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Air Bucks is a 1992 air company management simulator, developed by Impressions and distributed by Sierra. Impressions is probably known best for the Caesar series of, well, ancient city management simulation. You know, the ones with all the fire. But we’re not here for Caesar – that’s for a later post.
The game starts near the end of the year 1946. You are in charge of the Air Bucks company and you take on three other organizations like yourself to become the most successful air company in history. In the true spirit of simulation games, this game allows you to make all the high-level decisions together with some fiddly little bits that can be ignored and a lot of spreadsheets and charts. The high-level decisions are, amongst others, which planes to buy, which airports to acquire landing rights for and how to schedule the planes on routes. Some of the can’t-be-bothered things are setting the maintenance and comfort level of your planes, doing research about customer satisfaction or listening to the board of directors.
However, allow me to tell you the story of my company. It’s rather interesting. We start the tale near the end of 1946. Here I am, with one little plane, the flight rights to Miami and $100,000 available. So, first things first, let’s buy landing rights to another airport. LA seems nice and big, should be a profit to make from that. Some clicks and a month later, we have a route between Miami and LA.
And then it dawns that the route is 2052 miles far and that our little plane (a DC-3) only has an action radius of 1000 miles. Hmm. Oh well, that’s $20,000 lost on landing rights, but that’s no biggie, we’re already in negotiations with Atlanta for landing rights, which a little closer to Miami. And at the dawn of 1947, we set up a route between Miami and Atlanta. And then the fun started.
You see, in order to board your plane, people have to buy tickets. Where usually tickets cost money, I didn’t find a way to raise the ticket prices from 0 to something that might actually turn a profit. I tried all keys and all options but I don’t see how I’m supposed to change the prices. And then it dawned me. Let’s just make a bold business decision and keep all prices at 0! Free air travel, I’m sure it would be massively popular.
So yeah, things run well for a while. The only little problem is that the cash flow is a bit negative. Planes need fuel and maintenance, of course, and those don’t seem to come for free. A shame, really. Attacking my altruistic plans because of a little money concern.
While the bank agrees to a cash injection, there is of course no hope for the little project. Several loans later, the bank decides they won’t be giving me any funding anymore. Still unable to make a profit, Air Bucks is eventually closed down. Many people weep about the sudden stop of free interstate travel, but it’s a hard world out there.
So all in all, I bet this is a really polished game. If only I knew how to raise the ticket prices and make money. On the other hand, I don’t believe I’ll ever have more fun with the game than by trying to break it completely, so perhaps this was a conscious option. “Make sure only people that really want to be a manager can figure out how to play” or something. I’ll never know what the Board of Directors at Sierra said about this game. How to score this… Let’s move over to an alternate universe where I could actually figure out the magic key, manage to increase the ticket prices and then eventually crash the company anyway. Because there isn’t a universe where I have enough management skills to keep anything working. In this alternate universe I might have been entertained for a while I think. 6/10.