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The other day, I pulled out Balloon Cup to play with my wife Heather. It had been several months since we played it last – too long. It’s a great little underrated two-player game; in fact I think I actually prefer it over Lost Cities. If I had to find a couple of words to describe it, I would say: elegant simplicity – a great design from Stephen Glenn. I had also recently listened to the interview of Stephen Glenn on the “Garrett’s Games and Geekiness” podcast – a good one, by the way – which tweaked my interest to play this again. We had a good game, and even though Heather lost, she enjoyed it so much that she asked to play it again the next evening.
This game has a decent amount of strategy for what most people call a “light” game. In fact, I think there’s enough that the better player will win most of the time. Now there are games that my wife has been very successful at against me (e.g. Lost Cities), but Balloon Cup isn’t one of them. She was dying for revenge in this second game.
I started out fairly well this time, unlike our previous game, with several cubes (4 yellow, 3 red, 1 gray, and 1 blue) attained by the time Heather accumulated more than her 1 red. It didn’t take long for me to acquire the yellow trophy after that.
Some of my strategy was to:
- Try and acquire the cubes associated with the smaller trophies (viz. Gray, and blue) while letting her feel like she had a chance for the bigger ones, like red.
- Try to get a hop to the point where I knew I would win it but then stop short of completing it. Then I would sit back and focus my efforts on the other hops. This allowed Heather to have to complete the hop I was going to win at least once, being at a point where she could play no other cards on the table.
- Avoid playing any cards on a hop that I knew I had little chance of winning. This is rather obvious I guess.
- Try to play the mid-value cards (5-9 or so) anytime I could on hops that I had a great chance of winning to reserve the high and low cards for hops that needed me to go to further lengths to win.
- Allow Heather to get the edge on hops that had one each of multiple colors and let her complete those, while I focused especially hard on the ones with at least 2 cubes of one color.
As we progressed, Heather actually did a great job of catching up. I got the blue trophy at about the same time she captured the green. Now all that were left were the gray and red trophies. Heather had five red cubes, while I still had the three, but I had two gray cubes.
As the game neared to its end, there were no gray cubes in sight for me to capture. But there was a “low” hop with two red cubes. Suddenly, I recognized a golden opportunity, and not wanting to drive her into the ground TOO hard, I pointed out my best chance at victory to Heather, in case there was anything she could do about stopping it in time. She had already played one low red card against the two-red hop. If I could get her to win this hop, she would have the seven red cubes necessary for the red trophy, but then I could instantly use my three red cubes to count as the last gray I needed for my third trophy. I went ahead and gave her another low card, and by this time, her two cards were low enough that there was nothing further she could do on my side to get me to win it. I played high cards on my side while she tried frantically to salvage something from the other hops, but in the end, she got her red trophy – and I got my sweet victory. It was a dramatic finish to another good game.
And yes, I will let my wife read this session report. I won’t keep ALL my secrets to myself.