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What comes up must come down so you'd better look before you leap.
It's a balloon race straight up through the clouds. Score a few points by jumping out of the balloon onto cloud one or two. Or risk it all for the chance to reach Cloud Nine. You'll need nerves of Nirvana in this rarefied atmosphere of strategy and fun.
How high will you fly in this beautiful balloon? Nine clouds show their scoring value and the number of dice you must roll to ascend to the next level. Players are dealt cards with colors corresponding to those on the dice faces. Put the balloon token on cloud one and you're off! Players take turns in the hot seat, rolling the required number of dice. Others in turn must now decide whether to quit--"jumping off" the balloon and taking their points--or risk points earned so far by gambling that the dice thrower will be able to discard cards matching the colors thrown, in which case the balloon continues to rise. The first to accumulate 45 points wins. That sinking feeling you get is the balloon falling back to cloud 1, when everyone draws an extra card. Anybody got some helium?
Ravensburger have not yet turned into the "If it's there, swallow it" sort of monster that is Hasbro, but since their merger with F.X. Schmid they have been making us work quite hard to keep up with their acquisitions and designer labels. In Germany they publish games under the badges of Ravensburger, F.X. Schmid, Alea and Berliner Spielkarten, each of which conveys a different message--in the mind of the Marketing Director, if not to the rest of us. Shortly before the merger, F.X. Schmid set up a US division and that has now taken on a life of its own by starting a range of games that are aimed at the American market and which the parent company is not publishing in Europe. The first two are Cloud 9 and Knights of the Rainbow, both of which we review this time.
Cloud 9 is a boardgame of the "when do you take the money and run?" variety. The board shows nine clouds, stacked one above the other. Each is worth a number of points, ranging from 1 at the bottom to 25 at the top. The players are passengers in a balloon that is rising through the clouds. On each turn, those left in the balloon (with the exception of the current 'active player') have to decide whether to stay aboard or to get out and claim the points. The balloon then rises or not, depending on cards played by the active player. If it rises, those still on board breathe a sigh of relief; if it doesn't, they crash to earth and score no points. A new journey then begins. This continues until someone has scored enough points to win.
The driving mechanism is four special dice and a set of cards. Each die has two blank sides and one each in red, blue, green and yellow. The active play begins the turn by rolling 2, 3 or 4 of these. The number rolled depends on how high the balloon is. The result--something such as 'one blue, one red'--will be the cost that has to be met if the balloon is to rise. This cost must be met by the active player using cards from their hand. Cards come in four types: the four colours, a powerful joker and something called "pass the barn".
After the die roll, each player who is still on board, beginning with the one to the left of the active player, decides whether to get off or stay. The active player has to stay. Once everyone has made their decision, the active player has to deal with the bill for the next stage of the journey. This involves either playing colour cards in the right combination, or playing a joker (which is enough to meet any bill) or playing a "pass the barn". The result of the latter is to pass the bill on to somebody else. This player now has to take on the role of the active player: first giving the other balloon occupants another chance to leave and then playing appropriate cards of their own.
Once only one person is left on board, they have the option of leaving at the start of each turn, before they throw the dice.
It doesn't sound, from that description, as though there is much here to engage your interest and, to be honest, my initial reaction when I read the rules was one of disappointment. However, the game plays a lot better than it sounds. You will find, once you get started, that there are real decisions to be made and the fear that this is a game that plays itself goes away. With one small exception, players only get new cards at the start of a journey. Consequently, the number of cards in each player's hand will shrink as the journey progresses; while at the same time the likely cost to be met for each new stage will rise. It will also happen that different players will be holding different numbers of cards and this will be a factor in your decision on whether to jump or stay. You know what the dice are demanding, you can see how many cards he is holding, what are the odds? You will also be influenced by the state of the score and the decisions and probable decisions on whether to stay that are being made by your opponents. Then there will be occasions when you have to think not just about the current turn but about what is likely to happen on the next. For example, the dice are with the player on your right, who has eight cards and is faced with a demand for 2 green. The balloon is on the cloud that is worth 12 points. You, on the other hand, are down to four cards. Unless a 'pass the barn' is played, you will be the next active player and, as such, unable to quit the balloon. The next cloud would require you to roll all four dice. Do you settle for the 12 points or not?
The components are on a par with those you would get from the German parent division, with one irritating exception. The 'colour' sides of the dice show an appropriately coloured cloud on a white background. The blue cloud is a very dark blue and the green cloud is a very dark green. From halfway across the table, it is difficult to tell them apart. None of my group suffer from colour blindness, but we were all having problems here. A sign of inexperience in the production division.