Ahead in the Clouds is a 2 player microgame designed by Daniel Newman and published by Buttonshy Games. Up on Kickstarter right now, Ahead in the Clouds endevors to distill a fully-realized resource management Euro game into the tiniest footprint possible. Coming in at 17 cards (the majority of which are really just resource and score trackers), is it really possible for Ahead in the Clouds to be both tiny and deep, both simple and satisfying?
Jess: …Um…Care to elaborate on that?
Jess: Heh, I see what you did there. But I’m not as sold as you are.
Jess: Do the thing and let’s talk about it.
**Kickstarter Prototype Thingie – Gameosity was sent a pre-production copy of Ahead in the Clouds for preview, so all images have either been stolen from their KS or are of prototype components**
Each game of Ahead in the Clouds is played over the course of 8 rounds. Each player has resource tracking cards for the 4 game resources – Water, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Stone. They also have a Habitat in their color. The other buildings in the game, the Vapor Condenser, the Dust Reclaimer, The HydroSplitter, the Bank, and the Magic Portal, all sit in the center of the play-space, initially separate from each other. Over the course of the game, these building cards will be joined to each other in various combinations, giving players access to resources and letting them complete goals (called contracts).
On a player’s turn, they may take 3 actions, chosen from the following list:
- Activate: Use a building to generate or convert resources
- Disconnect: Detach a building from your habitat (leaving all other attachments intact)
- Cloudburst: Detach all buildings in the network. Optionally flip over one of the cards with a ‘swirl’ on it, changing its function
Aside from these three actions, a player can always Connect buildings to one of the 3 roads leading off their habitat (aside from Cloudburst, none of your actions can affect where how your opponent’s buildings are connected); you can activate any building in the network, even those which you are connected to by your opponent’s Habitat.
By altering the layout of the building network and using the production/manipulation abilities of the various buildings, players race to gather the necessary resources to complete the most contracts within the 8 round timer. However, at the end of round 3, 5, and 8, players must also pay the blimp (seriously, that’s a thing) 1, 2, or 3 resources, or else give up a completed contract – which is agony.
Andrew: I found Ahead in the Clouds to be surprisingly tight – those 3 actions are usually barely enough to get things done. Completing contracts is the name of the game, but because of that blimp tax you can’t empty your coffers on key rounds. What helps is connecting your habitat strategically – each habitat can generate either water or stone (depending on what side it’s showing), and when your opponent activates a building by tracing through your habitat, you get to activate your habitat for free. By connecting to resources they will need, you can use your opponent to generate free resources for you off-turn.
Jess: Yeah, I thought that was a really neat part of the strategy. Having to give up a completed contract is brutal, so staying ahead resource-wise is really important. I also loved turns where the plan ‘came together’, and I was able to generate and manipulate resources to meet contract requirements. Nothing feels better than making a big play like that.
Jess: Well, I guess I felt like maybe it was a little too tight. We were generally so focused on getting our contracts fulfilled we didn’t really have time or spare actions to mess with each other by manipulating the shape of the building network, something that I think would have added some spice.
Jess: Yeah, I know. I don’t normally like contention, but without it, Ahead in the Clouds felt like really more of a puzzle than anything else. It was never a bad experience by any stretch and there were definitely some really fun moments, it somehow didn’t capture me, which was a shame because the art is great and the theme, while really optional, is a truly neat one.
Andrew: I get where you’re coming from; the choices are simple, as are the goals. But that’s the essence of the microgame exercise – to distill a big game concept into a small size, and I feel like Ahead in the Clouds does that admirably. The tight nature of the gameplay did make us focus on our own goals, true, but there were plenty of times that we both made use of the Cloudburst and Connect actions to rebuild the network so that the other player had to either spend actions undoing what we did or feed us free resources. True there weren’t a panoply of strategies, but with its 20-minute gameplay window, more options would have complicated things to the game’s detriment.
Jess: Agree on all points, especially on what it accomplishes with its limited components. Just didn’t hook me for some reason. But hey, your skymileage may vary.
Despite its size, Ahead in the Clouds is a complete thought – a truly remarkable feat, given its brevity. And while we are fairly split on it, we both agree that it is really worth checking out the Kickstarter – heck, the full PnP is available there, so you can see if this neat little game is destined for your wallet.
(Gameosity was provided a preview copy for this review. We were not otherwise compensated.)