1-4 players, Competitive, Post-Apocalyptic Campaign Euro
Designer: Alexander Pfister, Arno Steinwender
Artwork: Christian Opperer
Publisher: Capstone Games
Release Year: 2020
I remember this one popping up on my radar primarily due to the theme. I always enjoy a good post-apocalyptic romp and this one sounded rather unique in the design department. Controlling air ships, taking to the skies in an effort to push back against these rebel militia groups. The idea that there was a campaign involved as well also intrigued me. Read on to capture my overall thoughts of the game as a whole!
Overview of Gameplay
The game is setup to either be played as a campaign through multiple chapters OR as one off scenarios for those that don’t want to deal with campaign mumbo jumbo when playing with random groups. Much of the meat of the game is incorporated into the campaign however so I would suggest to at least go through it once. There are three scenarios that can be played as well which basically take what the campaign offers and breaks it up into one-off games.
Let’s start by talking a bit about the campaign, don’t worry there are NO SPOILERS in this review for those wanting to experience the story themselves. During the initial setup and separation of the components when you first open the box you are instructed to place certain tiles and cards into a specific plastic bag. These are the ongoing campaign components that you will slowly pull from during the overall campaign. You see as you progress you will add new cards and tiles to your future games which will then become available. I found this aspect of the game very exciting as it always gave me a reason to come back and progress. In fact, I just left my game up on my table for days on end continuously returning to play the next chapter of the campaign to see how the new additions would affect the game, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The first two chapters of the campaign are meant to be an intro to the game mechanics so not everything the game has to offer is available. Once you arrive to chapter 3, all the glorious mechanisms are on display and new story elements start to get introduced. Because of this, more seasoned players may want to start directly on Chapter 3, but, I would suggest starting from the beginning if you are interested in the story. It’s really a lot of fun to experience everything unlocking from the beginning.
As for the gameplay there are three main phases with players simultaneously performing some and taking turns on others. The first phase has players checking the game progress and seeing if they activate the “book” action which is different every game based on the campaign progression or scenario played. This usually has players gaining some resource or points based on certain quadrants. Next, players can choose to pay energy to gain water based on where they reside on the production board and finally each player will draw 2 cards from their navigation deck. These decks are identical per player at the beginning and change over the course of a game based on a players actions. Of the two cards drawn, the lower numbered card is the amount of energy OR project cards that player can acquire and the higher number of the two cards is the amount of movement that player gains for the next phase.
This next phase has players taking turns moving their airships around the board hitting up settlement after settlement and possibly collecting resources and doing battle with the CLOUD militias. As I mentioned before, you will have a base movement of the higher numbered of the two cards drawn in the first phase and then you can gain more movement depending on your played project cards and other areas such as improvements made to your airship board. The key point here is that you HAVE to end your movement in a settlement region which is denoted buy the clouds on the boards. Whether you do battle with the militias is entirely up to you. Each region will have a battle number amount on it and a reward. Now, starting our each player has a ZERO combat rating BUT you can always gain combat points by spending energy and drawing from your navigation deck. The first card you draw costs one energy and every card after that costs two energy. Again, it’s up to you if you want to spend your energy towards possibly winning the battle and gaining the rewards (usually water). Later on you can upgrade your ships combat rating with upgrades and progress cards so you won’t have to spend as much or possibly any energy to combat. After all that is complete you will drop one of your progress cubes on the settlement showing that you visited which doubly acts as a reminder that you CANNOT visit and battle again and the current round of the game you are on.
The last phase is where players will take turns performing a main action each and follow-up actions. The three main actions are: Collecting Resources, Building/Upgrading, Planting New Growth. Let’s go through these a bit to give you a better idea of how this works. When a player takes the “Collecting Resources” main action they place their “drone” peg on a particular place under one of three card possibilities depending on what resource they are trying to collect: water, project cards, energy or metal. In a nutshell let’s say they place on the water spot. They will collect the card above that space and take the amount of water the card lists and then add that navigation card to their navigation discard pile for use later. There is a lot more to it than that though as players cannot see what resources are on offer on each card as the cards are all in these nifty cloud sleeves that keep the resource amounts hidden. The only thing visible is the number the card offers for future draws, for example a card numbered “four” would be highly valuable for future draws as it would either give you more movement or resources when drawn during the first phase.
After the main player (player with the first player token) takes this action, each other player in player order can take a follow-up action pertaining to this main action. This would consist of each player also placing on one of the remaining resource spaces and gaining whatever resource is on the card the main player drew. After each player takes a follow-up action, then the next player in turn order can take ANY main action with each OTHER player also taking follow-up actions. And that is the basic premise behind this entire phase with each player taking a main action followed by follow up actions.
The next main action is “Building/Upgrading” where players will be playing the project cards from their hands and/or upgrading parts of their airship. During this action the main player can take TWO of these actions, playing project cards costs water and another project card to be discarded and these babies will do all kinds of glorious things for them. From upping their speed and combat values to gaining them resources and VP’s plus more. By upgrading the main player can pay metal to flip an upgrade tile on their ship which equates to increasing speed or combat or growth placement and also adds a bit of end game VP’s into the mix. For the follow-up every other player may take ONE build or upgrade action.
The last main action is to Plant New Growth. This action allows the main player to play a certain number of Growth tiles that they have collected. These tiles come in two varieties, score tiles that you gain VP’s from and actually place on the board and resource tiles that you gain a certain amount of resources from and place back in the tile draw bag. This is a highly lucrative main action as you can score bookoos points and resources by placing tiles on the board covering other resource spaces. The follow-up to this action is the same as the follow up to the Build/Upgrade action, just taking a single build or upgrade.
Play will continue like this until after the last round cube is placed at which point players will tally up their total points based on project cards played, upgrades to their ship, mission card points and a few other areas. Whoever has the highest score wins the scenario/campaign game and in the case of the campaign also gets to read the next bit of story on the back of the campaign card. There is also a spot in the back of the instruction manual where you tally the points and write which player won and depending on their score will reward them with a certain star amount if you want to track these.
The components aren’t bad with the cards having a nice linen finish and the tokens being made of wood. There are some sleeves that come with the game that you are expected to place these cloud stickers on both sides that can be a beast as the stickers fit EXACT. So, you have to be very careful to place them perfectly. Some of the wooden tokens also have stickers that need to be affixed which look great AFTER the fact. Personally though, I despise stickers in games. One of my top most annoying moments in board gaming actually comes from the excellent game, Village. Stickering the insane amount of meeples in that game was mind numbing to the max. Now, this game isn’t ANYWHERE near Village levels but stickers have always been a letdown for me when incorporated into components like this.
The game board itself is comprised of four double-sided game boards that can be flipped to present a slight variant to your games. They don’t take up much space on the table alongside the production board and the city board either. Overall, I think the boards work well and are pretty unique additions to the game. Especially when you start adding the campaign tile pieces to the game board, modifying it even further.
The box itself fits easily on a standard Kallax shelf, that said, it’s a letdown in the storage solution department. There is a throwaway plain white “insert” if you could even call it that, which was crushed beyond recognition by the components. I plucked it out readily and tossed it as it literally served zero purpose to keep anything organized. Everything will need to be bagged up, luckily the game does provide players with extra baggies for this purpose which is always appreciated. I will say there are not THAT many components to organize so the game still doesn’t take very long to set up even without a proper storage solution. Still, I always prefer better organization for my games.
Visual Appeal /Theme
As most of you probably know by now I go wild for an interesting theme in a game and this one is no exception. From the cover artwork on the box to reading the bit of story on the front of the rulebook this one already had me hooked. I love the font used and even though the color palate is mostly orange hues, I think it all comes together really nicely. I mean, before even playing the game, just having it setup on the table looking at it gets me excited. The airship meeples hovering across the wasteland planting new plant growth and battling enemy militias is a really fun thought! The idea of upgrading your airship to make it more combat effective or move further or even plant even MORE plant growth is also an alluring idea. And all these ideas come together perfectly to match the theme!
I already touched on the navigation cards a smidge earlier but wanted to point out just how awesome these cards are. The way the artwork is used to enhance the gameplay mechanic is something I haven’t seen before in a game and it very quickly became my favorite aspect of Cloud Age. You see, when a player takes the Collect Resource main action during phase three, they have the option of picking between one of the four available resources. The cool part of this is you don’t 100% KNOW how much of said resource you will gain as the cards are hidden behind these cloud stickers on the sleeves they reside in. BUT, you can gain an idea of this by the artwork around the edges of the cloud that you can see! There might be a large body of water or more than the other two sets of visible-ish cards so that might be a nice card to snatch if you are needing water for example. I just love the way they incorporate the artwork on the cards into an interesting and fun game-play mechanic.
The rulebook isn’t great. It’s short but the way it explains a lot of things just come off more confusing than helpful. Coming into the game for the first time you will be presented with a couple options on how to even play and these options are not easy to figure out how to get into. For example, it says for your first game it is recommended to play either Chapter 1 or Scenario 1 but nothing really explains what the difference is between a “Chapter” and a “Scenario” and the way the cards are bundled together REALLY doesn’t help this matter either. SO, the VERY first thing you need to do is unwrap all the cards and sort them out….which is even more confusing as there are specific cards that will be placed into a specific bag because they are a part of the “legacy” aspect that get revealed as you progress through the campaign. It gets even more confusing as you will have specific tiles that are also legacy tiles, which also need to go into that bag.
Once you get everything sorted, hopefully correctly, there is a nice setup 2-page spread that walks you through exactly how to setup both Chapter 1 or Scenario 1. And just when you think all the confusing rules are finished the very next 2-page spread has ANOTHER setup! This one is even more confusing as it lists a setup for Chapter 2?! What, so there’s a different setup for EVERY chapter? No way Jose. Looking at that second setup section there are also highlighted spots that say, “Changes for Chapter 2”. HUH? So, this is a setup for chapter 2………..with changes for chapter 2…that makes no sense…….EVENTUALLY you will figure it out but that’s just my point. The setup sections and the way everything is presented is done rather poorly and MUCH more confusing than the actual game itself.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Much of the first half of each round are simultaneous as players are focusing on their own cards and resources, there is a bit of a movement order as you can’t stop in the same spot as another player. The real player interaction comes with the action phase when players each take a main action followed by follow-up actions from each other player. This round will keep everyone busy collecting cards and resources or building upgrades or planting new growth. There’s a bunch of busy bodies abound here! Actually, this particular section of the game gave me pause the first couple times I played as it really seemed odd to me that EVERY player got a main action as well as follow-up actions. I mean thinking about it, it almost made the point of even having a first player token pointless since EVERYONE got to take a main action every round regardless. Then I played a few more games and it started to dawn on me.
The main point I was missing was that each player could take a resource of their choice if they cannot or choose not to do the Build/Upgrade action, which is the most prevalent follow-up action. So, each round players are all simultaneously snatching up resources or playing their project cards or upgrading for the follow-ups and since those are the only options for follow-ups it all works in perfect harmony. This allows the game to flourish much quicker with new growth being planted on the board and new cards coming out much more often.
Even though this is a competitive game there are ZERO take-that mechanisms. Player’s are still trying to be the most efficient in their gathering and movement but there is no player vs player combat. Speaking of combat, during the regular gameplay you will experience combat with the CLOUD militias that are hanging on in every settlement that you have to end your movement in. Now, these are optional combat triggers so you can choose NOT to battle them……Buuuut it would behoove you to take them on as you can gain precious resources for the measly cost of some energy. They are super simple, just check your combat rating based on your upgrades/project cards (you start at 0) and if it equals or is above the number on your settlement then you win! If not you can spend 1 energy to draw a single navigation card to up your combat by the card number drawn. If you STILL don’t get there you can continue to draw navigation cards for 2 energy each adding up the total amount drawn until you either run out of energy or decide to quit.
Now, all that said I could see the basic scenarios in this game getting rather dry after a few plays. There are three included scenarios, one of which actually removes one of the three main actions so after one pay of that you probably won’t want to play it again as it lessens the overall experience of the game. Of the other two scenarios, one tosses ALL the legacy tiles and aspects into the game for a 100% complete experience and the other is kind of in-between. The campaign is VERY fun to play through the first time. It also starts out similarly to the first scenario where you don’t actually use the third “Plant Growth” main action in the first two chapters but it’s setup in such a way to incorporate the story and as a tutorial to ease new players into the game better. I enjoyed it quite a bit actually and think it’s an excellent way to teach the game, HOWEVER, I found the first couple games I played VERY dry without that third action. Once you get to chapter 3 and open the game up completely and start unlocking the fun little legacy tiles and extra cards, this game is so much more enjoyable.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Since most of the game is simultaneous the rounds are lightning fast, indeed, the game is only 8 rounds as it is so it’s not a long game by any means. Because of this I think you would be fine all the way up to the 4 player count with very little downtime. That said, I prefer the 2 player count personally as the back and forth is quite fun and the action phase is a bit less overwhelming keeping track of the main/followup actions. There is also a solo mode built into the game but I haven’t had the opportunity to play through that as of yet but I can tell you the victory conditions of the solo mode are based around reaching a certain score point total.
The replayability is rather high here primarily because of the campaign addition to the game. In fact, the campaign seems to BE the main meat of the game with the scenarios being more of the addition. There are seven chapters to the campaign, two of which are more of a tutorial. There are choices to be made and certain missions to be accomplished which will change which cards are added or read to the overall game. Each new chapter will add new tiles to the board that keeps each progressive game fresh and exudes a strong desire to play again. Once you complete the campaign and have seen everything you can then play the scenarios going forward with everything added for future plays if you wish. The game boards are also double-sided to change up the boards a bit and you can mix and match those however you want.
Positive Final Thoughts
The campaign is VERY fun and the theme is super on-point. The mechanics all work very well together and a HUGE shout-out to the extremely fun resource collection main phase action. Beyond the interesting method in which you utilize the artwork, there is also the consideration of the number on the card and the amount of greenery tiles you might be able to collect. There is a lot to think about with that simple action and on top of that, IT’S FUN. The way the sleeves work is just awesome.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook needs some work. For a game with a great gameplay tutorial to go through, the rulebook is terrible at explaining how to get to that point. Basically, the rulebook needs a tutorial. The lack of a good storage solution so you have to bag up everything is a bummer as well.
The Bottom Line
I came into this game rather apprehensive because unlike most people I’ve encountered, I’m not the biggest fan of Pfister’s designs. I didn’t much care for Great Western Trail and Blackout Hong Kong fell flat with me. That said, I enjoyed this one quite a bit! Of all his games I’ve played this is my favorite, it’s for sure lighter in complexity than most of his other games and perhaps that’s why I like it more. Because of the interesting campaign this is one that I feel will be brought up many more times to play. This is the perfect gateway game for those wanting to slowly dip their toes into the more strategic complex style games. It’s easy enough to get into with the mechanics and not super deep which is both a good thing for newer gamers and negative thing for veteran gamers looking for a deeper experience.
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