My Wife Always Wins - Sea of Clouds
This Week’s Game: Sea of Clouds
Since moving to the Florida coast, we’ve been hitting the beach pretty much every day. Sometimes it’s for a quick swim, sometimes it’s to lay out, sometimes it’s just for a quick walk in the sand or down the pier. Our trips have ranged from 15 minutes to all day. Each one is different, but each one is worth it.
Saturday was one of those all day trips. It’s good after a long week of work to unwind and do nothing. The weather was perfect, and surprisingly not many people were there. My wife, Lyndsey, and I set up our spot, took a quick dip into the ocean, and then laid out in the sun.
My mind is always racing, I’m always filled with some concern or another. Gaming grants me a reprieve from this, because I’m keeping my mind focused on the task at hand. It’s a nice break, but it is still an active break. The beach is the only place I get an inactive break. The waves crashing, the seabirds honking, the light breeze whistling, all of those allow me to put my mind at ease and relax.
I never really pay attention to a whole lot when I’m in one of those restful states. I always assumed it was the same for Lyndsey. But I happened to glance over her at one point, and she was writing in her notebook. I’m the writer in the family, so whenever she has her notebook out I know she’s planning or making a list of some sort. I asked her what she was writing, and the response was “The list of games I’d like to beat you at next.” At the top of her list was Sea of Clouds.
It’s been in our collection a year, we’ve played it a good number of times, but haven’t brought it to the table lately. Perhaps the beach had inspired Lyndsey with delusions of piracy on the high seas. In the end, she’d have to settle for making me walk the plank in Sea of Clouds.
Sea of Clouds is a card drafting and set collection game set against the backdrop of airship-commanding pirates. Being a pirate, the goal of the game is quite obvious: collect the most loot!
The draft deck is shuffled, one loot card is placed face down in each of three piles, and the deck is put to the side. The cards in each pile can be taken, in which case the pile is replaced by the top card of the deck. If a player passes on the pile, an additional card (or a coin if there are already three cards in one pile) is added. If all three piles are passed on, the player is forced to take the top card from the deck.
Each player gets a Captain tile, which has various sections to place the different types of loot drawn from the card piles. Loot types are: rum, relics, objects, and pirates. Rum and relics grant endgame victory points. Objects can grant long-term or one-time bonuses (or negative effects) to battle statistics, coins, victory points, etc. Some object cards are secret objectives, which remain hidden until endgame scoring. Finally, pirates each have their own combat power and effects if victorious in the boarding phases of the game.
The two player game consists of 15 rounds (each round consists of one turn for each player). At the end of every fifth round is the boarding (combat) action. The winner gains the effects of her pirate cards, such as more money or stealing rum from an opponent.
At the end of the game, the points from each loot category are calculated and the player with the most points wins and is named the Pirate King… or most likely in our case, the Pirate Queen.
That’s pretty much an entire rundown of the rules, but for any clarifications, check out the rules here.
Time to Play
The player who last drank rum gets to go first. I can’t remember when I last had it, but I’ve never known Lyndsey to drink the stuff, so I drew the first card. I moved immediately for the Collector’s Rum, which is worth progressively more as you add more to your set. Right now it was worth one, but if I could collect three it’d be up to nine, and it maxes out at 25 for five. Lyndsey opted for the Eye of the Kraken relics. While some rum are progressive sets, all relics are. By the first combat action I hadn’t added to my rum collection, but I had taken two relics to block Lyndsey from adding to two of her sets. Besides that, I had focused on building up my pirates.
I won the combat and gained six coins. Lyndsey didn’t care about the combat, as she had an object card that granted her three coins if she lost combat. Instead she had focused on her relics, blocking me by taking a Collector’s Rum, and adding a few face down secret cards for endgame points.
It’s tough to tell without flat out counting up the points, but we were pretty even going into the second combat, which again, I won. This time I stole a coin from her, and got to take one of her rum – to which I opted for the Collector’s. My Collector’s set was now worth nine points. In rum, I was ahead by a little, in coins I was significantly ahead. In relics, Lyndsey was ahead by at least five. The one thing I couldn’t calculate were her face-down secret cards, which she had four.
By the third boarding phase, I stopped focusing on pirates as Lyndsey didn’t much seem like she was going to threaten me in combat. That is when she changed her strategy and pulled the loot pile that had three pirates and a few coins. She destroyed me in combat, stole three of my coins, gained three more from the bank, two more from an object’s effect, and stole one of my Collector’s Rums. So in a single combat, she facilitated an eight-point swing in coins alone. Her Collector’s Rum went from one to four points, and mine dropped from nine to four. I also lost out on the “most Rum” objective on my secret card which would have granted me five more points. A 13 point swing on the rum. I ended up losing by 32 points. It really all came down to that final push at combat on her end.
Nothing made me come to Florida. I moved because I wanted to. I literally moved here to have warm weather year round and easy access to the beach. But if the beach is an inspiration for Lyndsey to wallop me at games, I may not be going any longer. I miss the north, with the gloomy winter days. Back then, at least Lyndsey was making a miserable day more miserable. Now, she’s making perfect days absolutely wretched.
Despite my misfortune, I think Sea of Clouds is one of the most underrated games of 2016. It has a unique drafting element that raises the stakes as the game progresses. Set collection needs to be well thought out, but a wise selection of pirates can reverse your fortunes in the combat stages. The game really takes shape when facing the difficult decision to pick up a loot pile that both has negative and fortuitous cards in it. Then, discarding your harmful cards, or pawning them off on an opponent, also becomes a part of the strategy. However, too much focus on one tactic or another can leave you dragging behind – as it did for me in our session.
Sea of Clouds is a drafting game that rivals Sushi Go! for me. While the latter is pretty much a straight draft and set collection game, the former steps it up a notch. Definitely give it a shot. Even though it’s better at three or four, we thoroughly enjoy playing it at two-player. Games take around 30-40 minutes to play through, but that’s short enough that you’ll find yourself queuing up a second game right at the close of the first.
Alright. Now that I’ve finished writing this, I feel better. I am not going to eliminate my visits to the beach, as I suggested earlier. I’m just going to eliminate my visits to the beach with my wife.
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