Flying silently through the clouds on a floating galleon, you move between islands in the sky seeking loot, crew members, and of course rum. A pirate’s life is full of adventure and surprises, but if you’re patient (admittedly, not a common pirate trait) you may walk away with enough ill-gotten goods to warrant an early retirement.
In Sea of Clouds, each player controls a floating pirate ship collecting treasure as you move from port to port. Each player gets a Captain board, displaying their Captain as well as the ship you’ll be piloting. It also serves as a handy guide for the goods and crew members you’ll be collecting. The Central board keeps track of what turn it is and if there is going to be a boarding at the end of the turn.
Beneath the Central board there are three card slots. They start off with one card in each slot that can either be rum, pirates, objects or relics and they will display what type they are on the back. On a turn, players will look at the first card and decide to either keep it or move on. If they move on they will draw the top card from he deck and add it to the first card slot (to a maximum of three cards). They will continue to look at the cards in order until they either take one or pass on all of them and take the top card of the deck. As play continues the different slots will acquire more and more cards, making them more tempting to the players who check them out. If a slot ever has three cards and a player passes on it, it will receive a coin instead. The one catch is that if you want to take a pile, you have to take each card in the pile and often some pretty nasty cards will show up there.
Throughout the course of the game you are largely collecting sets of different types of cards. Generally speaking the more you have of a certain type of loot, the more points it’s going to be worth to you at the end of the game. But the swashbuckling life is a tricky one. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good when you do a little plundering. Then there’s the Parrot. Every good pirate needs a Parrot on their shoulder. Having the feathered friend will break any ties in your favour.
Rum cards come in a variety of different flavours. There’s a standard rum, worth whatever it says on the cards. The collector’s rum is worth more points the more you…ahem, collect. Top shelf rum are worth one point each, unless you have the most. In that case they’re worth three points each.
The pirates you collect will become crew members, at least until your next boarding party. Each pirate has a strength and a boarding power that is executed if you win a battle. As the game progresses there are rounds that will end with a boarding. When a boarding occurs you compare your pirate’s strength with your opponents on either side. When you win the battle you’re able to cash in on their boarding abilities. Win or lose your faithful crew leaves you after the boarding to seek their fortune with another ship.
Relics are a bit risky to collect. Having a bunch of the Siren’s Song or the Behemoth Tooth can be worth a lot of points, but only one or two of them will cost you points. It can be tricky to decide to go for them or not, but what’s a pirate’s life without a little risk.
Object cards tend to be a mixed bag. Most of them are pretty helpful in some ways, like the Peace Treaty, which earns you coins if you lose during boardings or the Cracker, which allows you to steal the Parrot (obviously). Some Objects are Secrets that will award you with end game scoring points.
Mixed in with all the different types of cards are negative ones that will make the share a lot less appealing. You might be able to snag some Top Shelf Rum and a relic you need, but in the same share you may need to take a Rusty Sword, that’ll cost you some of your pirate strength or Fake Rum, that costs you a point.
Once the the ship gets to the end of the track on the Central board, there is one more round with a boarding at the end and players total up their score. They will get (or lose) points for rum, relics, items and coins.
Sea of Clouds is a series of tough decisions that players have to make. They can either take the share of loot that is right in front of them, or pass on it in hopes of something better. You just have to keep in mind that each time you pass on a share you’re making it sweeter for the next player. It’s a game of rhythms. Sometimes the players in front of you will leave some sweet stashes to choose from. At other times it’s all bilge water and scurvy. Those are the ups and downs of life in a floating pirate ship.
Sea of Clouds is a prefect blend of fun decisions, player interaction, and short play time. There is a lot of luck in the game, and sometimes you just get bad luck, but the light feel and quick games don’t let that frustration linger. I’m always a fan of games that put you in a position to take some bad with your good ( a la Ra). I love the way the shares get better or at least bigger, until someone takes them. Iello has applied their beautiful production to Théo Rivière’s design and Miguel Coimbra’s artwork. The entire package is very pretty to look at and a lot of fun to play.