dmNorth Plays… Pan Am: The Game

This past weekend, on our regular Saturday Night Board Game Live Stream on Twitch, the board game crew of dmNorthTV returns to live stream their board game night live on Twitch.

Pan Am: The Game lets you relive the glory years of the company as it expands it reach across the world.  Pan Am is primarily a worker placement game and is produced by Funko Games and is designed by Prospero Hall.

Pan Am is a 2 to 4 player tabletop game, where you are a small airline hoping to be bought up by the rising juggernaut that is Pan Am. Buy your planes, plan your routes, and cash out to buy that sweet, sweet stock. Yay capitalism!

From the Publisher:  In Pan Am, players compete with Pan American Airways and others to build an air-travel empire. Outbid rivals for lucrative landing rights, buy planes with longer range to reach the far corners of the world, and use insider connections to advance your interests. As you bump up against the ever-growing Pan Am, you can sell your routes to the company to earn a tidy profit, with you then using that money to invest in other growth or to purchase Pan Am stock for what’s sure to be a big payout down the road.

Pan Am is a game of global strategy that spans four decades of industry-changing historic events.

Board Game Geek Link: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/303057/pan-am

First Impressions

What were your first thoughts about the game?

I will be totally honest, that this game did not call to me at all when I first saw it.  It doesn’t really have an amazing table presence, but the style definitely fits with the era they are trying to represent.  I only actually brought it into the collection it after essentially being bullied into buying it by Jackalopespam.  I was assured that the gameplay was good.  We shall see on that one.

I got this game pretty cheap ($20) and the reviews looked good but I didn’t think it was a game I would have liked. Was I proven wrong?

The theme isn’t something not initially drew me in, nor is it from a reputable publisher. However, I heard a lot of great things about Pan Am from friends saying it was really good. For the low price, I took the chance on it.

Rules

Were the rules well explained in the rule  book?

You definitely do not need Rodney here.  The rule book is really easy to understand and things just make sense.  Even the potentially confusing aspect of “landing rights” is explained in a way to clear up the potential haze.  Not much really came up during the game that could not be explained with the rules in the box.  That is decent design in my books.

I usually watch videos on how to play games then read the rule book. I would glance it over or go to it if a question came up. This rule book is straight forward and makes the game easy to pick up and play. We didn’t have to reference it during game play.

The rule book is pretty good with big pictures and text. Better yet before going into each step of the game, they overview some of the fundamental concepts (like Landing Rights). This way you have some idea of how it works before getting into the step by step, which is all pretty straightforward after that.

Components

What were the quality of the components?

This  is not what I would call a high end game.  I don’t want to call it cheaply made, but it does kind of have that feel to it.  The board and cards feel just.. “ok”.  I don’t think they are at risk of tearing in your hands, but there are better made components out there.  The planes definitely have that feeling of an inexpensive toy.  One of my jets came with the tail bent right out of the box.  Quality is overall just meh.  Having said that, the quality almost meshed well with the feel that they are trying to go with for the era the game is meant to represent.  Maybe this was all part of a bigger master plan?

I do own this game and used the components to play the game online. The components did the job and overall good, nothing spectacular. I found myself getting a little confused on some of the planes (two biggest one), they looked similar and the difference was the size.

Overall the components are good enough, nothing over the top but not junk either. You get a set of planes in 4 different sizes that have a decent amount of detail. One thing lacking on the planes is a better way to distinguish what “size” they are for the routes. They have notches on the wings to tell the difference, but you need to look closely. That’s easy enough to do while they’re on your personal board and once they’re out on the main board it doesn’t make much difference.

Theme

Did the game fit the intended theme? 

Pan Am definitely drip with theme in all honesty.  The art has that classic feel to it.  From the cards, to the board itself, you feel you are in the early days of the Pan Am expansion.  Each part of the of the game does draw you in and makes you believe you are building your aviation empire.

I do not know the background/history of Pan Am but based on playing the game, it did fit the theme. It does have an “older” feel. You do get the feel that your building an air plane empire and and trying to profit.

I don’t know enough about the history of Pan Am specifically to say it was a perfect fit, but I was fine with generic airplane companies getting bought out by a bigger company. All the while you’re trying to buy stock for that company to be the most profitable. So yeah, it fits a theme of route building and stocks well.

Gameplay

Twitch Live Stream Replay from April 1, 2023.

I will admit that I was a little concerned that this game would be confusing when I first looked at it.  However, it flows really well once you get going.  Like many worker placement games, there are so many decisions to make and not enough time/resources to make them all.

The bidding mechanic ads an excellent twist to the classic worker placement game.  You can guarantee that you will get what you want… if you are willing to pay for it.  I personally loved the Directive Cards and how that area gave you priority sequence in the following round.  More so, all of them are going to help you throughout the game.

Balancing making a steady income with wanting to be bought out by the ever expanding Pan Am empire offers some of the biggest challenge.  How much stock do you purchase?  Can you afford to do the things that you will want to be doing the following turn if you do?

Overall, I loved the decisions that you were presented with and it made for a really interesting gaming experience.

At first, I was trying to figure out what needs to be done in the worker placement part of the game and trying to figure out what needs to be done to gain shares. Jocelyn kept telling me in chat “BUY MORE PLANES”, towards the end, I got the hang of it and really enjoyed the game play. You do have to manage your “airline empire” to be successful. The directive cards were all very good and helps in your planning.

It’s a surprisingly great game. It isn’t too complicated but still brings some depth. It feels like a great way to bridge the gap between Ticket to Ride and a heavier game. It brings in a cool worker placement mechanic with bidding, which is great. Then some introduction to stocks without being overly complicated.

I’ve played a number of times now at 2, 3, and 4 players. I think the game is best at 3, like in the video. It makes the map small enough to where you do need to outbid your opponents, but you’re not always trying to fight for the same things.

Final Thoughts

What were your first thoughts about the game?

I think I said this in our last board game article, but again… Worker placement is my jam.  I love the choices and the frustrations when you cannot do what you want.  This game definitely delivers on all of that.  It is hard to decide on what your strategy needs to be until you start playing the game.  Which area of the map do you want to focus on with building your route?  See what the cards deal you and go from there.

The game worked really well with the 3 player count, and I do not see major issues going up or down in player count.  I never felt like I was waiting super long between turns for my turn to hit.  I was always investing in what the other players were doing, so I could try and play out what was the best course of action to take when the opportunity came up.

For a game that I honestly did not think much of going into it, I really enjoyed it.  Pan Am definitely rockets to near the top of my list of worker placement games.  It is one that I am looking forward to bringing back to the table.  I cannot recommend this game highly enough.

I surprisingly really enjoyed this game. It had aspects of games I like such as worker placement. I dont mind auctioning/bidding and this game was light on it. With all the different mechanisms in the game, it worked very well and a smooth playing game. I would definitely play this game again.

In the end it’s not going to be the game I bring to every game night, but I wouldn’t say no to playing it.

Rating System
5 Meeples: Fantastic Game, A must-play game!
4 Meeples: Great Game, minor flaws.
3 Meeples: Good Game, some weaknesses.
2 Meeples: OK Game, needs work.
1 Meeple: Awful Game. Do not play this unless you want to punish yourself.

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