws and dice rolls will go your way and you’ll coast to the end. Other times you’ll be threatened every step of the way. But man, those warlords feel impossible for a single ship to challenge. Let’s just say I was destroyed in the very first attack – something that proved to be a very anticlimactic attempt at clearing the final challenge of the scenario.

 The rules are a disaster. Yes, they teach you to play the game. But they are not laid out in a way that is good to reference during gameplay. Even worse are key concepts in there about really important ideas but are difficult to find, such as the fact that you should use a cube to track progress along the mission card (and that it should usually advance a space at the start of each new day), or the difference between the two hull upgrades (it took searching to learn that the shield replenishes each day – but I still don’t know how that works on enemy ships since a battle doesn’t span multiple days). You should shuffle your action deck when obtaining a new card upgrade, but it doesn’t clarify if you shuffle the discards in too or just shuffle it into what you haven’t drawn. When making purchases from the supplies, do you take a random card or choose which one you want to purchase? If you complete the key parts of your mission but have spaces left before the end event (such as a Warlord) do you play through all of those extra days, or do you go straight to confronting the Warlord? These are just some of the things that are either not covered, or barely mentioned in passing in one spot in the book and trying to find it can be a massive challenge. This one needs an overhaul to make it more user-friendly and a good reference guide for players mid-game.

Final Thoughts

Zephyr: Winds of Change is one of those games that genuinely surprise you about how much fun is crammed into that box. For one thing, this is a very full box with great components and lots of variety even from one ship to the next one. There are a good handful of missions, and the Assignment deck and the Navigation decks are pretty good in size. No two plays will be the same in this game, and I can see where even having more players could make this an interesting and exciting experience. But as a solitaire experience it stands up as being fast, fun, and just enough press-your-luck in the mix to keep you on your toes.

While I’ve really enjoyed this game, it isn’t without its flaws. The biggest sin comes from the rulebook, which is a disaster based upon the sin of omission. There are so many areas I tried to consult in the book but simply couldn’t find an answer – or, if I did, it was so difficult to find and was more of an “in passing” mention. The learn to play guide isn’t much use, either, because it doesn’t have the players actually do anything. There are no cards to match the examples, and so you can’t even recreate the experience if you wanted to. I would have greatly preferred it to walk you through 1-2 rounds of the easiest mission in the deck (which, for the record, isn’t printed with Easy on the difficulty) and have the players take over from that point to close out the mission.

However, if you can get past the rulebook and dive into the game, it provides a very exciting and replayable experience that is relatively unique compared with a lot of the games on the market. My wife complains about the fact that it is a cooperative game – it looks really cool and she knows she won’t try it because of the co-op factor – and it really does have a neat table presence. This game definitely exceeded my expectations and, while it won’t be my favorite solitaire game to pull out, it definitely has earned more plays going forward on my table.

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