I’ve written a review of Balloon Cup — in Finnish, of course.
I grabbed the opportunity to get the game for free (well, not for free, but as a payment; anyway I didn’t have to spend any of my precious money to buy it), because I had heard so much good about it. It wasn’t really on my top want list, because I have plenty of other two-player card games already. But I’m very glad I got it, because it’s good!
Balloon Cup is about ballooning. However, the theme is lighter than the balloons it depicts. The theme is actually pretty much useless. However, there’s little point in expecting a good theme from a two-player card game and the theme doesn’t make the game any worse so it’s alright.
The mechanism is familiar: the game area contains four tiles and players play cards next to the tiles, trying to win them and the victory cubes they contain. The winner grabs the cubes, the cards are discarded, the tile is turned over and new cubes are added. If the winner has enough cubes, he or she can take a trophy card. The player who gets three out of the five trophy cards wins.
The tiles depict either plains or mountains. In the plains a lower sum of cards wins, in the mountains it’s the higher. This is a clever twist, which makes both the small and the big cards useful. Now middle cards are the worst cards, and even that’s a bit fuzzy. Tiles are double-sided and turned after won, so the selection of mountains and plains varies.
The amount of cubes needed to claim the trophies varies, as does the amount of cubes and cards available. Notice that the card distributions vary — I automatically thought that there’s 1-13 in every colour, but no, there are only five grey cards! This makes some colours better than others, which makes the game a bit more interesting.
So, players play the cards. The number and distribution of cubes on the tiles dictates the play of cards. The tiles are numbered from one to four, which is also the amount of cubes to place on them. The colours of the cards played must match the colours of the cubes exactly. If there’s a red cube and a blue cube, there must be a red card and a blue card on both sides of the tile.
What’s best you can play cards on the opponents side of the tiles! That makes the game really wicked. You can’t keep an important place vacant for a long time while waiting for a better card — your opponent will fill it with rubbish sooner or later. It makes the choice of playing cards that much more difficult, too. What a nice small card! Should I play here where I benefit from it, or should I play it there where it hurts my opponent? Counting the totals can be a bit weary, but you’ll have to do it if you want to do well.
Balloon Cup is a very good two-player game. It plays reasonably fast (20-30 minutes), it’s exciting and has a good balance of luck and good judgement. I don’t say skill, because I’m not sure if it’s much about skill, but it’s definitely about making the most out of your cards and deciding what goals are important to reach.