- Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
- Publisher: Blue Orange
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 30-45 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Blue Orange
Cloud City is another Phil Walker-Harding game that I pretty much loved from the get-go (the others were Cacao, Gizmos and Barenpark). For some reason, his designs just hit my sweet spot. They tend to be on the simpler side, yet they offer enough depth to remain interesting for multiple plays. In Cloud City, players are competing architects, trying to come up with the best plan for the skyscrapers that poke up through the clouds.
Each player has their own play area, and each starts with a specific starting tile (determined by turn order). The buildings depicted on the starter tile are placed on that tile to start. The rest of the Cloud tiles are shuffled and made into a supply; each player gets a starting hand of 3 Cloud tiles. If you want to play a more advanced game, randomly choose one of the 10 Special Request cards and place it on the table – this will add an additional way to score (or lose) points at the end of the game depending on whether or not you meet the criteria on the card.
The player area in a 4-player game will be a 3×3 grid of tiles; as you start the game with a starting tile – that means that there will be 8 more tiles placed over the course of the game. The starting tile does not have to be in the center, but you cannot exceed a 3×3 grid. (In a 2 and 3 player game, you instead make a 3×4 grid).
On a turn, there are 4 phases, 3 of which are mandatory.
1] Place a cloud tile from your hand. It must be adjacent to at least one other tile in your city, and it cannot exceed the limits of your city. You can rotate it however you like.
2] Place buildings on the newly placed tile – each tile has two colored squares on it, place a building of matching color on each colored square.
3] Optionally build walkways. You can connect buildings of the same color to each other with walkways. There are five different length bridges available. The supply is counter limited, so you cannot place a walkway if the size isn’t available. You are not obligated to build a bridge on your turn, but you can build as many as you like on your turn as well. Each build bridge will score the victory points shown on the walkway tile. Also, you may not build a walkway over any part of your city that does not have a cloud tile underneath it, nor can you build a walkway that crosses another of the same color. Finally, there is a restriction that you cannot build more than two walkways on any building.
4] Draw a new cloud tile to replenish your hand to 3 tiles.
This continues until every player’s city is complete (8 rounds for 4p, 11 rounds for 2 and 3 players). At the end of the game, tally up the points found on the walkways in your city. (If you have chosen to play with a Special Request card, each player scores that at this time as well…) The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by the player with the most points from blue (lowest level) walkways.
My thoughts on the game
Cloud City is a fascinating game that looks beautiful on the table. It is really neat to watch how the buildings rise up from the tiles and the maze of walkways that are created on the three different levels. As I said at the top, I generally like the way that PWH’s games are so accessible. The rules can literally be taught in a few minutes, and you’ll be playing the game in no time.
Though the rules are simple, there are a number of things to think about while placing the buildings and building the walkways. There is a little bit of spatial puzzling in the game – as you place your tiles on the board, you have to visualize where the buildings are going to end up. If you are trying to make a long blue walkway, you must be sure not to place any other buildings on that row or column. On the other hand, if you are working on a taller walkway, you can slide shorter buildings underneath the planned route of the walkway… This spatial puzzle leads to some hand management issues – trying to make sure that you have the right cards when you need them, or making plays to temporize until you can draw the card that has the combination of buildings that you need to complete your strategy.
However, you can’t wait too long for the right card. You obviously can’t build a walkway if you don’t have the two buildings in place, and you also can’t build a walkway if you don’t have a tile underneath the entire route. You have to closely watch the supply of walkways so that you don’t get aced out by the opponents. Of course, if the longer walkways are all taken, you can always insert a building in between and place two shorter walkways, but you’ll lose some VP in that exchange.
I have played both 3p and 4p, and I must say that I much prefer the 4p game. The main reason for this is that the longest walkway spans the distance between the outer edges of the 3×3 grid. Essentially, you can not build buildings further apart than longest bridge. In the 2p and 3p game, as you build a 3×4 grid, you can exceed this longest length, and it’s a sad Christmas when you realize you’ve miscounted the number of spaces between buildings and there isn’t a walkway available for your play.
The game itself is beautiful, and it really can be mesmerizing watching the cities come to life on the table. The plastic buildings are stable, and I like the raised edges on the roof which help the walkways stay in place. That being said, my tremor has caused at least one major city catastrophe as I tried to place a walkway in a tight space – but it is easy enough to rebuild everything; as the buildings are in fixed spaces as directed by the tiles.
For gamers, I’d definitely recommend playing with the Special Request bonus cards – so far, we’ve only played with one per game, but the rules suggest you could even play with two. It adds one extra thing to think about – though it still doesn’t take the complexity level of the game much past the super filler level. If you’re playing with newbies or non-gamers, the base game should be enough for that crowd, but I think that gamers will still find it satisfying enough.
Though this is a strange year for playing games due to the pandemic, this game seems to check all of the boxes that the Spiel des Jahres jury is looking for. It is easy to teach and learn, it is beautiful to look at, and it is an enjoyable experience in under an hour. I have really liked my first few plays of this one so far, and I think this is a game that you’ll be hearing more about as 2021 comes around.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson (2 plays): I think Dale may be onto something with this being a potential SdJ. I enjoyed both of my plays and would be happy to play again.
Chris Wray (2 Plays): Phil Walker-Harding continues his streak of designing excellent family-weight games, and Blue Orange continues their streak of beautifully-produced games. This is remarkably simple to teach, and pretty fun to play. While I doubt it is original enough for the SdJ — I don’t know that there is that much innovation here, nor that much replayability — a nomination also wouldn’t surprise me.
Brandon Kempf (1 play): While I enjoyed my play of Cloud City, I’m not quite sold on its longevity in play. Now, this is after one play of the basic game, I’ve not played with the “advanced” cards in play, nor have I even looked at them, but I can’t imagine it changes all that much. I think that the game just will naturally always play where those long walkways get built as soon as possible and then the smaller ones, not quite on rails per se due to the fact that different tiles can come out at different times, but still, it will probably start to feel a bit same-y. Given that, I really enjoyed playing Cloud City the first time, it has a wonderful table presence and it really checks a lot of things I like, ease of entry and that aforementioned table presence. As for SdJ? Blue Orange has had a couple really good hits over the last few years, with only Kingdomino bringing home the gold, I don’t see Cloud City being the one to break that trend, but who knows, there really hasn’t been a lot released that I see as SdJ quality yet.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y
- I like it. Mark Jackson, John P, Chris Wray, James Nathan, Brandon Kempf
- Not for me…
Heck yeah PWH. I cannot wait to try!