I admit to having a soft spot for this game, because the original version was one of the first German games I was introduced to. When I saw that Out of the Box had reissued it at a very modest price ($12.99 list), I decided to add it to my collection as a light filler and family game.
As I've already noted in another article on this page, the components in this new edition are really fantastic. The balloon basket sitting above the clouds on clear plastic stilts, full of player pawns, is a sight to behold -- rather charming, I think, but my gaming group found it hilarious.
The game falls into the "push your luck" category. Players are dealt six cards, which can be one of four colors, or wild cards that can be used for any combination of color cards. Everyone puts their pawns into the balloon basket, which begins moving up the game board from one cloud to another. For each step, the next player in the circle assumes the role of pilot and rolls dice to determine what cards he or she needs to play to keep the balloon rising. The number of dice rolled increases with altitude, up to a maximum of four. The dice show a different color on four sides and blanks on the other two -- for a blank, no card needs to be played. Then each player other than the pilot chooses whether to bail out, taking the points for the current level, or remain in the balloon in the hope that it will rise to the next, higher-scoring level. If the pilot is unable to play the required cards (or has a wild card but chooses not to play it), the balloon crashes to the ground, none of the passengers receives points, and everyone takes one more card in preparation for the next flight. Play continues until someone has reached 50 points at the end of a flight.
Players who are familiar with the original version will notice one substantial change here: there is no "pass the barn" card allowing you to foist the role of pilot onto another player. When the pilot is to your right and you choose not to bail out, you are always committing yourself to two more lifts -- in the next turn, you'll be the pilot, and you won't be allowed to bail out, unless your pawn is the last one remaining in the basket.
There's obviously not a lot of skill involved here. You can get a rough idea of the likelihood of a successful lift from the cards that have been played (or that the pilot didn't have last time), and those in your own hand. Beyond that, it is simply a matter of how lucky you feel.
Good, simple fun for up to six, and beautifully presented, especially considering the low cost.