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Now Boarding: Now Boarding Gamers

Despite jetting around so much the last month, my traveling experience was disturbingly smooth. But I knew behind that smooth facade was a room full of people screaming into microphones that prevented planes from colliding head-long into each other or crashing into the runway and similar. I've seen Die Hard 2. I know how it works. So when news of Now Boarding, an indie airline management game slid into my inbox, the idea of becoming DEFIER OF AIRLINE PERIL amused me. And so did the game, thankfully.

It's fundamentally a light management sorting game, leaning towards the, "Mr Walker in Aisle 2 has gone apeshit crazy because he's been on the plan for eight hours" problems rather than, "I have eight planes on the runway in 40,000 pieces." Which works well - the mood is that light early-Sixties animation feel, which reminds me of the on-plane Virgin safety videos. Complete with period lounge music, it's a useful example of how a minimalistic aesthetic style can lead to an indie game with a distinctive look.

The core game is simple. You have a number of airports. Customers appear, each wanting to go to a different destination. You have a number of planes, each of which can carry a number of said customers. The longer people wait, the angrier they get. And that's it.

So while there's lots of side aspects to worry about - for example, upgrading your terminal with things to distract the customers from the fact they've been sitting in Atlanta for half a year or passing cloud power-ups between airports which give a bonus if you can schedule a flight through 'em - the key aspect is... well, I have four people on the plane here. They want to go to Tampa. There's three people there who want to go to New Orleans and three people who want to go to Miami. There's only room for four spaces on the plane... Okay, I'll send it to Miami, and get another plane to fly empty from Atlanta to New Orleans to sort it out and...

It's a low-brain level sorting mechanism a la Tetris, but it swiftly throws a lot of decisions at you, and working out an optimum solution is rewarding and elusive (screwing up a complicated pattern of flights because you've mistimed when a flight is going to arrive at an airport so the customers get on the wrong plane is common). Smartly it quickly introduces a little mechanisation for the most basal tasks you initially handle yourself, and there's achievements and similar to unlock. My main reservation: it's a shame that when planes are in the air the information of which customers are aboard can only be revealed with a pop-up - it's the sort of thing which I'd have liked the designer to work out an at-a-glance solution for, as it's handy info. Though I'll fully admit working out an elegant one would be tricky.

There's a full version for twenty dollars - fifteen dollars for early players - and initially the game may seem a little sleight for that price. On the other hand, I realised the demo version has eaten getting on for two hours of my time without me noticing it, and remained delightfully fresh.

I think it's certainly worth a play. Do so here.

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