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[Review] Cloud Nine

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Out of the Box’s (OOTB) games is their ability to work well with a group of people who rarely play games. I think that there are better party games than Apples to Apples, but it’s definitely the first game I’ll pull out when initiating a new group. Likewise, Fish eat Fish and Squint are games that are fun, short, and above all, simple to teach. Cloud Nine (Out of the Box Publishing, 2004 - Aaron Weissblum) is yet another one of those games - outrageously fun with tremendously simplistic rules, yet with only a smidgen of strategy.

When I first opened the box and saw the large plastic balloon basket piece, I knew immediately that I would enjoy the game. (This is shallow; I know, but striking components really do add to most folk’s enjoyment of the game.) The theme, jumping out of a balloon before it crashes, is tantamount to a game of “chicken”, and one that many people find exhilarating. (Of course, the risks in a board game are remarkably fewer.) The game is basically one of bluffing, where players attempt to ascertain the cards in opponent’s hands; but there are a few small memory and strategic elements. But pure, unadulterated fun exudes from Cloud 9, and it’s definitely on the short list of games that I will take with me to situations where there are groups of people who’ve never played many board games before. It’s a terrific introductory game and certainly has that “let’s play it again” feel to it.

A long, thin board is placed on the table, and each player places a pawn of their color next to the beginning of a scoring track that wraps around the outside of the board. Between the scoring track are nine spaces, each showing two, three, or four dice, and numbered in order of victory points (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 20, and 25 respectively). The balloon basket is placed above the first space, and each player places a pawn of their color inside the basket. Four special six-sided dice are placed near the table, each with two blank sides, and four sides showing a different colored balloon (red, yellow, green, and purple.) A deck of cards, made up of eighteen cards of four different colors (same as on the dice) and four “Wild” cards, is shuffled and placed near the board, with six dealt to each player. One player is chosen to go first, and the game begins.

Cloud Nine is made up of several rounds or “balloon trips”. Each trip starts with one player, with play proceeding clockwise around the table. The active player is the “pilot” of the balloon and rolls the number of dice indicated on the space the balloon hovers over. Each other player, starting with the player to the left of the pilot, decides whether they will “jump out”, removing their token from the basket and scoring the number of victory points on the space the balloon resides or stay in the basket. After each player has made the decision, the pilot then must play, if possible, cards matching each color balloon rolled on the dice. If the pilot manages this (or plays a “wild” card, which matches ALL the balloons), the balloon rises to the next level, and the player to their left, if still in the balloon, becomes the new pilot. This continues until the pilot cannot play the cards necessary, causing the balloon to crash with no one inside scoring any points. All “jumped” tokens are placed back in the basket, and another round begins.

It’s possible that the balloon might make it to the final space in which case all players still in the basket score twenty-five points, and a new round begins. Players who jump can no longer participate in rounds, until the balloon crashes or reaches 25. The pilot can never jump from the balloon, unless they are the only passenger. When a new round begins, all players are dealt one additional card, and play continues as normal with the pilot position passing to the next player. As soon as one player reaches fifty points, the game ends, and the player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game comes in an extremely sturdy, brightly-colored box, which keeps all components snugly inside. The board folds up like a “Jacob’s Ladder” with six folds but is quite durable and has a blue background, showing up well on the table. The pawns and scoring markers are wood, and the cards are thick and glossy (although they really should have put different pictures on the different colored cards - this is a critical problem for color blind people.) But certainly, the centerpiece is the plastic balloon basket structure, which is just slightly smaller than a typical computer mouse. It is mounted on two clear, plastic stands, so that it is raised above the board and has six slots in it for the tokens to “sit” in the basket. This piece looks really good and is one of the best single components I’ve ever seen in a game.

2.) Rules: As usual, the rules for this OOTB game were clear, simple, and well formatted. They were printed on a seven-page folded booklet of heavy cardstock, in full color with a few illustrations. The game play itself is extremely easy to teach people and just like many other OOTB games was able to be taught in less than a minute.

3.) Bluffing: The game comes down to bluffing, as players seek to not reveal to the others what cards they have in their hands. Many a game has pauses as players search their opponent’s face, trying to figure out if they should jump or not. Normally, most people don’t think twice about staying in the basket at lower levels, although in one game a groan from a player caused my wife to jump the basket before it even started. (The balloon went all the way to the top on that trip, causing her extreme annoyance.) It’s when the balloon is on the “9”, “15”, and “20” spaces that things get fairly hairy. Should one take the sure points or stay in the game, hoping against hope that the balloon makes it to the top? These aren’t long, drawn-out decisions, but they are slightly nail-biting and make the game a lot of fun.

4.) Other factors: If one has a good memory and remembers what a player cannot play on their previous turns, they have an advantage in the game, albeit a dim one. Players also can look at the cards in their own hands, determining whether they should jump now, knowing that their own piloting skills won’t be too good. Players can also hold their wild cards until a crucial moment, saving them for that last big roll! Other than this, though, the game is just bluffing and guessing.

5.) Fun Factor: Bluffing and guessing makes for a good light game, even though many game strategists would pull their hair out with this game. There’s certainly a “light” feel to the game, but the game certainly fits its niche well. It’s a lot of fun to see the balloon crash on the first level for several turns in a row then suddenly rise to the top. Laughing at other players’ “piloting skills” and holding your breath when people roll the dice or play/don’t play cards makes this game quick and fun.

6.) Players and Time: The game lasts less than twenty minutes, as long as all players are actively involved, making decisions in eye-blinking time. I do think that the game is best with five-six players, as something is just lost with only three or four.

This game is a great deal, especially when comparing the tremendous components to its relatively inexpensive price. The game looks great, plays quickly, and is a lot of fun. No, it won’t win any awards for strategy; but when searching for a filler or a game to introduce the folks at the party I’m at to quality board games, this is one of my first choices. I’ve often wondered about Aaron Weissblum, as he is usually (in my mind at least) paired with Alan Moon and their tremendous collaborations. But if this game is an example of what he can do on his own, well, I want him to continue on designing enjoyable games.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

s2alexan
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Joined: 10/25/2008
The elusive fun factor?

First of all, I wanted to say thanks for posting this review here. I noticed most of your other reviews have no comments, so I wanted to let you know the extra time you take to re-post the review here is appreciated.

However, I think we could make better use of the fact these are posted in the forums - we can actually discuss them here! I'm always fascinated to read reviews of games I would probably never play, to see what other people like in them. When I first got into games, I was completely anti-luck. I considered it a design flaw. But lately, I've had a LOT of fun with some luck-driven (or even some 100% luck) games.

I know my designs tend to be heavy on the strategy, but I think there's a LOT to be learned from a game like Cloud Nine. The "fun" factor is such a hard thing to get in a game, but it's the most important element. This game has very little going for it, except it's very fun. So it's a perfect candidate to study and see what makes it fun.

Is it simply putting together some well-tested "fun" mechanics (the press-your luck mechanic, for example), or is it the way they're combined? Could someone's somewhat-boring strategy game be made "fun" by incorporating a press-your-luck mechanic, or is there something more fundamental? Can the fun factor be explicitely designed, or is it something that must be "found" when designing a game?

Just some interesting thoughts. Any ideas?

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