After lamenting the fact that I paid too much for what comes in the Zeppelin box, it's time to discuss how it plays and if I enjoy it.
Zeppelin Raider: Imperial German Naval Airships is a solitaire game in which you are piloting a German airship in the years 1915-1918. It is played as a campaign: a series of missions the result of which defines your career as a naval officer. By doing well you gain experience and skills, and successful missions mean you will be promoted and earn medals.
The game features very nice illustrations of various types of airships on the player boards. Each of these boards shows the main controls of the airship: fuel, altitude, ballast and gas cells. You basically have to drop ballast to go up, and vent gas to go down. Depending on the mission, you may also have to take into account the number and weight of bombs. Weather affects the ship's weight and movement as well: rain makes the vessel heavier, while adverse wind forces you to spend more fuel.
This is the only part of the game that allows the player some decision space, but not too much. Everything else, and I mean everything, is decided by dice rolls. You have a small map in front of you that shows the area between the German coast and England. As soon as you start moving, you roll for weather change, mechanical failure, random encounters, repairs. When you reach your target, you roll to see if you actually reached it, if navigation was successful, if your bombs hit anything, if anyone saw you, and if you managed to escape unscathed. Roll, roll, roll, roll and consult charts to see what happens.
I understand that people like emergent stories and I like them as well. I'm not sure how to evaluate this game, though. I will play more missions but any results I will get won't be my own achievement. It will be 100% luck of the roll. For example, I went to bomb Hull, and all my bombs missed the target as if I was drunk. Then I scouted above the North Sea, found a merchant ship. Great roll you did there, Athena, your skills are admirable. If you'd rolled one pip less, you'd earn a prestige point.
I think that if I hadn't paid so much for it, I wouldn't mind the lack of depth. The game is, after all, pleasant. A pleasant push-your-luck activity. I wish the designer had given the player more agency, as that would make the game much more interesting. Now the campaign seems too long and in danger of becoming tedious. If you are a fan of Mr. Smith's games, chances are you may like this one too. For me, it fell a little flat. Obviously not something you want for an airship.