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Subject: The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Ahead in the Clouds rss

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Eric Buscemi
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Ahead in the Clouds is the latest in Button Shy Games' line of wallet micro-games, and the first game to be published by designer Daniel Newman. The game is a resource management game for two players in the cloud city of Empacta, where players will be collecting four resources -- stone, water, hydrogen and oxygen -- to fulfill contracts, with the winner being the player that fulfilled the most contracts over eight turns.

The cards which make up the ever-shifting cloud city board include:

1. Each player's habitat, where they will be connecting to other locations in order to collect their goods.
2. Buildings that give basic resources, such as the water-producing vapor condenser.
3. Buildings that convert resources to other resources, such as the hydrosplitter, which converts water into two units of hydrogen and one unit of oxygen.

A player's turn is simple. They get three actions each turn and can do any combination of three available actions, in addition to a few free actions. The actions are:

1. Activate a building to get or convert resources.
2. Disconnect a building, allowing for a connection to a different building.
3. Cloudburst, which separates all connections and allows certain double sided cards to be flipped over, opening up new building activation possibilities.

Connecting to a building is a free action, as is fulfilling a contract. There are only seven contracts, and each can only be filled once, so there is a definite tension in racing to fulfill them first. One complication players must factor into their plans is that after the third, fifth, and final turn of the game, a blimp comes by and taxes the players, taking resources, and if a player cannot pay the tax, they forfeit a contract. Another complication is that if a player needs to travel through their opponent's habitat to activate a building, their opponent is given a free basic resource.

There are more buildings than connections to each habitat, so players must decide when is the best time to connect to buildings they need to activate, and when and how to use their valuable actions to disconnect. Players are also not allowed to go over a limit of seven of any particular resource, so crafty planning and resource management are required to be the most successful industrialist in Empacta.

What is most interesting about Ahead in the Clouds is the designer managed to distill the essence of a resource management Euro game into a board that is made up of only seven cards. The board, and the game, are really tight, and create an interesting series of decisions every game.

Pros: This game has a unique theme complemented by stunning artwork. The design is clear and the iconography is intuitive. The game plays quickly, and does not overstay its welcome at the table. It's a very thinky game in a tiny wallet package.

Cons: This is a perfect information game, and while that will not be a con for a lot of players, that aspect can induce analysis paralysis in others, and hence, my comment about this playing quickly may not be true for this subset of players.

Also worth noting is the basic version of the game will require players to use their own tokens to mark contracts and turns, but there will be a deluxe version available during the Kickstarter campaign that will come with cardboard markers.

Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Ahead in the Clouds from the publisher, but have no financial interest in the Kickstarter they are running for the game.

See more of my board game reviews here, and read my other board gaming thoughts on my blog, The Cardboard Hoard.
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