21st Jan2021

‘Cloud City’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

Designed by Phil Walker-Harding and published by BlueOrange, Cloud City has some serious credentials working in its favour. Walker-Harding is the designer of a number of legendary titles including Barenpark and Imhotep, whilst BlueOrange hold the rights to some of the most popular games in recent years. With that said, when I first laid eyes on Cloud City, it occurred to me that there was a frighteningly high possibility that this might be some kind of dexterity game – a genre that I generally dislike with a pretty high degree of passion.

Thankfully, Cloud City is not a dexterity game, but you do need to be quite dextrous to play it! What you’ll be doing here is simply alternating turns to draft (or draw) tiles that each contain two buildings in any of three colours – blue, green and brown. You’ll then place that tile into your own plan (a 3×3 grid in three and four player games, or a 4×4 grid in two player games) and place the plastic buildings that match the colour printed. As an optional step, you may then use walkway pieces to connect two buildings of the same height – the longer the connection, the higher the value.

This continues until each player has drawn an equal number of tiles and placed them into their city, and everyone has placed the walkways between buildings that they want to. The winner is the player who has scored the most points by connecting up their buildings using the walkways at the end of the game in most cases, although there are also some opportunities to gain further endgame scoring my meeting the criteria on randomly chosen objective cards, should you choose to use them. Whilst these aspects do add some new considerations, there are no changes to the base rules and the game remains very simple.

Personally, I felt that there is a simplistic joy to be had with games like Cloud City, even if they are not strictly my cup of tea. This is without doubt a very simplistic game, with no hidden scoring criteria, no extremely clever long-term strategizing and no way to influence your opponent unless you look really hard into the meta when choosing from the three face up tiles that they might choose, and hate draft intentionally (effectively an impossible idea here.) That said, the choice of tile drafted and the orientation in which you place it into your city is key, and each turn is harder than the last as you see your opportunities either dwindle or come together just as you had hoped.

As I said, there is no dexterity element in the gameplay, but I couldn’t help knocking over buildings and making all kinds of clumsy errors when weaving together my cities, which is in spite of the buildings and other pieces in Cloud City all being of a decent enough size. Players with big hands or who are generally clumsy should therefore consider whether that’s the kind of thing they can take before investing in Cloud City. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the colour palette used for the buildings – blue, green and brown seems an odd mix, and considering how large and nicely detailed the buildings are, the end result is a bit more sombre than I would have liked.

Despite these reservations, which are minor, Cloud City comes through in a couple of major ways for me. First and foremost, it is simple enough to learn and play that my eldest daughter (six) can play it with me and she doesn’t struggle with the concept at all. Like me, she does struggle with linking the towers because her hand to eye coordination isn’t fully developed, but in her case, that’s completely understandable and the game actually does a valuable service in assisting her fine movements. Younger players like my daughter might struggle to have the vision to connect some of the longest reaching “walkways” but then again adult players often miss those opportunities too since they involve thinking three or four tiles ahead.

Cloud City is much simpler than either of the two other games from Phil Walker-Harding that I mentioned earlier, and I suspect as a result it won’t achieve the same classic status. Nonetheless, it’s a fun and interesting addition to any collection, and if the idea of city planning on this relatively small, brief scale (each game is perhaps thirty minutes at most) appeals to you, then Cloud City is worth a look. For me, it’s not a game that I would rush to with my own adult gaming group (should we ever reconvene) but it is a game that I’ll play with my children and immediate family.

*** 3/5

A copy of Cloud City was provided by CoiledSpring Games for review.
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