Skyward: Cloud City Contributors
Everyone pitch in to raise and equip the first city in the sky! But who will the city be named for? Who will be the star of the show, the Lando Calrissian, of this inaugural city in the clouds? I was excited to try this one as I’ve enjoyed a few older games (San Marco, Canal Grande) which have a similar mechanics. Does Skyward soar, or drop like a rock?
Skyward is an “I split, you choose” game designed by Brendan Evans. Setup is simple – put the cards (“Launch Deck”) and cog tokens out and choose a first warden. Each rounds starts with “The Split”. The warden flips four cards per player face up. He then splits these into a number of card groupings equal to the number of players however he chooses. Then going clockwise, each player chooses one card group from the split to add to their hand. The warden takes the last card group left over. One card cluster will include the warden token. The player who takes the card group with this gains a consolation cog token and becomes the next warden immediately, going first to start individual player turns (“The Launch”).
During “The Launch” each player can “launch” one (and only one) building card from their hand. Cards are “launched” using resources in the form of faction cards (icons in the top right) and/or ‘wild card’ cog tokens. Turns continue in this fashion until one player has launched 6 buildings or the “Launch Deck” is empty.
The key to winning the game is primarily found in good card combinations, typically launching multiple cards within the same faction. Efficiency in acquiring/using the faction cards and cog tokens in launching building cards into your “airspace” is also important. As long as you get decent cards with the warden token, it’s a good strategy to take it since it gives you one free cog token and control of the next split. Cards allowing you to build more than one building per turn (like “The Wall” yellow/’Makers’ card) seem particularly rare and desirable, since by the last turn you’ll really want to build more buildings while the rules allow only one building launch per turn.
FIRST & LAST TURNS
The first turn of Skyward feels useless. Everyone typically can’t launch any buildings with first cards. The last turn is frustrating because you can only build one building. By then you have a plan and faction cards and cog tokens to execute what you want to do…but you can’t. I recommend “house rule” changes for setup and first/last turns. Setup should include one cog token and a set of two ‘starter’ cards to each player. Without extra cards and one cog token, even the second turn feels strained for action. The last turn should definitely allow each player to launch as many buildings as they can with no limits.
The majority of the powers granted by the buildings are rather uninspiring and dormant during the game, merely adding victory points at game end if you have another building of a certain type.
FINDING FACTION CARDS
The luck of the draw can play a big role and be especially frustrating. For example, if your strategy involves finding some blue/seer faction cards you may not see any for several turns. Ideally you acquire the right faction card you need to launch the card you want. If you don’t have the right faction card you’ll end up using hard earned cog tokens while other players more efficiently build their buildings merely because the color faction cards they are looking for came out.
I realize squeezing the most points out of what cards you can best launch is part of the game. However, for a game where efficiently gaining victory points depends heavily on developing multiple building cards from the same faction, this is especially frustrating. Expenditure of faction cards & cog tokens to launch buildings has a mundane ho-hum feel.
I would recommend never playing the game with four players, especially not if it’s anyone’s first time playing. With four players, “The Split” is overwhelming and paralyzing, with a feel of limitless card combination possibilities. My first game was with four players and I was the warden the first few turns and I just ended up slopping cards together into four groups of four almost randomly to keep the game moving because I could have easily spent an eternity trying to analyze how to best arrange them.
SPLITTING INVISIBLE HAIRS
Even with two players it’s not easy for the warden to have a confident strategy splitting the cards into groupings. Unless you are able to memorize what cards everyone received in past splits or spend the time reading through all the text at the bottom of every card of all the other players, you really don’t know for sure what cards are beneficial to whom and how. So, this is the saddest difficulty of all with Skyward. The main thrust of the game that could offer the most fun is creating the card groupings in “The Split” but, because of all the difficulties mentioned here, it’s hard to really sink your strategic teeth into this part of the game.
I would recommend only playing with two players and with the “house rules” mentioned above. Even with these changes, due to the difficulties listed, I would be somewhat reluctant to play Skyward. The one consolation about the game is that it is quick (setup & play), which forgives some of the lack of depth and lackluster building powers. But the inaccessible distant strategy enjoyment level of the split definitely disappointed my expectations. You can certainly give it a try…but don’t be surprised when you find Darth Vader may be in attendance to put the damper on your enjoyment of Cloud City.
The Family Gamers received a promotional copy of Skyward.