Air, Land, & Sea | Limelight Series

The board game scene is broad. That’s easy to say, so to show how wide the variety of experiences there are, let’s say that the hobby covers everything from Axis & Allies to Love Letter. Two very different games, of very different scales, with very different themes. And the hobby covers everything in between too! Like, what’s the midpoint between Axis & Allies and Love Letter? Instead of agonizing over what “middleweight” games even are, let’s just combine the two.

Air, Land, & Sea is a two-player microgame. It uses just 18 cards, like Love Letter and other microgames like Coup or anything by Button Shy Games. It has a WWII theme, but also like a good wargame, Air, Land, & Sea challenges players to balance short-term tactical objectives with long-term strategic goals.

Playing Air, Land, & Sea revolves around the three eponymous “theaters.” The 18 cards come in suits of Air, Land, and Sea as well, and a card can only be played to a theater that matches its suit. Cards have values of 1 through 6, and having more power at a theater is better, obviously, but cards also have different abilities. In general, the lower the value of a card, the more powerful its ability is.

The scoring system is where the real cleverness comes in, though. Scoring interacts with the retreating rules. A player can call it quits on a round early, keeping more cards in their hand. Keeping more cards in hand lets your opponent win less victory points. So, reading the overall flow of the round, across all three theaters, is the key to knowing when to retreat and starving your opponent of victory points.

In a lot of microgames, they use rounds to pad out the game’s playtime. In Air, Land, & Sea, though, the round structure is a critical part of the game’s strategy. The tactical game in Air, Land, & Sea is abstracted in deciding which card to play in which theater; the strategic game in Air, Land, & Sea is represented by judiciously retreating to fight again later.

Combining two distant ends of the board game spectrum seems unorthodox and campy, but Air, Land, & Sea does a fantastic job of it. The play's the thing, as someone witty once said, and playing Air, Land, & Sea is surprisingly challenging and satisfying for its abstract cleverness. While most microgames play much like ludological hors d'oeuvres, Air, Land, & Sea is much more than just a filler.

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