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BALLOON CUP

Reviewed by Herb Levy

BALLOON CUP (Kosmos/Rio Grande Games, 2 players, about 30 minutes; $19.95)

 

One of the hallmarks of European games is their use of unusual themes. When American game companies do sports, for example, you can generally expect a game based on the Big Four of American sports: baseball, football, basketball or hockey. Not so in Europe. It seems that the sport of ballooning (of all things) has been a fertile source of inspiration. There has been Montgolfière (Winter 1998 GA REPORT) and Cloud 9 (Fall 1999 GA REPORT) to name just two. Now American game designer Stephen Glenn offers his version of this sport in Balloon Cup, the latest in the Kosmos/Rio Grande line of two player games.

Balloon Cup comes small boxed with 45 balloon cards, 5 trophy cards, 4 “hop” tiles, 45 victory cubes (and a bag to hold them) and short, concise rules. The object of the game is to gather up those victory cubes and claim three of five possible trophy cards to win the game!

The four hop cards are double-sided with one side showing flatlands and the other mountains. Each card also carries a number: 1, 2, 3 or 4. The cards are placed in a row between the two players with the land types alternating (flatlands to mountains to flatlands to mountains). One side of the row is the player’s territory; the other side is his opponent’s. Now, these cards are seeded with victory cubes with one cube placed on the card “1”, two cubes on card “2” etc. Victory cubes comes in five colors: (5) gray, (7) blue, (9) green, (11) yellow and (13) red. Capturing half of an available color of cubes earns that player the matching trophy card and therein lies the game.ballooncup

Each player starts with a hand of eight cards. There are 45 cards, equal in distribution to the victory cubes. Card values range from a low of 1 to a high of 13 (but are unequally distributed) in each of the five suits. On turn, a player may play one card to EITHER side of a hop card and then draw another card to replace it. But card placement follows certain restrictions.

Only cards matching the color(s) of the cube(s) on the hop tile may be played for that tile. For example, should a 3 hop tile have a red, blue and yellow cube on it, then only ONE red, ONE blue and ONE yellow card may be played on each side. Should a 2 hop tile have 2 yellow cubes on it, only TWO yellow cards on each side – and NO OTHER COLOR – may be played there. When the required number of cards are played on both sides of a hop tile, the tile is scored. If flatlands, then LOW card value total wins the cubes. Should the tile be mountainous, then HIGH total wins the cubes. With the cubes given to the winner, played cards are discarded, the tile is flipped to its opposite side (with lowlands becoming mountains and vice versa), reseeded with the appropriate amount of cubes, and the player who did NOT get the cubes going next.

Once a player has amassed enough cubes of a color (ranging from 3 gray cubes to 7 red cubes), he cashes them in and takes the matching trophy card. Should a player not have enough cubes in a specific color but have 3 cubes in an already claimed color, those 3 unusable cubes act as a “wild card” and may be used as one cube of another needed color.

The first player to claim three trophy cards wins!

Game play flows smoothly and, in all the times we’ve played it, we haven’t encountered a problem that has been postulated, namely a “lock up” where more color cubes (for example, drawing 3 or 4 of the 5 gray cubes or 4 of the 7 blue cubes during a refill) than are cards able to be played. The solution, offered by the designer, is simple. Simply redraw the cubes.

The sport of ballooning gets a lift with Balloon Cup. The game’s simple rules make this game an easy one for non-gamers to appreciate. Yet, it still appeals to more serious gamers as choices abound to maximize your positions – or minimize your opponent’s. Nicely done! – – – Herb Levy


 

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