Review: Air, Land, & Sea
Designer: Jon Perry
Artist: Valerio Buonfantino
Publisher: Arcane Wonders
Category: Area Control, Cards
Air, Land, & Sea is a game about competing with your opponent for superiority in three different simultaneous combat theaters. Players are given generic “Supreme Commander” cards, and no mention of Allies, Nazis, or other parties who participated in World War 2 is present. The unit cards depict scenes of action, bravery, planning, and firepower but no blood or gore is shown in any amount.
Air, Land, & Sea comes in a fairly small box. It has a rule book, 3 over-sized theater cards, 18 battle cards (1-6 of each theater), 2 Supreme Commander cards, and 14 score markers. The fact that it does so much with so little is all the more impressive.
Each game, players will randomly set up the Air, Land, and Sea theater cards and pass out the two Supreme Commander cards. Both players are dealt 6 Battle cards, and the rest are set aside, face down. Players take turns playing one card from their hand (unless a special ability says otherwise), starting with the first player. If both players play all 6 cards, then the commander who controls a majority of the theaters in the battle wins it, and gets 6 Victory Points. Players may choose to withdraw early if they think a battle is unwinnable, thereby denying their opponent the full 6 points. (Personally I found this strategy to be rarely useful or a very last-ditch, hail-Mary tactic.) Often, if someone plays their cards just right, they can beat an opponent who seems to have the upper hand. The whole game is won when a player reaches 12 Victory Points.
When playing cards, players take one battle card and place it either face up in it’s corresponding theater, or face-down wherever they want (the rule book calls this “Improvising”). Occasionally, players will have a chance to play or move a card to a non-corresponding theater, from either their special abilities or their opponent’s. Some of the battle cards use the word “may” and are optional, but most require players to carry out their listed actions. Fortunately many of the special abilities such as “Maneuver – Flip a battle card in an adjacent theater,” allow a player to do so on either side of the battle. Adjacent theaters are right next to each other, so for instance, if the Sea theater card is in the middle it’s adjacent to both the Land and Air theaters, but Land and Air are not adjacent to each other. To keep players from having the same theater configuration each time, the game has them shift the theaters one to the right after each concluded battle.
Another reason that the order in which players play their cards matters is each player can cover up the last played card in a theater with another card, and by doing so they prevent either player from being able to flip that card over. This means that if someone has a powerful ongoing ability they want to protect, or a high number card, they could get it out early and cover it on their next turn so that the opponent can’t turn a power 6 Super Battleship into a wild 2. Being able to cover cards is helpful, but it isn’t often game-breaking to get a good card flipped; often both players have one or more cards that allow them to flip or un-flip cards that they need access to.
This minor bit of take-that game play may not appeal to everyone, so bear that in mind when choosing whom to play with. Games of Air, Land, & Sea are quickly won and just as quickly replayed. My only other nitpick is that it would be nice if the cards were slightly thicker, but there’s enough room in the box for card sleeves as well.
The art in Air, Land, & Sea deserves a special mention. Almost every single Battle card has a unique battle scene depicting tanks, battleships, planes, submarines, soldiers, and generals all fighting their hardest. Tanks and Battleships are blasting cannons, planes are dropping bombs and dog-fighting, soldiers are charging and readying their weapons, all looking like they were taken right off a recruitment poster in 1942. Even the inside of the box looks like a newspaper sold for a nickel on a street corner, talking about war between the two factions.
And that brings me to an interesting point – not a complaint, but a thought – at no point in the game is any real-world happening or persons mentioned. No Nazis, no Allies, no World War 2. On the one hand, I get it, in a two-player game who wants to be the Nazis, and by leaving that out Arcane Wonders has gently side-stepped some pretty difficult conversations. But on the other, it feels like rug-sweeping, “Oh let’s not talk about the actual bad guys or war! Lets just play cards and have fun!” I looked all over the box and rule book for perhaps some mention of WW2 or a dedication to Veterans, but only saw, “This game is dedicated to Meems.”
Air, Land, & Sea is a lot of fun however, so it’s hard to argue with the results. In a war between two generic Supreme Commanders, only one can come out on top. Do you have what it takes to do battle in the Air, on the Land, and in the Sea?
A review copy was provided by Arcane Wonders.
The Bottom Line