Full disclosure: A review copy of Cloud City was provided by Blue Orange Games.
I got a shipment of games from Blue Orange Games, recently! Always exciting, since I think they nicely occupy the family / light strategy niche that I tend to prefer. We tried Cross Clues from them a little while ago, and had fun with that, so I’m excited to see what else there is. Cloud City has been on my radar for a while, yet, so I’m also even more excited to check that one out. Let’s jump right in and see how it stacks up to other things I’ve played!
In Cloud City, you’re seeking to build a sprawling set of walkways above the clouds! You’ve got water walkways, sand walkways, and forest walkways, and they all connect in different ways to various buildings in town. If you’re going to become an upstart architect, you’ve got to make a city worth visiting, and a veritable spectacle! Unfortunately, your local opponents seek to do the same, so you’ll have to outpace them! Essentially, you’re going to be drawing and playing tiles to build a 3 x 4 (or 3 x 3) space and placing buildings on them. As you do, you can build paths to other buildings at the same level. But be careful! Each building can have a maximum of two paths, so don’t overplay yourself early and shut yourself down later! After you play each tile, you draw a new one, and you keep going until you’ve filled out your area. The player with the most points wins! Will you be able to get ahead in the clouds?
Player Count Differences
The major thing is just time commitment, frankly. Three- and four-player games of Cloud City likely take similar lengths of time, just since you play fewer tiles at four, but there are more players. Two likely goes the fastest, but it runs into its own issue, the classic Random Market problem. With a small player count, the market isn’t refreshing quickly enough to get rid of tiles that no player wants, so in certain games players will just end up stuck and drawing from the top of the deck because they don’t want any of the three tiles in the center. It’s annoying, but it happens a reasonable amount of the time. It’s tough, though, because an extra player means that the walkways often run out faster and there’s a longer play time (to say nothing of whether or not those players are prone to analysis paralysis). I generally like games with a random market better if there’s a flush option (or something that allows you to get rid of tiles if nobody is drawing them), but I think the concerns about analysis paralysis and walkways getting taken up are a bigger issue for me than the random market, so I’d probably say I prefer this one at two.
- I tend to recommend thinking one or two moves ahead; you want to make sure you’re always incrementally moving forward, but also leaving yourself space for big scoring plays. As you might guess, you ideally don’t want to be placing a lot of buildings that aren’t connected to other buildings. Getting a good sense of the longest possible path you can build is also helpful, though, so you can try and drop a few 8-point paths and hopefully surprise your opponents.
- Planning ahead is good, but make sure you don’t leave your ultimate play for too long; the 8-point pieces aren’t that numerous and they can be used up fast, especially in higher-player-count games. There are only three of them, after all. If you want all three, you’ve got to get to them quickly. You could potentially get two by your fourth turn, if you play near-perfectly, but you’re also likely to limit some of your future options that way unless you have an essentially-optimal hand and draws. Just keep in mind that you can’t wait on certain pieces forever; I had one player do that in one of my games and he lost pretty badly when the 8 he needed was no longer available.
- In two-player games, you generally don’t see players use up any of the walkways, so go nuts. Yeah none of the previous advice really applies in a two-player game. There are plenty of walkways to go around and only extreme overuse of one length is gonna cause you to experience the pain of “oh that length walkway isn’t available”.
- If you’re playing with the bonus points variants, make sure you’re paying attention to what the citizens want. You can’t just make the same city you would normally make, usually. You may still be able to swing some points, but specifically watch out for the cards that assign negative points in response to certain configurations. That’s how you clown yourself.
- Keep in mind that you don’t always want to place a walkway. This is kind of a nuanced point, but there are times where placing a 1-length walkway may not be ideal, but you can loop back around to that building later and place a much longer / more lucrative walkway. Keep in mind that a single building can have, at most, two walkways, so creating a loop shuts those buildings off, for instance, and you may have options later in the game that are worth more points. Just make sure you don’t forget about them! Any points are, as you might guess, better than no points, in this game.
- Also make room for your tall buildings to cross over your shorter buildings so that you can make better use of the three tiers of your play area. You have to think at multiple levels if you want to be successful, here, and being able to play multiple levels of multiple buildings that connect to other buildings can be huge, score-wise, especially if taller buildings are making long connections over shorter ones for a bunch of points. It can be worth a lot, depending on how you lay the buildings down.
- Don’t lock yourself into one possible tile configuration too quickly. If you do, you’re a lot more predictable and reliant on what tiles you get. It makes you somewhat vulnerable to hate-drafting from your opponents. It doesn’t always happen, but you’d prefer to not give your opponents the option, if you can avoid it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like that the various walkways are all worth the same value, regardless of height. It’s a smart inversion of player expectation (which does annoy me a bit), but it doesn’t incentivize players to be hypercompetitive over specific buildings and tiles. Instead, players are just charting out their own paths and their own flow and ultimately competing with each other on the final outcome. It reduces the negativity of the player interaction since people aren’t always chasing the “most valuable” tile; they instead just want to find / acquire the most valuable tile for them.
- The game looks great once you’ve finished it. Really nice city layout. Games with a 3D component usually turn out this way, but, can confirm; the game looks pretty awesome once you’re done.
- I think this is a game that benefits well from its physicality, and frankly, the tactile parts of the game are really satisfying. I have a bit of trouble laying down some of the walkways, at times, but I think that the physicality of the game does a great job in making it look great, and that its table presence is helped a lot by its height. It’s similar to, say, Everdell or even Flip Ships; both have a nice component that really improves how the game looks on the table, and I really like how it turned out!
- It’s also a pretty fun theme. Who doesn’t want to build a Jetsons-style city above the clouds? We don’t even have to worry about what’s below the clouds, and I’m still not thinking about it now! I think the components benefit the game a lot, obviously, as I mentioned earlier, but having a nice synergy of components, gameplay, and theme is what can turn a good game into a great one.
- At two, it plays decently quickly. It’s not the fastest game in my collection, largely due to the combination of tile-laying and path-building increasing analysis paralysis for a lot of players, but, it can move at a decent clip if you’ve got two players who are largely unaffected by any of that. If your two players both play slowly, well, it’s … going to be a slow game. Not many other ways to say that.
- Not too hard to learn, so I think it’s a nice game for newer gamers. I think the 3D aspects of the game will pull in a lot of new players, too, and it’s not so complicated that someone’s going to be daunted by it. I also think that having all the heights be the same value lowers the complexity for new players so they can just focus on building the city that they want to see.
- I’m a big fan of city-building. It’s just one of my favorite things to do in a game. Loved Sorcerer City for it (still need to review that one, now that I think about it), Sprawlopolis was an absolute blast, I could go on. I just think there’s something very compelling about building up cities in games, and I always jump at the chance to do more of it.
- I particularly like that some of the strategy is non-obvious, especially around walkway placement. It gives you a few things to try and experiment with while you play, and if you see someone do something that you wish you had thought of, you can try and incorporate it into your strategy for the next game, which is excellent. I think players tend to see that a lot in their first few games, especially as they start to experiment with building walkways passing over other buildings and essentially building walkways in the shadow of others. It’s very cool! Big fan.
- Adding in the advanced rules is a good way to mix things up once you’ve played a few games. I like the advanced rules a lot because the request cards essentially force you to pivot your strategies a bit. They don’t require the same flexibility that, say, The Isle of Cats’s end game scoring cards do (since they’re established at the start of the game and don’t change), but they mean that you can’t keep going into games with a city in your mind and just trying to get the tiles to make it happen; you have to pivot your Ideal City so that you can maximize what you hope to score from the cards.
- I’m not entirely convinced that secret hands matter that much in this game. I mean, I suppose I can hate-draft if I know what you have or speculate as to what you need, but it’s a lot of extra overhead (especially when playing online) that, more often than not, I don’t really think about because I have to build my own city, not get into the weeds with messing with yours. I imagine a more skilled player than I could turn that information to their advantage, but, that ain’t me.
- Even a skilled builder will get a bit messed up with placing certain tiles at some point in the game. It can be hard to place buildings, depending on how you’ve built your city. It’s not as bad as Tokyo Highway, for instance, though: if you mess up your city, unless you’ve wrecked it, you still have the tiles and the relative placements of the buildings. The walkways can be pieced back together pretty quickly, as a result.
- High potential for analysis paralysis. I think it’s the path component that throws off a lot of players, but, this game can run long with players who are prone to that sort of overthinking. Between trying to think just enough moves ahead that you’re comfortable placing one of your pieces and trying to get the right tiles and the right paths to score big, this is going to be rough on your AP-prone friends.
- It’s a bit frustrating when the walkways run out. It’s just a “feels bad” sort of moment, especially if you’ve spent a nontrivial amount of time planning out your strategy. I’m not particularly convinced it’s a great thing.
- Though I think that it’s an extremely good idea that all the levels are worth the same, my brain is so used to TALL IS GOOD that I continually overvalue the sand buildings. It’s definitely a “me problem”, but that’s kind of the point of this section (and, I suppose, reviewing in general). It amuses me, but subconsciously I just tend to gravitate towards the taller buildings because I inherently see them as more valuable. I blame Manhattan / High Rise / basically every tower-building game I’ve ever played, probably.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Cloud City is a lot of fun! I’m going to be interested in showing it to a few new players before I say “this is going on my permanent” shelf or something, but I do think it’s got a lot of potential! It’s strategic tile-laying with a bit of additional complexity (but not so much that it alienates new players or so little that it bores experienced players). In fact, it’s an excellent fit for Blue Orange, as a publisher. I’m not convinced it’ll be able to capture the zeitgeist the same way that Kingdomino did, but it exists in a similar strategic space (maybe a bit closer to Queendomino, but not much). I think there are plenty of wise choices in the design, such as making the game really take place on three planes and making those planes all worth the same number of points. Imagine how much more complex the game would be if Sand / Forest / Water walkways had different scoring patterns! It would be interesting, but I’m not sure it would add a ton of additional benefit, unfortunately. Maybe in an expansion; we’ll see. I think Blue Orange, as a publisher, has a good eye for when the physicality of a game is going to help it, and I think it was wise for them to pick up a game that looks as intricate and interesting as Cloud City. It looks great on the table, it’s fun to play, and it’s frankly fun to build. I think there are some things I don’t love, sure, like the potential for analysis paralysis and how I can’t seem to shake my subconscious urge to overvalue the tall buildings, but at least in the latter case we’re all works in progress. My real fear playing this game is that I’m going to knock everything over, but thankfully it’s a bit fault-tolerant. Maybe I’m just anxious. Either way, if you’re looking for a fun game that you can play with new and experienced gamers, though, I’d suggest checking out Cloud City! I had a good time with it.