Ahead in the Clouds – Kickstarter Preview

I’ve been a fan of Button Shy Games for a while, and am a member of their Patreon-based Board Game of the Month club. Throughout 2016, they’ve been releasing monthly “wallet” games with the current plan being to continue doing so until 2017, when they will start offering quarterly campaigns featuring three games at a time. The wallet games are small, easily portable, and cover a range of styles & themes.

October’s campaign is for Daniel Newman’s Ahead in the Clouds, an interesting game of card movement & resource management that will be available on Kickstarter starting this Tuesday, in a campaign that will run until October 12th.

Overview

Ahead in the Clouds is set in the fantastical world of Empacta Skies, whose inhabitants scavenge dust and water vapor from the atmosphere is an effort to produce valuable resources, in particular clean air which is in short supply. Designed by Daniel Newman and illustrated by Bryan Fischer, the game plays in around 20 min or so, as two players collect and convert resources, vying to be the first to complete valuable contracts and thus be the most successful at getting Ahead in the Clouds.

Made up of just 18 cards, the game comes in one of Button Shy’s signature wallets making it exceedingly portable. Players will need eight markers to play the game – either they can supply their own (pennies are suggested) or they can obtain the deluxe edition of the game, which includes tokens to mark the round progression and completed contracts. The regular edition costs $10 while the deluxe one is just $3 more. Along with the aforementioned markers, the deluxe tier also comes with a couple of character cards that provide unique goals for those of us who like a little asymmetry.

Gameplay

Each player has 3 action points to spend on their turn and can use them to activate buildings to get or convert resources, disconnect their habitat from the network, or cloudburst (ie. break up everything in the network, forcing both players to rebuild their connections). In addition, the active player can connect buildings to their habitat & complete contracts freely without spending any action points.

It’s the small details that mix things up & add tension. You can activate any building you can reach, but if your path goes through your opponent’s habitat, then they benefit. You have to flip over some buildings after you use them, changing their effect. And, at the end of some rounds, a blimp shows up to collect resources from both players, and if you can’t pay then you have to take your token off of a completed contract, making it available once again to your opponent.


The game consists of eight rounds of three actions apiece, and once the last blimp has been paid at the end of the last round, the player with the most completed contracts is declared the winner.

One thing of note: we did find it tricky to track how many actions we’d taken, as there can be a number of free actions during a turn. We actually stole an idea from Akrotiri, and used three larger coins as action markers, passing them to our opponent as we used them in order to keep track. If you’re adding pennies or other tokens to the game anyway, I’d suggest doing the same.

Why I’m Backing

I will say it right up front, I’m not typically a micro-game fan. I’ve found most that I’ve tried to be lacking, with the notable exception of Tides of Time. But Ahead in the Clouds escapes many of the criticisms I usually level at this type of small game.

The flipping of special buildings after each use adds variety without adding cards, and forces you to adjust your plans accordingly, in order to take advantage. The game uses cards to track resources, but I was really impressed with how cleanly they pulled the tracking off (and didn’t require me to overlap cards to track, which is a personal pet peeve). And, most importantly, the game has real depth. You have to carefully manage your actions to efficiently grab the contract you want before your opponent sneaks it out from under you, leaving you with a pile of the wrong resources. It’s a battle of wits without being mean about it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the moments when I had to weigh up letting my opponent benefit vs. cloudbursting & rebuilding the entire network, just to avoid going through his habitat. It’s a game I can see staying in my collection for sure.

If you’re a fan of resource-management games, definitely check this one out. It’s a surprisingly deep experience in a tiny package, letting you scratch the Euro itch when you don’t have time to pull out a larger game.

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