Where We're Going We Don't Need. . .Roads! - Celestia Review

Had to throw in a Back To The Future reference somewhere given that I'm writing this review at a time when the second film is now about the past (mind blown). 

Push Your Luck games haven't been my favourite games to play in the past. I don't dislike them at all, but they haven't made me go "oh my god, that's amazing" at any point. Incan Gold is probably the most widely known introductory game in this genre, but even that isn't one that I actively seek out. I suppose it's down to the fact that they essentially boil down to "flip the next card, yay or nay" without much else to consider other than basic probability.

However I then watched the first Dice Tower 24 Hour Marathon and saw a game brought out by Tom Vasel called Cloud 9. Looked very basic, very simple and it was essentially a push your luck game, but with some tweaks that caught my interest. Firstly you had to roll dice to determine your chances before considering whether you're in or out, which changed the difficulty frequently. Secondly because you had to rely on another player most of the time to get you further, you had to make a call on whether you trusted his ability to help you progress. This resulted in some fun banter between the players with trash talking, bluffing and deception entering the fray. Suddenly my curiosity peaked, you know how much I like a good bluffing game. 

One snag - it was out of print. Typical. Despite many 2nd hand sales, it was impossible to find a copy of this game. But then word came of a revised version coming to Essen, with much better artwork and components as well as some additional tweaks to improve the game overall. Naturally this propelled it on to my Top 10 Anticipated Games list and I had to check it out and see if my patience was rewarded. Was it worth the trip or will I crash and burn?
Designer: Aaron Weissblum
Publisher: BLAM!
# of Players: 2-6
Age: 8+
Time: 30 Minutes
Rank / Rating: 7.09 / 2835


Got Your Head In The Clouds


Celestia's premise is simple. A group of explorers are making travels across the skies to distant lands in the hope of gathering the rarest treasures available. There's only one ship and everyone is taking shifts on being the captain. On each journey the captain will roll a set number of dice to determine the hazards that must be overcome (fog, storm, pirates and birds, apparently bird strike isn't reserved to just modern planes). 

The passengers now have the opportunity to jump out and grab a treasure at the current location or remain in the ship and hope that the captain can make it through the hazards ahead. Every player has cards in their hand that they will need to use to match the hazard symbols from the dice, but the captain may say what he likes to influence the others decisions. If they succeed, the ship moves on to greater treasures, however if they fail, the ship crashes and all passengers gain nothing. Unfortunately in this world there is also an honor system in that the captain goes down with the ship and thus can never jump off when it's their turn. Some special cards may force disembarkation or re-rolls of the dice.

Regardless of whether the ship crashes or all passengers disembark, the players will rinse and repeat this process for multiple journeys until one player has acquired over 50 points worth of treasure items, who is then deemed the winner. 

In A World Of Your Imagination Playing this game is like being in the middle of a Tim Burton movie. The artwork and style used in this game is stellar and really imaginative with all the locations having their own unique look. Of course the only part they play is to house some more expensive treasures and be harder to reach, but it's nice to see that some effort was put in instead of making it simply Point A and Point B. The cards don't need to portray any more information than simply the symbol for the hazard and yet they are also beautiful and gorgeous to look at. It's a smorgasbord of colours throughout, you can't honestly look at a single piece of this game and say that it looks dull, not even the rulebook which is also pretty and yet easy to read through. I pre-ordered this for Essen and received a slight upgrade to the pawns to these Twinples that are going around now, but otherwise my copy is the same as the retail and the original pawns are solid anyway. Though it's nice to have a T-shirt as well! The ship itself is a work of genius. There is a clear step by step guide as well as an online video showing how to assemble it, but when you're doing so (and trust me it's a relatively simple job) you can't help but wonder how on earth such a design was conceived, it actually stands up to the ship from Forbidden Desert and potentially beats it down. It's not just 4 bits shoved together, it's an intricate working of many different parts that all slot together to form a construction that's actually fairly rigid. Obviously don't go gripping it too tightly, but you can happily push it around and tip it over in crashes without any parts detaching - perfect as everyone likes to tip it over when there's 6 pawns standing in it, and yes all 6 fit nice and cosy within the upper deck. 

You're The Worst Captain I've Ever Heard Of. . . 


Had this game simply relied on a draw deck to determine your chances of success when pushing your luck, it probably wouldn't have impressed me much. But there's a unique characteristic to the way this game plays. The dice determine the hazards but it's up to the captain to get you through and that's where Celestia stops being like other push your luck games. You're relying on the other players and they can say what they like to influence your decision to stay or jump. Suddenly now you've added a bluffing element where you're wondering whether the captain is trying to push you off or keep you on to join him in their demise.  If a captain has the cards, he has to play them, but he can choose not to play wilds so there's occasions when they will sabotage the ship deliberately.

With this new element added, the fun factor ramps up. Players will trash talk, make amusing comments or even roleplay (or maybe that's just me I like to get into the theme of my games) to mess around with the other players minds and you'll get a good amount of laughter brewing from it. It's hilarious to watch how quickly everyone jumps ship when a captain rolls three of a kind shouting back how they're sorry for their loss. Note that Celestia isn't forcing you to do this, it just comes naturally from the theme of the game, even if at the end of the day, it's fairly simple and abstracted. 


. . . But You Have Heard Of Me!
It's tricky to think of anything bad about the game, but I do have one concern. I believe the original game had a fixed amount of points for each location (but don't quote me), but here you have a deck of cards with a minimum point threshold, but randomised amounts. For example a location with 6+ on it will yield a minimum of 6 points on a single card, but it could go anywhere up to 12 points which is the minimum threshold for 2 locations further on. Many other locations follow the same pattern. Now this works for good and bad. On the one hand it means you can't always tell who's in the lead at a particular time and stops it being predictable, however the randomness of the deck does add an additional luck factor to the game that maybe some players aren't too keen on. You already have the dice and the card draw, but the difference between say 6 points and 12 points can be pretty substantial, even though there are less copies of the higher cards than the lower ones. It is therefore worth noting that you will get some occasional swings based on your luck at stopping at locations, however it's so far not proven to be a particularly big issue as after all, the game is about pushing your luck anyway. 

Obviously as you can tell, this is a pretty light game. The rules are not complex however the timings of when you can play some of the special cards are a little fiddly to grasp to begin with so I recommend having the rulebook close by just for players to double check. Other than that you can teach this game in 5-10 minutes max and have it done in less than 30 even with a full player count making it a perfect filler game for a slightly oversized group. On all occasions so far there have been repeat plays which speaks volumes by itself. It easily fits the description of a gateway game despite being slightly more complex than Incan Gold. 

Verdict


Push Your Luck isn't my favourite genre of all time so I don't need many games that feature the mechanic, perhaps only even the one. Well, Celestia hands down gets to sit on that throne for the foreseeable future. Rather than simply be a game where you trust to fate, you're now forced to trust your gut feeling on whether your captain is capable or lying through his teeth. This additional element of bluffing elevates Celestia beyond other simplistic gateway games in this genre like Incan Gold and yet doesn't reach a level where non-gamers couldn't understand the rules. The point spread in the cards could have been tightened slightly, but it's not a huge deal. 

On top of the fun gameplay, the components are stellar even if you don't have the Twinples upgrade that I got at Essen. The artwork is sublime and the ship construction is a work of art in how it fits together and yet doesn't interfere with storage, however you may end up paying a slight premium for the game so be warned. The short playing time of 30 minutes is accurate even with 6 players allowing for repeated plays and most typical group sizes. It just ticks all the boxes you need in a push your luck game and therefore remains high in the clouds above the competition.   
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a quick filler game that will encompass 5-6 players without dragging.

You're bored with straightforward push your luck mechanics and want that little bit extra to spice it up.

You're in love with the aesthetics - component quality and artwork is top notch. 



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:

 
You think the point spread in the cards is a killer - I don't think it breaks the game and you can always house-rule it.

You don't like Push Your Luck in general - I still think you should give it a shot, but this isn't a skill based game.

You want something with more weight and depth - this is a very light game. 

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