Designer: Aaron Weissblum (1999)
Publisher: Out of the Box
# of Players: 3-6
Play Time: 30 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #853/6.26
Category: Family Game
I’ve been vaguely aware of Cloud 9 for a long time, but based on its artwork and seeing it played a time or two, I sort of had the impression that it was going to be a bit too light and silly for me to really enjoy. When Out of the Box was kind enough to send me a review copy, however, I found out that my initial impression wasn’t necessarily correct.
Game Basics (click here for complete game rules)
Cloud 9 is all about pushing your luck. Each turn, someone starts off as the pilot of a hot-air balloon. They roll a certain number of dice (from 2-4, depending on how high up it is) and then everyone still in the basket decides whether they want to keep riding (for the possibility of more points) or to jump out and score right then. The pilot then looks at his hand of cards and, if he has them, must play cards to match the colors rolled. If he does not have the required cards, the balloon falls and no one remaining in the balloon scores anything. But if he does have the cards, the balloon rises to the next level (of points and possibly more dice) and the next person (to the left) remaining in the basket becomes the pilot.
The pilot, however, can not choose to jump out of the balloon on most turns. They may only jump out if they are the last remaining person in the balloon, and they have to do so before rolling the dice.
All players draw one more card every time the balloon falls or everyone jumps out. The balloon is then returned to the starting space and all the players jump back in for another ride. Play continues until one or more players hit 50 points.
What I like about this game is that, despite how light it is, there are still some real decisions to make. Passengers in the balloon get to see what was rolled before making their decision to jump. So if only one or two different colors were rolled and the pilot has a hand full of cards, then it’s probably pretty safe to stick it out. But if three of the same color were rolled and the pilot is only holding 4 or 5 cards, then it’s time to go. So in other words, it’s pretty easy to “calculate” how much risk you might be taking when you make your decision.
One other thing that keeps the game interesting are the inclusion of “Wild” cards. If a pilot holds a Wild card, they may (but are not required to) play it instead of playing all the cards required by the dice that turn. So there’s a lot of other little factors about who will become the next pilot, who might be holding a Wild card, and what you will be setting up the next person to do that have to come into your decision each turn.
The first few times I played Cloud 9, I got a little rule wrong. Instead of passing the pilot role around the table each turn, I had the same person be the pilot for one whole balloon trip (until it crashed or everyone jumped out). Obviously, this led to several very short trips early in the game, but also added (in my opinion) some other nice wrinkles. More than anything, it makes the game a little more granular (with scoring in smaller chunks rather than in big payouts) and possibly more interesting.
In the “real” game, there really is no decision about whether or not to jump out until you get up into the 6-10 point range. Because really, a point or two here or there is nothing compared to the possibility of a big score. In this variant, however, a consistent 3-6 points can make a really big difference, because those big payouts are very unlikely. So if you’re looking for a slightly deeper but somewhat longer experience, you might want to try this out, too.
What I think…
Cloud 9 does what it does very well. It’s supposed to be light and quick, and all of our games (with or without the “variant”) have fallen more into the 15-20 minute time frame. You’ve got some information and a basic idea about probabilities with which to make your decisions each round, but it’s not so much that you can really agonize or overthink about what you should do. So really, it’s just a nicely balanced game that uses its push-your-luck core mechanic rather brilliantly.
As a filler, as a family game, or as an adult’s party game, I think that Cloud 9 can hold up pretty well in any situation. If anything, I can’t believe that I wasted so much time with some other push-your-luck games that have either less-significant decisions or just try to be too much for what they are. Cloud 9 just gets it right, and more than anything else, it’s a crapload of fun to play!
Cloud 9 is a simple push-your-luck game that is perfectly appropriate both for families and for use as a filler with hardcore boardgamers.
• Rules: Easy to read and explain (and they apparently work even if you get some little stuff wrong!)
• Downtime: Almost none; very quick turns
• Length: The 30-minute length on the box is an overestimation, ’cause most of my games are under 20
• Player Interaction: Some, but it’s mostly indirect
• Weight: Very Light
• GamerChris’ Rating: This is my go-to push-your-luck filler, and I’d pull it out almost anytime with any crowd. I therefore rate it an enthusiastic 8.
Really, it’s fun… I promise!