The best word I can find to describe Celestia is ‘delightful’; maybe even 'whimsical', how about delightfully whimsical. Celestia, a reprint of Cloud 9 with a slight re-theme and much better art, is a game of pushing your luck while navigating floating islands and searching for treasure.
But it's a dangerous journey, and you'll have to fend off pirates and murderous flocks of birds as well as the machinations of the fellow crew.
Each player takes turns acting as the ship's captain, navigating the clouds and being the one responsible for fending off what the world is throwing at the ship. The captain will roll a number of dice and the further along the chain of islands the more dice are rolled. These dice may show some of the troubles that the captain has to fend off from his hand of cards or they may come up all blank, in which case it's plain sailing to the next island.
Before the captain gets to play any cards, the rest of the crew have the option of staying on the ship, putting their faith in the captain's ability to fight off the avian nightmares, or jump ship and grab some of the treasure from the island they are currently on.
If the captain has the right cards to beat the threat the ship moves on to the next island, leaving behind those that bailed and the captaincy moves to the next player. If the captain fails, the ship falls to the ground in a flaming ruin taking all souls on-board, the game is reset and the process restarts. All those who stuck by the captain limp home with nothing to show for their faith and trust.
To mix things up a bit there are a couple of bonus power cards, such as a jet pack that allows you to float safely down to the island below even when the ship is crashing and burning or wild cards that can be used against any obstacle. These cards are used quite sparingly and benefit from a less is more approach. It means they don’t overshadow the main gameplay but are nice to pull out when the going gets tough, or you decide to mutiny and throw your captain overboard.
The further along the island chain the greater the reward, but also the greater the risk and Celestia is all about balancing your chances of getting to the next island against grabbing the treasure where you are. It's a game that works on multiple levels.
Even though the game looks sweet and light—and it definitely is—you can be more strategic. Remembering what cards a player couldn't use last time they were captain can help guide your decision on whether to jump ship means there is definitely a bit more depth below Celestia’s surface.
For such a simple game, with relatively little direct player interaction built into the game there ends up being a lot of table talk. Vocally supporting or deriding your captain, encouraging them and insulting their helming ability when the ship goes down taking your chance of gaining treasure with it, are all instances where you’ll feel that you need to let your opinion known.
I forgot to mention how this game looks, because it looks amazing. The whimsical art of floating teapot islands is a delight but the crowning glory is the ship itself, a 3D cardboard structure that actually houses your player pieces and looks for all the world like a floating magical bathtub.
Such a simple physical component has an almost indescribable effect, a few minutes into our first game and we'd named her the HMS Victoria Plumb and made the pirate ship noise from the Lego movie each time she moved to a new island.
Celestia truly is a game that can be played by anyone, it's simple and colourful enough that it has a wide ranging appeal but its effective use of that push-your-luck element means that it can easily be enjoyed by even the heaviest of gamer. I stand by my opening statement that Celstia is a whimsical delight; it looks so beautiful on the table and is a really simple game to get your head around, yet at the same time it's such a great game, fun, adventurous and by far the best push your luck game I own.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.