Full disclosure: A review copy of Mountaineers was provided by Massif Games.
I mean, they should probably go with Massive Games, honestly; this is one of the biggest boxes I’ve ever seen, and I own all of Fireball Island. But enough about that. We’re marching steadily towards Gen Con, and that means the annual Review Queue Clearing so that I’m ready to play Gen Con titles during / after the convention. That should last (based on last year) from August until … April. So that’s going to be fun. Until then, let’s check out Mountaineers, the first game from Massif Games!
In Mountaineers, you play as climbing folk dead-set on conquering the Mountain. Why is he climbing the Mountain, you might ask? Because he’s in love, is how I think the song goes. William Shatner. Star Trek 1. Interview. It’s weird. Worth watching, and then immediately look up the song Shatner on the Mount. It and Celeste are the only things I think about when I think about mountains. Thankfully, both are extremely irrelevant to this review, so I won’t discuss them further. I also wrote this part last, so it’s definitely not woven in. Grab your supplies and carabiners, pick some Climbing Routes, and also just make sure you have your phone ready if you need to call a Helicopter. Will you be able to reach the summit? Or will you end up stuck back at base camp?
Lot going on, here, so let’s get straight into it. First, grab some Mountain Sides:
Put them into the holder:
And put that on the game board:
There are some rubber bands to put around the top of the mountain, so that should help. Next, assemble the Conditions Board and place it nearby, starting with side A. You can stick the Condition Board Marker nearby; you’ll use it later:
There are a few types of Event Cards. The first set you’re looking for should be the Condition Change Event Cards, which are Event Cards with a yellow exclamation point on them:
You can see a few there. Separate the Event Cards from the Condition Change Event Cards. Make a stack of 9 Event Cards for each player, and shuffle a Conditions Change Event Card into each stack. Then, stack the stacks, so that there are 10 Event Cards per player in the stack. From the unused Condition Change Event Cards, draw one and place the Condition Marker on the relevant space.
Shuffle the Climbing Route cards; deal each player 6:
Those should be secret, and they may not be possible to complete on your mountain. If that happens, reveal it, discard it, and pick another one. Give each player two Character Cards:
They can choose one and place whichever side they want facing them in the rad player boards:
Super cool. Now, give each player 20 Supplies (30 if they’re inexperienced):
Give them Carabiners as well:
And finally, their Climbers and Pitons. The score token (the disc) should go on the 0. Starting in player order, they may place their climber on the bottom space of any mountain:
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
1 / 2 Player Setup
One last quick thing, sorry. If you’re playing with fewer than 3 players, you’ll need to use automated players. Use two extra Climbers and Pitons, but also use the AC Cards:
There’s also a die you’ll need:
And just set them up according to the Turn 0 card, before anyone else does.
So, your goal is to score points by climbing the mountain, completing routes, and occasionally sabotaging your peers in the interest of safety. The player with the most points wins!
On your turn, you first start by drawing an Event Card and reading the top text. If it changes the Condition, make that change immediately, but that won’t happen that often. Instead, a particular effect will take place during that turn. Once it happens, you must obey its rules for that particular turn (unless told otherwise). After resolving that, you must take the card and keep it in front of you before performing your actions. Let’s talk about those.
You have up to two regular actions you may take per turn, and you may take the same action more than once. Let’s talk about each one.
- Rest: Rest is pretty straightforward. You just do nothing and you gain 5 Supplies.
- Move: This one is pretty significant. You need to do this to win the game. To move, you pay 1 Supply to move to any of the six positions surrounding your Climber, and leave a Piton there. When you do, you leave a Piton in the spot you just vacated in increasing order, starting with Piton 1. You may also spend an extra Supply to leave a Carabiner there. Carabiners can be placed on your own to avoid Sabotage, or you may place them on another player’s Piton to keep your Climbing Route connected. You may not place a Carabiner on a Piton that already has one. Note also that if you want to climb over another player’s Piton / Climber, you need to have enough Actions that you can do it without stopping. It’s weird to track, but what can you do.Some parts of the Conditions Board will make it harder to move up the Mountain. If you have to pay an extra Supply, you only pay it once per turn.
- Purchase Upgrade: You may spend 5 Supplies to get an Upgrade, which essentially allows you to burn extra Supplies for a double move action, instead of using both Regular Actions to move. Once you buy one, put your highest numbered Piton into the space; it’s unlocked for the rest of the game.
- Use Upgrade: You can pay the Supplies indicated and use the Upgraded action. That’s about it. Follow the normal Movement rules. Once such Upgrade is Sabotage, which allows you to remove an adjacent Piton and then move anywhere. It’s crappy, but, I mean, you can do that. You just can’t Sabotage a player’s Climber or anything with a Carabiner on it. You can Sabotage yourself, if you want to be weird about it.
- Purchase New Climbing Route: You can buy new Climbing Route cards, too! Draw 2 and keep one. As with the beginning of the game, you can draw new cards if the cards you have can’t be completed.
You may discard one Event Card to use the special action printed on it. If you do, however, you do not get the endgame score bonus.
You may also take the action written on your Character Card.
You may do these actions in any order, and you may do the same Regular Action more than once.
End of Game
The game ends when you’ve drawn all the Event Cards. Once that happens, score as follows:
- Points from Complete Climbing Routes. You earn the amount on the card. If it was Sabotaged, earn half as many points, rounded up. If you didn’t complete it, it’s worth 0, which is still friendlier than Ticket to Ride, at least?
- Points for Pitons and Climbers. Each Piton / Climber is worth 1 point.
- Points for Event Card Goals. Each Event Card has a goal on the bottom. If you didn’t discard it, you can score those points at the end of the game.
- Points from Competition Climbing Goals.
- Negative Points from Sabotage.
Player Count Differences
Not much, honestly, other than needing the Automated Climbers at lower player count. If you have the right pieces, you can increase the player count to five or six and even make a square mountain! You can’t do that with the basic version, though, so, welp. It gets a bit more crowded at higher player counts, but that’s easily addressed with Carabiners. The one thing that’s mildly annoying is that lower player counts require the automated players, but the Automated Climbers aren’t particularly interesting. They just kind of move around and occasionally mess you up, depending on a random die roll. To that end, you always have at least three climbers on the mountain, so I’d probably say this is best at 1 or 3.
- You gotta know when to Rest. You really don’t want to run out of Supplies. If you Upgrade, you can Rest and then double-move for essentially a slow gain of Supplies every turn, which is nice.
- Go after Climbing Routes. I mean, they’re the thing that are worth points, so you should probably invest a lot in them. Going in with a starting plan is usually the best way to go about it, so try to get a bunch of Climbing Routes that synchronize pretty well. Just be careful that you don’t create a single point of failure that an opponent can easily exploit…
- Don’t do so to the detriment of climbing. If you place all your Pitons, that’s about 30 points over the course of the game, which is huge. The more you climb, the more points you’ll tend to have. Just try to make sure that you climb a lot towards executing on your Climbing Routes, if you can.
- If you want to be that guy, Sabotage, I guess. The best place to do so is usually right in the middle of an opponent’s Route. It’ll take them a while to get back to it and you can usually mess up multiple Climbing Routes in one movement, if you know what you’re doing. Of course, as soon as you get the Sabotage Upgrade you’re going to have successfully really pissed off your coplayers, so don’t be surprised if they decide to unite around their shared hatred of you, again, like a Lelouch sort of situation.
- Try not to get too close to other players. That just makes it harder for you to move and easier for you to be Sabotaged. Generally speaking, you don’t want to be either of those things if you can avoid it, so, try to avoid it. Use the Helicopter if needed to put some distance between you and the other players; just don’t forget about Climbing Routes.
- If you have nothing to do, buy a Climbing Route. Unlike Ticket to Ride, there’s no penalty for failing to complete one, so you can literally just buy more when you’re bored and it’s totally fine. Just make sure that you actually prioritize completing them.
- Upgrades are critical. These are the ways that you can make a lot of progress quickly, especially if you have Terrain-specific Climbing Routes. They’ll let you zip around the Mountain much more quickly, provided you have the Supplies, so make sure you get at least one. I probably wouldn’t recommend more than two, though; that’s a lot.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- These are definitely the coolest player boards I’ve ever seen. They’re multi-folding, three-dimensional, and just plain cool. I wish every game had player boards like these, to be honest. They don’t stick together as well as I’d like, but that’s not the worst thing.
- When the pieces fit together, the table presence is incredible. It’s like, a giant mountain on a table! Easily taller than Everdell‘s tree, and the whole thing looks pretty cool. I’m really into it.
- Diverse array of Climbers. I appreciate that; glad they did that for the game and it’s worth calling out.
- If you’re looking for a game that’s a bit more complex than Ticket to Ride and has a bit more take-that, this will be right up your alley. It’s got path-building with more explicit take-that; I usually tell people to imagine 3D Ticket to Ride but you can remove other player’s unprotected trains, if you so desire. That appeals to a lot of people, unsurprisingly!
- Absolutely massive box! It’s basically impossible to store it anywhere, so it’s been going on top of Fireball Island, lately. I kind of wish there were more foldable parts so that it were easier to store, but I guess you gotta make some sacrifices for the ambiance.
- The AI players are less AI and more just “random mountain folk”, which is fine. There’s no real rhyme or reason to their movements, so it’s hard to call them AI; they’re random climbers with some extra Sabotage Rounds, which may never actually happen. It’s not particularly interesting to have them on the mountain; it would honestly be better to just have some Early Climbers who have already carved pre-defined routes that we have to deal with.
- It might have been better to print separate rulebooks for the various editions, rather than referencing things that don’t appear in my copy of the game. I wasn’t sure if I had the Deluxe or the Standard version until I looked for things that were only in the Deluxe version, which can be a point of confusion. I assume that’s not as much of a problem for backers, but on the reviewer end that can be pretty confusing.
- 30 – 180 minutes is a terrifying time range. It just takes 30m per player, but that’s a wide range for a game if you don’t have a good grasp of it. There’s no real scaling for player count, so the game just takes … longer for higher player counts, which can be frustrating as well.
- The graphic design isn’t my particular cup of tea. It’s very basic, in my opinion. I’d personally rather have a realistic-looking Mountain than a sorta cartographic representation? But that’s just me.
- The mountain doesn’t hold itself together particularly well. The holder on the bottom isn’t deep enough, so it’s hard to get the Mountain to stay inside of it. Be careful when turning it.
- The component quality is only so-so. The boards bend really easily and the pegs aren’t particularly sturdy in their holes. I wouldn’t move the table much during a game; it’s fairly likely that pieces are going to fall off and you won’t be able to put them back easily.
- The take-that can be really aggressive, if you want it to be. You can ruin a lot of routes with a well-placed Sabotage, and that might not be super fun to experience, especially if the game is running long. I wouldn’t recommend the Sabotage Action in the 180-minute game, personally.
- Bleh unbounded trading mechanics. You can freely trade with other players, bribe them, or make deals as long as you’re on the same side of the Mountain. You just can’t trade Climbing Route cards. I find that sort of thing really annoying, but some people like that sorta thing in Catan.
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, I think Mountaineers is fine. I think for players who love Ticket to Ride or climbing, though, they’re going to love this, but without the context around climbing I don’t really gel with the theme enough to overcome the things that I maybe don’t like quite as much? For those players I mentioned earlier, they’ll probably enjoy the fantastic climber meeples and player boards, they’ll like the thematic play, and they’ll almost certainly really like just how tall the game is. It has one of the most impressive table presences I’ve ever seen, and even then it’s not that much of a space hog. I’d bring up that the pieces are a bit less nice than I’d hope and that I’d really prefer limits on / the removal of trading and take-that, but some people like those mechanics enough that they’ll appreciate their inclusion. Not everything is for everyone. Either way, it’s a neat game for sure, and I really am glad I got to check it out, so if you’re a fan of path-building games, mountain climbing, or you just want to see one of the tallest games this side of Rhino Hero: Super Battle, you might want to check out Mountaineers! It’s an interesting game.