Balloon cup is part of the Kosmos line of 2-player games and is designer Steven Glenn’s first published game. The look and feel of the game is wonderful, and there are some interesting ideas present but the lack of choices available to the player prevent this game from soaring.
The theme of the game, as the title suggests, is that of a hot air balloon race. The players are directing balloons over plains and mountains in an effort to claim the most trophies. Trophies are earned by winning the majority of “hops” of a particular race. Each race is designated a different color, and has a distinct number of hops. For example: the grey race has 5 hops, the green race has 7 hops, the blue race has 9 hops and so on.
The theme is not integral to the game play, although I think it does a good job of conveying a sense of lightness to the game, and somehow fits perfectly.
Game play consists of playing a single card to either side of a location tile. There are four of these location tiles that are places vertically between the players, and alternate between plains and mountains. The tiles are numbered 1-4, which specifies the number of hops that are being played for on that particular location. There are small colored cubes that represent each hop (5 grey cubes, 7 blue cubes, etc…). The hop cubes are randomly drawn from a bag and placed on the location tiles. Players then take turns playing a card to either their side of the hop, or their opponents. The player wins the hops on the tile by having either the lowest card total in case of the plains, or the highest card total, for the mountains. The player collects the hops and the card is flipped changing plains to mountain and mountain to plains. Now, because you can play cards to either side at either time, the designation of plains and mountains becomes useless. A 12 played on your side of a mountain has the same exact effect as a 12 played on your opponents side of a plain.
Once a player has obtained the majority of the hops for a given color (3 out of 5, 4 out of 7) that player trades in the hop cubes for a trophy card. The remaining cube of that color may be traded in 3 for 1 for another color, which helps to keep the game interesting.
Most of the strategy is in the end game, as winning a particular trophy may actually allow your opponent to trade in cubes and win the game. It comes down to analyzing the effect of winning the different locations, and playing for the ones that will allow you to win.
The components are all top quality, and the artwork is very nice. Again, the theme really adds to the feel of this game.
This is a light, fun game to be played with your spouse or children. I can imagine a child being fascinated by the artwork and feeling a sense of adventure when playing this game.
It should be noted that the designer’s original rules were changed slightly by the publishers.
1. You may only play a card to your opponent’s side after yours has been filled.
2. No 3-1 trade-ins of hops.
Although I have not tried the game with the original rules, it appears as though the first change would give the game more depth. I think the 3 for 1 trade-ins are essential to the game though. Just imagine that the red trophy has already been won, and there is 1 red hop on the first location tile. Neither player has any reason to try to win that tile, although it could be useful to play a card there when all of the alternatives would help your opponent. What if the first 2 locations were covered with useless tiles, or (very unlikely) the first 3 locations? The trades-ins also add some depth to the end game.
Overall I give this game a 6 out of 10, but it could possibly rise to a 7 with the inclusion of the first original rule.
Congratulations to Steven on his first game.
P.s. I didn’t forget about the lock-up situations, they’ve been covered enough, and I don’t think they are a big deal once you are aware of them.
> It should be noted that the designer’s original rules were > changed slightly by the publishers.
> 1. You may only play a card to your opponent’s side after > yours has been filled.
> 2. No 3-1 trade-ins of hops.
I agree that rule 1. adds more depth. Rule 2 is also worth considering, the 3-1 trade-in can complicate the end game and dilutes the tension a little. It can also create situations where claiming a trophy may actually lose you the game.
Having worthless colours on tiles is not a problem. If a tile is exclusively covered by these cubes, it is still worth playing cards onto these locations to help manage your hand (particularly if using rule 1) or to force the cubes to be taken up by one of the players in order to get new cubes into play.