The Sky Team board game arrived at this year’s Gen Con going full throttle. Polygon had a chance to sit in the cockpit of the latest release from the talented crew at Le Scorpion Masqué, the same team responsible for hits such as the wonderful party game Decrypto, the upcoming Dead Cells board game, and the 2022 Gen Con hit Turing Machine. Sky Team is yet another unusual design full of personality, as two players crew the flight deck of a commercial airliner seeking to safely land at their destination airport. It’s quirky, full of tension and clever mechanisms, and it’s also surprisingly good at capturing several aspects of real-world flight simulation.
This delightful 20-minute cooperative experience was designed from the ground up in service to the theme. “My best friend is a (glider) pilot and his whole family works in aviation. I designed the game and the cockpit with him in mind. From the first version, all the elements were already present,” designer Luc Rémond told Polygon recently in an email interview.
Over seven rounds, players roll a small pool of dice and then take turns placing one of them on the cockpit board to perform an action. They work in cooperation to maintain a steady flight path, deploy the landing gear, lower the flaps, and perform several other essential functions. Success is reliant on teamwork, although oddly players can only communicate before each round begins and not during the action.
Rémond clarified the origins of the unique cooperative system: “The game was first a single-player game [and] after the lockdown when I was able to have the game tested by other authors, the communication mechanics appeared [organically] and were obvious. Not only does it reflect the tension within the cockpit but also the necessary trust between pilot and co-pilot.”
This restriction on communication is in stark contrast to the surprising accuracy of the design — which appears to model all other aspects of commercial flight other than communication — but this restriction does support the underlying themes of trust and tension.
It’s important to note that at no point does Le Scorpion Masqué claim to be selling a flight simulator here. It’s a 20-minute-long, novel dice placement game with many interesting thematic touches, not Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane. Nonetheless, Rémond said it was inspired by real-world pilots.
“The game was created with a lot of research and documentation on flight physics, elements of an airplane and different airports. Several pilots were consulted. […] I tried to give specificities to the different airports. The wind in Rio, the [big] left turn [on approach to the runway] in Tokyo, the frozen track in the north are realistic elements,” Rémond said.
The airports are one of the most interesting aspects. The game eases you into the systems, presenting a straightforward tutorial of executing a plane landing in Montreal. Once you’ve accomplished this feat — a task that may take a couple of playthroughs the first time around — you are then introduced to an advanced game with many more scenarios and considerations. What appears a simple and quick distraction rapidly evolves into a rich experience with a wealth of material to explore.
As a product, this is a rather unique outing, even for a publisher with a catalog of quirky releases. Manuel Sanchez, creative director at Le Scorpion Masqué, explained why Sky Team appealed to the studio for two distinct reasons.
“First is originality,” Sanchez said, speaking to the game’s format as a two-player aircraft piloting endeavor. “[The] second one is emotion.” He continued, “When you’re playing you feel a lot of tension. [...] Will your co-pilot understand what you need? Will we succeed? Every die placed could be the last!”
Prior to Gen Con, I had been ripping through scenarios in this magnificent little game with my local group. Additional rules are subbed in and out to simulate wind resistance, fuel consumption, and even training a junior pilot on the flight crew. Many of these systems add new components to the play area, creating an organic feeling of complex cockpit instrumentation.
The core mechanisms that capture elements of aviation are a joy to tinker with. Rotating the plastic disc displaying our plane’s altitude, feeling out my co-pilot to properly decelerate and not overshoot our target, even clearing the other aircraft in our path through communication with the radio tower — it’s all been a treat and absolutely gripping. The extended material took the formidable foundation and cranked everything up a notch, forming a level of engagement that is simply addictive. It’s the oomph the game needed to rise from a good game worth a handful of plays to one you can fall into and absorb over a lengthy period of time.
Rémond, Sanchez, and the team at Le Scorpion Masqué have set out to create a wonderful modern board game that balances amusement with simulation. They have not only accomplished this task, but they’ve also managed to craft one of 2023’s best board games, one that is singular and unlike anything else in the hobby. Expect it to be available widely in October, priced at $29.99.
Sky Team was reviewed using a pre-release copy provided by Hachette Board Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.