I am going to start this review by talking about other board games but I will get to CloudAge. First Alexander Pfister’s ‘other games’ because this is why I ordered this game blind. We love Great Western Trail, Maracaibo and Blackout Hong – they are all fantastic, some of our most played games in recent years. CloudAge is none of these – I am so glad I have those ‘other games’ already.
I ordered CloudAge along with a bunch of others when I knew I had to cancel my Essen trip – the plan was to play them over Christmas and into the New Year.
When I heard CloudAge was lighter and wasn’t getting many plaudits we decided to play the others first. So over the Christmas period, we had a blast, the number times played in brackets: Hallertau (3), Praga Caput Regni (3), Lost Ruins of Arnak (3), Vindication (1), Eclipse New Dawn (3,) Just Once (2 – once with family and once with Paul Grogan and Isaac Childres – another story!) What a week – after a fairly poor year of games 2020 saved the best until last.
So we started to learn CloudAge on New Year’s Day and we played every chapter one episode after another, with our other games taking a backseat.
Okay – first elephant in the room has been outed – CloudAge is lighter, this does not make it a bad game, quite the contrary. Second elephant, the rulebook – my partner and I really enjoy going through a meaty rulebook to learn a game together and we were disappointed by this one. For the first time in 50+ games we watched a video instead – so shout out to Barislav from ‘Game in a nutshell’ for the ever-excellent video teach.
So to the game.
Components and Art
The bits are lovely, the colour scheme is unusual (not primary colours yay!) and the iconography works really well. We like how the cardboard pieces slot into each player board for upgrades (reminded us of Taverns of Tiefenthal) and the little stickered airship that travels the map. The artwork is fine if not brilliant (this is no Arnak) but suits the feel of the game and fits into the muted colour scheme. Cards are linen and the sleeves with the cloud stickers are very cute especially when packed with the cards (I trimmed the sides from the stickers to make sure there was no overlap when applying my stickers). My criticism might be that the cubes placed on the areas visited are perfunctory, to say the least, some nice ‘house’ models would have been preferred – but the cubes more than serve the purpose.
There is a nice rhythm here – water is produced using energy, 2 cards drawn with the lower number establishing energy/cards received and the higher base movement for your ship. Regardless of the number, even a zero, the solar panel allows some movement and as the game progresses if you tailor your ship to go faster you will get some nice benefits. The ‘fighting’ is super easy with minimal luck – if you are short you spend energy to drawn cards and when you hit the right number you get the benefit, in the rare occasion you are ‘energy short’ you can spend points instead. We really like how the game allows you to worsen your score rather than worsen your experience – we like this a lot. Then, using your drone, you go searching for resources with those lovely clouds or play cards. The clouds are innovative, and they obscure clues slightly or sometimes fully cover them. But… you always get something, so if it doesn’t quite go your way, things are still fine – you can still do something.
We like the deck building and have tried slimming the deck hugely or slightly – that ‘zero’ has to go! The choice about getting more resources and getting a new shiny card OR getting airship upgrades or playing cards is a good one and rarely obvious, there are genuine choices to be made. When it comes to upgrading your airship there are, again, many different choices and even more so when it comes to the cards which allow you to play in a variety of styles – this is all super fun.
There is a little bit of blocking, though many cities have multiple spaces and choosing the ‘drone’ action after moving has to be done carefully so as not to give your opponents better options that you. We have only played two-player so assume it gets more crowded at higher player counts, but the interaction is enough so we don’t ignore each other but never feels mean – all positive for us.
Variability and longevity
One of the issues with the rulebook is that it is trying to do different things – it is describing your first game, future games and the ‘campaign game’ BUT we love that fact that there are different methods of playing even if the rulebook doesn’t quite get that right.
So far we are about to start chapter 4 (of 7) – each chapter adds a bit of story, some cards and a tile or two – it also uses different sides of the player boards. Again this reminds me of ‘Taverns of Tiefentahl’ which although described as ‘modular’ essentially teaches new aspects of the game piece by piece. We really liked this, we weren’t opening boxes like in a legacy game but we were discovering new elements and new areas of gameplay. These are subtle changes but make the game feel a bit more complex and make you feel a bit more powerful. We smiled a lot and liked seeing how the new elements could be used.
So for replayability unlike legacy games you could very easily start over from chapter one and with some branching choices again find slightly new things. All that said if we were ever to play standalone, even with new players I would be disinclined to play the ‘basic’ game – much like Taverns.
I guess Mr Pfister has gotten a bit of stick over recent years for some of the theming he has chosen- this dystopian theme with its ‘reseeding’ of a ruined planet nicely steps aside from issues of slavery and I am delighted to say has a mix of gender and ethnicity in its people characterization ( I am looking at you Maracaibo). The ‘ponytailed’ inventors and ‘bobbed’ mechanics, both female convince me that this was a priority – excellent.
We have played lots of new and excellent games in the last week, we approached CloudAge slightly warily and have been very pleasantly surprised. Yes, this could be a gateway game, especially stripped down, the theme is fun, different and accessible, it looks lovely on the table. As a gamer who enjoys the heavier side of gaming, I have been very happy to sit back and have a bit of fun, making some moves and seeing where my choices went, putting some combos together and feeling rather pleased with the outcome. Who wins is largely redundant (at least for us), though games have been close. The experience has been lovely and we plan to finish the remaining chapters starting later today.
Thank you Alexander I will preorder your next game too!
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