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Balmy Balloonists is a strategy game in which players compete to be the first to fly their hot air balloons completely 'round the world. It can be played by anywhere from 2-6 players and special rules even permit challenging solitaire games. Balmy Balloonists is designed for players aged 10 to adult and lasts between 15 and 90 minutes, depending on the number of players. Each game contains rules printed in both English and German.
Bits include 6 plastic balloon pawns, one each in red, blue, yellow, white, purple and black, each equipped with a set of three stacking altitude adjusters to match. By this means everyone can tell the current altitude of each balloon, whether it be Low, Medium or High, at just a glance. Players employ chips in three colors to record the all-important levels of ballast, fuel and helium gas. Also included with each set are 2 plastic silver-colored pawns, a storm tile and one hundred text-free cards which comprise the Quadrant, Local Wind, Misfortune and Advantage decks.
The game is played on a polar stereographic view of the northern hemisphere. The main balloon tracks are indicated by latitude bands, essentially, race track lanes around the globe. Between 64 degrees North latitude and 15 degrees North latitude are the main jet locations so there are five "lanes" numbered 1-5. Red longitude lines on the polar view are used to divide the map into four 90 degree regions called Quadrants. The red longitude line running through North America also serves as the start and finish line for all balloons, at least in the main game, although there are rules for many other races as well.
Lanes are further divided by vertical lines to form spaces.
The yellow colored spaces represent Exclusion Zones over which special flying conditions obtain. Each depicts a special image which is related to the corresponding nation. Each image is linked to an Advantage card which confers a special flying privilege.
Other special spaces include mountains over which balloons must strive to fly high. These come in two varieties, Medium and High.
Strategy & Subterfuge
The engine of speed in the game is neither dice nor cardplay, but simply the player's ability to best navigate the given wind situation. Just like real balloonists, players change their altitude by jettisoning ballast or releasing lighter-than-air gas. Cards are used to represent the random local winds by which balloons may change their lane or sometimes that of others. However, ballast, gas and fuel -- needed to fly at the highest altitude -- are finite and if used each turn will not last the entire race. Moreover after having played three cards, players must first use a card on another's balloon. Cards represent the chaos in the system and may also be used to trigger a Misfortune card or even to randomly change the weather in a quadrant. Thus plays on another's balloon may be used to slow down a leader or, conversely, to help a balloon that is lagging, perhaps in exhange for a similar favor in return? Players need to take careful note of resources, positions and card states and not just their own, but also those of their opponents. Also they must not neglect the all-important wind rose which dictates which balloons are currently vulnerable, and which will next be vulnerable. Still to be mentioned are the special Advantage cards which give each player their unique condition, as well as the tricky decision of when to discard them in order to take another player's card off the table. Overall we hope the game offers considerable scope for strategists and tacticians alike.
Balmy Balloonists is a limited-release small production game that, as the name implies, is about racing balloons around the world. True to the theme, the primary strategy to win the race is the proper manipulation of the wind, although there is enough luck and decisions to keep things unbalanced throughout.
The board is a nice looking "top down'' view of the northern hemisphere, and balloons line up in the center of the US and can maneuver in any one of five lanes to cross the Atlantic, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and arrive back home. Balloons can also fly at any of three altitudes. The wind affects balloons differently in each of the five levels, and the altitude determines both wind effects and the ability to pass over mountain ranges. Additionally, there are certain restricted airspace zones that must be avoided without special permission to enter. The board is divided into four quadrants, and each is initially set with a Quadrant Card showing a three by five table to cross reference altitude and lane to determine how far the balloon will move within its lane in that quadrant.
Each player is given a fixed amount of ballast which can be shed to help the balloon rise, gas which can be let out to make the balloon descend, and fuel to help refill the balloon when required. In addition, players hold three Wind Cards that each show how a balloon at each of the three altitudes will be shifted north or south in lanes. On each round, players first play a wind card to possibly change lanes. Next, they shed ballast or let out gas to rise or descend, and then move according to the Quadrant Card. After this, fuel must be expended if the balloon is flying high, or if you are out of gas, and then everyone takes another Wind Card if needed.
Through this simple sequence, shown nicely on each side of the board, a number of decisions must be made and there is good opportunity to cause havoc for others. Managing the limited ballast, gas, and fuel resources is key, although fuel rarely runs out. The best design feature of the game comes from the fact that Wind Cards can either be played from your hand to help yourself, or you can take a previously played card and force it to be played by one of two other players. The two players that can be hit rotate by placing pawns on a center wind rose, which has a point for each of six different balloons. Important to this movement, though, is that in addition to level moves for each of the three altitudes, some Wind Cards can force a player to take a "misfortune card'' or can change the quadrant card. If a balloon is leading, for example, and is in the quadrant ahead, once the wind rose pawn allows this player to be hit they can be struck with misfortune or possibly have their Quadrant Card changed to hopefully make the winds less favorable. When played out of your hand, a Wind Card can be used for its Quadrant Card/Misfortune Card purpose as well, but in this case it affects you (or your Quadrant's card). This kind of interaction is forced because you can only have three cards played from your hand before you must play one of your cards on someone else.
Navigating the right path takes some planning. Initially, each player is dealt two cards that can each be used once during the game. A few cards give permission to fly into otherwise prohibited airspace; others let you make a lane change without waiting for the right wind card, and another lets you fend off some of the misfortunes. Without the permission, flying into a prohibited space is very painful since you must spend gas to ground the balloon, lose a turn, and then launch again. You can also get forced out of the five lane blocks either north or south. Being pushed north from lane one into the Polar Vortex causes you to be pushed back to a pre-defined spot. Getting pushed south from lane five is worse. This puts you in the Equatorial Doldrums, and from here you must hang out until you can use a Wind Card to get yourself back up into a lane. If you don't have the right wind card, this can take a long time and you'll be out of it by the time you get back in.
The race works well and it is hard to get a big lead. It also takes some cooperation to catch a leader, however, since you can't force a card on someone until the wind rose pawns allow it. The wind rose pawns move immediately after someone has a card played on them. So, for example, if Yellow is in the lead but one of the pawns is not on Yellow, I may use my turn to play on someone just to move the pawn to yellow, hoping that someone else forces a misfortune on them. This strategy is risky, though, and often your best move is to do exactly what is best for you at the time.
Balmy Balloonists is a very decent race game but it is not a thriller. The limited and home-spun production give it a nice character, but the table gets awfully crowded with all the cards and the fairly large board. The game excludes indicators to identify each player. Instead, it relies on having players sit opposite the wind rose color that matches their balloon. This undoubtedly saved production money, but in practice the wind rose is hard to see and not even accurate if playing on a rectangular table. Even with the clutter, player markers would help. On balance, though, this is a solid first production effort from Up and Away and it is not unreasonable to think that a major producer will consider this design.