The Sky is the Limit: A Cloud City Review
One of the best feelings in board games is looking down at the end of a board game and seeing the sum of your efforts. Your big pile of cash in Monopoly, your conquered nations in Risk- that completely arbitrary pile of bits and bobs that signifies your superiority over the other players. Some of my favourite games are emblematic of this principle- Patchwork, Tiny Towns, and Kingdomino, for example. These games are all about building and planning- fitting different pieces together in the most efficient way to maximize your points. Every decision impacts your long-term strategy, every mistake comes back to haunt you. Cloud City is very much typical of the genre in these ways. It’s not the most complicated or clever puzzle, but what really sets it apart from other tile-laying games is the pieces. You’re not placing cardboard tiles, you’re building a little 3D future city. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s the coolest thing you COULD build in a board game.
Welcome to the Windy(er) City
The premise of the game is fairly unique; you and the other players are city designers building models of a proposed city project- the designer whose model gets the most votes from city council will be the winner of the game. Thank goodness the members of city council are unified in their passionate appreciation of one thing and one thing only- skywalks between buildings. They go absolutely buck-wild for them. More bridges, as many as possible, and the bigger the better! This entire game quickly becomes a 3D spatial puzzle as you try to separate buildings of the same height as far as possible on the 6x6 grid of your city. Once the bridges start going over and under each other, you’re quickly left with a spiderweb of buildings and bridges that is an absolute delight to detangle.
It's like a maze that you build for yourself. Which makes it more frustrating than a regular maze!
The game itself is relatively simple. You have a hand of cards that you’ll play from in order to assemble your city. Each card is a 2x2 grid that will have two buildings on it- you’ll orient it however you want and you’ll play the cards into a 3x3 pattern for a total of thirty-six spaces you’re going to cram full of as much public architecture as possible. You begin with one card on the table and three cards in your hand. Every turn you’ll play one card, put the appropriate colour-coded buildings on it, and connect any walkways you can. Each building can only support two walkways, so as your city sprawls out from its original card, visualizing how your city will work quickly becomes a demanding task- especially when you factor in the third dimension that makes this game so unique.
Imagine this, but with plastic buildings and tears.
I think the only real complaint about this game would be that it could get stale after a while- you find a winning stratagem and you stick to it tirelessly, building the same efficient city because it scores the most points. The designer was a couple steps ahead of me though- Cloud City features an advanced variant where you can score bonus points for fulfilling specific requests from city council. There’s a small deck of cards you can add to the game- these cards will give you points for achievements like completing circuits, having the most buildings of a certain colour, or employing minimalist design. Conversely, you might lose points for crossing walkways or having building with no walkways at all. You can optionally choose to draw one or two of these cards at the start of the game, and they really help keep things fresh and engaging on repeat plays.
Cloud City might not be breaking any new ground, but it is absolutely loaded with style and aplomb. The components are top notch, the table presence is off the charts and all the pieces are stored in a first-rate tray that means setting up takes literal seconds. Trying to imagine the 3D layout of your city as you plan it definitely flexes a very particular brain muscle in a very enjoyable way, and you feel the weight of every decision you make. Cloud City is an extremely solid game that hits that amazing sweet spot that Blue Orange Games is so great with- it’s appealing to kids, and simple enough for them to understand, but the strategy is enough to keep adults engaged. Easy to learn and difficult to master is one of the best things a game can be, and for that reason, I think Cloud City is an excellent addition to any game collection.