DESIGNER: Alexander Pfister and Arno Steinwender
PUBLISHER: Capstone Games, dlp Games, Nanox Games
AGES: 10 and up
TIME: 60-100 minutes
TIMES PLAYED: Tery: 4, with a copy I bought Mark J: 8, with a copy from my BGG Secret Santa
With the upheaval of the pandemic and some of the other events happening in the world lately it can feel like we are living in a post-apocalyptic world, so a game about one seems somehow appropriate. Cloud Age is the latest game from Alexander Pfister, along with Arno Steinwender, and takes place in a barren landscape where the mysterious society Cloud has burned down all of the forests, destabilizing the planet. You and your fellow players are travelling above the planet in your airships, looking for resources and ways to bring the planet back to life.
The game is a legacy game, but this review does not contain any spoilers for the game; the legacy/story material comes into the game over time based on the story cards, and we won’t talk about those in any sort of detail. It is also possible to play the game in a scenario-based mode instead.
The game setup is dependent on the chapter or scenario you are playing. You take the terrain boards that are relevant to the chapter/scenario and put them together in the center of the table. There is a production board/victory point tracker that is set off to the side, and there are tokens representing water and metal. There are three sets of cards – project cards, city cards and mission cards.
Each player has wooden score and energy markers as well as a player piece that is an airship, used to move across the board. Players also have an airship player board which indicates progress through the game and upgrades to movement, combat and terraforming abilities as well as a place for played project cards. The player airship board has an energy track and a round track as well as reminders of the steps involved in each round and how to do end-of-game scoring. Each player also has an identical deck of navigation cards.
The player who most recently bought a plant starts the game.
There are a varying number of rounds in the game based on the setup. Each round progresses through several phases; all players complete one phase before the game moves to the next phase. The phases are depicted at the bottom of each player board.
The first phase is the production phase. Players may spend the amount of energy listed on the space they are on to get a certain amount of water, an important resource in the game. Moving along this track gives you access to more water as well as bonuses for passing certain milestones.
The second phase is the movement phase. Each player flips over the top two cards of their navigation deck; the card with a lower value gives you that amount of either energy or project cards and then gets placed in your discard pile. The card with a higher value gets placed on top of the discard pile, and that will be the amount of movement that you have for the round. You always have one permanent movement point using the solar panel on your airship; you can add this to the value of the card, or you can choose instead to not use it and take two energy. You can also upgrade the propellers on your airship, which will give you more permanent movement points (more on that later). You can move in any direction you like, but you must end your movement on a city space. On your way to that city space you may pass through spaces that will cost more movement to go through but that will give your resources or victory points.
Once you’ve ended your movement in a city space you have the option to fight the cloud militia that is threatening that city. Each city has a combat value that gets increasingly higher as you move across the board. If you can equal or beat that number you will get the printed reward. If not, there is no penalty (other than not receiving a reward).
Your base combat value is the total of any combat project cards you have played below your board as well as any upgrades you have made to your combat system. You can pay one energy to flip over the next card of your navigation deck and add its value to your combat total. If you still need more combat you can pay 2 energy or 3 victory points to flip another card, with no limit on the number of times you can do that, as you are allowed to have negative victory points.
Regardless of the outcome you place a wooden cube on that city to indicate that you have already been there, since you cannot fight in that city again. That wooden cube comes from the round track on your player board, so it is easy to see how many rounds are left in the game.
Next up comes the action phase, which is carried out in turn order. In general, you have a choice of 3 actions.
The first action choice is to collect resources. The player on turn puts their drone marker on a resource space under a particular stack of cards in the cloud sleeves. You can see the value of the card, but not what resources are printed on it. The value of the card tells you nothing about what is on it, but it goes in the active player’s discard pile and becomes part of their navigation deck for the rest of the game. All other players choose a spot in that same area. The card is revealed and all players get the resource depicted on the space that they are on, in whatever amount is printed.
If a navigation card symbol is also present next to their selected resource they get to remove a card from their navigation deck discard pile and take it out of the game (goodbye, zero value card!).. If there is a wrench symbol the player can get 1 additional resource of their choice or build one upgrade (combat, speed or plant growth, if it is in the game).
In the scenarios without planting new growth, the person taking the card gets water instead of the new growth tiles… this is a major rule that I missed which changes your ability to buy cards in those scenarios.
As noted before, the active player puts the card in their navigation discard pile and it is then part of their hand for the rest of the game.
The second action choice is to build. The active player puts their drone on the build space and can then take 2 build actions. You can either upgrade your movement or combat by paying the appropriate amount of resources listed on the propeller or gun (or later growth) attachment on your player board, or play a project card from their hand by paying the cost listed in the upper left and then placing the card under their airship. Some cards give you an immediate benefit while others have an ongoing effect.
All other players may carry out one build action. If you cannot build you can take one resource of your choice.
Later in the story game or with some scenarios there is a third action to plant new growth. This allows you to help re-forest the planet and be rewarded for your efforts with resources and victory points, depending on the type of trees you plant.
At the end of the round in which players have placed their last cube on a city the game ends and final scoring takes place.
First, all players do a final production just like they would do at the start of a round. After that, all players get a chance to take two build actions.
Players then count up all of their victory points –
- Mission cards, when in play, which give you points for completing certain objectives
- Markers in particular cities, if applicable based on game conditions, give you victory points
- Each airship upgrade gives you points for the highest upgrade level reached
- Some project cards have points printed on them.
The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie players engage in a combat; the rules are the same as the usual combat, except that you cannot use victory points instead of energy to flip cards.
In a campaign, players are given stars for that game based on the number of points they accumulated… plus some number of stars if they won the game. At the end of seven games, the player with the most stars wins.
If you are playing the campaign you put all of the legacy materials in play into a bag that you label yourself with a provided sticker. Materials not yet in the game go into a separate bag with a different sticker. You may also have additional instructions on the story card.
If you are playing a scenario you sort things slightly differently based on the explanation in the rules
Pfister has traveled these waters before – creating a solid game engine intertwined with an ongoing solo campaign that drips new cards and objectives into the system. (I’ve enjoyed both Oh My Goods with the expansions and Expedition to Newdale… which actually are one extended story about that particular medieval world. I wish I could find a copy of the Port Royal adventures expansion in English, as that is another Pfister game I really like.)
The solo game (and campaign) are similar in design to the multiplayer game – with a small solo action board helping “simulate” the additional actions other players might take that would affect your decisions. Having multiple missions to deal with forces you in certain directions… or, sometimes, you just choose to go your own way and take your lumps.
Solo campaigns are scored in a similar way to multiplayer campaigns – you receive a number of stars per chapter based on your point score. However, any missions you do not manage to completely fulfill cost you a star. A campaign win is 30 stars (out of a possible 37).
OUR THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
Overall, I like the game. It’s an engine-builder with resource management and a fair amount of strategy packed into a medium-weight game. There are interesting choices to be made and the game flows very well from phase to phase with clear pictograms on your airship board so you know what is happening, and in my experience so far there is no one path to victory.
I also really like the variety of pathways you can take – combat, planting vegetation, tinkering with your airship, or some combination of those. The semi-predictability of your deck is important as well as it assists in deciding when to push your luck against the Cloud or simply lie low and choose a better time to fight.
If you’ve played Maracaibo the story aspect will feel familiar, but the game play is decidedly different and the game is also considerably shorter. The story helps make the theme feel more integrated, but the game would be enjoyable played only as a scenario-based game, too.
There are some innovative mechanics here with the city cards, and while I suspect some people will be annoyed with the random aspect of those, it wasn’t a concern for me, as you always get something when any player chooses this option, and if you are the active player you also get the benefit of having cards with higher values in your navigation deck even if you only got one stinking metal while your opponent is showered with water.
It took a couple of games to notice that the city cards have some visual clues obscured partially by the cloud sleeves that can help you guess the most likely resources to be found there. Since some project cards reward you for picking the 2 resource area and the solo game penalizes you for choosing the 3 resource area in some circumstances, this information can be very helpful.
I am engaged in the game every time, in part because of the phase system; it is never too long before I have something to do, and I often care what the other player(s) are doing. I have only played this two-player so far, but i expect this will be true with more players as well.
After our first game our games have only taken about an hour; my plays have all been two-player, but I don’t expect the time to raise dramatically with more players, and often players can do things simultaneously.
Solo games clocked in between 30-45 minutes… longer, of course, as the options in the later games grew. I agree with Tery – I think only slower groups of 3-4 players will end up in the 90+ minute range.
The game comes in a reasonably sized box. I (Tery) found it easier to remove the insert, which wasn’t serving much of a function anyway. There are lots of plastic bags to store the bits in.
The components overall are nice, with one exception. The game comes with stickers that must be applied to some of the player pieces as well as to the sleeves for the city cards; I (Tery) hate that because I don’t have the dexterity to do a good job , but thankfully my husband is good at it, However, even he struggled with the stickers on the card sleeves. In addition, one of our card sleeves ripped while he was trying to line up the stickers. It’s still functional, but annoying to have something break in a brand new game. I wish those had been pre-printed.
Tery is not wrong about the stickering process… I’ve done a lot of game stickering in my day and this was the most nerve-wracking in a long time. (The less said about the debacle of the first edition Battlelore flags, the better.)
The rules could use a little more clarity around setup for the legacy game and some of the components, but other than that I thought they were okay. There are clear descriptions of the mission and project cards at the back of the rule book.
The theme is integrated into the components, with your player marker being an airship and having a drone.
In fairness, I need more multiplayer plays to really determine my rating… but as a solo game, I thoroughly enjoyed my less-than-successful trip through the world of CloudAge. With the caveat that I messed up a couple of rules in my early games that might have helped me out a bit, I still managed to score 20 stars. (Yes, those of you reading closely will realize that I missed the win threshold by 10 stars.) I will likely let it sit a month or two before bringing it out again and attempting to better my record.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Mark (solo)
- I like it. Tery, Mark (multiplayer), Lorna
- Not for me…