Welcome to another edition of Button Shy’s Micro Chat. This time we are looking at our latest game on Kickstarter, Ahead in the Clouds. Designed by first time designer, Daniel Newman it’s for exactly 2-players. An Euro-inspired game, distilled down to 18 cards and 8 rounds, players are industrialists, that collect dust particles from the air and water vapor from the clouds to convert to hydrogen and oxygen.
What's the story behind the the creation of Ahead in the Clouds?
Daniel: Ahead in the Clouds actually started as a large game with tiles and more building types and more resources and tons of cubes. Pretty standard Euro cube pusher. It worked and had a couple of cool mechanics, but it wasn't very interesting - nothing about it made it stand out, there was no hook. At the same time as I was realizing that the design was kind of stalling out, I started talking to Jason Tagmire on Twitter, after seeing a panel he was on at Metatopia. I liked what he was doing with Button Shy in terms of the DIY aesthetic and creating big games in a tiny package and asked him if there was anything specific he was looking for in his line. When he said he really wanted to try to get a tight Euro I realized that if I could distill Ahead in the Clouds down to 18 cards it could be just the thing he was looking for. I pretty quickly figured out how to do it, pitched it to him, and he signed it.
What makes this game unique in your mind to the other Wallet Games published thus far?
Daniel: A lot of the wallet games before I pitched were these cool little quirky games, but he didn't really have much in his line that had a lot of meat to it. I like to think that AitC is helping him push his line into new territory. It's also the first that requires tokens in addition to just the 18 cards that come in the wallet, but those tokens can be anything you have lying around - coins, cubes, whatever.
What was the most challenging part of designing Ahead in the Clouds?
Daniel: The original version had a mechanic that I was totally in love with, but didn't really work as well when it was reduced to 18 cards. That was really hard to let go, but I've got it in my pocket now and it'll probably show up in a future game.
How did you go about distilling the game down and keeping the “Euro” flavor you wanted at the heart of it?
Daniel: There were a few things that I figured out that I could do that economized the components. The biggest thing was reducing the number of resources and using the edges of the cards to keep track of quantity. So rather than taking cubes and exchanging cubes, I had a card for each of the four resources, with 0-3 on one side and 4-7 on the other. So that took care of 8 of the 18 (2 sets of 4). I also dropped it from 4 players to 2 only, each of which have a home base, so that was another 2 cards, bringing me up to 10. The early version had several blimps that visit your cloud city that come out and alter exchange rates for resources and points, but I didn't have the component count available to do it for the wallet game. I really liked the blimp though, so I used it to keep track of the number of rounds and every few rounds the blimp steals resources from you. That put me to 11 cards. Scoring points didn't work as well in the new version, so I tried it with fulfilling contracts of combinations of resources instead and it worked really well. One more card to keep track of the available contracts put me at 12. It would require tokens to work, but I checked with Jason and he said it'd be fine. So I had 6 cards left for the buildings. I needed one that produced free water and one that produced free stone to get the economy going, which had to always be available. 4 left. If I used three cards and put different buildings on both sides, that gave me 6 different resource exchanges, with three out at any one time. Using them flipped them so what you can do on your turn depends a bit on what your opponent did and you can't ever do the same exchange twice in a row. Boom. The 18th card became a reference card, as every good Euro needs a reference card for how things work.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Ahead in the Clouds?
Daniel: Sometimes you just have to let go of something and move on to make it better. Also, don't be afraid to talk to publishers you're interested in working with and see what they're looking for.
Thank you, Daniel, for taking time out to do this interview.
Want to learn more about Ahead in the Clouds? You’re in luck! It is currently on Kickstarter (until October 15th, 2016) where you can find more information on the game. Please, take a few minutes to check it out at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/ahead-in-the-clouds-a-sky-high-struggle-for-two-pl