Sagan Says: Review of Cloud Control

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another new review from Sagan Ezell, fellow game group member.  Sagan is an omni-gamer from Lafayette, Louisiana, and helps run the Southern Board Game Festival. Here are his thoughts on the game. You can reach him on Twitter @SaganEzell

Over time, I have played a lot of games that follow the basic format of “guess what this thing is.” I do tend to enjoy these simple party games because they can be a great test of creativity, and they are so fast to teach that almost anybody can join in the fun. Many of these are drawing games like Pictomania or Subtext, but there are also plenty of others that use different mechanisms to communicate information and otherwise change up the basic Pictionary formula. I’ve played games where you sculpt the clues from clay, games where you combine abstract symbols to make complicated concepts, and even a game where you use a piece of string to “draw” your clue out. Well, now it’s time to again twist this classic formula into something different, and to get your head in the clouds.

Breakdown and Basic Info of the game

Cloud Control is all about taking that lazy summer day pastime of finding shapes in the clouds and fusing it with the essence of classic party games. Designed by Eugene Bryant and published by 25th Century Games, Cloud Control is a simple concept with a lot of potential for fun. The game plays 3-10, though like most games in this style a higher player count comes with a bit more excitement and a bit of a longer playtime. Most of my plays of this one were around the 6 player mark and took about 20 minutes on average, though I was able to play some larger and smaller rounds. The core gameplay doesn’t really change much with player count, so this one scales really well for different sized groups.

The premise of the game is extremely simple. One player draws a card with clues written on it, then uses a group of preset cloud cards of different shapes and sizes to try and “draw” the clues so the other players can guess it. Once one player shouts the correct answer, you move on to a different clue from the same card. After a timer expires, points are awarded based on who was able to correctly identify each clue. Rinse and repeat until everyone has taken two turns as the active player, throw in a bonus lightning round, and total up points to determine a winner.

Armed with this basic information, you could probably play a round of the game pretty passably without ever opening up the rulebook, though there are a few more nuances the game would like you to consider. First, the rules state that you are allowed to twist, turn, and stack the cards in any manner, as well as to “animate” the cards to get your point across. Additionally, something I love about these rules is that they explicitly allow the use of hand gestures “within reason” to mean things like “Pay attention to this part,” “you’re on the right track,” and “go back to what you said before.” It’s a small thing, but many of these types of games aren’t clear about this kind of natural body language that most people have a hard time avoiding in the context of a game like this, and I’ve had more than a few disputes from the “rules as written” crowd about the other team violating the rules somehow with these types of innocent moves.

My point is that this is a party game, and the rulebook itself does take the time to establish the tone as a forgiving and “party” tone. It’s small, but I have a strong feeling it’s going to help out a lot of people who just want to have fun, to avoid issues with people who take every game very seriously.

The other little wrinkle with this game is the concept of the lightning round. After every player has had one turn as the cloud controller, a word will be announced to every player. Simultaneously, each player will then try and create the same shape, with a voting round afterwards about who did it best. The lightning round tends to be fairly chaotic, with the major constraint in it being the number of available cards. In total, there are 16 different shapes with 4 copies of each. This allows for a good amount of creativity when you have all that to work with, but with 6 other players all competing for the same cards to make the same thing, you can run out of useful cards very quickly.

Not all clues are in the same realm of difficulty

Overall, this one is very easy to just walk up with no explanation and just intuit the full rules of how to play. The graphic design is clear, and all ages can engage with this one quickly.

What is good about the game

Cloud Control is at its most appealing as a drawing game, but for people who don’t like to draw. There’s a good amount of creativity and ingenuity that goes into communicating a clue well to your team, and to get the maximum amount of points in the sparse 90 second time limit is challenging. Still, even one or two good clues that you can find in a round are memorable and fun. Because of the restrictive nature of the cards available, our group started to develop shorthand as we played multiple rounds, such as two circles vertically placed on top of two lines representing a person. A bit of this metagaming really cut through some of the potential frustrations of the limited number of cards and allowed us to have a lot of fun with it.

The game is simple enough to draw anyone into a round, it’s fun to come up with clever ways to use the sparse resources to communicate, and it’s even more fun when someone fails spectacularly and the group gets to have a good laugh. Replayability is also very high, as the game comes with 300 clue cards, which each have 5 clues. A 20 minute game is a perfect length to fit anywhere in your game night, and it’s short enough to play multiple rounds without any complaining about monotony.

Because the fun of the game is coming from the creativity of the players, keeping the game fresh and keeping it moving is important. Thankfully there weren’t many instances in my plays where clues were even remotely similar to one another, and there were just as many different approaches to similar clues as there were clues in the first place. One game might have players guessing things as simple as “school” and “anchor”, all the way up to very specific things like “pearl necklace” or difficult to represent via only clouds things like “chocolate.”

Obviously, this is a llama

If you have a group that likes creative problem solving, and doesn’t take the points too seriously, Cloud Control will easily be able to bring the fun.

What is bad about the game

For things that didn’t work for me quite as well, there were two things that stuck out above the rest. The first would be the distribution of clues and points in the game. Every clue card features two “easy” clues that are worth one point, two “hard” clues that are worth three points, and the lightning round clue, which is only used in the lightning round for a potential 5 points. Out of the easy and hard clues, I didn’t really get the feeling that the two categories had any differences in difficulty. Perhaps this is just the inherent bias of the limited number of different people that I was able to play this one with due to the lack of public game nights lately, but there were quite a few instances of players in my games scratching their head at why “Dreidel” was worth a single point, while “Compass” was worth three. Some of the most difficult (at least for my group) easy clues were “Avocado,” “Shampoo,” “Potion,” and “Koozie.” These things all have pretty simple shapes that can be made from the clouds, but they lack anything to distinguish them easily from other things that have simple shapes. Once a group sees my triangular arrangement as a slice of pizza, it’s very difficult to divert them from that train of thought all the way back to “pennant.” Likewise, there were some three point clues that were very simple, though these were much less frustrating to the players.

Maybe not quite as obviously, this is for the clue “Left Field”

Second, the cards themselves could be frustrating at times. The issue here isn’t with the available cloud shapes that were selected (which i think were great choices to keep the game challenging, but flexible), but instead with the fact that each card is a square. Because all the cards are the same shape, it creates a lot of negative space on some cards that makes them very difficult to overlap into more complex arrangements. As a player who really enjoys this style of clue giving game, I found myself looking to make fairly complex arrangements of cards when giving clues, only to find difficulty in doing so because my overlapping pieces were being blocked by the negative space of the other cards. If each card was only the shape of its cloud, or even just a half size card for those clouds which only use half of the full card to begin with, I think that could add a considerable amount of nuance to the clues that are just prohibitively difficult as it is. Still, the game is very flexible, and perhaps a change like this would make things too easy.

As far as minor gripes go, the lightning round was fun, but there were too few cards for large playcounts, the sand timer in my copy regularly got stuck (a simple enough change to a digital timer). Not many negatives present here, all things considered.

Final Thoughts

Okay, you can read the back of the box and know exactly what you’re getting with this one. There are a ton of games on the market that leverage this very basic clue giving structure, so it’s hard for me to say that Cloud Control deserves to be in your collection over whatever your current favorite game of this style is. Still, it has a lot of positives that it brings to the table, and with a fairly small profile it can be a good addition if you’re a fan of these guessing games. It’s certainly not worse than most of the other games I’m thinking of here, it’s just later to the market.

If you don’t have a party game of this type in your collection already, I think this one is a no brainer. It’s fast, simple, uses a fun gimmick, and is broadly appealing enough for anyone to have fun with it for a round or two. It executes what it sets out to do very well, so if you’re interested in a fairly basic game that leans heavily on creativity and working within constraints, Cloud Control is definitely worth checking out.

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Fast and simple
  • The constraints of the cloud cards can make for some really clever solutions
  • High degree of replayability
  • Short playtime and flexible player count

Cons

  • Overlapping cards into more complex scenes can be frustrating sometimes due to the negative space
  • Not fundamentally very different from many of the other “drawing” games on the market
  • Clue difficulty is all over the place

Sagan previously reviewed Point Salad for the Gumbo right here, and Sagan and BJ teamed up for another “guess what I just did here” game, Stringamajig.

Our thanks to 25th Century Games for sending us this review copy of Cloud Control.

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