Full disclosure: A review copy of Mountains was provided by HABA.
Alright, we’ve got more HABA games coming down the pipeline from now until forever. Last week was Wobble King, this week is Mountains, and who knows what the next few months will be? It’s going to be an exciting time for grabbing games at random from my review queue. This one’s part of the Game Night Approved line, which is a different imprint from HABA than their normal bright yellow boxes. Let’s check it out and see what it’s got to offer.
In Mountains, you love hiking. Yes, you; it’s certainly not going to be me, so it needs to be you for the purposes of this opening narrative thing that I always do. So it’s settled. You love hiking. Thankfully, you’re not alone; your friends love hiking too. But you didn’t quite bring enough equipment to summit all the peaks you were planning on getting up to. It’s a bit embarrassing, but you may need to borrow some things from your friends. Don’t worry, though, they’re happy to help! Mostly. Will you be able to climb every mountain?
First off, lay out the board:
Next, place the hiking cards on each spot on the board. You’ll want to separate them by their “degree of difficulty”, or, in the common tongue, the number of backpacks on the back. Some of them are starred; those are considered a separate category.
Give players their starting equipment cards next:
- 2 players: 8 equipment cards
- 3 players: 6 equipment cards
- 4 players: 4 equipment cards
- 5 players: 3 equipment cards
Keep those private. Give each player a session book and a season sheet:
There’s even a stamp! Don’t use it yet.
Finally, give each player 8 favor stones. Only the blue ones; the yellow stones count for 5 and you won’t need them for a minute.
Once you’ve done that you should be ready to start!
So, stick with me. You know Go Fish? Mountains is a lot like that. How? Well, I’ll get into that. But basically you’re going hiking, and you want to collect stamps for completing hikes successfully. The player with the most stamps at the end of the game wins! But how do you get stamps?
On your turn, you may do one of two things: Go on a Hike, or Rest. I’ll outline them in the opposite order.
If you have zero favor stones, you may rest instead of attempting a hike. Take three blue favor stones from the supply. Your turn ends.
You may choose any pile and flip the top card face-up. You are attempting that hike. If you do not believe you can complete it, you may choose to not attempt it, take one blue favor stone, and end your turn. Completing hikes is a bit more interesting, though, so let’s try it.
To complete a hike, you must show all equipment present on the hiking card. Each Hiking Card has a difficulty, which is how many of the 16 Equipment types can appear on that card. Starred Hiking Cards will have two of the same piece of equipment on the card, just to mess with you.
If you have them all, great! If not, you will have to attempt to borrow them from your friends. To ask a friend for a favor, you must first give them a favor stone. See, that’s the name. We made it. Once you give them a favor stone, you may ask them if they have any one piece of equipment, and they must reveal it if they do have it. If they do not have it, they still get to keep the favor stone! They tried their best, and you can’t fault them for that. If you manage to complete all the equipment requirements, then you may take the favor stones and / or summit stamps that are depicted on the board as a reward.
If you still cannot complete the hike after asking for equipment (you may ask as many times as you have favor stones), your turn ends. Sorry about that!
There are certain cards that aren’t hikes at all; they’re rest stops along the way up the mountain. When you see one, you and every other player may take the opportunity depicted, in turn order. Some will give you a stamp or two, others will let you buy an equipment card.
After you do that, draw another Hiking Card.
End of Game
The game ends immediately when any two of the rightmost four Hiking Card piles are depleted. Count up all the stamps from players; the player with the most stamps wins the game!
Player Count Differences
Well, at two, there aren’t a whole lot of secrets. Essentially, you’re playing against a dummy player as well, but you can’t ask them for any help. So, to that end, either you have it, your opponent has it, or it’s out of play. Nothing else really occupies the range of possibilities, there. At higher player counts, the distribution is such that all cards are in play; you just need to find them. This can lead to one unintended consequence; since players know who has which cards, at some level, this can lead to campaigning. If I know you’re looking for the water bottle, why not just tell you that I have it so that you pay me instead of a different player? That’s not really, I feel, how the game is supposed to work, but at 5 players I’m not sure there are many other options, especially if players know that player A has the camp stove. They’re not going to ask for another camp stove unless they need a second one as well, and by then it might be too late to get any favor stones from the transactions. It makes the game a bit more frustrating, though, since it feels like that defeats the memory portion of the game a bit handily. But maybe that was intended? Either way, I tend to prefer the game at the lower end of the player count spectrum. 3 is a good number; there are still cards out of play for a bit, and you still need to remember a few things, but it’s not as heavy on the downtime as the higher player count versions tend to be.
- The game says you can’t lie when you don’t have something. It says nothing about lying that you do have something. You can really only do this a couple times, but it’s pretty funny. Just tell someone you have the tent or something, and then when they ask you for it, free favor stone! Are you a jerk? Absolutely! But a rich jerk, which, yeah. Yeah, you’re probably still a jerk for doing that, being real. Oh well.
- Getting a lot of favor stones early isn’t the worst idea. I think that cornering the market on favor stones is really the way to go in some games. If you end up completing all the low-level hikes early enough, you’ll make it impossible for players to get favor stones at any reasonable rate without giving up a turn. Bad for them, but excellent for you.
- Always buy more equipment. It not only means you know more things about the game’s state, but also there are more things that other players can ask you about. Every piece of equipment is redundant, so there are two of them in every game (or they’re out of play). The less equipment you have, the more you have to rely on other players (and the more favor stones you need). Plus, usually if you don’t buy one, one sits out of play, which means that nobody can use it. Also a bad outcome, all things considered.
- Try to always keep three or so favor stones liquid. You usually need two to buy a new piece of equipment (maybe one or three?), but you also need to occasionally spend some favor stones to make some more favor stones. If you get stuck, you basically have to pass a turn to gain 3, which sucks.
- Remember that there are 16 types of equipment. I made the mistake of thinking that since I had 8 different pieces of equipment, I was a shoo-in for being able to score certain cards. I was overwhelmingly mistaken, to my great embarrassment. Which is fine! Just embarrassing. There are a lot of potential cards and combinations; you will almost certainly need to rely on other players in order to get stamps.
- Figure out a way to keep track of who has what. Clever mnemonics, fun sayings, whatever gets the job done.
- I’m 50 / 50 on buying the extra stamps when they’re available. They can be really helpful for breaking ties, but they’re also usually heinously expensive. That said, doing it once won me the game, so there’s that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Honestly, a great game for casual gamers who like hiking a lot. It’s cute, and they probably won’t even notice that half of it is basically Go Fish. Even if they do, it’s a pretty solid upgrade on Go Fish. I doubt they’ll be disappointed. Give them Parks, Mountains, and Trekking the National Parks; they’ll be able to experience all the things they love about the outdoors, but inside. Truly a miracle. Or a decent compromise.
- Pretty easy to learn. Again, it’s pretty much Go Fish with a hiking theme and some smart card draw and play mechanics. That’s good, though.
- Nice art. It’s a very pleasant aesthetic. Feels a bit lonely since there aren’t any people around or in it, but that’s mostly okay.
- Pretty quick to play. There’s not a lot of downtime, especially if you get one of the hut cards, which lets everyone play for a hot minute. That’s pretty nice. Either way, the game moves pretty quickly.
- The stamp thing is delightful. I really love stamps, and I’m glad that I got to play a game with stamps; that’s pretty much the whole of it. It makes a bit of a mess between games, but, honestly, I’d rather have a bit of a mess. I just … think stamps are fun.
- Tiny cards are a pain. That’s just a generic constant across all games; I don’t really like tiny cards. It’s an ongoing thing.
- It would have been nice if they had named the equipment. As someone who formerly went outside, I don’t really know what everything is called, so I just end up pointing to things. It’s fine, but it would be helpful to have the actual names of things.
- It may be worth asking players to not tell people what’s in their hand if you don’t want the game to get a bit strange. The game kind of devolves if it’s just players yelling that you should take from them. You need to have at least some layer of secrecy if you want to be able to trick players into giving you favor stones for no reason.
- Yeah, the game isn’t the most useful at two players. It’s still a bit interesting since so many cards are out of play, but I’d probably recommend it at three or four players the most. It’s too easy to keep track of what’s in your opponent’s hand, in my opinion.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Mountains is pretty fun! Out of the Game Night Approved, my favorite is probably Karuba: The Card Game, but who knows what else is coming down the pipeline? I think this one is a nice bridge between simpler games for younger players and more advanced players, and I think that’s nice! It’s cool that you can use games like this as a bridge. What Mountains has going for it is a fun theme (people in the SF Bay Area love day hikes, for some reason), solid art, and a nice spin on Go Fish that makes the game feel familiar but novel. I really appreciate that, and I’d love to see what other games can be made by expanding otherwise classic games. I’m not a game designer, though, so, that’s gonna be someone else’s whole thing. I am excited to see what else is coming from this new HABA line, though; seems like a fair amount of it is right up my alley in that nice overlap of simple, light, and fun. If you’re intrigued by an upgrade to Go Fish, or you like hiking, or you’re just looking for a game that doesn’t take too much effort to pick up or play, you should potentially check out Mountains! You might like it.