CTG’s production quality is typically off the charts. Their games are works of art in so many ways. They’re not cheap, but they do represent great value for money, both in terms of what you get in the box and the number of hours of gameplay you’re likely to see out of it.
I must admit I had trouble figuring out exactly how the game worked looking over the Kickstarter page and watching demo videos. It didn’t matter. I bought in immediately based on my past experience with their games. This is very rare for me.
Well the game arrived late last year and I’ve been playing it a lot since then, competitively, co-operatively and solo. Is it as good as I was hoping? Let me tell you about Cloudspire…
The maps are constructed from a variety of interlocking neoprene hex tiles with a base at each end. You pick a faction and assemble a collection of minions, heroes and spires (towers that can shoot), all represented by CTG’s signature high-quality poker chips.
The game consists of waves: each wave requires you to pick a selection of minions that advance automatically towards your opponent’s base and attack automatically whenever they’re close enough. The wave ends when all the minions are wiped out.
Typically they march towards each other, carnage ensues in the middle and one side will emerge with a few (likely wounded) minions who then march on to the opponent’s base and beat on it until they die or the base is destroyed, in which case you win.
This makes it sound rather pedestrian and lacking in strategy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a number of things that make the game much more complicated: heroes, spires, events, NPCs, special abilities and you can even terraform the map.
Hero movement isn’t automated at all: they have free roam to support their minions on key battlefronts or flank opposing units from unexpected directions. The map has a few different paths between the bases that the minions have to follow, but the heroes can potentially traverse mountains, cut through forests and some of them can even fly!
Before each wave players gain a certain amount of source (currency) to upgrade their base, power-up their units, acquire special abilities, buy NPCs to assist their forces and terraform sections of the map to close off key paths and open up others. However, one of the main things you will want to spend your precious source on is (as the name of the game suggests) spires.
Spires act as defensive turrets, shooting enemies as they approach. They are difficult to overcome and building spires in key locations can be devastating for your opponent’s push. However, you’re quite limited as to where you can build them at first (you have to clear ground initially) and if they get destroyed, you’ve effectively lost a lot of source (they’re not cheap to build).
The different factions you can play vary a lot (as they always do with CTG games). Every minion and hero in the game has variable stats and has one or two special abilities that can really switch things up. Getting your head around the strategies of your particular faction is challenging. There’s a lot to it.
This is one difficulty of the game in general, but it’s also one of its greatest strengths. It has a very high learning curve. The way units move, the way they attack, the way the spires fire, the way all the special abilities effect all of those things is complicated. And subtly so. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in your first few games.
However, this complexity provides a tremendous depth of strategy. Figuring out your faction’s strengths and taking account of your opponent’s weaknesses will take many, many games to master. This gives the game a great sense of development. Each time you play, you’re learning new things and understanding things in a new way that will make you a better player next time.
This also makes the solo experience very heady. There is a well-structured solo campaign that pits you against different factions with different objectives. Each move you make can be critically important and have far reaching consequences down the line. You really have to think carefully: diving in carelessly will cause you to lose quickly. It rivals Mage Knight for depth and immersion and is easily one of the best solo games I’ve ever played.
Equally, the two-player co-op experience gives you a lot to manage and requires lots of discussion and co-ordination between players. If you’re looking for a heavy, tactical, two-player co-op, Cloudspire will be right up your street.
Cloudspire isn’t for everyone: it requires time, patience (the games can be long) and a commitment to learning nuanced gameplay and developing effective strategies. However, if you’re good with all that, it’s fantastic! CTG have done it again. They have created a rich tower-defence game with meaningful decisions at every juncture.
Have you had a chance to play it yet? What do you think? Is it your cup of tea?
Cloudspire will be back on Kickstarter on 14th April 2020.