Theme and What is It?
The mountain stands before you. You must survey the mountain, study the changes in terrain and note landmarks as you carefully plan your route. Conserve your resources and consider multiple upgrades to aid you as you explore the mountain. Will your path take you directly to the summit or will you take a more subtle path sightseeing around the mountain?
Mountaineers is a route-building game currently on Kickstarter for one to four players, with an add-on available to expand the game to up to six players. At lower player counts, up to two AI climbers can be added to the mountain. The game is played on a three-sided, 18-inch tall mountain. There are are multiple double-sided boards allowing for a great range of variability and replayability. Once the mountain is assembled, you build the event deck following a table in the rulebook. The final deck will have 10 cards per player, including one “Conditions Change” card per player. These cards add a mountain-wide condition that makes certain areas more difficult to traverse. Only one condition is active at a time. Players will take their player boards, 30 trail markers, and 10 route locks. If using the advanced rules, players will select a character card that features a special ability. Players begin with two supply tokens and will choose four route cards from a hand of six, placing the two not chosen back into the box.
On a player’s turn, they will first draw an event card. Standard event cards usually give all players one or two supply tokens, but may cause players to pay tokens, and impose a temporary condition that affects the player’s movement for their turn. They will also feature either a special action, generally movement related, or an end-game scoring bonus for meeting certain conditions. The player may then take zero to two regular actions and activate one special action if they so choose. For regular actions, players may a token to move one space, pay five tokens to purchase an upgrade which they will mark on their player boards with their highest numbered marker, or pay tokens to make use of an already purchased upgrade. When moving away from a space, players have the option of placing a marker. They may lock the marker to prevent sabotage from other players by paying an additional supply token. The markers are numbered from 1-30 and are placed sequentially to track routes at the end of the game.
At the end of the game players will check to see if they have completed their routes. Routes may require placing a string of sequential markers in certain terrain types or placing a certain number into specific terrain on all three sides of the mountain or reaching highest points or simply marking landmarks. Players will add the points of all completed routes and any endgame bonus points they have earned from event cards. The player with the most points is the winner.
Assembling the mountain during game setup struck a chord with the games of my childhood with their large 3-dimensional play areas. The mountain literally drew people in from across the room. The imposing mountain and its widely varying terrain immediately gets the wheels churning as you rotate the mountain trying to take in the character of the mountain.
Quality of Components and Insert
I was working with a prototype copy of the game so final quality of components may change during the course of the Kickstarter. The game comes with 110 cards that make up the event, route, character, and automated climber cards. There are three double-sided mountain boards and a conditions board with a conditions marker and stand. There are four sets of player components which include the player upgrade boards, a climber token, 30 trail markers, and 10 marker locks. If the final quality is similar to the prototype, the pieces should hold up well through repeated use, though there is a premium upgrade for the player tokens in the Kickstarter. There was no insert to speak of in my preview copy of the game.
The art style is reminiscent of trail guides or national park maps as different colors and images help to differentiate the different types of terrain and denote landmarks such as caves, crevasses, and snow bridges. This eases the ability to read the mountain once you familiarize yourself with the legend. The system is intuitive and helps keep you in the theme of the game.
Mountaineers can range from cutthroat if players are cutting each other off, intentionally or accidentally, to a more peaceful excursion as players get lost in their own routes and forget about the other climbers. Our group enjoyed this variance, though it can lead to games that differ dramatically in their timbre based on player count and route choice.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The game states that it is for ages 13 and up and I have to feel this is primarily due to the number of small pieces in the game. Mechanically the game is simple and the tactical decisions required are relatively straightforward. Players do have to be able to read the 3-dimensional map and visualize how to approach completing their routes and that kind of spatial thinking can be difficult for younger children but I think it can be overcome with assistance.
Mountaineers is a really interesting game. There is something wonderful to its tactile nature as you move your climber around the board and insert the various trail markers into the mountain to mark your route. The game moves quickly as turns are straightforward. Keeping spatial awareness of the different mountain sides and how best to accomplish your routes is a bit of a mental exercise, but our group did not find it too challenging. There is a significant difference to the experience based on the player count as this has a direct impact on how crowded the mountain is and how much competition there is when marking routes. This makes the inclusion of the AI climbers a welcome addition so that if you want more climbers on the mountain you can do so even with a small play group. For this reason I think the 5-6 player expansion is worth consideration if not just for the inclusion of two additional double-sided mountain boards.
Overall, Mountaineers is fun, tactile, mountain-climbing, route-building game. The luck of the draw can make the game a bit swingy if you are fortunate enough to draw event cards with special actions that allow free movement that is in concert with your planned climbing route or if you draw an endgame bonus that fits with what you were already planning to do and can be frustrating. That being said, the puzzle of analyzing the mountain and the unique 3-dimensional design really draw you into the theme. There is also a solo mode as an option and if you prefer an emptier mountain the game can be quite a peaceful excursion. If you prefer a more cutthroat experience, a crowded mountain leads to limited space as players work toward their routes. Either way, I think you should check out Mountaineers.
*An earlier version of this review felt that the supply tokens were always in short supply during play, thus limiting options for play. That was due to a misinterpretation of the rules and the review has been edited to reflect that.