I tend to variously rant and rave about the casual-type games that cross my path: it’s a genre I want to love, but often don’t.
But here’s one that offers considerably more depth of game play than you might initially expect: Gabob‘s “Now Boarding”, a game about airplane routing. You own an airline and airplanes; you get to direct them where to pick up passengers, but you also get to hire and fire airline employees, decorate the terminal, and buy upgrades for your equipment.
Like many other casual games, “Now Boarding” comes with several modes of play: a “career mode” in which you get to play through various increasingly difficult regions in the U.S. and Europe, with goals to achieve at each level; a “survival” mode in which you scramble breathlessly to route passengers before the whole system explodes on you; and a “free play” mode, which offers the greatest scope for strategic thinking.
What I like most about this game is that it achieves roughly the blend of time management and tycoon-type play that I was looking for a few months ago. You can play it as a game all about clicking quickly — or you can hire a bunch of employees to handle customer flow for you, and focus on higher-level concerns. You can leave the terminal more or less as-is, or you can obsessively, rigorously redesign it to offer a maximum of calming services for passengers passing by. And the better you understand the game, the more interesting strategies present themselves. Do you stick with just a few large planes and choose to add cities that can all be served by planes following a consistent circuit path? Or do you operate a more traditional hub-city arrangement, with a lot of small planes to make the minor connections? Etc.
The makers are also clearly devoted to improving on their product. The original 1.0 release was already solid, but 1.1 adds lots of good new stuff: alternative plane types, speed and distance upgrades for planes, new goals. If I have a complaint about 1.1, it’s that it veers away from the cartoony-yet-mostly-realistic flavor of the original (after all, all the planes in 1.0 were named after real Boeing models) and provides a few fictional elements that don’t correspond to anything in the real world. The silliest is a blimp that can fly from city to city, spreading passenger contentment wherever it goes.
All this wouldn’t work nearly as well if it weren’t for the slick flash interface and the consistent graphics — and 1.1 does away with some performance annoyances that made 1.0 clog up badly on survival mode.