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Subject: Performing Spectacular Feats of Stratospheric Skill… rss

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Mitch Willis
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Kathleen
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Overview
Balloon Cup is a card game for two players, with a balloon racing theme pasted on. Stephen Glenn is the designer and it’s published here in the U.S. by Rio Grande; it’s another in the line of Kosmos 2-player games. Players earn trophies by competing over several balloon hops. The first player to win a majority of the trophies wins the cup. Our games have typically taken between 30 and 45 minutes, although a couple of the more closely fought ones have run close to an hour. When Balloon Cup burst on the scene in 2003, it did very respectable among the awards. It won GAMES Magazine’s Best 2-Player Award and was nominated for several others including the Spiel des Jahres, IGA, and a la carte.

Out of the Box
Balloon Cup comes in the typical compact Kosmos 2-player game box, along with 45 balloon cards, 45 victory cubes, 5 trophy cards, 1 bag, 4 large balloon hop tiles, and a set of rules. The 45 cards and cubes are broken down by color in the same proportion (13 red, 11 yellow, 9 green, 7 blue, and 5 gray); there’s also one trophy card for each color as well. The cards are made from pretty good stock and the cubes are your basic little wooden blocks found in many Eurogames. The balloon cards of each colors will have values somewhere in the range of 1 to 13; while the red cards will contain all values between 1 and 13, the grey cards will contain only the 1, 4, 7, 10, and 13 values. The trophy cards all show a trophy along with a colored balloon with a value of from 3 to 7; the number represents the number of cubes of that color needed to claim the trophy. The sturdy tiles are numbered from 1 to 4 and are double-sided; one side shows a valley while the flip-side shows a mountain. The cards and tiles are nicely illustrated to complement the balloon theme.

Set Up
Place the four balloon hop tiles in a row/column between the two players, with tile #1 on its valley side, #2 on its mountain side, #3 valley, and #4 mountain. Place the 45 cubes in the bag and mix ‘em up. Randomly draw cubes from the bag and place a number of cubes on each tile equal to the number of the tile. Shuffle the balloon cards and deal each player 8 cards as a starting hand; the remaining cards will form a draw deck. Place the trophy cards face up, close at hand. Select a random player to start.

Game Play
On your turn, you’ll place a card from your hand face up next to the tile of your choice. You may place the card on either your side or your opponent’s side of the tile. The card you place must match the color of one of the cubes on the chosen tile. For example, say you choose to place a card on the 2nd tile and it had a grey and a blue cube; you could play either a blue card or a grey card on either side of the tile. However, if the side you chose to play on already had a grey card, then you could only play a blue card on that side. You must play a card if at all possible. If not, you must show your hand to your opponent, discard up to 4 cards and draw back up to 8. Once you successfully place a card, you draw a new one and play passes to your opponent. Once the deck is depleted, shuffle the discarded cards to form a new draw deck.

Once a tile has the appropriate number and color of cards on both sides of a tile, the values of the cards are totaled to see who claims the victory cubes on the tile. If the tile is a valley tile, then the one with lowest total value wins the cubes while the mountain tile’s cubes will be awarded to the highest total value. For example, say the #4 tile is on its valley side and has 2 red cubes, 1 yellow, and 1 green. On your side of the tile, you have the red 5 card, along with the red 3, the yellow 1, and the green 1 giving you a total of 10; your opponent has the red 1, the red 4, the yellow 11, and the green 7, a total of 23. Since the tile is a valley, low score wins so you’d claim the 4 cubes. Once the cubes are claimed for a tile, the cards played for that tile are discarded, the tile is flipped to its opposite side, and the appropriate number of cubes are randomly drawn from the bag and placed on the tile.

There may come a time near the end of the game where there are not enough cubes in the bag to fill a tile. If this occurs just remove that tile from the game and continue on.

Claiming Trophies and Endgame
Once you have the required number of cubes of a color (3 for grey, 4 for blue, 5 for green, 6 for yellow, and 7 for red), you put that number back in the box and take the trophy card for that color. Place the trophy card face up in your area; once won, you cannot lose it. You can still continue to collect cubes of that color even though that trophy is no longer available; you can later exchange 3 cubes of that color for one cube of another color.

The game ends once a player has won 3 of the possible 5 trophies. That player is recognized for “…performing spectacular feats of stratospheric skill never before attempted by civilized man…” and becomes the newly crowned Wizard of Oz…err…I mean…Balloon Cup champion.

Observations
Being a game where cards are dealt and cubes are drawn, there’s quite a bit of randomness present. However, having four tiles to play against, as well as being able to play on either side of the tiles, mitigates the chance factor a little. And while the strategy is straightforward (play good cards on your side, play bad cards on your opponent’s side), there are still enough decisions to keep it fairly interesting. Luck, while ever present, is usually not overwhelming, making for a game with a balanced mix of chance and hand management.

Throughout the game, there’ll be times where you’ll want to play against two or even three tiles. Since you can only play against one tile at a time, you’ll have to determine which one is the best play at the time. You’ll have to base this on several factors. You’ll need to look at the tiles, cards, and cubes that are in play. It won’t hurt to be aware of the cards that have been discarded as well, so you can estimate which ones are readily available. Also, consider the current status of both yourself and your opponent (number of cubes/trophies won, how close to getting another trophy). Keeping these things in mind should help you figure your best play.

One issue you need to be aware is a situation in which it is impossible to complete the game. This was not addressed in my ruleset, but is addressed at the Rio Grande web site. Although it’s not likely to happen, it is possible that players can’t complete a hop due to the distribution of the cubes on the tiles. For example, say you randomly drew 3 grey cubes and 1 red cube for tile #4. There are only 5 grey cards in the game and since there would need to be 3 grey cards on both sides (6 total) of the tile, that tile could never be tallied. The fix (as per Rio Grande) is that you should have no more than 2 grey cubes, 3 blue cubes, 4 green cubes, 5 yellow cubes, and 6 red cubes in play at any one time. I’ve played numerous games and I’ve seen it happen just once; it didn’t affect our game since we knew about the fix beforehand and performed an immediate re-draw.

Conclusions
While it can be a bit prone to luck, I still enjoy a game or two of Balloon Cup every now and then. As is the case with most of the Kosmos 2-player games, it plays reasonably fast, it’s simple but not mindless, and it’s fun; overall, it’s a solid introductory game. And while playing on both sides of the tiles gives it a touch of “take that,” it’s one of only a handful of games that my wife will play with me. I currently rate Balloon Cup a “stratospheric” 7.
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Jeff Timothy
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otha62 wrote:
Overview


Game Play
On your turn, you’ll place a card from your hand face up next to the tile of your choice. You may place the tile on either your side or your opponent’s side of the tile.


Just a heads up, you made a typo. Should read "you may place the CARD on either your side or your opponent's..."

Otherwise Great Review!
Thanks!
Jeff.
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Mitch Willis
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Kathleen
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JeffTimothy wrote:
otha62 wrote:
Overview


Game Play
On your turn, you’ll place a card from your hand face up next to the tile of your choice. You may place the tile on either your side or your opponent’s side of the tile.


Just a heads up, you made a typo. Should read "you may place the CARD on either your side or your opponent's..."

Otherwise Great Review!
Thanks!
Jeff.


Thanks, Jeff. I've corrected the typo...
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