Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Cloud 9" by Out of the Box Games

I come from a long line of Southern Baptists. My father, preceded by my grandmother, and so on, all preached a strong-armed interpretation of the Bible’s scriptures.

In practical terms, this meant that men were bread-winners, women raised the children and cooked meals, and there was absolutely no work to be on Sundays by anybody. There were other little things, too, like no dancing. To this day, I have yet to see my father dance outside of the one time with my sister on her wedding day.

Imagine my surprise when my father agreed to hit the racetracks. It was about as strange as the Pope licking an ice cream cone at mass. Furthermore, he admitted that he had gone to a track fifty years prior when he was in the army. I guess one gambling venture every twenty-five years falls just short of being sinful.

About an hour into the races, I realized that my dad was good at this. He kept guessing the winning horse. The way he handled our racing catalog, you would have thought this was a religious experience.

His expertise opened some big questions for me. I imagined that he had spent much of his youth on the brink of financial collapse, perhaps meeting my mother who convinced him of a better life. But all he knew was horses, knew how they moved and grunted, knew the winners by the way they twitched their tails. His past, once clear to me, became cloudy and full of intrigue.

But his performance at the racetrack did help explain one thing to me: his uncanny ability to win a game called Cloud 9.

Invented by Aaron Weissblum and published by Out of the Box Games, Cloud 9 is a gambling man’s game, played not with money or horses, but with balloons and a killer instinct.

The object of Cloud 9 is to earn the most points. Points are earned by riding the hot air balloon toward various cloud levels on the game board, the higher the cloud the greater the point value.
Once a player has garnered more than fifty points, the hot air balloon finishes its journey, and the player with the most points wins.

At the beginning of the game, three to six players are dealt six cards apiece. The cards are made up of different colored air balloons (purple, green, red, yellow, and wild). The cards are the only means with which to ascend the cloud levels.

This is where the gambling comes in. The balloon captain must roll dice each turn. The dice have four sides, each with a different colored balloon (which match up to the cards), and two blank sides. Once the dice are rolled, players must decide if that balloon captain has the cards which match up to the dice (a blank side on the dice requires nothing; a single wild card can be discarded in lieu of any amount of cards). If he does, he must discard them, and the balloon keeps going up. If he doesn’t, the balloon crashes down (and starts over). Players may stay in and hope to go up; they may also jump out and collect whatever points are allotted for that cloud. The balloon keeps going up and down until a player passes fifty points.

Great for any age and any mix of players, Cloud 9 is a wonderfully simple family game that delivers a caravan of hoots and hollers again and again. It relies on a system of guesswork and deduction and rewards those courageous enough to go with their guts.

No wonder my dad was so good at it. While playing Cloud 9, he was effectively in "the zone," making his guesses while watching the other players. However, in this arena, we were all in the fun, bluffing a little here, gambling a little there. It was hard to feel bad about losing to my dad when I was having such a good time.

As far as my dad’s past goes, I haven’t come any closer to figuring him out. Maybe it’s just something that’s got to stay between him and the horses. And between him and Him.

Cost: $14.99
Players: 3 to 6
Age: 8 and up
Time to play: 30 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 7
Additional Comments: A great game for any household. Best with 5 or 6 players.

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