Celestia first appeared in 2015. Designed by Aaron Weissblum, published by BLAM! and distributed by Blackrock, it was a revamped reimplementation of Cloud 9 which had originally been published six years earlier by F X Schmid and Out of the Box. Celestia transposed a steam punk theme and the artwork, by Gaetan Noir, gave the game a whimsical look that further added to its appeal.
Celestia is a filler-length push your luck game that hits that sweet spot that makes it just as playable by families as by seasoned games enthusiasts. The idea is that players each have a pawn onboard the cute cardboard airship. Players have hands of cards which mostly display the specific elements needed to face the hazards that might threaten the airship. Each turn, the role of captain rotates. The captain rolls dice to reveal the hazards encountered and players each then decide whether to stay on the airship or to ditch based on whether or not they believe the captain has the cards needed to pass the hazards indicated on the dice. If they ditch, they leave the airship and take a card from the airship’s current location. The captain then plays his cards. If the captain plays cards that satisfy those indicated on the dice, the ship moves forward to the next location (where the cards will be worth more points). If the captain cannot the requirements of the dice, the ship crashes and the captain and all the remaining passengers get nothing. The ship then restarts its journey.
It’s a simple idea exceptionally well executed, and the game’s success has meant it has spawned several mini expansions each of which adds a small tweak. Celestia: A Little Initiative is the latest. It’s a small pack of additional cards and, most interestingly, another 3D cardboard construct: a barrel like flying lifeboat (oddly referred to as a rowboat). Play one of the ‘rowboat’ cards and, instead of ditching the airship, you can set off on your own. Regardless of whether or not the airship crashes or moves on, your one-person lifeboat advances subject to you separately rolling dice and playing the cards that meet the hazard requirements. The mini-expansion includes four rowboat cards, each of which gives automatic exemption from one of the hazards, so, for example, if you played the rowboat card with the birds symbol then you can completely ignore any bird hazards rolled. Only one player can be on the lifeboat at any one time but if the lifeboat crashes before the airship then another player can subsequently launch a lifeboat.
If you love Celestia half as much as we do at Board’s Eye View, you’ll have gone out to buy this mini-expansion just for the 3D lifeboat but there’s more too. Celestia: A Little Initiative also introduces three new special cards. ‘Desperate Need’ allows the captain to pass his command to another player. The card is played at the point where the captain is due to play cards responding to the hazard (so after others have decided whether or not they are remaining on board) and, crucially, the captain, having passed on their command, can decide to ditch the ship. This card therefore offers the only opportunity for a player to abandon ship when it’s their turn to be captain (provided there’s at least one other player on board when you play the card). As such, it offers much additional scope for bluffing and cunning sabotage. The 'Spy' cards allow a player to look at any other player’s hand and ‘New Equipment’ allows any player to discard their hand and draw as many cards as they discarded.
Celestia: A Little Initiative is a great little mini-expansion for Celestia. It surely won’t be the last.