Air Land & Sea: Spotlight Series

Can you master all three to obtain victory? Air, Land & Sea is a two-player, head-to-head card-driven war game that’ll test your strategic wits. Play powerful cards to control one of the three combat Theaters, but only just enough. Make sure you save some to contest your opponent at the other two, as well. Sun Tzu never had it so good!

Air, Land & Sea isn’t a big game. It only uses about 18 cards, and takes around15 minutes to play. However, don’t let the scale of the game fool you - it emulates an immense battle spanning all three Theaters. Playing a single card lets players control a division of tanks or a fleet of battleships, and may completely turn the tide of battle. Special abilities on each card add twists and turns to surprise your opponent. Air, Land & Sea is a short war game that offers an amazing amount of strategy and challenge in an impressively small package.

The Art of War

Setting up and playing Air, Land & Sea is easy. There are the three eponymous Theater cards, and a deck of 18 Battle Cards. Each Battle Card is colored to match either Air, Land or Sea, like a suit; they also have a Strength number and a Tactical Ability. Each suit of Battle Cards has one of each Strength Value from 1 to 6. Lay out the Theater cards horizontally between you and your opponent, shuffle the Battle Cards and deal 6 to each player.

Going first is a big deal in this game, so each player gets a Supreme Commander card to tell them some details about going first or second. The first player wins ties, and stands to give up less points when withdrawing.

When it’s your turn, you can play a card face-up to its appropriate Theater (called Deploying) or play a card face-down to any Theater (called Improvising). Playing a card adds to the Strength you have present at the Theater you play it at. All the cards have a Strength number of 2 on the back so they add Strength even when face-down.

Almost all the Battle Cards also have a Tactical Ability. Abilities that have lighting bolts happen once as soon as the card is played; abilities that have an infinity symbol are persistent and are in effect when that card is face-up. After resolving the card’s Tactical Ability, pass the turn.

Players don’t draw cards between plays, and the round ends when both players run out of cards. However, there’s the Withdrawal option as well. A player can Withdraw instead of Deploying or Improvising. Withdrawal is really useful when the battle looks bleak for you. When you Withdraw, you let your opponent win the round, but they get fewer victory points for it. The sooner you withdraw, the fewer victory points.

Players score victory points after the round ends. If neither player withdrew, the winner of the round is the player who controls more Theaters than their opponent. Obviously, controlling a Theater means having more Strength at a Theater, and the player who went first gets to break ties. The winner of the round gets 6 points.

Before starting the next round, gather up all the Battle Cards and reshuffle them to make a new deck. Deal each player 6 cards again, and swap the Supreme Commander cards. Then, slide the Theater cards down the table to the right a little, and take the Theater on the right and put it on the left, rotating the order of the Theater cards.

No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy

So yeah, that’s almost all the rules of Air, Land & Sea. It’s a pretty straightforward game. The challenge lies in trying to deduce what cards your opponent is holding before they play them. Knowing when and where to apply Strength is basic strategy, and Air, Land & Sea lays out this plainly. Then, the Tactical Abilities on the cards really add a lot of depth. They balance out the cards so that even playing the 1s and 2s are good tactical options, whereas the 6s don’t have any Tactical Abilities to provide any more tempo.

Knowing and not knowing what cards are in play are a big part of the strategy, too. Tracking how many cards of each value your opponent could have is… mostly easy, but subject to variance. This makes Improvising and playing cards face-down somewhat of a bluff. And of course, Tactical Abilities interact with all this as well.

Just a Short War Game, In and Out, Twenty Minutes

Air, Land & Sea manages to pack a lot of challenge and intensity into 18 cards. It’s small scale puts it in the Microgame league, alongside Coup and Love Letter. And it runs with those big dogs too, with the amount of gameplay that Air, Land & Sea provides. Air, Land & Sea is a short war game recommended for anyone who likes a decent strategy duel game, needs a two-player experience, or a fan of war games in general.

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