Sky Traders is a Neo-Victorian Steampunk themed trading game where players are required to buy stock at a low price and sell for profit, allowing them to buy victory points from a Guild.
Basics of Play:
On each round, players can fly around in their airship and perform certain actions. There are many things to do such as dumping unneeded stock or crew members overboard, going to a city to buy and sell items, hiring or firing crew members (which is generally more humane and more profitable than making them walk the plank), mine clouds for basic minerals to sell or even refuel their ship.
The game has a very rich back-story. The first 4 or 5 pages of the rulebook reads like a history lesson. The airships fly using a substance called Phlogiston that is mined from clouds. This process produces a waste product called Sludge (that cities will pay to have removed) and a by-product in the form of a contraband alcohol named Grog sold by pirates. Getting caught by the police with Grog on-board is a criminal offence that can result in a fine, a wanted notice or even an outright sky battle between ships.
A dice-based system controls the prices of 6 different types of (legal) stock from basic minerals to jewels, and the price of the contraband Grog. The more expensive the resource, the faster the price fluctuates. This is not as random as it seems. Players roll a handful of dice and can then trade dice results with other players, allowing them to affect the stock of their choosing. Bring down the price if you plan to buy, push up the price if you plan to sell.
Once all these price changes have been applied (along with shortages and surpluses), players are offered the opportunity to buy influence with the Sky Guild. The higher or the influence track you go, the more expensive influence becomes. The first player to buy 50 influence points wins the game.
The only thing about the game that annoys me is an arbitrary time limit placed on certain actions which in no way affects gameplay. This game is not prone to Analysis Paralysis so I don’t understand why this is necessary. There isn’t ever a timer in the box. The rules actually say to use a watch. WHO DOES THAT!?
As complex as this sounds, it plays elegantly with lots of player interaction. The only annoyance is once a player gets a large enough lead it can be very difficult to slow them down.
Components: 5/5. The artwork and general aesthetic of the game feels genuine. The ivory busts with coloured bases are very appropriate and well made. Stock in the form of little barrel tokens very nicely fit on the player boards. Crew member cards have beautiful portraits and are easy to understand.
Gameplay: 5/5. Each turn has simple steps, and Council deliberations go quickly and without too much argument.
Complexity vs Depth: 5/5. Easy to understand and still manages to recreate the fluctuations of a free market system. Very impressed.
Theme: 4/5. With loads of back-story and flavour throughout the game, the only annoyance is the number of times the word “sky” is used. Skyships, sky pirates, sky police, skyman…
Overall: 5/5. If you like pick-up-and-deliver games or games with any trading mechanics you will enjoy Sky Traders. If you like Steampunk as much as I do you’ll not only enjoy the game, but start thinking up your own fan-fiction in the Sky Traders Universe. The game also teaches basic business practices to younger players that can enrich their lives overall; At least I think so.